Notre Dame women's basketball looks to bounce back against Boston College

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame’s jaw-jarring women’s basketball loss Thursday at Louisville mirrored the script the Irish envisioned for that trip about as much as another journey earlier in the week followed its planned path.

In other words, not at all.

Returning from its victory Sunday at Georgia Tech on a commercial flight rather than by its more customary charter mode, the team could not land in South Bend due to icy conditions.

The plane was diverted to Detroit, where the Irish stayed overnight before bussing the 200-plus miles to campus on Monday.

Their off day already shot, they ended up practicing that afternoon, then took Tuesday’s originally scheduled practice day off.

Could that deviation from routine possibly have accounted two days later for even a speck of the mammoth margin in No. 2-ranked ND’s 100-67 loss at No. 3 Louisville?

“None, zero,” Muffet McGraw said quickly and firmly when the thought was offered shortly before practice Saturday.

During an injury-stuffed season in which excuses have been readily available, the Irish coach remained as interested in pursuing them as a zebra is in pursuing a lion.

Instead, she focused on a controllable factor for her players — effort.

“I think this game had been coming,” McGraw reflected of the Louisville loss. “We kept thinking, ‘Well, we won, so what’s the big deal?’ So, hopefully, it sent a message to them. Maybe it took being embarrassed on national TV, but I don’t know if it’s going to change their commitment or not.

“We have got to commit to the defensive end,” emphasized the coach who fruitlessly mixed defensive looks against the Cardinals, “and until we do, we’re just not going to be a good team.”

“I guess it’s good that it happened now rather than later,” senior forward Kathryn Westbeld said Saturday of the whipping her team received, “but we definitely need to look at ourselves in the mirror and think about what we can do individually to ultimately come together. I think that’s what we’ve really struggled with. They were playing with five people together and we were playing as five individuals. I think that’s something we really need to work on, becoming tighter as a team.”

Notre Dame (15-2 overall, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) — which is certain to drop in the next poll regardless of its next outcome — hosts Boston College (6-10, 1-2) Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion.

It’ll be the first of three straight home games, highlighted by Thursday’s matchup with No. 6 Tennessee, as the Irish look to distance themselves from the Louisville debacle.

That was a game that marked the first time Notre Dame gave up at least 100 points in over 19 years, since a 106-81 loss to No. 1 Connecticut in December 1998.

It was also ND’s largest margin of defeat since falling 89-50 to Tennessee in a 2002 NCAA Tournament second-round game.

Louisville’s two stars, guard Asia Durr and forward Myisha Hines-Allen, appeared unstoppable. Their 67 combined points exactly matched ND’s team total.

Hines-Allen finished 15-of-20 from the field on her way to 31 points, while Durr was 13-of-18, including 8-of-10 on 3-pointers, on her way to 36.

“Really disappointed in the effort, and really disappointed in just the awareness of ‘where’s Durr?’” McGraw said after reviewing film. “We just lost her sometimes. I think the awareness was about the effort. That’s the first time we just really quit on something.”

“We really had a lack of focus,” concurred Westbeld, who was named a captain after last season. “I take blame for a lack of leadership. It just kind got out of hand and we were just never able to get the game in our control.”

The Irish actually led 6-2 after Marina Mabrey and Westbeld drained 3-pointers in the opening 1:05, but the Cardinals were unrelenting all night, leading by as much as 92-48 early in the fourth quarter.

As ugly as Thursday got — and as compromised as ND is in remaining healthy scholarship players at seven after three season-ending knee injuries since late October — its most seasoned healthy player at 2,501 career minutes stayed undaunted Saturday about one thing.

“I think we have every capability, every necessary piece to win a national championship,” Westbeld said. “There are going to be bumps in the road, and this was definitely one of those big bumps for us, but it’s something we can learn from more than anything.”

Eyeing the Eagles

Boston College’s top five scorers consist of three sophomores and two freshmen, paced by Milan Bolden-Morris, who has been chosen ACC Rookie of the Week twice in the last three weeks.

“They run a lot of the stuff we do,” McGraw said of the Eagles. “They run Princeton offense and chin, but they’re good at it. They move well without the ball and they’re smart.

“They’ve got a really young team, so they’re kind of fearless. I think it will be a challenge for us, especially if we continue to struggle at the defensive end.”

While BC has 10 losses, its six wins include a 77-64 victory against North Carolina (12-5, 2-2 ACC) just over a week ago.

Bolden-Morris, a 5-foot-10 freshman guard, is averaging 13.4 points and has hit 47-of-117 on 3-pointers for 40.2 percent.

The rest of the team is 48-of-173 for just 27.7 percent.

Georgia Pineau and Taylor Ortlepp — both sophomores from Australia — are each averaging 11.0 points, with the 6-1 Pineau adding team-leading figures of 7.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 blocks per game.

Louisville guard Dana Evans (1) drives around the defense of Notre Dame forward Kathryn Westbeld (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

WHO: Boston College (6-10 1-2 ACC) vs. No. 2 Notre Dame (15-2, 4-1 ACC).

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

WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TICKETS: Available, $5 to $15.

RADIO: Pulse (96.9 / 92.1 FM).

WEB: ACC Network Extra.

TV: None.

NOTING: Coming off just its third conference loss, and decisively its worst, since joining the Atlantic Coast in 2013-14, Notre Dame looks to improve to 35-0 at home in ACC games. The Irish have won 44 straight league home games extending to their time in the Big East, last falling in February 2012. … ND has beaten Boston College 10 straight times since the Eagles’ won the only-ever NCAA Tourney matchup between the programs in 2006 and stands 12-0 against BC at home. … Sophomore Jackie Young (14.1) matched her career high of 23 points in Thursday’s 100-67 loss at No. 3 Louisville, while Arike Ogunbowale finished with five, her lowest output in her last 57 games since late in her freshman season.

QUOTING: “I’m not challenging them enough at practice, so that’s going to change today.” — Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame coach, shortly before Saturday’s workout.