Just days after suffering its first loss of the season, the No. 9 NC State women’s basketball team will hit the road for a showdown with defending ACC champion Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
With its unbeaten streak ended at the hands of North Carolina once again, the Wolfpack (14-1, 3-1 ACC) will look to get back on track against a rebuilding Fighting Irish (6-10, 1-3) squad that lost its top five scorers from last season to graduation and the WNBA.
With only six wins so far, Notre Dame is on pace for its fewest wins in a season in 40 years. The Fighting Irish already have their most losses since the 2006-07 season and are very much devoid of high-level ACC talent.
Unlike years past, when Notre Dame could turn to guards Arike Ogunbowale and Jackie Young or All-American big Jessica Shepard for buckets at any given time, this year’s iteration of the Irish is much more balanced.
Led by guard Destinee Walker’s 14.3 points per game, the Irish have five players averaging double figures. Guard Katlyn Gilbert is Notre Dame’s leading returning scorer from last season and is averaging 13.8 points per game, but is struggling in a bigger role with 59 turnovers in just 16 games.
The Fighting Irish’s leading rebounder is Anaya Peoples, a 5-foot-10 freshman guard who crashes the boards like someone six inches taller and averages 8.4 rebounds per game. Right behind her is Mikayla Vaughan, the Irish’s 6-foot-3 center who hauls in eight rebounds per game.
Notre Dame is uncharacteristically sloppy on offense this season, turning the ball over nearly 18 times per game while shooting a horrid 41% from the field and 23% from the 3-point line. NC State’s tough on-ball defenders should be primed for a big day if they’re able to pressure Notre Dame in the halfcourt and cut off the passing lanes.
Senior guard Aislinn Konig is coming off her best game of the season in the loss to North Carolina, where she scored 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting and connected on six 3-pointers. Konig is averaging over three 3-pointers per game since Thanksgiving and has knocked down 13 in her last three games.
While Konig has been on fire lately, her backcourt mate, junior guard Kai Crutchfield, has not. Playing through a sprained thumb on her shooting hand, the usually lights-out shooter is shooting just 27% from the field and 23% from downtown since the start of the new year.
The Wolfpack is on a clearly higher level than the Fighting Irish this season, but on the road in a hostile environment, NC State could need Crutchfield to break out of her shooting slump. With head coach Wes Moore not electing to go to his bench very much in ACC play, Crutchfield will have ample opportunity to find her rhythm.
The game will be at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12 at Purcell Pavilion, and will be broadcast live on the ACC Network.