Can Notre Dame slow potent Louisville offense?

Ken Kilmek
Tribune Crrepondent

SOUTH BEND – The near capacity crowd Monday night at Purcell Pavilion may include a bevy of superheroes when No. 9 Louisville arrives to tangle with the No. 7 Notre Dame women in a pivotal Atlantic Coast Conference basketball game.

The Big Monday matchup will tip off at 7 p.m. and be televised by ESPN2.

All fans have been invited to wear superhero outfits for the game. Maybe a Wonder Woman or two will be able to provide some help for the Irish.

Louisville, along with North Carolina State, Duke and Syracuse are tied for third in the league with 7-3 conference marks. Notre Dame and Florida State share the top spot at 9-1.

Only five ACC games remain after Monday.

Co-leader Florida State hosts No. 16 Miami on Monday night.

The conference is a buzzsaw of powerful teams.

“Last year we had eight teams reach the NCAA tourney,” said Amy Ufnowski, assistant communications director for the Atlantic Coast Conference. “And this year the league is incredibly stronger. For the first time we have had seven teams in the top 25.”

The ACC has an .817 winning percentage against non-conference teams – the best mark among all conferences in the nation.

Remember when the Irish upset loss to North Carolina State seemed shocking? Not so in hindsight. North Carolina State has beaten Notre Dame, Louisville, Florida State and Duke – all ranked teams.

There is a bit of mystery surrounding the Cardinals.

Their leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, Myisha Hines-Allen, did not play in the Louisville overtime loss to North Carolina State Thursday and as of Sunday afternoon was not penciled in the Cardinals expected starting lineup for the clash with the Irish.

“The medical staff held her out Thursday with an undisclosed injury,” said Louisville coach Jeff Walz in his postgame news conference. “I have no idea if she will practice Sunday or play Monday.”

Hines-Allen is averaging 13.3 points and nine rebounds a game.

In addition to some in the crowd, ND coach Muffet McGraw already may have a Wonder Woman she can count on Monday – albeit a wounded one in Kathryn Westbeld, who continues to mend from a sprained ankle.

“The great thing is Kat played nine minutes in the game against Duke and was the MVP of that game,” said McGraw. "She really changed the game. What she can do in a limited amount of time has been phenomenal for us.”

Westbeld, a starter most of this year and last year, has no problem coming off the bench.

“I just try to give all the energy I can,'' she said. “I have some pain when I am out there, but it is tolerable.”

She described coming off the bench recently as having “ ... just a different perspective. I pick up on what my teammates are struggling with. I think I am someone my teammates can depend on. I think it gives them confidence knowing they can rely on me.”

Another steady Irish star is senior Lindsay Allen, whose first assist Monday will tie her with Skylar Diggins for second on the Irish all-time assist board with 725. In sight is Mary Gavin’s all-time record of 778.

“I don’t pay attention to those numbers,” said Allen, “but my mother does. A few months ago she texted me and said I had to average seven assists a game.”

Allen has heeded her mother’s advice, averaging 7.8 assists per game.

“Lindsay has been amazing,” said McGraw. "To see her challenging the record so early in the season has been amazing. The record has stood for 30 years. It would be great if Lindsay breaks it.”

Both Notre Dame and Louisville like the up-tempo transition style of play. The Irish average 78 points a game, with Louisville at 75.6.

But it could be the defense that decides the outcome.

“I was happy with the defense against Virginia Tech – especially in the second half,” said McGraw. “We got out (holding Virginia Tech to 29.2 percent from the 3-point line), we denied the passing lanes and we forced turnovers. It was a different mindset and really fun to watch.”

The Irish will need more of the same against Louisville.

“They have a lot of great players who can get hot at any time. They have a lot of great shooters,” said Allen. “So it will be all about our defense.”

Every victory now — with only five games remaining after Monday — will do a lot to help the Irish retain a top four spot in the league, thus getting a double bye when the ACC tournament begins on March 1.

The regular season could have a monumental finish. Florida State visits Notre Dame on Sunday, Feb. 26. That one could decide the ACC regular-season championship

Forward Kathryn Westbeld (left) has been coming off the bench in recent games for Notre Dame, and she has embraced the new role for the Irish. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)

WHO: No. 7 Notre Dame (21-3, 9-1) vs. No. 9 Louisville (20-5, 7-3).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion, (9,149)

WHEN: Monday at 7 p.m.

TELEVISION: ESPN2

TICKETS: Available.

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 Louisville 12-4 ... The Irish lead the ACC in three-point field goal percentage (.399) in overall field-goal percentage at .489 and are first in assists at 19.1 each outing ...  Brianna Turner leads Notre Dame in scoring at 14.8, with sophomores Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey at 14.7 and 13.5 ... Notre Dame is 65-2 in all ACC games since joining the league four seasons ago ...The Cardinals are coached by Jeff Walz, in his 10th season at Louisville. He has posted a record of 254-90 and led his team to the national championship game in 2013, losing to Connecticut ... Asia Durr, a 5-10 sophomore leads Louisville in scoring at 16.9 points a game. Myisha Hines-Allen is next at 13.3, followed by Mariya Moore at 13.1 ... The Cardinals are the only team in the ACC whose average home attendance tops Notre Dame’s. Louisville averages 8,463 per game with Notre Dame at 8,333.