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Defense rules the day for Irish

Joe Hettler | Monday, January 26, 2004

Harry Perretta wanted to apologize to the 7,014 fans that witnessed the ugly game between Notre Dame and No. 23 Villanova Saturday. Instead he made a suggestion.

“I worked for a three at the end to try and relieve the fans and watching public of having to watch the game anymore,” Perretta said. “If we made it, the game was over. If we missed it, the game was over so nobody had to watch anymore of it.”

In a game where neither team scored more than 20 points in a half, Jacqueline Batteast sank two free throws with 17.5 seconds left to give the Irish a 38-36 victory. The 38 points were Notre Dame’s lowest total ever at the Joyce Center and the second lowest by an Irish team in a game anywhere.

Batteast, who played with a sprained right wrist, shot just 2-for-14 from the field but hit all 10 of her free throws to finish the game with 14 points and nine rebounds. Guard Megan Duffy added 10 points including a clutch 3-pointer with 2:02 left to tie the game at 36-36 and give the Irish momentum.

Villanova had one last chance to tie or win the game, but guard Courtney Mix missed an off-balance jumper and Duffy grabbed the rebound to secure the win.

Notre Dame’s defense continued its impressive play of late, holding Villanova to 25.6 percent shooting from the field and forcing 14 Wildcat turnovers. Villanova was averaging just nine turnovers a game.

“I think we’ve been doing a fantastic job defensively since the Big East season began, and that’s something we’re taking a lot of pride in,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

There were eight lead changes and nine ties as neither team led by more than six points at any time. The Irish used an 8-0 run to take a 32-26 lead with 8:29 left, before Villanova answered with its own 8-0 spurt. The Irish held Villanova scoreless for the final 7:05 of the game.

Villanova’s defense also played well, holding the Irish to 31.7 percent shooting for the game. Besides Batteast and Duffy, no other Irish player scored more than four points.

“They force you to take the kind of shot they want you to take,” McGraw said.

McGraw said the absence of 3-point threat Jeneka Joyce hindered Notre Dame’s offense. Joyce sprained her ankle in practice Thursday and did not dress for the game.

“With Jeneka out, that really limits our three’s,” McGraw said. “I thought [Villanova] did a pretty good job finding [Duffy]. They were leaving Breona [Gray], Monique [Hernandez] and Le’Tania [Severe] open for three’s, but they are not our best 3-point shooters.”

With the win, Notre Dame improves to 11-7 on the season and 4-2 in the Big East. The Irish are now tied for third-place with West Virginia, one game behind leaders Miami and Connecticut.

McGraw said she is pleased with how her team is playing in late January, especially after Notre Dame’s third straight home win against a ranked foe. The Irish are 4-3 against top 25 teams this season.

“I think we’re right on track,” she said. “We’ve won four of our last five. We’ve got to win some road games … and you have to defend your home court. We need to stay focused on what were doing and keep taking it one game at a time.”