Notre Dame women's basketball: Braker set to accelerate for Irish
Notre Dame sophomore forward Ariel Braker experienced plenty of the bumps of the transition year last season, but the 6-foot-1 native of Grosse Pointe, Mich., doesn’t feel like she’s going to have to slam on the brakes as often and abruptly this season.
“It’s gotten easier this year, since I have a sense of what I need to do,” said Braker, who hopes to put in key minutes for the Irish Friday night when Notre Dame opens its season against Akron in Women’s NIT action. Both teams are 0-0. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. (EST) at the Purcell Pavilion.
Braker averaged 1.6 points and 2.2 rebounds a game. She played 22 minutes in Notre Dame’s 83-34 victory against Windsor last Wednesday, scoring four points and grabbing five rebounds.
“It’s really important for her to be able to come in and give us some defense and rebounding, block some shots, help us in the press,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “That’s something that we need right now. With (injured Natalie Achonwa) out, we don’t have the post presence that we need. It’s an opportunity for Ariel to step up and give us some good minutes.”
With one year of experience in the college game, Braker had a better handle on what to deal with in terms of preparation.
“I came into this year knowing what to expect,” Braker said. “Over the summer, I knew what I had to do. Things are going a lot smoother than they were last year.”
Braker focused on adding strength over the summer. Her workouts paid off, but she’s lost 10 pounds since practice started. And, with Achonwa sidelined by a meniscus injury, Braker is needed to step up as quickly as possible.
“With Natalie out, it’s going to be hard,” Braker said. “I’m going to have to step up and take over for what she usually does. At the same time, it’s a good opportunity for me to find my place and figure out what I need to do to help the team. It’s a win-win, which is nice, but we definitely want her back and quick as possible.”
Brittany Mallory, who left the exhibition game against Windsor with a deep knee bruise, practiced full court on Thursday for the first time since suffering the injury.
“Brittany has been feeling really well,” McGraw said. She said that before practice she was feeling really good. We’ll see how she’s feeling (Friday). We’re hoping to get a few minutes out of her. That would be huge. It settles us down and puts us in a little better rhythm and allows us to start planning for how we’re going to play at the beginning of a game.”
Achonwa was riding the stationary bike during practice.
“Natalie is way ahead of schedule,” McGraw said. “She looks great. She’s been working extremely hard in the weight room. She’s really responding well.
“We’re not sure when she’s going to be back. Our goal is to see if we can have her ready for that big tournament we have in The Bahamas against two great teams (Southern Cal and Duke).”