Jan. 21, 2017
By Leigh Torbin
The No. 6/9 Notre Dame women's basketball team (17-3, 5-1 ACC) has finally reached the end of its road. A string of 10 games out of 12 on the road running back to early December closes on Sunday when the Irish head to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to face the Tar Heels (12-7, 1-5) at noon. ESPNU will show the game nationally from historic Carmichael Auditorium.
The crescendo to this stretch sees the Irish on an airplane six times in eight days including this weekend's flights to Raleigh-Durham International Airport and back. Even the comforts of charter jets and fancy hotels can still be taxing but Notre Dame has come through well. The Irish are 8-2 on the road this year as they head to North Carolina. Despite all the travel, Notre Dame is at least 17-3 at the 20 game-milestone for the sixth consecutive season.
Here are some things to know about the game.
About the Tar Heels
North Carolina holds a 12-7 record heading into Sunday's matinee and a 1-5 mark in ACC play. The Tar Heels have already faced much of their tougher ACC competition though, facing No. 18 Virginia Tech, No. 6 Florida State and No. 12 Duke to make Notre Dame their fourth ranked foe already in league play. The lone league win come over Virginia. Stephanie Watts leads the Tar Heels at 18.8 points per game (second in the ACC) and 8.8 rebounds per game. She is one of four Tar Heels averaging in double figures, accompanied in this realm by Paris Kea (14.5), Destinee Walker (12.2) and Jamie Cherry (10.7).
Notre Dame leads the all-time series, 5-1, and has won each of the last three meetings. Curiously, the six meetings have come at five different sites as each of the first three meetings were a part of a larger event; the 1999 Wachovia Women's Basketball Invitational in Richmond, the 2000 Honda Elite 4 Classic at Walt Disney World and the 2007 NCAA Championship.
In the most meaningful matchup between the teams, UNC used a 15-0 run midway through the second half to stave off an Irish upset bid and win, 60-51, in the second round of the 2007 NCAA Championship at Pitt's Petersen Events Center. Charel Allen led the Irish with 21 points while Ivory Latta led the Tar Heels with 17 points and LaToya Pringle had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The Irish have won all three meetings between the teams since Notre Dame joined the ACC for the 2013-14 season. Last year Notre Dame cruised past the Tar Heels, 88-54, at Purcell Pavilion. The Irish enjoyed a 50-14 advantage in the paint while picking up 42 points off the bench, including 16 from Arike Ogunbowale, 14 from Marina Mabrey and eight from Kristina Nelson.
McGraw One Win From 750 at Notre Dame
The Women's Basketball Hall of Fame career of Muffet McGraw is approaching yet another milestone as she closes in on her 750th win at Notre Dame as she is 749-226 in 30 seasons at Our Lady's University.
She is one of just four women (and seven overall) to win at least 749 women's basketball games at a single Division I school, joining Pat Summitt (1,098 wins at Tennessee), Tara VanDerveer (844 wins at Stanford) and Jody Conradt (783 wins at Texas).
McGraw's 837 career wins overall including her five years at Lehigh are the sixth-most all-time by a female Division I women's basketball coach (10th overall).
Opposing the Irish Sunday is another Hall of Fame coach in Sylvia Hatchell. Hatchell should be the next female coach to win 750 games at a single school as she has claimed 715 victories in her 31 years in Chapel Hill. Overall, Hatchell has won 987 games, ranking her behind only Summitt (1,098) and Tara VanDerveer (996).
Strong Showing at BC Pushes Irish Into Top Five Shooting
Notre Dame has proved to be one of the best shooting teams in the nation this season and showed it Thursday night at Boston College, shooting 54.7% from the floor and exceeding that mark with a 58.3% from 3-point range. The Irish stand fifth in field goal percentage at 49.4 and third in 3-point field goal percentage at 40.7. It has added up to a team ranked 17th in scoring offense at 78.8 points per game. Notre Dame and UConn are the only teams in the top five for both field goal and 3-point field goal percentage
Other team categories where the Irish collectively excel and rank in the top 25 include assists (4th with 378), assists per game (7th at 18.9), assist to turnover ratio (9th at 1.33), scoring margin (10th at +19.8), rebounding margin (20th at +8.6), rebounds (23rd at 796) and steals (22nd at 198).
Coach McGraw Says
On the UNC matchup and game: "They are guard-heavy, fast and incredibly athletic and talented. They shoot a lot of threes. We have to really be ready defensively...Everybody's ready when we come to town. It's always a big game. We still have a big target on our back. They'll be ready. This will be a huge game for them, but it's a really big game for us as well."
Westbeld Not Southbound
Due to an ankle injury sustained in practice on Wednesday, Kathryn Westbeld will not make the trip to Chapel Hill with the team. She travelled to Boston College but did not play against the Eagles and would not have been expected to play against the Tar Heels. Erin Boley started in Westbeld's place at Boston College and played well, but McGraw would not tell the media on Saturday morning whom would fill the shoes of the junior from Kettering, Ohio with 52 career starts, including the first 19 games this season.
"It's tough because she's the glue to our team," McGraw said. "She's the one who does all of the little things that keeps us together. It's difficult and it's a difficult choice who to start. We're going to be a different team without her. We're going to play a little bit differently. She brings a lot."
How to Watch/Listen
Sunday's matinee at North Carolina will be a national telecast on ESPNU with Beth Mowins and LaChina Robinson on the call. It will also be streamed live online via WatchESPN.
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 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.