Jackie Young still questionable as Notre Dame women try to rebound
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame might get a second straight chance Thursday to prove it can win a women’s basketball game without Jackie Young.
Not that the Irish feel they should be in this position of not having proven it already.
“As the No. 1 team in the country, you should be able to beat an unranked team without one of your starters, so it was really disappointing that nobody else really stepped up,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said Wednesday afternoon of Sunday’s stunning 78-73 loss at North Carolina.
“We had four really good players on the floor all the time,” McGraw said, “and they needed to do more.”
“We have so many weapons,” senior guard Marina Mabrey concurred. “Obviously, Jackie’s a huge loss for us, but we really should still be able to pull out a win.”
Young, coming off a triple-double two days earlier at Tennessee, suffered a sprained right ankle during the final play of practice Saturday and did not dress for the game against the Tar Heels.
She returned to practice Wednesday afternoon, but was restricted in contact drills.
McGraw described the junior guard as “questionable” for Thursday’s game at Clemson, where now-No.5 Notre Dame (19-2, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) faces one of the nation’s most improved clubs in the Tigers (14-6, 5-2).
“She’s definitely going to dress,” McGraw said of Young’s status. “She wants to play. It’s just a matter of can she cut? Straight up and down, she’d be fine.”
“It’s a game-time decision,” said Young, who is averaging 14.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and a team-leading 4.8 assists. “I’m just going to see how I feel. … If it is my decision, I’m playing.”
Without Young, who typically shares point guard duties, the Irish stumbled to 20 turnovers at Chapel Hill.
Marina Mabrey (20), Jessica Shepard (19) and Brianna Turner (19) combined for 59 points, but they also coughed up a combined 15 of those turnovers, including seven by Turner.
Arike Ogunbowale, ND’s leading scorer on the season at 21.4 points, finished with 13 to go with five assists against two turnovers, but was just 5-of-21 from the field.
While freshman point guard Jordan Nixon delivered just two points across 33 minutes in the absence of Young, she also had four assists against one turnover for a team that has plenty of other scoring options.
“It’s the veterans, really, that are turning it over,” McGraw said. “It’s not really the freshmen.”
“I think sometimes we try to force it in too much, try to force passes that aren’t there,” Mabrey said of the Irish, who are averaging 16 turnovers over their last six outings. “(We’re not) throwing the right pass, throwing overhead passes when it should be a bounce, just little things like that, which all comes back to focus.”
Other issues also can be attributed to focus, or even to willingness, according to McGraw.
“It always is,” the coach said of whether defense has been a point of emphasis this week after Carolina hit 11-of-27 on 3-pointers for 41 percent to go with 47 percent on 2-pointers.
“I think it’s a willingness — or a lack of willingness — to defend,” McGraw said. “That’s always been the problem. It’s not really that we can’t do it. It’s that we don’t want to.”
Over on the offensive end, “we’ve got to be able to figure out who’s got the hot hand, where can we get the ball?” the coach assessed. “We had a lot of mismatches (against Carolina that) we weren’t able to take advantage of.”
According to ESPN, Notre Dame became the nation’s first No. 1-ranked women’s team in eight years to lose to an unranked club. That ended a streak of 198 wins by No. 1 teams in such matchups.
Over the last 20 years, No. 1-ranked women’s teams have lost to unranked opponents just four times — compared to 63 such outcomes on the men’s side. Baylor (2010-11), Tennessee (2005-06) and Connecticut (2003-04), like the Irish, have been victims once each.
“A lot of things,” Mabrey said of what went wrong in an ND loss that featured 30 points and 10 assists by the Tar Heel senior guard Paris Kea, “but obviously, credit to them. They played a great game. They came ready to play and we didn’t. That’s what it started with.”
“It was tough,” Young said of the trip to Carolina, “to just sit over there and watch.”
In the lately surging Tigers, the lately turnover-prone Irish face a group that ranks second in the nation among major-conference programs and eighth overall at 12.3 steals per game.
Clemson has had a full week to prepare for Notre Dame after pushing No. 7 host North Carolina State in its last outing.
The Wolfpack, the nation’s last unbeaten, held on for a 54-51 victory that ended the Tigers’ five-game winning streak.
During that streak, Clemson recorded road wins of 76-67 over then-No. 23 Miami and 57-45 over then-No. 22 Florida State.
“They’ve got a lot of energy,” McGraw said of the Tigers. “They play really hard, really inspired. They play great defense. They’re all about the defense. They trap, they press, they get excited about defense.”
Clemson is in its first season under former Florida coach Amanda Butler after firing Audra Smith last March.
With their 5-2 ACC mark, the Tigers already have matched the number of league wins they compiled while going 5-59 over Smith’s final four seasons.
Clemson was 11-19 overall in 2017-18, 1-15 in the conference.
The Irish, attempting to win at least a share of the ACC regular-season title for the sixth time during their six years in the league, may have no margin for error in a conference race that is jam-packed near the top.
North Carolina State leads at 7-0, while Louisville is 7-1 and Miami 6-1. ND already has beaten the Cardinals, but has road games remaining against both the Wolfpack (Feb. 18) and the Hurricanes (Feb. 7).
“I think we just want to get back out there,” Mabrey said of Thursday’s more immediate goal, “and show what we really can do, and just play better.”
WHO: No. 5 Notre Dame (19-2, 6-1 ACC) vs. Clemson (14-6, 5-2).
WHERE: Littlejohn Coliseum (9,000), Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m.
RADIO: Pulse (103.1 / 96.9 / 92.1 FM).
TV/WEB: ACC Network Extra.
NOTING: Clemson leaders are 6-2 junior post Kobi Thornton (15.6 points, 8.1 rebounds per game), graduate transfer guard Simone Westbrook (14.9 points, 3.7 assists, 3.4 steals), senior guard Danielle Edwards (13.5 points, 3.1 assists, 2.9 steals) and senior swing Aliyah Collier (9.5 points, 6.6 rebounds). Westbrook transferred from Florida and is a cousin of former NFL standout Brian Westbrook. … Irish leaders are Arike Ogunbowale (21.4 points, 3.8 assists, 1.8 steals), Jessica Shepard (15.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 60 percent on field goals), Jackie Young (14.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists), Marina Mabrey (13.9 points, 4.3 assists, 38-of-86 on 3s for 44 percent) and Brianna Turner (13.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 61 percent on field goals). … Turner is 64-of-95 from the field over her last 12 games for 67.4 percent and leads the ACC in league play at 66.1 percent. … Mabrey scored a still career-high 29 points two years ago at Clemson, including 24 in the second half, as ND escaped a major upset with an 84-80 win. … Clemson is averaging just 928 in home attendance despite its overall success and its 10-2 home record. … The Irish haven’t lost two straight games since Nov. 2010. They’ve won 25 straight games on the heels of defeat. … ND is 5-0 all-time against the Tigers.
QUOTING: “I don’t think we’re as low as we were last year. We were at a really low point, but we just need to come back and get better. … Maybe this will be a turning point in the season.” — Marina Mabrey, Notre Dame guard, comparing Sunday’s loss at unranked North Carolina to last season’s 100-69 loss at No. 3 Louisville.