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How Sweet It Is: Irish Prepared to Battle Buckeyes

March 23, 2017

Game Notes Get Acrobat Reader

By Leigh Torbin

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Notre Dame’s Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach Muffet McGraw is looking forward to seeing a dear friend. McGraw also hates seeing her old friend.

The next obstacle in Notre Dame’s march to a national championship is a familiar face as No. 5-seed Ohio State, led by McGraw’s former assistant coach and friend Kevin McGuff, is next up for the Irish at 7 p.m. on Friday night at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. McGuff’s wife, Letitia Bowen, played for McGraw and later served as an assistant coach herself. The familiarity doesn’t create comfort in this case.

“It’s disappointing,” McGraw said of facing McGuff’s Buckeyes. “I hate to have to play against one of my assistants or one of my friends. It’s hard with Letitia there and all their kids. It’s really a shame because I want to be cheering them on and, obviously, I’m not going to be cheering them on.”

About the Buckeyes

Ohio State stands at 28-6 on the year and went 15-1 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes are a surprising fifth seed while standing at No. 11 in the final AP poll and No. 10 in the final WBCA coaches poll. Ohio State is led by All-American Kelsey Mitchell who averages 22.7 points per game which picking up 131 assists. Stephanie Mavunga has missed the last month with an injury but McGuff told media he is “cautiously optimistic” for the return of his center who has averaged 11.8 points and 11.3 rebounds per game this year.

Notre Dame leads the all-time series, 3-1, although all four meetings have been settled by seven points or less.

One of the more unique games in the history of both programs occurred on Nov. 9, 2012, as the teams played on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown, docked in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. The first women’s Carrier Classic saw the Irish claim a 66-62 win behind a double-double from Natalie Achonwa with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

The sides last met on Dec. 2, 2015, at Purcell Pavilion with the Irish claiming a 75-72 win during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Madison Cable had a double-double for the Irish with 25 points and 11 rebounds while Lindsay Allen scored 20. Kelsey Mitchell scored a game-high 27 for the Buckeyes while Shayla Cooper had a double-double with 18 points and 15 rebounds.

Notre Dame-Big Ten History

Notre Dame is 3-0 this year against Big Ten teams, beating Iowa, 73-58, on Nov. 30 in Iowa City, Michigan State, 79-61, on Dec. 20 in East Lansing, and Purdue, 88-82 in overtime, on Sunday night at Purcell Pavilion.

Notre Dame is on an 18-game winning streak against Big Ten teams (at game time), dating back to a loss to Minnesota in the 2009 NCAA Championship. That run extends to 26 games if counting wins against Maryland and Rutgers when they competed in the ACC and BIG EAST, respectively.

This marks just the second time Notre Dame has played members of the same conference in consecutive NCAA tournament games, the other coming in 2014 when the Irish defeated Big 12 members Oklahoma State and Baylor in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively.

The Irish are 6-5 against the Big Ten (at game time) in NCAA play and 8-5 counting two wins over Maryland when the Terrapins competed in the ACC.

The only other time Notre Dame played two Big Ten teams in the same tournament was 2001 when the Irish beat Michigan in the second round and Purdue in the national championship game.

Turning the Page

Brianna Turner will miss this game, and the rest of the season, with the knee injury she suffered Sunday night in the win over Purdue. The Irish have been tinkering with new starting lineup possibilities over the past few days in practice with two of the options being freshmen in Erin Boley and Jackie Young. Boley has started eight games this season as Kathryn Westbeld has been limited by her sore ankle. A member of the ACC’s all-freshman team, Young would be making her first career start, as would senior Kristina Nelson should the call fall to her.

McGraw is confident in what she has seen this year from her pair of prized recruits.

“When we made our run in the second quarter (against Purdue), they were both on the floor,” She said. “Both of them can score. They can do a lot of great things on offense. I think that we’ll be harder to guard on the perimeter now because everyone is a force. Everybody can score so they’re going to have to extend their defense. Both of them are capable of having big games.”

Fifth Teacher vs. Pupil Matchup For McGraw

While Muffet McGraw’s coaching tree features several collegiate head coaches, the Sweet 16 matchup with Ohio State is just the fifth time she has faced a pupil head-to-head. She is 4-0 to date in these games.

McGraw faced Kevin McGuff’s Buckeyes in the 2015 ACC/Big Ten Challenge and came away with a 75-72 win at the Joyce Center. McGuff was an assistant at Notre Dame from 1996-2002.

McGraw faced Coquese Washington, her former player and assistant – now head coach at Penn State, on Dec. 4, 2013, also in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Irish won that game, 77-67, in State College.

One of McGraw’s original Irish assistants, Bill Fennelly, later became head coach at Toledo. The Irish downed Fennelly’s Rockets in both the 1989 WNIT and 1990 regular season.

McGraw got a taste of this phenomenon from the other side of the fence earlier this year as her team took on her college coach and mentor Jim Foster’s Chattanooga Mocs on Dec. 27. The Irish claimed that matchup, 79-58, in Chattanooga as McGraw improved to 6-3 in her career against Foster. Their meetings on the court have swayed significantly based on McGraw’s employer at the time. As head coach at Lehigh, she went 0-3 against Foster’s St. Joseph’s teams. Since coming to Notre Dame, she is 6-0 against Foster-coached teams: 1-0 vs. St. Joseph’s, 1-0 vs. Vanderbilt, 2-0 vs. Ohio State and 2-0 vs. Chattanooga.

My Old Kentucky Home

Erin Boley is making a return trip to her home state where she was Kentucky’s Miss Basketball in 2016.

The Irish have generally enjoyed Homecoming games of late. The last time a Notre Dame player from outside of Indiana did not win a game played in her home state came on Feb. 28, 2011, when the Irish fell to No. 12 DePaul in Chicago, Illinois, home state of Devereaux Peters (Chicago) and Kaila Turner (Joliet).

Thrice this season, Notre Dame players have won games, not only in their home states, but their hometown regions. Brianna Turner (Pearland, Texas) saw the Irish beat Louisiana-Lafayette in Houston while Diamond Thompson (Wheaton, Ill.) saw Notre Dame down DePaul in Chicago and Kristina Nelson (Buford, Ga.) saw the Irish beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Overall, Notre Dame is 4-0 in home state visits this year as Kathryn Westbeld (Kettering, Ohio) successfully went back to the Buckeye State during a Dec. 18 win at Toledo.

Irish Second-Hottest Team in the Country

Notre Dame rides a 16-game winning streak into the NCAA’s Sweet 16. This streak stands as the second-longest active winning streak nationally behind only UConn (109). The Irish have not lost since a Jan. 16 setback at Tennessee.

The Irish also won each of their last 18 ACC games of the year (regular season and tournament). The run ties New Mexico State (WAC) for the fourth-longest active conference winning streak in the country.

Helping the Irish to these runs has been its success away from Purcell Pavilion. The Irish went 12-2 on the road this year. As of Monday, only UConn (14) and Belmont (13) had more road wins in 2016-17.

How to Watch/Listen

The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN with Beth Mowins, Debbie Antonelli and Allison Williams on the call.

Information on how to access WatchESPN is available here.

For those familiar with the WatchESPN, the direct link to the webcast of Sunday’s game is available here.

Bob Nagle returns for his 12th season as the radio voice of the Irish. Notre Dame’s local home on the radio is Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) while the audio is also available globally via and the WatchND app.

–ND–Leigh Torbin, athletics communications associate director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 and coordinates all media efforts for Notre Dame’s women’s basketball and men’s golf teams. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.