SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Some of the pain from Notre Dame’s loss to Baylor in the NCAA championship game still lingers for Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw.
Falling just short of repeating as national champion in an 82-81 loss can do that.
Trips to New York for an appearance on “CBS This Morning” and next week to Augusta National Golf Club for some golf with husband Matt will ease some of the regrets. Then it’s back to campus to prepare for a 2019-20 season that will begin without a single returning starter.
— Notre Dame WBB (@ndwbb) April 17, 2019
“We return about 10 points a game and not a lot of experience,” said McGraw, who is 835-233 after 32 seasons at Notre Dame that include NCAA championships in 2001 and 2018.
She’s right: Last year’s team piled up a 35-4 record and averaged a nation’s best 88.6 points per game. Only 10.7 from bench players.
McGraw always has preferred rolling up her sleeves and getting to work at practice more than strolling the coach’s box on game days. She and her longtime staff of Carol Owens, Niele Ivey and Beth Cunningham face an enormous task this time around.
They must replace five starters who combined to score 10,230 points during their careers and were among the first 19 players selected in the WNBA draft last week.
“I couldn’t be happier to see them all go so early in the draft,” McGraw said Tuesday before an awards gathering with 500 fans that honored Jackie Young (No. 1 overall pick, Las Vegas), senior Arike Ogunbowale (fifth overall to Dallas), fifth-year grad student Brianna Turner (11th to Phoenix after a trade) and seniors Jessica Shepard (16th to Minnesota) and Marina Mabrey (19th to Los Angeles).
— Notre Dame WBB (@ndwbb) April 16, 2019
“It speaks to the development my assistant coaches have done,” she said. “They represent us so well.”
Ogunbowale is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,626 points. The 6-foot-3 Turner scored 2,017 points of her own and surpassed former Irish standout Ruth Riley as the school’s all-time leader in rebounds (1,048) and blocked shots (372).
The 6-foot-4 Shepard scored 1,228 points in two seasons at Notre Dame after transferring from Nebraska, where she scored 1,112. She totaled 1,248 rebounds at the two schools and finished averaging a double-double (16.7 points, 10.3 rebounds) in 38 games this season. Mabrey finished with 1,896 points, 500 assists and hit a school-record 274 3-pointers in her four-year career, while Young averaged 14.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game and had two triple-doubles this season.
“We lost a giant piece of our puzzle,” McGraw said of Young’s decision to leave a season early. “So now we’re pretty much starting over. I hope it’s a reload rather than a rebuild.”
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Mikayla Vaughn, a 6-foot-3 sophomore forward who scored 125 points in 38 games, and pesky freshman guard Abby Prohaska lead the returning players. The group includes two freshmen guards — Katlyn Gilbert and Jordan Nixon — who struggled with injuries, and frontliners Danielle Patterson and Danielle Cosgrove.
Two Irish legends are coming together.
The top two scorers in program history — @Arike_O and @SkyDigg4 — are joining forces after Arike was chosen fifth overall in the #WNBADraft by the @DallasWings.#IrishInTheWNBA #GoIrish pic.twitter.com/JP5D70hdpe
— Notre Dame WBB (@ndwbb) April 12, 2019
They will be joined by incoming freshmen Samantha Brunelle and Anaya Peoples and graduate transfer Destinee Walker, a guard who averaged 13.3 points a game as a freshman and sophomore and will earn an undergrad degree at North Carolina.
“We’ve got a lot of good players,” McGraw said. “They haven’t had the opportunity and now they’re going to have the opportunity. This group coming in, they’re ready to go. They have to come out and be ready to contribute right away. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.”