Well-traveled Irish women's basketball team means business in Canada

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Between being busy with the first-time academic demands most college freshmen face and in her case the demands associated with being part of big-time college basketball, what’s coming on Thanksgiving hadn’t even dawned on Abby Prohaska until she was asked about it Tuesday afternoon after practice.

“Now that I think of it, now that you ask, I don’t think I have,” Prohaska said of whether she’s ever been separated from her family during the November holiday.

“I don’t think it’ll totally hit me until we’re out there and it happens,” the lefty guard said.

Prohaska, the oldest of three siblings, will not be joined by her family from Liberty Township, Ohio, when top-ranked Notre Dame plays three games over three days beginning Thursday at the inaugural Vancouver Showcase in British Columbia, Canada.

As is typically the case with games, some of the players’ families will be able to attend and some won’t.

“My parents travel a lot,” fifth-year Irish forward Brianna Turner said, “and they are coming this week, too. It’s always nice to have family supporting you on the road, but even when they can’t, we have our team.”

“I’m really looking forward to this trip, kind of like overseas and what we did this summer,” Prohaska said, referring to the club’s one-week tour of Rome and Croatia in August. “It really helped us become closer as a team, and I’m hoping this is the same kind of thing.”

To make that August trip, Prohaska and fellow ND freshman Jordan Nixon even gave up the spots they’d already earned on the USA Basketball U18 National Team that proceeded to win gold that same week at an eight-nation event in Mexico City.

“Coach (Muffet McGraw) needed us here, and I think it was probably the best option for us, because we’re going to be here four more years as opposed to a little tournament,” Prohaska said. “It was a great opportunity, but it was kind of a double-edged sword. You gotta just take one.”

Now the well-traveled Irish are taking still another foreign trip, this one in-season.

“Personally, I’ve never been to Canada before, so it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to,” Turner said, “but it’s also a business trip. We’re going out to the West Coast to play a team we’ve never played. It’s going to be exciting.”

The Irish (3-0) start the journey with a 3 p.m. (ET) matchup Thursday against Gonzaga (4-0), which, actually, ND has played once, but that was in 2010, a win that came before Turner’s arrival.

Notre Dame then faces Rutgers (4-0) or Drake (4-0) in a semifinal (9 p.m.) or a losers bracket contest (3 p.m.) Friday.

ND’s game on Saturday will be at 8 p.m. if it’s the championship or third-place matchup, or earlier in the day if it’s a fifth or seventh-place game.

The other half of the bracket features No. 9 Oregon State (3-0) and No. 13 South Carolina (2-1), joined by Western Kentucky (1-4) and East Tennessee State (0-4).

“There’s so many different styles we’re going to be facing,” McGraw said of the eight-team field after a rigorous practice Tuesday. “It’s going to be good for us. We’re not going to have a lot of preparation time, so it’ll be good to see how much we can pick up from the film.”

While the Irish have participated in many Thanksgiving weekend events over the years, this is just the second time they’ll be playing on the actual holiday. The other instance came in 2009, when No. 5 ND beat No. 23 San Diego State 84-79 in the first round on its way to winning the Paradise Jam at the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“I think that part will definitely be different,” Turner said of playing on the holiday, “but I think we’re up for the challenge. We’re prepared, we’re ready.”

“It really isn’t any different,” McGraw said of playing on the holiday. “We’ll play Thursday, then have a Thanksgiving dinner afterwards and get ready for Friday’s game. There’s not really a time to celebrate, but it’s great to be with the team. It’s our family away from home.”

Two point guards out?

Not only does senior point guard Marina Mabrey remain “questionable” to play in Vancouver, according to McGraw, after missing the first three games of the season with a quadriceps injury, but Nixon — Mabrey’s replacement in the starting lineup — “hasn’t been feeling well” this week, according to the coach.

“Hopefully, she’ll be ready to go,” McGraw said of Nixon, who missed a second straight practice Tuesday after scoring six points, making three steals and dishing three assists in 24 minutes during Saturday’s 101-77 win at No. 15 DePaul.

“We definitely have a lot of power in the post,” McGraw said about the possibility of Nixon and Mabrey both being sidelined, “(but) whether we can play three posts together, that’s kind of a question we have to figure out.”

Whatever combinations the coach chooses, backups could see increased action over the three games in three days.

“We definitely need to play the bench more,” McGraw said. “I’m really happy with (freshman guard) Katlyn Gilbert this week. I think she’s showing us that she’s ready to play now. Abby, of course, has been playing well. I think we’re getting a little more help from the bench.”

Sophomore forward Danielle Patterson popped off that bench for career highs of 14 points and three blocked shots in 22 minutes during the win over DePaul.

“Defensively, she’s playing better than she did last year,” McGraw said of Patterson. “She’s more aware, playing with more confidence. She’s been a good shooter. We’re getting the free-throw (area) jumper from her. The high-low’s something we’re really working on, so now that we have Bri inside and Jess (Shepard) inside, we need someone to get them the ball, and she’s proven she can do that.”

Prohaska excelled on defense Saturday, including making a game-high four steals to go with four points and four assists in 26 minutes.

“Practicing with these kinds of players,” Prohaska said of being around star guards like Arike Ogunbowale and Jackie Young, “your defense gets better. I think I’m getting better there. I definitely need to work on my offense, but I have some great role models to follow there, so I’m looking forward to learning from them and picking their brains while they’re still here.”

Notre Dame freshman Abby Prohaska will be spending Thanksgiving away from her family for the first time as the Irish travel to Vancouver to compete in the women’s basketball Vancouver Showcase.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

WHO: No. 1 Notre Dame (4-0) vs. Gonzaga (4-0) in Vancouver Showcase first round.

WHERE: Vancouver Convention Centre (3,200), Vancouver, B.C.

WHEN: Thursday, 3 p.m. ET.; followed by Drake (4-0) vs. Rutgers (4-0), 5:30; No. 13 South Carolina (2-1) vs. East Tennessee State (0-4), 9; No. 9 Oregon State (3-0) vs. Western Kentucky (1-4), 11:30.

RADIO: Pulse (103.1 / 96.9 / 92.1 FM).

WEB: bdglobal.inplayer.com/vancouver ($).

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

NOTING: The inaugural Vancouver Showcase is being staged in a Vancouver Convention Centre exhibition hall with a temporary set-up for basketball. The showcase began with a men’s tourney that wrapped Wednesday. The last major sporting event held at the VCC before this year was Davis Cup tennis in 1990. … Notre Dame’s only previous appearance in Canada was a 100-61 win over Duquesne in December 2013 at Toronto. … The Irish have gone unbeaten in each of their last six regular-season, multi-game events. ND’s last in-season tourney loss was the final of the 2011 Preseason WNIT, when No. 1 host Baylor beat the No. 2 Irish 94-81. That game is also ND’s last November loss, with 42 straight wins in the month since then. … Gonzaga, led by five scorers averaging 9.0 to 11.0 points each, has won all four of its games by double digits, but has not faced a ranked opponent. … If the Irish meet Rutgers in the second round, it will be the 27th matchup between ND’s Muffet McGraw (891-271) and the Knights’ C. Vivian Stringer (1,001-402), two of college basketball’s all-time winningest coaches, but their first in nearly six years. They are 13-13 head to head. If the Irish face Drake, it’ll be the first-ever meeting between the schools. … Notre Dame played every team in the other half of the bracket last season, winning each game. Those victories included 72-67 at Oregon State and 92-85 over South Carolina in last November’s Gulf Coast Showcase final. … Reigning ACC Player of the Week Arike Ogunbowale (1,852 points) needs 23 to pass No. 7 Jacqueline Batteast, 25 to pass No. 6 Kayla McBride and 58 to pass No. 5 Jewell Loyd on the all-time Irish scoring chart. Ruth Riley is No. 4 at 2,072 and Skylar Diggins No. 1 at 2,357. … Brianna Turner (1,491 points, 767 rebounds) needs two points to pass Ashley Barlow for No. 15 in scoring and eight boards to pass Sandy Botham for No. 10 in rebounding.

QUOTING: “At this time of year, it’s not really about winning. You certainly want to win all the games, but it’s about how much can we get better? What are we learning? Can we go to the next game and say, ‘Oh, we did that so much better than we did (in the first three games)’? Where’s the growth of the team? That’s what we need to see, the combinations. Are we starting to gel? Are we looking to find each other a little bit better? Are we getting to know each other a little bit better?” — Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw on the purpose of the Vancouver Showcase.