Young questionable as Irish women travel to North Carolina

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — As Notre Dame players prepared to take off Saturday for the middle of three straight women’s basketball road games involving air travel, veteran voyager Brianna Turner had one goal in mind.

“Try to find the exit row,” the Irish forward and graduate student said with a smile.

No. 1-ranked ND is still on the early side of its heaviest travel period to this regular season.

In what began with Thursday’s 77-62 win at Tennessee and continues with Sunday’s visit to North Carolina (11-9, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), the Irish (19-1, 6-0) are playing six away games in a span of eight contests over 26 days.

“I think travel’s always a grind, but especially now,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said after a late-morning practice Saturday, just ahead of an early-afternoon flight.

“We’ve got three in a row, so we’ve gotta kind of pace it out,” McGraw said. “We gotta make sure they’re getting their rest, but it’s mentally fatiguing, too, especially in this kind of weather. We’re a veteran team, so we know how to handle it, but we’ve got to make sure we’re taking care of business.”

Because the Irish take mostly charter flights, they were less affected than commercial travelers by the record 35-day government shutdown that ended Friday after generating shortages in Transportation Security Administration agents.

The team, though, is also reliant on air traffic controllers, who were calling in sick at an increased rate, per national reports.

“We’re traveling a lot with recruiting,” McGraw reminded of other duties the coaches have, “so we’re interacting a lot with (both TSAs and ATCs).”

McGraw sent out a series of tweets last week sympathetic to federal workers who were furloughed or working without pay, and she is part of an effort by the ND athletic department to provide free game tickets to those individuals.

Turner said Saturday that she’s “happy everything’s back open now, so they’re going to get paid.”

One of 15 players named to the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year midseason watch list Friday, Turner said that nobody on this particular Irish team has much issue with travel in general.

“I think we all kind of got the hang of it now,” she said. “We have our own little seats. We know where to go. We know what to do.”

For Turner, that includes catching up on course work.

“I usually try to do my homework on the plane,” said ND’s No. 2 player all-time in both field goal percentage (61.8) and blocked shots (310). “I can’t have distractions, so I always try to do my homework on the plane.”

Young questionable

Irish junior guard Jackie Young turned an ankle on “the very last play” of Saturday’s practice and is questionable for Sunday’s game, according to McGraw.

Coming off the seventh triple-double in ND history Thursday at Tennessee, Young has started all 20 contests this season.

She racked up 16 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high 10 assists against the Volunteers to push her season averages to 14.8, 6.7 and a team-leading 4.8.

Freshman Abby Prohaska will get the start if Young can’t play, McGraw said.

Prohaska received two starts when Marina Mabrey missed the first five games of the season due to injury.

Overall, Prohaska has averaged 1.6 points, 1.5 assists and 0.8 steals in 15.0 minutes while appearing in all but one game. The lefty is just 6-of-25 from the field, but 18-of-20 at the line.

Outstanding outlets

Jessica Shepard’s outlet passes keep getting both longer and stronger as the season progresses, often triggering easy transition buckets for the Irish.

The 6-foot-4 senior’s been particularly precise of late, whether on the shorter diagonals that lead already-breaking teammates or on heartier heaves that cover much of the court.

“I don’t think we’ve had a player that can outlet like Jess can,” McGraw said. “She’s so strong. She can see the whole floor. She knows where the guards are gonna be. She doesn’t mind having people on her, because she really doesn’t mind a physical game, so I don’t think we’ve ever had anybody like her.”

The coach said “we’re trying to get the other posts to do the same thing. We’re working on having Bri look for the longer outlets. I think it really is an advantage on the break.”

Turner concurred.

“I’m definitely working on the outlet passes,” she said. “We’re so good in transition. We can rebound and get down the court in five seconds. That’s when we’re at our best.”

If this were hockey — where up to two can be awarded on a score rather than basketball’s one — the break-igniting Shepard would certainly have more assists. As it is, she’s averaging 3.2 as a forward.

Meanwhile, she’s closing in on a scoring milestone, too.

Shepard needs 12 points for 2,000 in her career.

Once she reaches that mark, she’ll join Ruth Riley as the only two ND players ever to achieve both 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a college career. Shepard’s figures include her first two seasons coming at Nebraska.

Deadlocked sisters

Heading into Sunday’s game, Marina Mabrey and graduated sister Michaela are exactly deadlocked in career 3-pointers for the Irish, and they’re close in attempts as well.

Marina’s at 228-of-569 for 40.1 percent, while Michaela finished her career in 2016 at 228-of-576 for 39.6 percent.

Marina, 34-of-80 this season for 42.5 percent, is on pace despite missing the first five games to lead Notre Dame in 3-pointers for the third straight year.

If that happens, it will mark the fifth time in six seasons that a Mabrey has led the Irish.

The irony is that the exception came in 2015-16, the one year the sisters played together.

Madison Cable paced ND with 73 triples that season, followed by Michaela’s 64.

The Mabreys are tied for fourth in program history in career 3-pointers, and Marina could still threaten all-time leader Alicia Ratay.

Ratay, who wrapped up her Irish career in 2003, is at 262 makes. She also remains the all-time NCAA Division I leader in percentage at 47.6 (262-of-550).

Sheila McMillen (249) is second and Beth Morgan-Cunningham (231) third in ND career 3s.

In percentage, the Mabrey sisters rank fifth and sixth in Irish history.

Notre Dame guard Jackie Young is questionable for Sunday’s game at North Carolina after turning her ankle in practice on Saturday.


WHO: No. 1 Notre Dame (19-1, 6-0 ACC) vs. North Carolina (11-9, 2-4).

WHERE: Carmichael Arena (6,822), Chapel Hill, N.C.

WHEN: Sunday, 2 p.m.

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

TV/WEB: ACC Network Extra.


NOTING: Notre Dame and North Carolina are the only two teams in the ACC with five players averaging double digits in scoring. For the top-ranked Irish, that’s Arike Ogunbowale (21.8), Jessica Shepard (14.8), Jackie Young (14.5), Marina Mabrey (13.5) and Brianna Turner (13.0). For the Tar Heels, that’s Janelle Bailey (16.5), Stephanie Watts (15.7), Paris Kea (14.7), Shayla Bennett (10.7) and Taylor Koenen (10.2). Kea’s the lone senior in the Heels’ double-digit fivesome, while Young, a junior, is the lone underclassman in ND’s. … Bailey, a 6-4 sophomore center, is also at 8.9 rebounds and shooting 51 percent on 2-pointers. Watts is 61-of-164 on 3s for 37.2 percent. Bennett, the WBCA junior college player of the year last season at Gulf Coast State, leads Carolina in assists at 4.3. …. Shepard (team-leading 9.8 rebounds) and Turner (7.7) are each shooting 60.1 percent from the field for the Irish. ... The game matches two of the seven winningest coaches in NCAA women’s history. Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell is fifth at 1,016-399 in her 44th year overall. ND’s Muffet McGraw is 907-272 in her 37th year overall. … The Irish are 7-1 all-time against the Heels, including 5-0 since joining the ACC. All seven ND wins have come by double digits, including 94-62 last season. … Carolina hasn’t played a No. 1-ranked team since losing 88-47 at Connecticut on Jan. 9, 2010.

QUOTING: “Similar to Tennessee, just a really athletic team. They can guard. They can play four guards, so we should have a mismatch inside, and with Bri (Turner) able to guard on the perimeter it really helps with the matchups, but they’re a good shooting team, so the zone will be a little bit of a question.” — Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame coach, on North Carolina