Coach Muffet McGraw smiled when it was suggested that her Notre Dame program has practically taken on the nickname "Guard U."
That's because of players such as Skylar Diggins, Kayla McBride, Jewell Loyd and Lindsay Allen in the WNBA, and Arike Ogunbowale, Jackie Young and Marina Mabrey leading the Fighting Irish now.
"I think our offense really is guard-oriented," said McGraw, whose No. 3 Irish will meet top-ranked UConn (ESPN, 4 p.m. ET) on what's shaping up as a blockbuster Sunday in women's basketball. "And our guards get better; they are able to develop because of the creativity the offense allows them to have."
McGraw also gives assistant coaches Niele Ivey and Beth Cunningham -- both of whom played guard for her at Notre Dame -- credit for guiding the perimeter players' development.
"Both of them played in the pros and really understand the game," McGraw said. "When you watch our offense, it looks like fun. We like to run and score a lot of points. And we're really unselfish."
Notre Dame's guards have to carry a lot of weight this year, perhaps as much as ever. Ogunbowale is averaging 20.7 points, Young 17.9 and Mabrey 10.3. Transfer guard Lili Thompson leads the way with 5.1 assists per game, and another transfer, forward Jessica Shepard, is the team's top rebounder (8.9 RPG). Shepard also is averaging 13.0 PPG.
With All-American forward Brianna Turner redshirting this year as she continues to recover from a knee injury in last season's NCAA tournament, and freshman forward Mikayla Vaughn out the rest of this season because of an ACL tear suffered Tuesday in practice, the Irish's rotation has become all the tighter. There's not much depth, but McGraw -- ever the pragmatist -- has tried to look at the positive side.
"You jell quicker when you have smaller numbers," she said. "You get used to playing together." So far, that has been the case. Getting a waiver for Shepard, who spent the past two years at Nebraska, to play right away rather than sitting for the season has been an enormous help. But the Irish will go as far as their guards can take them, and that could be pretty far.
McGraw acknowledged that, with all the questions facing the Irish this season, she was a little surprised they were picked again to win the ACC. They joined the league in 2013-14 and have lost just twice in ACC play, winning four conference tournament titles.
"We set a high bar, and that's our goal: to win the conference," McGraw said. "We don't want to change that no matter who we lose or who we don't have. But it's difficult, and, when the expectations are high, that's when the stress and pressure can get to a team.
"I think it's important we really use the [nonconference] to get us ready and understand what our weaknesses are."
No team yet has been able to really exploit those; the Irish have victories over four ranked foes. The biggest was against then-No. 3 South Carolina, the defending national champion, in the title game of the Gulf Coast Showcase in Florida on Nov. 26. Ogunbowale had 23 points in that 92-85 win, and Young had 22.
Young, a 6-foot sophomore who ranks second on the Irish with 8.6 rebounds per game, was the tournament MVP.
"Jackie Young has really emerged as the next great guard for us," McGraw said. "She's phenomenal."
In Wednesday's 83-63 victory at No. 22 Michigan, Ogunbowale tied her career high in points (32) and Young set a career mark in rebounding (14).
Notre Dame has played just one home game thus far, its season opener against Mount St. Mary's on Nov. 11. Sunday's matchup against UConn at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, will cap the Irish's stretch of seven consecutive games away from home.
And, obviously, this will be their toughest test. The 6-0 Huskies opened against four ranked foes -- Stanford, Cal, Maryland and UCLA -- and beat them by an average of 25.7 points.
Notre Dame is the only program in recent years to have a period of sustained success against UConn, but that's getting distant. The Diggins-led Irish beat the Huskies in seven of eight matchups between 2011 and 2013. The last of those was in both teams' final Big East tournament, with the Irish taking the title game. Then Notre Dame went to take over the ACC, and UConn became the goliath of the American Athletic Conference.
No. 4 Louisville (7-0) is also unbeaten and looms as a very strong challenger to Notre Dame in the ACC, so the Irish know the meeting with UConn should help prepare them for that January battle.
Overall, the Huskies lead their series 35-11 against the Irish, having won six in a row, but Sunday's game is good for UConn, too. Notre Dame is one of the few programs that is not intimidated by UConn. The Huskies know that the Irish will force them to play well to win, and that's something UConn coach Geno Auriemma wants.
A look at Sunday's other showdowns:
No. 14 Duke at No. 5 South Carolina (SEC Network, noon ET)
The Gamecocks suffered their first loss since February when they fell to the Irish. They bounced back by clobbering Western Carolina 101-43 on Thursday, while Duke upset visiting No. 8 Ohio State 69-60. South Carolina star forward A'ja Wilson (24.5 PPG, 11.1 RPG) is off to a tremendous start in her senior season.
But the Gamecocks likely won't have injured guards Lindsey Spann or Bianca Cuevas-Moore. Transfer Spann has been the Gamecocks' second-leading scorer (13.6 PPG) thus far, but Cuevas-Moore has yet to play. The Blue Devils beat South Carolina last season, 74-63 at Duke.
No. 16 Stanford at No. 9 Baylor (2 p.m. ET)
Kentucky came into Baylor on Thursday and left with a 90-63 loss, as six Lady Bears scored in double figures. Will Stanford fare any better in Waco, Texas? Baylor forward Lauren Cox is averaging a double-double (16.7 PPG, 10.2 RPG), and center Kalani Brown nearly is (22.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG). This is yet another nonconference test for the Cardinal; they've already fallen to UConn and twice to Ohio State.
No. 2 Texas at Georgia (SEC Network, 4 p.m. ET)
It's a battle of unbeatens as the Bulldogs try to make their case for inclusion in the Top 25. It could be a good early road test for the Longhorns, who've already defeated one SEC team: LSU in the Las Vegas Shootout. Brooke McCarty (13.7 PPG, 5.5 APG) sparks a guard-led Texas attack.
No. 11 West Virginia at No. 18 Texas A&M (ESPNU, 8 p.m. ET)
The Mountaineers are unbeaten; the Aggies' only loss was to Oregon. West Virginia senior forward Teana Muldrow is a player to keep an eye on; she's averaging 23.8 PPG and 9.5 RPG. On the other end of the experience spectrum -- but off to a great start -- is Texas A&M freshman guard Chennedy Carter (18.9 PPG, 5.3 APG).