Surging Notre Dame F Jessica Shepard questionable against Marquette

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame’s injuries this season have been awful enough and often enough that as coach Muffet McGraw addressed a question Tuesday about the health of her No. 2-ranked women’s basketball team, she didn’t merely say “knock on wood.”

Rather, she stepped to her right and knocked on a wooden table.

Remarkably — again, given this season so far — she didn’t injure a single knuckle in the process.

The latest concern: Jessica Shepard’s ankle.

The junior forward, coming off a record-setting 39-point performance in Sunday’s victory over DePaul, will be “a game-time decision” for Wednesday's 3 p.m. home contest against Marquette, according to McGraw.

Shepard did not practice Monday and was not expected to do so Tuesday as she continued to undergo treatment for a turned ankle that she apparently suffered late in the 91-82 win over the Blue Demons.

“She didn’t mention it until after the game (and) she didn’t really remember doing anything,” McGraw said of Shepard. “It was just really sore afterwards.”

Shepard’s 39 points broke the Purcell Pavilion women’s mark of 36 that Ruth Riley set in January 1999 and matched in February 2000 for ND.

Shepard went 17-of-22 from the field, 5-of-6 at the line and finished just two points shy of the overall program record for points in a game shared by Riley and Jewell Loyd at 41.

While at least the hailstorm of Irish ailments now appears to be trending the right way in terms of severity — after recent season-ending knee injuries suffered by Mychal Johnson and Mikayla Vaughn, to go with All-American Brianna Turner already being shelved since last season — Shepard’s setback did come just two days after Jackie Young suffered a broken nose in practice last Friday.

Young wore a makeshift protective mask in Sunday’s game. Averaging 14.5 points going in, the sophomore was held to four on 1-of-6 from the field and 2-of-4 at the line, but added seven rebounds, four blocked shots and four assists.

A custom-made mask for Young is expected to arrive in time for Wednesday’s game.

“I know it’s going to be a lot better than the one I played in Sunday,” Young said. “It was definitely hard. It was hard to see, hard to breathe, but it protected my nose, so that’s what we wanted.”

Young is expected to have to wear a mask for about six weeks.

“Yeah, it still hurts,” she said Tuesday of her nose, “but it’s going to be all right.”

Delving into defense

Immediately after that win over DePaul, McGraw expressed some stern words about her team’s defense.

Among them:

• “ … we just completely fell asleep so many times.”

• “ … we just don’t have the commitment to defense right now.”

• “ We get a lead and we immediately relax on defense because we want to rest.”

On Tuesday, following a chance to further review the game, McGraw said she felt “at least the same, if not more so” in terms of her assessment.

“Late in the game, we got beat off the dribble a lot,” McGraw specified. “Our team defense is what disappointed me, the rotations. We’re not helping each other enough.”

Asked about her comment regarding players resting on defense, the coach elaborated.

“I think when you have that pace of game, you’re trying to catch your breath somewhere, so usually, it’s in the transition from offense to defense. But, you relax for a second,” McGraw said, snapping her finger, “and somebody beats you down the floor. I don’t think it’s a conscious decision they’re making. They’re just tired for a second.”

Added McGraw, “They are playing hard. I’m just saying that pace was frantic.”

Measuring Marquette

The Golden Eagles (6-4) will be the seventh opponent for the Irish (10-1) already this season to be ranked at some point.

Though not rated now, Marquette was for four straight weeks, reaching as high as No. 16.

Led by Big East Preseason Player of the Year Allazia Blockton, the Eagles have suffered all four of their losses away from home — against teams that are currently a combined 39-4.

Those defeats include 88-87 at New Mexico (11-1); 101-99 in overtime to presently No. 11 Tennessee (8-0); 63-55 at Green Bay (10-1); and 82-76 at presently No. 23 Michigan.

“They’re similar to DePaul in that they’re really up-tempo,” McGraw said. “They’re incredibly aggressive, (with) a full-court press, a lot of pressure defense, so I think the pace will be similar to DePaul.”

While Marquette doesn’t jack up 3-point attempts at nearly the same clip as DePaul — the Eagles try 21.7 a game, and make 33.6 percent; the Demons try 37.8 a game and make 35.3 percent — this will be the second straight ND opponent with a resoundingly favorable turnover margin.

Marquette’s opponents are coughing up 20.4 a game to the Eagles’ 14.2.

The Irish, who are virtually even for the season in net turnovers, committed 19 against DePaul while managing 15 takeaways.

“They force a lot of turnovers with that pressure,” McGraw said of the Eagles, “so we’ve really got to take care of the ball, which we didn’t do against DePaul.”

Arike and friends

Irish star Arike Ogunbowale will be going against two of her good friends in fellow Milwaukee products Blockton and Amani Wilborn. All three players are junior guards.

“I played AAU with them for like eight years,” Ogunbowale said Tuesday, “and I play pick-up all the time in the summer with them, so we have a big connection.”

Those pick-up games, in fact, have typically taken place on the Marquette campus.

“It’ll be exciting to play them,” Ogunbowale said.

Even more exciting, she acknowledged, is next season, when Notre Dame heads to Marquette to complete the two-year contract.

“That’ll be really cool,” Ogunbowale said, “to go home and play in front of all my friends and family.”

Jessica Shepard led four players in double figures as No. 6 Notre Dame rolled to a 31-point victory Friday night, a win that left Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw far from happy. (Tribune File Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

WHO: Marquette (6-4) vs. No. 2 Notre Dame (10-1).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), Notre Dame.

WHEN: Wednesday, 3 p.m.

TICKETS: Available, $5 to $18.

RADIO: Pulse (96.9 / 92.1 FM).

WEB: ACC Network Extra.

TV: None.