Home US SportsNCAAW Defense will determine if No. 9 ND can live up to its preseason ranking

Defense will determine if No. 9 ND can live up to its preseason ranking

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Wrapped around a few days off for fall break, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team has honed in on and dedicated large portions of preseason practices of late to a singular focus.

Defense.

With the Irish on Tuesday gaining a top 10 ranking in the Associated Press preseason poll for the first time since its 2018-19 national championship run, the ability of Notre Dame to be an improved defensive team from its NCAA Sweet 16 rendition last season will go a long way toward determining whether the Irish can live up to their No. 9 slotting.

Or exceed it.

Third-year head coach Niele Ivey retains four starters from the nation’s No. 23 scoring team (74.3 ppg) and No. 11 shooting squad (.455), and four newcomers led by former five-star forward Kylee Watson, a 6-foot-4 transfer from Oregon who’s created a buzz during her summer and preseason workouts.

What largely limited the Irish last season during an otherwise impressive 24-9 showing was defense. The Irish ranked 169th in scoring defense (63.3 ppg), 121st in field-goal percentage defense (.389) and 250th (out of 348 Division I teams) in defending the 3-point shot (.319).

The newcomers help provide some different defensive options, with 6-4 Texas transfer Lauren Ebo able to join Watson and 6-3 Maddy Westbeld to match up with size. Or the Irish can put four guards on the floor and go quick, with freshman KK Bransford a key part of that look along with super sophs Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron along with grad senior Dara Mabrey.

Four other Atlantic Coast Conference schools landed in the top 12 of the preseason AP Poll, with Louisville at No. 7, NC State at 10, North Carolina at 12 and Virginia Tech at No. 13.

Defending national champion South Carolina was the unanimous choice at No. 1.

The ND women’s hoops team will hold an open practice Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT at Purcell Pavilion. Admission is free, and an autograph session will follow the practice.

The Irish have an Oct. 31 exhibition date at Purcell with Truman State at 7 p.m. EDT before opening the season for real at home, Nov. 7 EST against Northern Illinois.

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