May 27, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — While it’s highly unlikely a Hollywood screenwriter was behind the pairing, there will be no shortage of storylines when the University of Notre Dame and Ohio State University meet on Dec. 2, 2015, at Purcell Pavilion in one of the marquee games of the ninth annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, it was announced Wednesday by both the Atlantic Coast and Big Ten conference offices. The exact tip time and broadcast coverage will be announced at a later date.
With Wednesday’s announcement, the Fighting Irish will play one of their former assistant coaches for the second time in three appearances in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff served on Muffet McGraw’s staff at Notre Dame for six seasons from 1996-97 through 2001-02 and was a vital member of two Final Four teams, including the program’s first NCAA championship squad in 2000-01.
“Once again we will matched up with a former assistant in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, this time with Kevin McGuff,” said McGraw, Notre Dame’s Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach. “Kevin has done a terrific job building Ohio State into a national power. They have a great young team led by the nation’s leading scorer last year, Kelsey Mitchell. Both teams like to put points on the board and play at a very fast pace, and that should make it an exciting game for our fans, who are the best in the country.”
As an added wrinkle, McGuff’s wife is the former Letitia Bowen, a 1995 Notre Dame graduate who played for McGraw and the Fighting Irish from 1991-95 and remains second on the program’s career rebounding list (999). A two-time all-Midwestern Collegiate Conference selection, Bowen also spent six seasons on McGraw’s staff at Notre Dame, four as an assistant coach and two as director of basketball operations, filling the latter role on the 2001 national championship team.
Two of Notre Dame’s current assistant coaches — Beth (Morgan) Cunningham and Niele Ivey — were players on the 1996-97 Final Four team that featured McGuff and Bowen as assistants alongside current Fighting Irish associate head coach Carol Owens. In 2000-01, Ivey was a fifth-year senior (she missed most of the ’96-97 campaign with a knee injury) on Notre Dame’s title-winning team, playing for a McGraw-led coaching staff that featured Owens and McGuff, as well as director of operations Bowen.
In addition, McGuff hired Ivey as an administrative assistant on his women’s basketball staff at Xavier University from 2005-07. Following those two seasons, Ivey returned to her alma mater as an assistant coach, a role she has maintained ever since, adding the title of recruiting coordinator in 2012.
Notre Dame and Ohio State will be meeting for the fourth time, with the Fighting Irish leading the abbreviated series, 2-1. The teams last squared off on Nov. 9, 2012, with Notre Dame posting a 57-51 season-opening win over the Buckeyes in the Carrier Classic, played outdoors aboard the USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. It was believed to be the first outdoor women’s basketball game in NCAA Division I history.
Notre Dame is 2-0 all-time in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, following last season’s 92-72 win over Maryland in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Fighting Irish also earned a 77-67 victory at Penn State (who is coached by former Notre Dame player and assistant coach Coquese Washington) in 2013 during their first appearance in the Challenge. Louisville is the only other school with an unblemished record in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, having won its lone contest in the event last year during its inaugural ACC season.
Notre Dame brings back four starters and 10 monogram recipients from its 2014-15 squad that posted a 36-3 record and advanced to the NCAA Women’s Final Four for the fifth consecutive year (seventh time in school history), while making its fourth trip to the NCAA national championship game in the past five seasons (fifth in school history). The Fighting Irish, who were ranked No. 2 in the final 2014-15 Associated Press and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA)/USA Today polls, also are the two-time defending ACC regular-season and tournament champions, the first program to sweep both ACC titles in consecutive seasons since Duke in 2002-03 and 2003-04, and just the third ACC school ever to pull off that feat.
Next season, Notre Dame will be paced by a pair of honorable mention All-Americans in junior guard Lindsay Allen (Mitchellville, Md./St. John’s College) and sophomore forward Brianna Turner (Pearland, Texas/Manvel), as well as 2015 USA Basketball Pan American Games Team member and junior forward Taya Reimer (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern) and senior sharpshooting guard Michaela Mabrey (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan).
The returning Notre Dame reserve unit also will be strong, led by sophomore forward and Ohio native Kathryn Westbeld (Kettering, Ohio/Kettering Fairmont) and fifth-year senior guard Madison Cable (Mt. Lebanon, Pa./Mt. Lebanon), who sank the game-winning shot for the Fighting Irish with 19 seconds left in their 66-65 win over South Carolina in the NCAA Women’s Final Four national semifinals back in April at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.
As a team, Notre Dame will return more than 70 percent of its scoring, along with 80 percent of its rebounding and assists from a year ago.
Next fall, the Fighting Irish will introduce the nation’s No. 3-ranked incoming freshman class, a three-player group that features three McDonald’s High School All-America guards — McDonald’s High School All-America Game MVP and 2015 Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year Marina Mabrey (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan), three-time Wisconsin Player of the Year Arike Ogunbowale (Milwaukee, Wis./Divine Savior Holy Angels), and 2015 MaxPreps National High School Player of the Year and the reigning Indiana Miss Basketball Ali Patberg (Columbus, Ind./Columbus North). Notre Dame also will regain the services of junior forward Kristina Nelson (Buford, Ga./Buford), who sat out the 2014-15 season while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Meanwhile, Ohio State advanced to the second round of last year’s NCAA Championship, defeating perennial mid-major power James Madison in its opening game and rallying from a 23-point deficit at North Carolina in the second round, only to see UNC pull out a last-second 86-84 victory. The Buckeyes finished with a 24-11 record, tied for third in the Big Ten and reached the Big Ten Tournament title game where they dropped a narrow 77-74 decision to Maryland.
OSU was ranked No. 20 in the final WBCA/USA Today poll and No. 23 in the year-end AP poll. Next year, the Buckeyes will be led by sophomore All-American guard Kelsey Mitchell, who was the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) National Freshman of the Year and the Big Ten Co-Player of the Year in 2014-15 after leading the nation in scoring (24.9 points per game), setting school and Big Ten records with 873 points, and establishing a new NCAA Division I record by making 127 three-pointers. Between them, Turner and Mitchell were widely considered the nation’s top two freshmen last season, with Turner garnering much of the plaudits in the post, while Mitchell did likewise from the guard spot.
Joining Mitchell on next year’s Buckeye roster will be senior guard and two-time first-team all-Big Ten selection, Ameryst Alston, and sophomore forward Alexa Hart, who was an honorable mention all-Big Ten choice last season. Mitchell and Alston were the nation’s highest-scoring duo last year, averaging 44.7 points per game between them to spark an Ohio State offense that ranked fourth nationally at 81.0 points per contest. OSU also should have several other injured players back at full strength in 2015-16, including Makayla Waterman — Westbeld’s high school teammate — who missed her rookie campaign with a knee injury.
The ACC has won six of the previous eight Big Ten/ACC Challenge events, and holds a 55-39 all-time record against the Big Ten in the Challenge, with the 2011 and 2014 competitions ending in a tie (each conference earned six victories in 2011 and seven wins apiece last season).
All 14 Big Ten schools and 14 of the 15 ACC members will compete in this year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge (all but Clemson). The Challenge expanded to 14 games last season after the conferences played 12 times during the previous three seasons (2011-13), and 11 times in the first four years of the event, which debuted in 2007.
The ACC and Big Ten conference offices determine the Challenge schedule each season. In addition, the official title of the Challenge rotates each year, with the 2015 event to be referred to as the Big Ten/ACC Women’s Basketball Challenge, continuing to mirror the official title of the two conferences’ Challenge agreement for men’s basketball.
For the full slate of games in the 2015 Big Ten/ACC Women’s Basketball Challenge, visit the official ACC web site.
The Ohio State game will be included among Notre Dame’s season ticket package that will go on sale later this summer, with single-game tickets available for purchase in late September or early October. It’s also the latest piece (and the first home game) of the 2015-16 Fighting Irish women’s basketball schedule — Notre Dame previously announced it will travel to the Bahamas during Thanksgiving weekend to compete in the Junkanoo Jam, taking on Denver (Nov. 27) and either UCLA or Louisiana Tech (Nov. 28).
For more information on the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women’s basketball Twitter pages (@NDsidMasters or @ndwbb), like the program on Facebook (facebook.com/ndwbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the “Fan Center” pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
— Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director