Urgency arrives early for Notre Dame women's basketball

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – Last season in the Atlantic Coast Conference in women's basketball, Louisville finished runner-up with a 15-1 mark.

That's the reason for the sense of urgency for Notre Dame's program, which lost its margin for error in the first league game of the season at North Carolina State.

No loss of focus allowed, especially on the road against a solid team. And that's what Muffet McGraw's team will see when it visits No. 14 Miami Sunday.

On paper, it's a pivotal early-season ACC matchup that tips off at 3 p.m. on ESPN2.

“It is going to be very tough,” McGraw said. "We need to set the tone."

The Hurricanes (13-2, 2-1) and seventh-ranked Irish are part of an early-season, six-team logjam in the league standings at 2-1. Miami's last game was a 67-64 win on Thursday against North Carolina State.

The team that gave Notre Dame its first ever ACC loss was Miami back on Jan. 8, 2015.

This Miami squad is a veteran group led by senior guards Adrienne Motley and Jessica Thomas. Motley is averaging 12.6 points and 3.1 assists per game and Thomas scores 12.5 points and dishes out 4.3 assists per contest.

Given that the Irish are not perched in their usual spot atop the league standings (Duke is at 2-0 and Virginia Tech is at 1-0), the visitors won't hesitate to make changes if the Irish (14-2, 2-1) are sluggish at the outset.

"I will go to the bench early if that happens," she said.

Senior Lindsay Allen will have the reins of the Irish offense. She is the active leader in assists in the conference with 672 and that figure has her in the top five in the history books of both Notre Dame and the ACC.

Allen should continue to bolster that total with passes to Arike Ogunbowale, who averages 15.1 points per game and has led the team in scoring in nine games this year, All-American Brianna Turner (14.9), and Marina Mabrey (12.5).

Should Notre Dame start slow, as it has done on occasion this season, freshmen Erin Boley and Jackie Young are likely McGraw's first options off the bench with Kristina Nelson and Mychal Johnson available as well.

The game is also an opportunity for Mabrey to reunite on the court with her sister Michaela, who graduated from ND last spring with a degree in film and television after helping compile a 141-8 record during her hoops career. Michaela now serves as the coordinator of program and player development for Hurricanes coach Katie Meier. She became acquainted with Meier in 2012 while playing for her on the U.S. Under-18 team.

Notre Dame, which has started 14-2 or better for the eighth time in nine seasons and has won 54 of its last 57 road games, could use a game like it enjoyed on Thursday, when the Irish transition and half-court offenses were flowing in an 92-72 win over short-handed Wake Forest. Five players scored in double figures against the Demon Deacons and the shot at a 60 percent clip from the floor.

"We finally played the way we can," she said. "We executed and got good shots.''

McGraw said earlier in the week that she doubted this year’s ACC champion would be undefeated in league play.

Three of the next four Irish games are on the road with trips to Tennessee, Boston College, and North Carolina following next week's home contest against Pittsburgh.

Notre Dame’sJackie Young (5) looks to pass against Wake Forest’s Amber Campbell during the Wake Forest at Notre Dame women’s basketball game at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA

WHO: No. 7 Notre Dame (14-2, 2-1) vs. No. 14 Miami (13-2, 2-1).

WHERE: Watsco Center, Coral Gables, Fla.

WHEN: Sunday at 3 p.m.

TELEVISION: ESPN2

INTERNET: Game can be seen online at WatchESPN.com or through the WatchESPN app.tv

RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) in South Bend

GAME NOTES: Notre Dame leads the series with Miami, 18-4 ... After two seasons, Miami handed Notre Dame its first loss in ACC play on Jan. 8, 2015 in Miami ... Hurricanes coach Katie Meier is in her 12th season with Miami. She graduated from Duke in 1990 where she was a star player. She was the team’s MVP in her senior season ... Meier has led Miami to the NCAA tournament in five of the last six seasons ... The Hurricanes are led in scoring by 5-foot-9 senior Adrienne Motley with her 12.6 average. Another senior, 5-6 guard Jessica Thomas is next at 12.5, and 5-8 sophomore Laura Cornelius averages 9.4 ... Keyon Hayes, a 6-1 redshirt senior, is the team’s leading rebounder with 6.7 per game.