Notre Dame vs. Louisville: Round two of No. 1 vs. No. 2

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — In a season that otherwise read like a fable, Notre Dame did have one opponent that remained a foible.

Come Thursday night, the Irish not only get a chance to avenge that scratch in their glistening 2018 national title sword, but also an opportunity to host a No. 1 vs. No. 2 women’s college basketball showdown for the second time in less than six weeks.

Plus the opportunity to win one of those encounters for the first time ever at home.

Louisville (14-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) — which swept a pair of meetings from ND last winter — comes to Purcell Pavilion ranked No. 2 in both major polls.

The No. 1 Irish (14-1, 2-0) are slightly ahead of the Cardinals in each poll, getting 27 first-place votes between the two sets of ratings to UL’s 19.

The opening for yet another 1 vs. 2 materialized when previously top-ranked Connecticut — after whipping host Notre Dame by 18 in a 1 vs. 2 on Dec. 2 — turned around and fell by 11 last week at now-No. 4 Baylor. No. 3 UConn and the Bears have a combined 16 first-place votes of their own in the tightly packed rankings.

“It really doesn’t matter,” Irish senior point guard Marina Mabrey said after practice Wednesday afternoon of what it means to have the No. 1 slot back. “Everybody wants to beat us. I feel like everybody in the top 10 is interchangeable, so we’re just really focusing on one game at a time.”

“I actually didn’t know until somebody just told me about the 1 versus 2,” ND coach Muffet McGraw said Wednesday, two full days after her team’s re-installation into the No. 1 position that it held almost unanimously until losing to the Huskies. “It really doesn’t matter to me at this time of the year.”

The Irish are saying that last season — when Louisville obliterated visiting Notre Dame 100-67 in the regular season, then nipped ND 74-72 in the ACC Tournament title game — doesn’t matter, either, but they sounded a pinch less convincing on that one Wednesday.

“If it gives them motivation, I’m all for (the revenge factor),” McGraw said with a laugh of her players. “I mean, this is an important game within the conference, so that’s what is most important, (but) if they come in with a chip on their shoulder, I’m fine with that.”

“Of course, we lost to ’em twice last year, so there might be a little (extra) fire,” Irish senior guard Arike Ogunbowale said. “Other than that, they’re a great team. They’ve always been a great team. This is ACC play, so we have to get up for every game.”

Besides, it’s not like the Cardinals won’t be stoked as well. They had to watch Notre Dame proceed to that national title last season despite those head-to-head results.

A third matchup with Louisville was barely avoided when the Cards lost in overtime at the Final Four to Mississippi State, just a couple hours in front of the Irish erasing their only other 2017-18 blemish by beating UConn in OT.

Louisville became just the second team in NCAA Division I women’s history to win all of at least two meetings over the eventual national champ, joining the 1996-97 Louisiana Tech club that went 2-0 against Tennessee.

The Cardinals this season are one of just three unbeatens left in the nation, joined by No. 8 North Carolina State of the ACC and unranked Ohio of the Mid-American Conference.

Louisville, though, has played just one ranked club, downing No. 19 Arizona State 58-56 in November on a neutral court. It’s one of four Cardinal wins that have come by seven points or fewer.

After having lost just one starter from last season in all-league first-teamer Myisha Hines-Allen, Louisville is again keyed by All-American Asia Durr, averaging 20.9 points per game.

The lefty guard won ACC player of the year last winter — voted on before postseason, and before Ogunbowale snagged ACC female athlete of the year across all sports a few months later.

Durr’s joined in the Cardinal backcourt by fellow senior sharpshooter Arica Carter and versatile sophomore Dana Evans from Gary, Ind. Senior forward Sam Fuehring, an ACC all-tourney pick, and junior flex Jazmine Jones are returning starters from a Final Four club.

“They’re very talented,” McGraw said. “They’ve got a couple great guards, really three great guards. They’re a team that’s run a lot of good offense, and they run a lot of things, so it’s really hard to say, ‘Oh, they’re going to run this.’ They have a lot of options on all their offenses, so it’s difficult to scout them.”

Durr drilled 11-of-18 from 3-point land in the two wins over Notre Dame last season, while Carter added 6-of-11. She’s also 31-of-62 outside the arc this season.

“They’re great shooters, so we always have to try to find the shooters on the wings,” Ogunbowale said. “If we’re in the zone, the back needs to talk to the guards, and if we’re in (man-to-man), we just have to be talking and telling each other when their shooters come in, and try to help each other out.”

The Irish will be trying to earn that first-ever home win in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, this being their third such try, each as a No. 1.

Notre Dame is just 1-7 in No. 1 vs. No. 2 encounters overall, its lone win coming in a 2001 national semifinal when the Irish were No. 2 and UConn No. 1.

That was also the only time until now that the Irish were part of two No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdowns in the same season.

Louisville is playing its first-ever No. 1 vs. No. 2 game.

Overall, the Cards are 1-10 vs. No. 1 teams, all 10 losses coming against Connecticut and the win coming over Baylor during the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

This is just the second week ever that Louisville’s been rated as high as No. 2. The other came last season, just after that 100-67 win over the Irish. The Cards slipped out of the spot the next week after falling by a point to Florida State.

Notre Dame’s Jessica Shepard, front, is fouled by Louisville’s Myisha Hines-Allen, back, during the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., last March.

WHO: No. 2 Louisville (14-0, 2-0 ACC) vs. No. 1 Notre Dame (14-1, 2-0).

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

WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Sold out.

TV: ESPN.

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

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

NOTING: Notre Dame, in its sixth season as a member of the league, has never lost an ACC home game, standing 41-0. Overall, the Irish have won 51 straight conference home games since February 2012, when they were still in the Big East. … Louisville ended ND’s string of outright ACC regular-season titles last season at four (the two teams shared the crown at 15-1), then beat the Irish 74-72 in the ACC Tourney final to end ND’s streak of championships in that event at four. … The Cardinals’ 100-67 win over the visiting Irish last January is ND’s most lopsided loss in the last 17 seasons and the only time ND has given up 100 points in the last 20.. … Louisville leaders are Asia Durr (20.9 points per game, 3.7 assists per game, 36-of-109 on 3s, 86 percent at the line), Sam Fuehring (10.7 ppg, 6.3 rebounds per game, 56 percent from the field), Dana Evans (10.6 ppg, 4.2 apg, 2.1 steals per game, 86 percent at the line), Arica Carter (10.1 ppg, 31-of-62 on 3s), Jazmines Jones (8.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 58 percent from the field), Bionca Dunham (8.1 ppg, 60 percent from the field) and Kylee Shook (7.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg). … Pacing the Irish are Arike Ogunbowale (22.1 ppg, 4.0 apg), Jessica Shepard (15.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 61 percent from the field), Jackie Young (15.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 4.7 apg, 57 percent from the field), Marina Mabrey (14.3 ppg, 4.5 apg, 22-of-54 on 3s) and Brianna Turner (12.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.2 blocks). … Ogunbowale needs 18 points to match Katryna Gaither (2,126) for No. 3 in ND history. Shepard needs nine rebounds for 1,000 and Turner four blocks for 300. … Notre Dame’s third sellout of the season as been pegged Green Out Night.

QUOTING: “I’ve never hunted my shot. I’m just a competitive person. I’m going to try to score, try to do whatever it is, for the team. If that’s passing more in a game, that’s what I’m going to do.” — Arike Ogunbowale, Notre Dame guard, coming off a career-high 12 assists