Lesar: Muffet McGraw turns up expectations on talented Notre Dame freshmen

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Patience went the way of the snow during the recent winter thaw.

Gone. 

In the last week or so, Muffet McGraw has ratcheted up exponentially her expectations for her two freshmen.

Along with her expectations, the decibels have increased.

Eighteen games into the Notre Dame women’s basketball season, the Irish coach won’t tolerate rookie mistakes from Jackie Young and Erin Boley like she may have earlier.

Progress showed Thursday night when Young had 15 points and eight rebounds and Boley collected seven points and three boards in an 86-54 demolition of Pittsburgh.

Before the sweat had time to dry, McGraw looked out of the corner of her eye at Young to see how she’d react when she said, “We expect that kind of performance out of Jackie every night.”

For the record, Young didn’t flinch.

“She’s extremely confident in me,” Young said. “That motivates me.”

“I was patient with them early,” said McGraw. “I lost my patience with them the last week or so. My expectations are high. That’s what creates the pressure and the stress.”

Remember, Young (6-foot) and Boley (6-2) were the cream of the high school crop last season. Each of them earned a national player of the year honor by organizations that do those things. Both were McDonald’s All-Americans.

In the group of fellow All-Americans who are playing at the nation’s elite programs, Young and Boley rank in the middle of that pack, averaging 7.0 and 6.2 points, respectively. Only two – Maryland’s Destiny Slocum and Kaila Charles – of the 13 who meet that criteria are regular starters.

On top of learning a new role coming off the bench, Young has missed four games this season.

“Jackie is a little slower coming along,” said McGraw. “She missed the whole summer (stress fracture in her foot), she missed two weeks with the ankle sprain (recently), and (a thumb injury early in the season). She missed a lot of practice.

“It’s hard for a freshman, especially ranked so high, to come in and not be playing as much as you want. It’s hard to come off the bench because you don’t know when your opportunity is going to come.”

McGraw said she saw a lightbulb come on with Young. A moment. An epiphany, so to speak.

Earlier this season, Young had times in which she’d pass up a shot the offense dictated she should take; instead, deferring to a veteran.

The coach said she saw that trend change in the second half of Sunday’s win over Miami.

Suffice it to say, Young didn’t pass up any shots Thursday.

“I’m more relaxed now,” Young said. “We’re at the big stage. I have to be ready to perform each night.

“(Coming off the bench) is different for both of us. You get your chance. If you’re not ready, that could be the only chance you get.

“You have to know what you’re doing and stay focused.”

“It’s been a grind; it’s tough for any freshman across the country,” said Boley. “I’m still trying to figure out how I fit into my role.”

Young is the first guard off the bench, with the mandate to produce on both ends of the floor. Boley is a long-range shooter with work to do on her defense.

“It’s a change in mindset,” Boley said. “We’re going down the stretch. We need that extra push from (McGraw). She’s been pushing us to focus; it’s more mental toughness than anything.

“I wish I had focused more on defense in high school than I did. The physical part is there. I just have to figure out how to use what I’ve got.”

Better do it in a hurry.

McGraw has taken away the mulligans.

TOP FRESHMEN

This is a list of last year’s McDonald’s All-American players who went to play at the top women’s programs in the country.

Player ,Team     Pts.     Reb.     Assist

Jackie Young, ND     7.0     3.4     1.2

Erin Boley, ND     6.2     2.4     0.4

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Destiny Slocum, Md.     11.4     3.0     4.7

Lauren Cox, Baylor     9.4     4.3     1.1

Kaila Charles, Md.     9.1     5.0     1.6

Leonna Odom, Duke     7.6     3.9     0.9

Crystal Dangerfield, UConn     6.1     2.6     3.2

Anna Wilson, Stan.     5.7     1.0     1.7

Kylee Shook, Louis.     5.3     3.1     0.4

Natalie Chou, Baylor     4.9     1.8     1.7

Ciera Johnson, Louis.     4.2     2.7     0.3

Blair Watson, Md.     3.5     2.4     1.2

DiJonai Carrington, Stan     3.0     0.6     3.6

Notre Dame’s Jackie Young (5) defends Pitt’s Brenna Wise (50) as Notre Dame’s Erin Boley (22) is in the background during the Notre Dame women’s basketball game at Purcell Pavilion Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA