Muffet McGraw will know more about Notre Dame's leadership after tough road stretch

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — By the next time the Notre Dame women’s basketball team plays a home game, the Irish will have traveled about 9,800 round-trip miles, and will have visited distinctly western, southern, northern and eastern states along the way.

They’ll also have completed what matches the longest streak of non-home games in the regular-season history of the program at seven.

“Yeah, we do like to travel,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw deadpanned after the team’s season-opening 121-65 home win over Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday.

The No. 6-ranked Irish (1-0) begin their three-week odyssey — one that’ll be as grinding in competition as in mileage — with Tuesday night’s matchup at Western Kentucky (1-1).

The Lady Toppers, who were Conference USA champions and 27-7 overall last winter, opened Friday by surprising No. 16 Missouri 79-76 in the Hawkeye Challenge, before dropping a 104-97 overtime decision to host Iowa in the event’s title game the next night.

Notre Dame follows Tuesday’s game with one Sunday at No. 19 Oregon State.

That’s followed by a three-game Thanksgiving weekend set Nov. 24-26 at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla., where No. 4 defending national champion South Carolina is in the other half of the eight-team bracket.

Then there’s a relatively quick turnaround with a Nov. 29 visit to No. 24 Michigan. That trip is scheduled to be by bus, all the others by flight.

Finally, ND’s winding journey gets topped off by a Sunday, Dec. 3, game against top-ranked Connecticut in Hartford.

That contest will also mark McGraw’s 1,000th as coach of the Irish. The recent Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee is 766-227 in her 31st year at ND and 854-268 in her 36th overall.

“I think our leadership’s going to be tested,” McGraw said of seven straight away games, “and that’s what we’re looking for right now — who is the leader of this team? — and it’s especially important on the road.”

There’s no shortage of candidates anyway.

“You look at your veterans, Arike (Ogunbowale) and Marina (Mabrey), two people that we expect to really kind of be the role models for what leadership is,” McGraw said of her star junior guards. “Jessica (Shepard), with that great experience, even though she’s new to our team, she’s got that experience, as well as Lili (Thompson), so we’re really looking for one of them to kind of step up and be the voice that we need.”

Thompson, the graduate transfer from Stanford who’s been installed at point guard, and Shepard, starting at forward after two All-Big Ten seasons at Nebraska, bring a wealth of big-time collegiate experience, even if it hasn’t come in a Notre Dame uniform.

The only other time the Irish played seven straight regular-season games away from home came in 1996-97.

ND, which during that span had a ranking that fluctuated wildly from No. 7 to No. 20, went 5-2 over those seven contests, including wins over No. 6 Iowa and No. 8 North Carolina State, and losses to No. 3 Tennessee and unranked Purdue.

The Irish did play six in a row away from home last season, going 5-1 in what were all true away games as opposed to any neutral-site contests.

Notre Dame’s next home appearance comes Wednesday, Dec. 6, when Michigan State visits Purcell Pavilion.

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw yells to players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

WHO: No. 6 Notre Dame (1-0) vs. Western Kentucky (1-1).

WHERE: Diddle Arena (7,326), Bowling Green, Ky.

WHEN: Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET.

TICKETS: Available, $10 to $15.

RADIO: Pulse (96.9 / 92.1 FM).

TV: Fox College Sports.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

NOTING: Western Kentucky is led by 6-1 senior forwards Tashia Brown and Ivy Brown (not related). Both are past Conference USA first-teamers. Tashia’s averaging 23.0 points and 4.5 steals through the Toppers’ first two games. Ivy’s coming off a career-high 31 points in a 104-97 overtime loss at Iowa. She’s at 18.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. Sophomore forward Dee Givens is at 18.0 points, junior guard Sidnee Bopp 11.5 points and 4.0 assists, and sophomore guard Whitney Creech 9.0 points. Creech is the leading scorer in Kentucky high school boys or girls history with 5,527 points. She averaged 50.3 as a senior at Jenkins High. … WKU is aggressively promoting Tuesday’s home opener, though a ticket official said Monday that tickets will be available at the gate. The team’s highest home attendance last season was 4,215 in an arena that holds 7,326. Military personnel and veterans will be admitted free with ID. No. 6 Notre Dame will be the highest-rated opponent to visit in five years.

QUOTING: “When she came in, she was somebody that could take you off the dribble and now she’s really a complete offensive player. She can score in so many different ways. She’s got a lot of action, a lot of savvy, she can read the defense, she’s strong, which really helps her game. I mean, she’s electrifying. When she gets the ball in the middle of the floor, you don’t know what’s going to happen, but you know it’s going to be something good for us.” — Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw on Irish junior guard Arike Ogunbowale.