Nov. 21, 2016
By Leigh Torbin
The No. 1 Notre Dame women’s basketball team is much like a family, a group of people who are there for each other both during formative college years and for decades beyond.
The team is not biologically related. All players, coaches and staff do have their parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents and such beyond just the world of Irish basketball. One thing is for certain, however. Muffet McGraw, the Kevin and Karen Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach, will go far out of her way to unite the two.
Such is the case this week for junior forward Brianna Turner who grew up in the Houston suburb of Pearland. The Irish searched for a Homecoming game against several local schools but those teams did not want to face Notre Dame. Determined to get a game in Houston for Turner’s friends and actual family to see her in action with her Irish basketball family, Notre Dame got creative.
Similar to what was done for Natalie Achonwa’s Homecoming game in Toronto, the Irish took a page out of the Shamrock Series playbook and scheduled a neutral site contest against Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday night at the M.O. Campbell Educational Center in Houston.
“We’ve been trying to get to Texas every year,” McGraw said. “TCU played us last year (in Fort Worth) and unfortunately Bri wasn’t able to play so now this is really her first Homecoming game.
“We’re so thankful for the University of Louisiana Lafayette to play us because everybody else turned us down. Nobody wanted to play us down there. It’s such a great game to have for our alums and fans and everyone who lives in Houston and follows Bri.”
Turner’s high school legacy in Houston is substantial. She was the USA Today National High School Player of the Year, a McDonald’s All-American (one of eight on the current Irish roster) and Texas Miss Basketball in 2014. She led Manvel High School to the Texas 5A state championship that year, earning MVP honors with a 17-point, 17-rebound showing in the championship game win over Duncanville High School. As a senior, she averaged 20.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 3.9 blocks and 3.7 steals per game.
Turner is excited for what awaits her back in the Space City.
“I’m very excited to be playing in front of my family and friends,” said Turner, who guessed that it could be 100 of her family and friends in attendance. “My parents get up to Notre Dame for a lot of the games but my extended family doesn’t have a chance to see me play in person. I’m real excited to play in front of them.”
Named to the AP’s Preseason All-America team, Turner had shoulder surgery immediately after the 2015-16 season, but she was fully cleared during the fall and has helped the top-ranked Irish to a 4-0 mark so far this season.
Turner recorded her first double-double of the season on Sunday with 10 points and 12 rebounds in an Irish victory over No. 17 Washington. She has scored in double figures in each of Notre Dame’s four games this year, but still has not quite been herself as she continues to recover and teams continue to hone in on defending her.
“The thing I’ve loved about Bri is how she’s battling through this adversity,” McGraw said. “Teams have been double teaming her. They’re getting physical with her — jamming her on every single cut. Nothing’s coming easy for her and she just continues to battle. I don’t think she was ready for this. She had the whole summer off. She’s just getting back into the flow. She can continue to work hard. She’s being a lot more aggressive looking for the ball and getting to the free throw line. I’d like to see her get more shots and do a little more scoring.”
Turner’s family has Houston athletic ties. Her father, Howard, played basketball at Lamar University and her mother, Kellye, played basketball at the University of Houston. Monday evening, the Irish enjoyed an expansive dinner at their spacious home as Turner’s two families united.
About the Ragin’ Cajuns
UL-Lafayette enters the game with a 1-0 record after defeating McNeese State, 77-70, on Nov. 12 in Lake Charles. The Ragin’ Cajuns got 28 points from Simone Fields and 26 more from Jaylyn Gordon en route to the victory over the Cowgirls. Fields was named the Sun Belt Player of the Week for her performance in the contest.
The Cajuns bring a small lineup to the court, playing with four guards around a center (Fields) who stands just 6-foot-0. The only player over six-feet who saw action in the win over McNeese State, 6-foot-2 Brittney Myles, played for four minutes against the Cowgirls.
UL-Lafayette went 25-10 a year ago with regular-season wins over Ole Miss and Arkansas on their way to a Women’s Basketball Invitational championship. This will be the first meeting between the schools which share fierce ethnic nicknames — the Ragin’ Cajuns and Fighting Irish. Notre Dame has a 27-game winning streak against first-time opponents, dating back to a 2010 loss at Baylor.
Somebody’s “0” Must Go…Again
An off-shoot of opening the season with the 16-team bracketed Preseason WNIT, Notre Dame is playing its fifth game this year and each of them have been a matchup of undefeated teams. The Irish have beaten Central Michigan (0-0), Fordham (1-0), Green Bay (2-0) and Washington (3-0) handing each team its first loss of the campaign and remaining undefeated themselves. Should the Irish defeat UL-Lafayette (1-0), Notre Dame would head into a matchup at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion against a TCU team that, naturally, is still undefeated.
How to Listen
There will not be live television or live streaming video available for Tuesday night’s neutral site game in Houston.
However, fans can listen to Bob Nagle call the game live from the Campbell Center. Notre Dame’s local home on the radio is Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) while the audio is also available globally via WatchND.tv and the WatchND app. The direct link to the radio call is here. In addition, Anna Gonzalez of the Fighting Irish Media video staff is on the trip with the Irish, gathering behind-the-scenes footage and game highlights, which will appear this week on the team’s social media accounts as well as on WatchND (WatchND.tv).
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.