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Notre Dame women split their first two conference games

Despite a loss early on in conference play, the Irish are on track to top the ACC and compete for a national championship

NCAA Womens Basketball: Notre Dame at Georgia Tech Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Having begun ACC play with a split of their first two contests, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team currently finds itself in a four-way tie for fifth place within the conference. With a 13-2 overall record, that has them placed in the seventh spot in the AP poll and sixth when it comes to the opinion of coaches.

That conference loss came in a 70-62 road upset to North Carolina State on December 29th and ended a 35-game ACC winning streak. The post-holiday hangover was apparent for Muffet McGraw’s squad, which never managed to hold the lead during the game. The dagger for the Irish was the 16 consecutive points by the Wolfpack during the third quarter to give them a 19-point advantage.

Notre Dame was able to get back on track with their 55-38 win over 11-3 Georgia Tech on January 2nd. While the team’s high-powered offense again by hitting just 40 percent of their shots, the defense completely shut down the Yellow Jackets, limiting them to just 24 percent from the field.

If the latter contest is more indicative of the standard Irish performance this season, they should quickly be able to move back up into the elite rankings. Since their other loss this season, a 72-61 defeat back on December came at the hands of the top-ranked Connecticut Huskies, the Irish can’t consider themselves the best team in the country.

However, that doesn’t mean that they still don’t figure to make things interesting come tournament time. The stumble in Raleigh last week certainly got the attention of McGraw and her staff, who presumably will seek to remind the team of that slow start prior to each game’s tipoff.

Both of Notre Dame’s conference games were on the road, with Wake Forest the first team set to visit Purcell Pavilion on January 5th. With the exception of North Carolina State, the rest of the teams currently ahead of the Irish are on the schedule over the next month. Road games at Boston College on January 19th and Virginia Tech on February 2nd are sandwiched around a home contest against the Duke Blue Devils, who finished 2016 as the 13th ranked team after coming into the season unranked,on January 26th.

The duo of Brianna Turner and Arike Ogunbowale remain the key facets of the Notre Dame offense. The 6’3” Turner is looking to again solidify her place on the All-American squad and is putting up similar numbers to last season’s performance with just under 15 points and slightly over seven rebounds per game.

Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey are the long-range weapons for the Irish, with Erin Boley coming off the bench to provide instant firepower in this select category. The three-pointer has been a major weapon used by Notre Dame opponents, so closing the lid on such opportunities will avoid the prospect of more losses.

The Irish remain the class of the ACC, but supplanting the white whale that is Connecticut remains their biggest obstacle when it comes to capturing a national title.