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Game Preview: No. 1 Notre Dame Versus No. 2 Louisville

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Arike Ogunbowle ranks 10th nationally in scoring with a 22.1 average, but also dished out a career-high 12 assists in Sunday’s win at Georgia Tech. (Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports)

For the second time this season, Purcell Pavilion will host a No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown when No. 1 Notre Dame (14-1, 2-0 in ACC play) faces No. 2 Louisville (14-0, 2-0) in a 7 p.m. ET primetime matchup Thursday on ESPN.

Far overshadowed now in the midst of Notre Dame’s 35-3 record and national title last year was it was 0-2 versus the Cardinals — after having won the previous 11 meetings against them.

The first setback occurred almost a year to the day of this year’s meeting on Jan. 11, a colossal 100-67 Louisville victory that proved to be a blessing toward helping the Fighting Irish get set on the right course and mind frame toward the title.

Notre Dame and Louisville went on to share the ACC’s regular season title with identical 15-1 league ledgers, but then in the championship game of the ACC Tournament the Cardinals prevailed again, this time by a much more competitive 74-72 outcome. That game ended in a semi-contentious way during the team handshakes when Louisville head coach Jeff Walz reminded Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw that “her name is Asia Durr.

Earlier that week, Louisville junior standout guard Durr was voted the ACC Player of the Year over Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale. McGraw referred to Durr as “the girl from Louisville” instead of by name when speaking about Ogunbowale’s own accomplishments, to which Walz took umbrage.

Both teams advanced to the Final Four, with Notre Dame and McGraw getting the ultimate prize. If the sting of last year’s losses to Louisville are still with the Irish, nobody showed it during Wednesday’s practice.

“It’s pretty much in the past … just come out and play our game,” said senior guard Marina Mabrey, who has in the past six games averaged 15.7 points, 6.0 assists and 2.2 steals while shooting 59.0 percent from the floor and 46.7 percent (14 of 30) from three-point range.

“I just really try to wipe last year out of my mind,” Ogunbowale said. “We won the national championship, that happened, but it’s going to be a lot harder to do something again. Every team is going to come at us every day, so we just focus on this year and focus on what we have this year.

“You just have to treat it as a regular game. We lost to them twice last year so there might be a little fire, but other than that, they’re a great team. … This is ACC play, so we have to get up for every game. It’s early in the season, so whatever happens here it won’t affect March. That’s what we’re striving for. This is another game in the ACC that we want to compete and get a W.”

All that matters to McGraw now is conference position for the 2019 campaign.

“If it gives them motivation, I’m all for it,” McGraw said of her team smarting from last year’s years losses to Louisville. “This is an important game for conference [play].”

The Irish returned to No. 1 after Connecticut lost 68-57 to Baylor last week. With wins over Gonzaga, Drake, Iowa and Marquette, Notre Dame boasts four RPI top-25 victories. That number doubles the amount of RPI top-25 wins over the next highest Division I team. In this week’s poll, the Irish received 12 first-place votes, Louisville 10, Baylor five and UConn three, although the Huskies were still ahead of Baylor.

Ogunbowale said she doesn’t even look at weekly polls, and McGraw echoed “it really doesn’t matter at this time of the year.”

“There are so many good teams this year, and certainly Louisville is one of them,” McGraw said. “They’ve very talented. They have three great guards, run a lot of things. … Lot of options.”

Four players average double figures for the Cardinals, led by Durr’s 20.9 scoring average that ranks 16th nationally, and seven average at least 7.8 points. Guard Arica Carter is shooting 50.0 percent from three-point range (31 of 62) to rank fourth in the country in that category.

Both teams are prolific at scoring, with Notre Dame third at 89.1 and Louisville 10th at 83.9. Notre Dame’s 52.6-percent field goal shooting is second in the country while the Cardinals’ 49.4 is seventh.

The Irish have recorded six consecutive games shooting better than 50 percent from the field. During that same stretch Notre Dame dished out 24 or more assists each time, totaling 158. It now averages 20.1 assists per game, which leads the ACC and ranks sixth in the nation.

“When we share the ball, things just look a lot better,” Mabrey said. “It’s a lot easier to move and play together.”

Where Notre Dame might have an edge is inside. Louisville is led by 6-3 Sam Fuehring, who averages 10.7 points per contest, but Notre Dame counters with the duo of 6-4 Jessica Shepard (15.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game) and 6-3 Brianna Turner (12.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game).

Ogunbowale, Shepard and junior guard Jackie Young earlier this week were named among the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list.

News & Notes

• This No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup will be the eighth in program history. The Irish are 1-6, including the 89-71 loss to UConn last month. The lone such win was when No. 2 Notre Dame defeated No. 1 UConn 90-75 in the 2001 national semifinals. This also marks Notre Dame’s first No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup not involving UConn since the Irish played at Baylor on Nov. 20, 2011.

• Notre Dame made program history this past Sunday in the 76-55 win at Georgia Tech. At halftime, the Irish were a perfect 17 assists on 17 made field goals and then finished the game with 30 assists on 34 made fields. That .882 assist/field-goals-made efficiency rating ranks as the best all-time in program history for a game in which the team tallied at least 30 field goals.

• Notre Dame has won a school-record 51 consecutive home conference games, beginning with a 66-47 win over Providence on Feb. 14, 2012, in Big East play. Over the last 105 games at home, the Irish have only lost three times, all to UConn.


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