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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Surprising Irish loss forces introspection ahead of visit to Boston College

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw was in an unfamiliar position ahead of Thursday’s matchup with Boston College: taking the temperature of a team that had just suffered its third regular-season loss.

Under McGraw’s leadership, a Notre Dame squad had not lost more than two games in the regular season since going 24-6 in 2010-11. That changed on Monday night, when the No. 6 Irish (16-3, 4-1 ACC) fell 71-69 to unranked Tennessee.

McGraw acknowledged the inconsistency of having one of the better records in the country but still feeling as if the team is failing to meet the usual standards of the program.

Irish senior guard Lindsay Allen surveys the court during Notre Dame’s 72-61 loss to UConn on Dec. 7 at Purcell Pavilion.
Allison Culver | The Observer
Irish senior guard Lindsay Allen surveys the court during Notre Dame’s 72-61 loss to UConn on Dec. 7 at Purcell Pavilion.

“That’s what happens when expectations are so high — you’re 16-3, and you feel like you’re 3-16,” McGraw said. “I know I’m trying to see the big picture, and I’m trying to be positive because we can still win a national championship — we might not be a No. 1 seed, but we can certainly still win.

“This team, this is all new for them. They weren’t here for all those Final Fours. They are making the climb. We’re back to the beginning — we’ve got to really work together to get there, and then hopefully it’ll come easier next year.”

This year’s slump — if 16-3 can really be called a slump — is largely due to youth and a need for further development of “basketball I.Q.,” McGraw said. Senior guard Lindsay Allen is the only one who was around to learn from Irish legends like Skylar Diggins, Kayla McBride and Jewell Loyd.

“We’ve been so smart, I’ve been so spoiled,” McGraw said. “It started with Skylar in 2011: We have just been the smartest team out there every single game. We would find a way to win because we just would do the right thing. We knew when to take a shot and when not to, what we had to do down the stretch. We didn’t need to take timeouts, we didn’t need to walk through it three or four times, we could just write it down in the huddle and they’d go out and they’d execute.

“And that’s been my problem this year, I didn’t grasp how much more they needed.”

McGraw named a laundry list of small facets of the game her players need to pay more attention to against ACC rival Boston College (8-10, 1-4 ACC) on Thursday: guarding the ball screen, boxing out better and moving more effectively on offense, for example.

But she focused particularly on Notre Dame’s intensity as a point to improve upon in the next game and all the games after that.

“I think we lack a sense of urgency to get it done now,” McGraw said. “We’re just sort of used to winning, and we go in expecting to win, but we don’t understand how hard we have to work to make that happen.

“It’s definitely a different mindset — we need to have a little bit more toughness, a little bit more grit. I think we can play a lot better, but it’s just going to be individually getting that toughness back.”

The trip to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, on Thursday is the latest in a brutal stretch of travel for the Irish. Since a loss to top-ranked Connecticut on Dec. 7, Notre Dame has played in 10 games, and eight of them were on the road.

McGraw said her goal for the team when it visits the Eagles is to bounce back and show the urgency she believes would make a difference for the young Irish in the long term.

“I want to come out with some passion and some urgency, and a little more intensity at the defensive end,” McGraw said. “I think offensively, we can score and we can win games in the 60s, so it’s not the offense. I think it’s all the defense.”

Notre Dame faces Boston College at Conte Forum on Thursday night, with tip-off set for 7 p.m.