There is a magic number for the Notre Dame girls' basketball team this season -- 40.
Actually, the number is a little lower than that, but as long as the Lady Irish don't see that figure on the opponents' side of the scoreboard, they feel pretty good about their chances to win.
And with good reason.
The Lady Irish have jumped out to a 13-4 record, which includes a 4-0 mark in District 7-AA. Their staple has been defense. They've allowed only 33 points per contest -- 29.1 in their 13 wins. When they've allowed 40 or fewer, they are 13-1.
Coach Wes Moore, in his second season at Notre Dame, has put a lot of responsibility on his team on the defensive end. The Lady Irish might not have the quickness of some of their opponents, so they've applied a number of variations of zones to slow other teams.
"We have bigger posts and we're not very athletic," said Moore, the former Chattanooga Christian all-stater and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga point guard. "When I got into girls' coaching, I watched a lot of basketball. I knew that boys' shooting could be on some nights and off some, but in girls you might have a few that can shoot, but I figured that if you played zone and make them shoot from the perimeter, that it was going to give us a better chance to win.
"We've gone with that philosophy, and the girls have bought into it."
The team does sprinkle in enough man-to-man defense to keep opponents guessing. There has been a lot of work on the offensive end of the floor in practices, but a team that scores 43.8 points per game and has failed to score 40 on eight occasions knows what its calling card is, especially since those eight include the four losses.
"Our defense is our best asset," senior Molly Gadd said. "We can't score that much, so we play hard on defense and make sure that in practice we're staying on our defense and making sure we're doing what we should to be tops in the district."
The Lady Irish topped the 10-win plateau for the first time in recent memory last season, when they advanced to the Region 4-AA tournament. They've already topped that mark this season, which is an improvement very few -- including coaches and players -- thought could happen so quickly. It has come at the expense of some opponents that Notre Dame hadn't been beating, including tonight's road opponent, Grundy County.
"I think that win was the turning point for us," senior Sydney Lundquist said of beating Grundy at home. "Coach was so proud of us that night; he told us that as long as we play that way, we could beat any team in the district."
Moore has compiled 24 wins in his year and a half coaching at Notre Dame -- only three fewer than the program's total for the previous five seasons.
"I think that this year, Coach Moore has really stressed teamwork," Darby Lundquist, Sydney's twin, said. "We not only want to score, but everybody wants to get assists and make sure we all get chances to score, and that's been the determining factor in our success.
"Our goal now is to win the district."