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Irish women still have big expectations

Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw said this season will be different from the last two, when the Irish reached the NCAA tournament championship game.

The Irish lost three starters from last year's team, which lost to Baylor in the finals.

Devereaux Peters, who averaged 11.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks; Natalie Novosel, who averaged 15.2 points and 4.1 rebounds; and Brittany Mallory, who averaged 5.8 points and 2.3 assists, are gone. Peters and Novosel were both drafted into the WNBA, with Peters going to Minnesota and Novosel to Washington.

McGraw isn't lowering the expectations for her team as the Irish eye another run to the NCAA Final Four, but she also knows that it will be a difficult process to return to where the program was the last two years.

"When I look at our team, I feel like we are young," McGraw said during Thursday's media day. "I really feel like we have a lot of new faces that are going to be playing major minutes for us."

Guard Kayla McBride, who averaged 11.6 points and 4.6 rebounds as a starter last season, and forward Natalie Achonwa, who averaged 7.6 points and 4.4 rebounds as a reserve, will be expected to fill the void left by Peters' and Novosel's departures.

Notre Dame will also expect freshmen Jewell Loyd, Hanah Huffman and Michaela Mabrey to contribute.

McGraw knows there will be some growing pains, especially with a pre-Big East schedule that opens with Ohio State in the Carrier Classic on the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C., on Nov. 9 and also includes a game against Baylor on Dec. 5.

"I think we are going to take some lumps early," McGraw said.

But McGraw is also convinced her team can return to where it has been, and her confidence stems from the return of guard Skylar Diggins.

Diggins averaged a team-high 16.8 points, and she had 5.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game last season.

"We still got the big one back," McGraw said of the breakup of the big three of Diggins, Novosel and Peters. "I think anytime you have a team with Skylar Diggins at the point, you better not count us out."

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