Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 17, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 48 of 55 OCT. 17, 2016 49 BY LOU SOMOGYI T he 2016‑17 women's college basketball season might be comparable to the 1993‑94 NBA campaign when the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan took a full one‑ year hiatus from the game: Better jump on the chance to win the title now, because a more promising op‑ portunity might not come along later. There was an almost hopeless feel‑ ing in the NBA that as long as Jordan was in uniform for Chicago, every‑ one else played for second place. Such was the case in women's col‑ lege basketball the past four years, es‑ pecially the last three, with Breanna Stewart at Connecticut. The Huskies won four straight national titles, while the rest of college basketball played for No. 2, a la the UCLA men's dynasty under John Wooden from 1964‑75. Stewart is now in the WNBA, and so are former teammates and No. 2 overall pick Moriah Jefferson and No. 3 selection Morgan Tuck. Con‑ necticut is still Final Four caliber, but if there is a year for Notre Dame, Louisville, Baylor or South Carolina to seize the crown, it is now. "This may be the year we finally see some parity," 30th‑year Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw admitted. "I don't think there is one clear‑cut favorite. I think we're cer‑ tainly one of them, and there are probably five or six that can win it all. "Everybody's in the same position of you've got to stay healthy, and freshmen have got to come in and be able to play well." Last spring, ESPN and Sports Il- lustrated designated Notre Dame as the "way too early" No. 1 choice for reasons besides UConn's attrition. One, the Irish have been the sec‑ ond‑best program the past six years with five straight Final Four appear‑ ances from 2011‑15 (four title game appearances) until the streak ended with a 33‑2 mark last year. Two is 6‑3 National Player of the Year candidate junior Brianna Turner has been recovering well from offsea‑ son shoulder surgery and began prac‑ tice Oct. 3, although she is not expected to be at "full go" until later this month. "She's ahead of schedule," Mc‑ Graw said. Three, senior Lindsay Allen has started all 117 games the past three years and is one of the nation's top floor generals. Four, last year's freshman off‑the‑ bench "instant offense" tandem of guards/wings Arike Ogunbowale (11.4 points per game) and Marina Mabrey (10.7) are primed for more this year as starters. "I'm looking for Arike to really take a giant step forward defensively and be a little more of a rebounder," McGraw said. Junior Kathryn Westbeld also re‑ turns as a starter, but freshmen Erin Boley and Jackie Young — national players of the year in different outlets — will be prominent the way Ogun‑ bowale and Mabrey were last year. "I think Jackie is going to help us defensively, which I'm really pleased with," McGraw said of the all‑time scoring leader in Indiana. "And Erin is probably the best shooter we have. Her three‑point shot is amazing." Another former national player of the year, sophomore point guard Ali Patberg, redshirted last year because of a torn ACL and had more surgery this year for bone spurs. By the end of October, she might be cleared for work beyond three‑on‑three activity. "I'm thinking January when she is acclimated," said McGraw, who also has a veteran backup in Mychal Johnson at point guard. The Irish graduated the clutch Madison Cable and vocal leaders Michaela Mabrey and Hannah Huff‑ man, and McGraw would like it to be a little "less quiet" in practices. As for preseason expectations, that's what happens while going 176‑12 (.932) the past five seasons, including 56‑1 in the ACC since joining in 2013, sweeping both the regular season and conference tournaments all three years. "Last year we were supposed to win every game but one [UConn]," McGraw said. "We're used to hav‑ ing the target on our back. We're just trying to embrace our roles and go out and prove every night that we deserve to be No. 1." ✦ WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY With UConn having to reload, the Fighting Irish are among the teams that could take advantage 2016-17 ROSTER BY CLASS Seniors Lindsay Allen, guard, 5-8 Kristina Nelson*, forward, 6-4 Diamond Thompson, center, 6-5 Juniors Mychal Johnson, guard, 5-7 Brianna Turner, forward, 6-3 Kathryn Westbeld, forward, 6-2 Sophomores Marina Mabrey, guard, 5-11 Arike Ogunbowale, guard, 5-8 Ali Patberg, guard, 5-10 Freshmen Erin Boley, forward, 6-2 Jackie Young, guard, 6-0 * Eligible for a fifth season in 2017-18 Junior forward and All-America candidate Brianna Turner is healing well from shoulder surgery per- formed last spring. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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