Jan. 11, 2017
By Leigh Torbin
The No. 6 Notre Dame women's basketball team is eager to enjoy some home cooking on Thursday night as the Irish play host to Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center. Notre Dame is playing one of just two home games out of a 12-game span from Dec. 10 to Jan. 22.
Here are some things to know about the game.
About the Panthers
Pittsburgh stands at 10-6 on the season and 1-2 in ACC play heading into Thursday night's contest. The Panthers claimed a league win over Boston College on Jan. 5 but lost to a pair of top-14 foes in Miami and Louisville. Pittsburgh has only played three true away games all season, but has dropped each of those three contests away from the comforts of the Petersen Events Center, losing at Penn State, Duquesne and Louisville.
Brenna Wise leads Pitt with both 13.4 points per game and 7.3 rebounds. DePaul graduate transfer Brandi Harvey-Carr is the only other Panther to average double figures in scoring at 12.2 points per game. The center has grabbed 5.6 rebounds per game and blocked 18 shots.
Notre Dame holds a 24-3 edge in the series against Pittsburgh, including wins in each of the last seven meetings. At 27 meetings, Pittsburgh is the second-longest series for the Irish against any ACC foe, trailing just the 32 meetings with Syracuse. Notre Dame stands at 11-0 against Pittsburgh at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center. The Irish went 21-3 against the Panthers in the BIG EAST era and are 3-0 since the two schools joined the ACC for the 2013-14 season. There have been two postseason meetings between the teams, with the Irish claiming a win in the 2003 BIG EAST quarterfinals and the Panthers upsetting the Irish in the 2008 BIG EAST quarterfinals.
Last year's game in Pittsburgh marked the milestone 800th win of Muffet McGraw's coaching career. She was the sixth-fastest coach to reach this milestone, doing so in her 1,063rd game with an 800-263 record. In that game, the teams stood tied at 49-49 heading into the fourth quarter but the Irish won that stanza, 16-6, to go on to claim a 65-55 win. Brianna Turner led all scorers with 20 points while Madison Cable tossed in 16 more, including a 9-of-10 mark from the foul line.
Irish Carry Momentum From Miami
Notre Dame enters the contest having claimed a 67-55 win at No. 14 Miami on Sunday in its last outing. The Irish did not play a perfect game, but Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women's Basketball Coach Muffet McGraw liked what she saw.
"After I got over the (21) turnovers, I thought that was a great win," McGraw said. "A huge win. A ranked team on the road (when we) didn't play well. There were so many things against use but we shot the ball well and we defended well. That really gives me great hope and confidence for the future. When we can play a game like that and get a win over a ranked team, we're really going to be on our way."
One of the more noteworthy contributors to the game, although not one whose contributions scream out on the stat sheet, was sophomore Ali Patberg. With Lindsay Allen in early foul trouble and relegated to the bench with 11 minutes left in the first half, Patberg played all 10 minutes of the second quarter of the game and helped the Irish maintain a lead into halftime. Sidelined for the entire 2015-16 season with a knee injury and much of 2016-17 thus far while battling a virus, Patberg is finally close to full health. The one number from her stat line which carries the most meaning in many ways is the 11 for minutes played -- her high since an opening night rout of Central Michigan.
"It's tough and it's a big challenge for the offense when Lindsay is not on the floor, but now Ali Patberg is starting to emerge as that backup point guard," McGraw said. "I thought she played very well. She played that entire quarter and kept us right on pace. She got us into our stuff offensively. I was really happy with her. It's a really big moment for the whole program, to know we're getting people healthy and back to where we need to be."
Home Court Advantage
When playing at home, Notre Dame has enjoyed its typical home court advantage as provided by its incredibly loyal lime green-glad fans. The Irish rank fourth nationally in average attendance (8,258) and fifth in total (66,063) home attendance. Notre Dame is third nationally for operating at 90.26% of capacity at 9,149 seat Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center.
This advantage has played itself out particularly notably in conference play. Notre Dame has won a school-record 35 consecutive home conference games, beginning with a 66-47 win over Providence College on Feb. 14, 2012, in BIG EAST play.
Notre Dame is 25-0 at Purcell Pavilion in ACC play, going 8-0 in 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 while also picking up a win over Wake Forest on Jan. 5.
"It's tough over the break because I think they're just sitting in the hotel all day and I think they get a little lethargic sometimes," McGraw said of the team's many recent road games. "I think they're going to be excited to be back out at home with the fans giving energy. I think it was a little flat during the game (at Miami). So, I'm hoping thatw e really get our energy back tomorrow."
Checking the NCAA Leaders
The season is nearing its midway point, but several of Notre Dame's top players have ascended to spots among the best in the country already in 2016-17. NCAA leaders below are from the Wednesday, Jan. 10 update.
Some team categories where the Irish collectively excel and rank in the top 25 include assists (5th with 328), assists per game (7th at 19.3), assist to turnover ratio (9th at 1.34), field goal percentage (5th at 49.2%), scoring margin (11th at +20.8), scoring offense (21st at 78.9), 3-point percentage (11th at 38.9), rebounding margin (19th at +9.3), rebounds (24th at 696) and steals (25th at 171).
Two-time Nancy Lieberman Award finalist Lindsay Allen has made a quick claim to her status as the country's top point guard, not only in how she keeps the Irish under control, but also for her passing ability. Allen is fifth nationally with 120 assists and 12th with 7.1 assists per game. Allen is currently second with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.75 and led the nation in this field entering the Dec. 20 game at Michigan State. She is either first or second in the ACC in all three categories as well.
Allen's 679 career assists rank second among active players behind only Northwestern's Ashley Deary who has 704. Allen is also 47th nationally in steals (39).
Brianna Turner has shot the ball well this year and stands 19th nationally with her field goal percentage of 58.4%. Her recent surge has also left her 26th nationally in blocked shots with 34.
Arike Ogunbowale has already claimed an espnW National Player of the Week honor and an ACC Player of the Week accolade. Her 3-point shooting, instrumental to each award, ranks as the country's best. Ogunbowale entered the Valparaiso game tied for first nationally with a 60.9% shooting percentage from downtown. Unfortunately, she has no longer taken the minimum number of shots to qualify. She does stand 57th nationally with 102 field goals made.
How to Watch/Listen
The first official steps towards the creation of an ACC Network began this summer in conjunction with ESPN. All non-televised home games which used to be streamed live online through WatchND (including Thursday's) will now be streamed under the banner of ACC Network Extra. Games are available online at WatchESPN.com (formerly branded as ESPN3) or through the WatchESPN app. Streams are free to all ESPN subscribers. Thursday evening's game will feature audio from Mike Monaco and A.J. Burgett.
Information on how to access WatchESPN is available here.
For those familiar with the WatchESPN, the direct link to the webcast of Thursday's game is available here.
Bob Nagle is in 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 WatchND.tv and the WatchND app. The audio link for the broadcast is here.
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.