Young anxious to bounce back and Reimer returns for Notre Dame-MSU matchup
SOUTH BEND — While Notre Dame finally finds itself back in the warmth of home, Jackie Young is aching to find herself back in the heat of a game, no matter what the venue.
“I can’t wait to play tomorrow,” the sophomore said Tuesday afternoon, alluding more to her most recent performance than to the site, as the No. 3-ranked Irish (7-1) prepared for Wednesday’s visit from Michigan State (5-2).
After seven straight contests on the road to tie a regular-season program record — a stretch that included victories over four ranked opponents, but was capped by an 80-71 loss to No. 1 Connecticut — the Irish will play in Purcell Pavilion for the first time in 25 days.
And Young will be playing her first game since being held to just two points on 1-of-5 shooting to go with five rebounds in 24 minutes against the Huskies on Sunday.
That output came after Young averaged 21.0 points and 10.3 rebounds over her previous three outings, all against ranked opponents. Along the way, she collected both Gulf Coast Showcase MVP and Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Week honors.
“That’s on me,” Young said of whether her production against UConn was caused more by herself or by the Huskies. “I just got in foul trouble early and didn’t get into a rhythm, and that kind of stopped me on the offensive end. It’s mainly something I can control.”
Young picked up her third foul early in the third quarter.
On the plus side of an otherwise unproductive day, she didn’t resort to forcing much, finishing the contest with four assists against no turnovers.
“I think when you get in early foul trouble,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said of Young, “it affects your mental game … so that really was a problem for her.”
McGraw said Tuesday that she has no concerns about Young bouncing back.
The coach’s sentiment was similar about her team, as painful as the UConn loss was.
Notre Dame led most of the game and took its biggest lead at 65-54 on a Lili Thompson 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter, but the Huskies outscored the Irish 26-6 the rest of the way.
“I thought offensively we shot it a little quick,” McGraw said of what happened after owning a 10-point lead inside of eight minutes remaining. “I don’t think we executed as well as we could have. We missed a couple easy shots, (had) a couple missed box-outs, a couple defensive mistakes, and all of a sudden it’s a one-point game.”
Though the Irish — down to eight scholarship players after last week’s season-ending knee injury to Mikayla Vaughn — played just seven individuals for the bulk of the game, McGraw maintained that it wasn’t an issue. UConn also played seven.
“In a game like that, I don’t think anybody’s tired until afterwards,” the coach said.
Michigan State, meanwhile, comes to down with a team that counts depth as a strength.
The Spartans feature 11 players each averaging 11.3 to 26.1 minutes per game, and all 11 of them are scoring from 5.1 to 11.6 points per contest.
“Last year, they had one great player, Tori Jankoska, who did all the scoring (at 22.6 points per game),” McGraw said, “and now they don’t have her so they’re kind of splitting up who’s doing the scoring, so it’s a lot of good players, a lot of options. You can’t focus on one person.”
The Spartans already have played UConn, too, falling 96-62 in a neutral-site game on Nov. 25. The Huskies led 46-21 by halftime and 77-35 through three quarters.
A familiar face from Notre Dame’s back-to-back national runner-up teams in 2014 and 2015 will suit up for Michigan State in Taya Reimer.
The 6-foot-4 graduate student is averaging 10.2 points and 4.2 rebounds over 21 minutes a game for the Spartans in her final season of eligibility. She’s shooting 55 percent from the field.
A junior and returning starter at the time, Reimer left the Irish program in December 2015 while dealing with an Achilles injury that limited her to 5.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 41 percent field-goal shooting over 19 minutes per game in five contests.
Reimer was coming off a 2014-15 sophomore season in which she averaged 10.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 25 minutes and shot 52 percent from the field for a 36-3 ND club. She earned an All-Atlantic Coast Conference second-team selection.
The power forward also left the team in December of that season, citing personal reasons, but returned after two games away.
A former national high school player of the year at Hamilton Southeastern near Indianapolis, Reimer started a half-dozen games as a freshman and played in all 38 for ND’s 37-1 club in 2013-14, averaging 7.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 19 minutes.
Reimer announced in April 2016 that she was transferring to Michigan State.
Because she already completed degree requirements, Reimer was immediately eligible for the Spartans last season. She averaged 9.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 26 minutes and shot 49 percent from the field for a 21-12 club.
In Notre Dame’s Dec. 20 visit to East Lansing, though, she was limited to four points and one rebound over 16 minutes, going 2-of-5 from the field. The Irish won 79-61.
Sizing up Shepard
A transfer plenty familiar to the Spartans will also be playing for Notre Dame, and if recent history is any indication, she can plan on being sent to the foul stripe.
Turning Hack-A-Shaq into Jab-A-Jess, Michigan State fouled Jessica Shepard enough times over two games last season to put the then-Nebraska Cornhusker at the line for 34 attempts.
Shepard shot a career-high 20 free throws, making 10, in Nebraska’s 76-74 overtime upset of the Spartans in a Big Ten regular-season finale last February. She also went 11-of-25 from the field and finished with 32 points. The outcome improved Nebraska to 7-21 overall, 3-13 in the league, while Michigan State dropped to 19-10 and 9-7.
Several weeks earlier, the host Spartans rolled to a 93-73 win over the Huskers. In that one, Shepard went 4-of-14 from the field and 7-of-14 at the line for 15 points.
A 57 percent free throw shooter over her two seasons at Nebraska, Shepard is at 59.4 percent this season for the Irish.
WHO: Michigan State (5-2) vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (7-1).
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), Notre Dame.
WHEN: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TICKETS: Available, $5 to $18.
RADIO: Pulse (96.9 / 92.1 FM).
WEB: ACC Network Extra.
NOTING: Notre Dame is seeking its 21st consecutive win over Big Ten teams since losing to Minnesota in the opening round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament. The Irish have won five straight games against Michigan State since the Spartans’ 82-73 overtime win in December 2004 at Notre Dame. … Senior Branndais Agee leads MSU’s balanced attack at 11.6 points per game. Sidney Cooks, a 6-4 freshman, is next at 11.1. … Arike Ogunbowale continues to pace ND at 20.5 points per game. Jackie Young is at 15.9 points and 8.1 rebounds. Marina Mabrey, averaging 11.6 points, is coming off a season-high 21 in Sunday’s 80-71 loss at No. 1 Connecticut.
QUOTING: “You feel like you blew it and handed it to them. They did a lot of good things to win the game, but we did make some crucial mistakes. So it’s a learning experience. You have to look at it and say, 'Here’s what we can be if we can just tighten up a couple things.'” — Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw on Sunday’s 80-71 loss to UConn after leading by 11 in the fourth quarter.