Notre Dame's Vaughn making every minute count after lost freshman season

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Muffet McGraw changed her Hall of Fame mind, and lately surging Mikayla Vaughn rewarded her coach’s faith with a gold mine.

Vaughn’s most momentous moments of this women’s basketball season so far — the ones that played a pivotal part in No. 1 Notre Dame beating No. 2 Louisville on Thursday — almost didn’t happen because she almost didn’t get in.

McGraw initially sent star forward Jessica Shepard to the scorer’s table at about two minutes left in the third quarter with the Irish nursing a 50-47 edge in a battle that had already seen 10 lead changes.

“Then I was like, Jess has three fouls, let me see if I can get her to the fourth quarter (without committing a fourth),” McGraw said Saturday of ND’s 82-68 victory over the Cardinals, “so I put Mikayla Vaughn in, and I’m so glad I did. I mean, she turned the momentum.”

Just 14 seconds after entering at 1:56 to go, Vaughn blocked a Louisville shot.

Fifty seconds later, the 6-foot-3 sophomore gave Notre Dame its largest lead to that point, 54-47, on a putback of her own miss, that after getting the defensive rebound that created the possession.

Vaughn wasn’t done yet.

On the ensuing Cardinal possession, she drew a charge on Dana Evans, the fourth foul of the night by the Louisville point guard.

That set the stage for an Arike Ogunbowale 3-pointer just before the third-quarter horn for a 57-47 Irish spread.

“It was good,” Vaughn said Saturday of her play Thursday, “but I hope to make bigger contributions. I’d like to finish things the first time (rather than put back her own misses), and I missed that free throw. I have a lot of work to do.”

Sounds like she wants to be perfect.

“Gonna try,” Vaughn said with a smile. “With (limited) minutes, you gotta make sure you’re doing what you can.”

Vaughn’s savoring every minute, especially after her freshman season was ended just six games in when she suffered a torn knee ligament on Nov. 28, 2017.

“I feel like I’m all the way back,” Vaughn said. “I’m just feeling more comfortable now that I’m past that one-year mark.”

It was a trying year.

“It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to go through,” the Philadelphia native said. “I had to work not only physically, but mentally, just to make sure I was comfortable with everything.”

As hard as Vaughn worked, and as much as she was termed ahead of schedule at times during her rehabilitation, this season still arrived abruptly.

“I didn’t really have time to get back in shape,” Vaughn said. “I had to do it on the fly. … I’m comfortable in how I’m feeling, but I think I still need to get more comfortable playing again. It’s been awhile.”

Against Louisville, she played just eight minutes, yet found herself in the game for parts of all four quarters. She responded with a career-high eight rebounds — four of them offensive — to go with five points.

Over ND’s last four games, Vaughn has scored 30 points, grabbed 19 rebounds, made three steals and blocked two shots in 55 minutes. She’s 13-of-22 from the field for 59 percent during that stretch to go with 4-of-6 at the line.

She’s also contributing in other ways.

“She’s kind of the voice (among the backups),” McGraw said. “She’s always a positive voice, and she’s always the most active. So she makes herself seen. She does a lot of good things in practice, so that’s helped her get in the games.”

On the only team in the country with all five starters on Naismith positional award watch lists, consistent minutes have been hard to come by for each of Notre Dame’s reserves.

“Totally,” Vaughn said of whether the non-starters have maintained positive mindsets. “We’re ready to go when called, all of us.”

Vaughn in particular is appreciating that she can go.

“Any time I get a chance to work out or run, I take it,” Vaughn said, “because I couldn’t walk nine months ago.”

Knight moves

With her next win, McGraw will move into sole possession of eighth place among all NCAA Division I basketball coaches in men’s or women’s history, but it was the coach she already passed Thursday that made her smile Saturday.

“Wow, that’s kind of impressive here in Indiana,” McGraw said when informed that victory No. 903 put her one ahead of Bob Knight.

The man who won three national titles at Indiana retired in 2008 with a 902-371 record built over parts of 42 seasons at Army, IU and Texas Tech.

McGraw, who is 903-272 in her 37th season between Lehigh and Notre Dame, with a pair of national titles, says she hasn’t crossed paths with Knight much during her career, but she did recall a time a few years ago when Knight was in town to do an Irish men’s game for ESPN.

“We were practicing and this big guy wandered in and my manager almost threw him out,” McGraw said.

The wanderer turned out to be Knight with a large fishing hat on.

“Fortunately, Matt recognized who it was,” McGraw said of her husband.

The manager was waved away before reaching Knight.

“So he watched a little bit of practice,” McGraw recollected, “and I went over at one of the breaks and said, ‘Hey, we’re working on this zone thing, what do you think?’ He was great, said ‘your spacing needs to be little better in the corner,’ and it was all great. … He ended up talking to the kids.”

At 903 wins, McGraw is deadlocked with a much more familiar mentor to her in Jim Foster, the man who hired her as an assistant at Saint Joseph’s of Philadelphia in 1980. Foster (903-347) retired from Chattanooga after last season, capping a 40-year career that also included stops at Vanderbilt and Ohio State

“My first few years here, I was on the phone with Jim Foster at least once a week,” McGraw said. “Any time something came up, I was asking his advice. He’s just always been there. … I have great memories and a lot of great fondness for what he did for me.”

Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski (1,114) is the all-time NCAA DI wins leader.

The next five spots are all occupied by women’s coaches, led by the late Pat Summitt (1,098).

Then comes Syracuse men’s coach Jim Boeheim (937 going into Saturday), followed by McGraw, Foster and Knight.

Notre Dame’s Mikayla Vaughn (30) shoots over Louisville’s Kylee Shook (21) during Thursday’s game in South Bend.
With her next win, Muffet McGraw will move into sole possession of eighth place among all NCAA Division I basketball coaches in men’s or women’s history.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

WHO: Wake Forest (9-6, 0-2 ACC) vs. No. 1 Notre Dame (15-1, 3-0).

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

WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TICKETS: Available, $5 to $15.

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

TV/WEB: ACC Network Extra.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

NOTING: Wake Forest, coming off a 65-64 loss to Boston College, will be playing its second game since losing No. 2 scorer Alex Sharp (12.7 points per game, 8.7 rebonds) to a broken hand. Sharp, who also missed the team’s first five games due to offseason shoulder surgery, is expected to be out four to six weeks. … Elisa Penna leads the Demon Deacons at 15.4 ppg. She’s followed by Ivana Raca (12.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Ona Udoh (11.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and Gina Conti (7.0 ppg, 5.4 assists, 1.7 steals). … Wake Forest is shooting 75.3 percent from the line as a team and averaging 7.9 more rebounds than its opponents. … Arike Ogunbowale, coming off a 26-point second half and 19-point fourth quarter against Louisville, is pacing Notre Dame at 22.6 points per game and has 18 assists in her last two outings. Other leaders include Jackie Young (15.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 4.7 apg), Jessica Shepard (14.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg), Marina Mabrey (13.7 ppg, 4.3 apg) and Brianna Turner (13.1 pg, 7.5 rpg, 2.3 blocks). … Turner’s next block will be the 300th of her Irish career. She trails only Ruth Riley (370) on the all-time ND list. … The Irish are 6-0 all-time against Wake Forest, each win coming by at least 20 points.

QUOTING: “I don’t worry about that with this team. I think they’re always ready. I think the seniors understand what they have to do.” — Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame coach, on the possibility of letting up after winning Thursday’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown.