SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw ignores the two blue-and-gold banners that list the school’s seven Final Four appearances when she looks to the rafters before each game. She looks at the white banner celebrating the 2001 national championship.
”That’s the one I want. I know that there are 300 schools that would love to trade places with us, but we just aren’t satisfied,” McGraw said. ”We want to take that one more step.”
McGraw also wants to make sure the third-ranked Fighting Irish know that a sixth-straight Final Four appearance isn’t guaranteed.
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”Some of them don’t know how hard it was for the players before them to blaze that trail,” said McGraw, entering her 28th season as Notre Dame coach. ”So now it’s a matter of us establishing the culture of making sure that they know every practice is really important. Every single play is really important.”
The biggest challenge for the Irish as they try to find a way to knock off rival Connecticut and to win a third straight Atlantic Coast Conference title is to make up for the early departure of Jewell Loyd, the WNBA’s rookie of the year. McGraw is counting on guard Lindsay Allen and forward Brianna Turner to fill the void.
”Those two are definitely going to have the ball in their hands a lot at the end of the game,” McGraw said.
The 6-foot-3 Turner, last year’s ACC freshman of the year, was picked as the preseason player of the year after making a school-record 65.2 percent of her shots while averaging 13.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game last season. McGraw is expecting even more from Turner this season.
Turner said she’s ready, saying she’s in better shape.
”I know last year I would get tired and kind of take plays off. This year, I want to play hard the whole game and take no plays off,” she said.
Allen, who averaged 10.8 points a game last season, said it will take a team effort.
”I think we will be a little more balanced in terms of scoring. But I think we all have a chip on our shoulder to prove that we can move on without Jewell,” Allen said.
The other returning starters are 6-4 forward Taya Reimer (10.2 points and 6.1 rebounds a game), who has been slowed in the preseason by a sore Achilles tendon, and 5-10 guard Michaela Mabrey (7.2 ppg). The fifth starter is expected to be 5-10 guard Madison Cable (6.9 ppg).
Other things to know about the Irish:
POST PLAY: The Irish have the most depth at the post they’ve had in years with Turner and Reimer, along with 6-2 forward Kathryn Westbeld (7.9 ppg) and the return of 6-4 forward Kristina Nelson, who sat out last season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
INJURY SETBACK: McGraw had been counting on freshman point guard Ali Patberg to give Allen a chance to play more on the wing, but Patberg sustained a season-ending knee injury Monday.
FRESHMEN IMPACT: McGraw expects freshmen guards Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey to contribute right away. She describes Mabrey as crafty and said Ogunbowale can drive to the basket and likely will lead the team in free-throw attempts.
SISTER ACT: Marina and Michaela Mabrey will become just the second set of sisters to play for the Irish at the same time. The others were Carol and Maggie Lally in 1978-79.
TITLE-GAME REMATCH: The Irish will face top-ranked Connecticut on Dec. 5 in a rematch of last season’s title game.