Thursday night had a double dose of excitement for Notre Dame’s No. 7-ranked women’s basketball program.
First, Stanford graduate and former point guard Lili Thompson announced via Twitter that after opting not to play for the Cardinal this year, she will use her final season of college eligibility at Notre Dame for the 2017-18 season.
If the name sounds familiar, Thompson helped Stanford upset Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 last March 25 by scoring 11 points (3-of-7 from three-point range), handing out nine assists and committing zero turnovers in 37 minutes in the 90-84 win that ended the Fighting Irish run of advancing to five straight Final Fours.
The 5-7 Thompson started 96 games the past three seasons and made All-Pac 12 each of the last two, averaging 14.7 points per game last year while dishing out 295 career assists. Thompson left the program during the summer but remained in school.
“I’m excited to join what is already a stellar team, and to get to work on winning a National Championship,” she wrote. “Thanks to everyone, past and present, who has been a part of this process and supported me. Go Irish!”
The timing is excellent because she will be projected to replace four-year starting point guard Lindsay Allen. Sophomore Ali Patberg was the heir apparent, but a severe ACL injury prior to her freshman year, another setback in August, and illness a good portion of this season has hindered her development. In 37 minutes of action this season (six game appearances), Patberg has not yet taken a shot, although she has recorded nine rebounds (three versus Wake Forest in seven minutes on Thursday), four assists and no turnovers.
While on the subject of Wake Forest …
After a plodding 55-38 victory at Georgia Tech on Tuesday night, Notre Dame went to the locker room again on Thursday night at home with a 55-32 advantage.
This time it was by halftime.
A sizzling second quarter which saw the Fighting Irish convert 15 of their 17 field goal attempts, including 4-of-5 from three-point range, propelled them to a 92-72 victory versus Wake Forest at Purcell Pavilion, the first home game since Dec. 7. The victory improved Notre Dame to 14-2 overall and 2-1 in the ACC, while the Demon Deacons dropped to 9-5, 0-1 in the league.
The Irish extended their advantage to as much as 33 points (74-41) before some erratic bench play helped Wake Forest cut into its deficit. Notre Dame had only seven turnovers through the first three quarters, and it finished with 28 assists on 39 baskets while running its more traditional Princeton offense with better cutting and movement going through the high post. It also was 10-of-16 from three-point range
Five Irish players tallied double-figure scoring, led by sophomore Arike Ogunbowale’s 22. She converted 8-of-11 from the floor, highlighted by 4-of-5 from three-point range. Classmate Marina Mabrey was 4-of-6 beyond the arc while totaling 14 points, and junior Brianna Turner had 15 points in the interior. Allen had 14 points, four assists and four steals, while freshman Erin Boley chipped in 11 points in 16 minutes.
1.High-Post Assists — Superb shooting aside, the stat of the night was Turner and senior Kristina Nelson combining for nine assists, five from Nelson (who had only 15 in the first 15 games). Nelson especially lined up more in the high post — a staple of the Princeton offense and Natalie Achonwa's forte from 2010-14 — after struggling in recent weeks underneath. This time, both she and Turner found cutters to the basket and executed numerous excellent passes, especially versus the zone, although Nelson did end up with four turnovers (three in the second half).
2. Perimeter Defense Remains Shaky — Wake Forest found way too many open looks beyond the arc and matched Notre Dame’s total of 10 three-pointers (on 18 attempts). Chattanooga made 9-of-23 on Dec. 27 and North Carolina State a solid 8-of-19 in its upset of the Irish on Dec. 29. Several times the Irish were confused on ball screens or were not aggressive enough, either in transition or half court.
“Defending the three-point line continues to be a problem for us,” lamented head coach Muffet McGraw while vowing to keep working on it. Next up is at No. 14 Miami (3 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2), which is second in the ACC in three-point percentage (.383), with four different players already converting at least 21 such shots.
3. Young & Restless — Excellent flashes in the first month of the season by freshman guard Jackie Young have turned to frustration while recovering from wrist and ankle injuries. In the last four games she has played 67 minutes but is only 2-of-11 shooting from the floor. She has rarely looked for her shot, and missed at least two from point-blank range against Wake Forest.
“We really need her to ramp it up,” McGraw said. “She is a key piece off the bench.”