basketball

Analysis: Erin Boley, Ali Patberg Leave Notre Dame Basketball Program

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Freshman Erin Boley (left) and sophomore Ali Patberg (right) are both leaving Notre Dame at the end of this semester.
Photo by Joe Raymond

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Sophomore point guard Ali Patberg and freshman forward Erin Boley plan to transfer at the end of spring semester, according to a release Monday afternoon from Notre Dame’s media relations office.

Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw was not made available to issue a statement regarding the transfers.

The departure of the former McDonald’s All-Americans will leave Notre Dame with 10 scholarship players for the 2017-18 season — and possibly nine if senior forward/All-American Brianna Turner is unavailable because of ACL surgery she will undergo this Wednesday.

In her two-year stint with the Fighting Irish, Patberg has been one of the more hard-luck players in McGraw’s 30 seasons at the helm. She sat out her freshman season in 2015-16 because of an ACL tear suffered in preseason practice. A setback in her rehabilitation followed, and more surgery ensued because of bone spurs, sidelining her in the early part of the 2016 preseason as well.

Patberg then missed most of December with what was diagnosed as walking pneumonia, and another illness limited her playing time at the turn of the new year. The 2015 Miss Basketball in Indiana appeared in 22 of the 37 games this season, totaling 169 minutes playing time. She was 6-of-11 shooting from the floor, handed out 11 assists and had eight turnovers.

Boley arrived with huge fanfare as the 2016 Gatorade National Player of the Year, while Irish classmate Jackie Young was the Naismith National Player of the Year.

A native of Hodgenville, Ky., Boley played in all 37 games this past season for the 33-4 squad and started 10 of them when junior forward Kathryn Westbeld was ailing the last two months of the season with an ankle injury that requires a surgical procedure this week.

Labeled the team’s best pure shooter by McGraw, Boley started off slow while acclimating to the college game, but began to find a better flow near the end of the season. In the ACC Championship victory versus Duke she connected on 6-of-8 field goals, including 2-of-3 from three-point range, for 14 points in 16 minutes. Then in the NCAA Tournament she provided a first-half spark in the second-round overtime win versus Purdue, and in the Sweet 16 romp over Ohio State (99-76) the 6-2 Boley finished with 14 points — including 4-of-6 beyond the arc — while also collecting nine rebounds.

Her career concluded two days later in the 76-75 loss to Stanford when she finished with nine points (3-of-8 from the floor, including 3-of-7 from three), one rebound and no assists in 21 minutes.

No information was listed on where they plan to transfer. A message was left for Scott Boley, Erin’s father, that has not yet been returned.


How much will their transfers impact the 2017-18 team?

As stated, if Turner is unable to play — McGraw noted she will not use Turner if she can play maybe only a half season — then Notre Dame will have merely nine scholarship players available.

The UConn dynasty had only nine available scholarship players this past season too, but most were elite recruits (as are most of Notre Dame’s). However, such a low number provides a thin margin of error with injury, which the Irish had plenty of this past season. Without Turner, there also is no game-changing low-post presence, which hurts the most.


Who plays point guard next season with Lindsay Allen graduating and Patberg transferring?

This was taken care of by McGraw a couple of months ago when Stanford graduate transfer Lili (pronounced Lee Lee) Thompson announced she would use her final season of eligibility at Notre Dame in 2017-18.

In March 2016, Thompson scored 11 points (including 3-of-7 from three-point range), dished out nine assists and had no turnovers in Stanford’s NCAA Tournament upset of the Irish.

The 5-7 Thompson started 96 games from 2014-16 and made All-Pac 12 her last two, averaging 14.7 points per game her final season with the Cardinal while dishing out 295 career assists. Thompson left the program during the summer but remained in school.

“She’s very different from Lindsay,” McGraw said. “She’s a scoring point guard, she can play the two, she’s a really good three-point shooter, she can run the team. She’s got good leadership skills.”

Senior Mychal Johnson also has some experience at point, and junior Marina Mabrey has played there in a pinch. The preference is that Thompson can be the "Iron Woman" the way Allen was for four years.

For 2018-19, Notre Dame has secured verbal commitments from Georgia point guard Jenna Brown, ranked the nation’s No. 8 player in ESPN Hoopgurlz, and Indiana’s Katlyn Gilbert, ranked No. 24. The Irish staff also is recruiting Arkansas’ 5-11 Christyn Williams, ranked the No. 2 overall player in that class.


How much does Boley’s transfer hurt?

That likely will be felt more because at 6-2 she provided some height along the perimeter and inside, when needed. She had a ways to go yet defensively (like most freshmen), but was a promising scorer and three-point weapon.

However, even without Turner, next year’s starting lineup likely would have featured Thompson, Mabrey, junior Arike Ogunbowale (the top scorer this past season with a 15.9 average), sophomore Jackie Young, possibly the best athlete on the team, and the senior Westbeld.

Coming off the bench as a sophomore probably does not sit well with a former Gatorade National Player of the Year such as Boley.

How much she will be missed depends on attitude, which is kept in house. If individual goals were going to supersede team objectives, then negative energy could occur and team chemistry might suffer. That is an intangible that can't always be measured on the outside.


Will Notre Dame still remain an elite Final-Four caliber program?

It will be a lot harder without Turner, because at 6-3 she made up for a lot of defects on defense and there is no one on the roster like her (and few in college basketball) with the combination of range and athletic skills.

Incoming freshmen Danielle Patterson and Mikayla Vaughn probably will be asked to do more than originally anticipated, especially with Turner out, but neither arrives with the fanfare of a Young or Boley — and even they went through their share of growing pains this year. The return of 6-4 Kristina Nelson for a fifth season at least provides some more size in the lineup, although her minutes have been limited.

The Irish can remain a top-10 fixture with a Hall of Fame coach and plenty of McDonald’s All-Americans, and a healthy Turner would put them in the Final Four conversation. Without her, probably not.

Team chemistry and bonding could develop this summer, though, with a tour through Italy and Croatia for some competition from July 31-August 9.

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