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Defense steps up in Irish win over Wildcats

Heather VanHoegarden | Monday, January 26, 2004

To say that the Irish defense has been dominating of late would be an understatement.

After holding Syracuse to 35 points on 23 percent shooting Wednesday night on the road, the Irish came back home Saturday to do the same to Villanova, holding the Wildcats to 36 points in a 38-36 win.

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

The 35 points Syracuse scored was the least allowed by the Irish in a Big East road game. Notre Dame only gave up 16 points in the first half, setting the tone for the rest of the game.

Saturday, Notre Dame was able to come away with the victory because of their stifling defensive effort. Villanova, who entered the day leading the nation in turnovers with only 9.2 a game, committed 10 in the first half alone.

The Irish held the Wildcats scoreless over the last 7:05 of the game to preserve the win. But it wasn’t easy.

The Wildcats sported a lineup with no true post players. Instead, they had five guards in the game at all times. Every player on the court could shoot the three, which made it difficult for the bigger Irish to matchup.

However, Notre Dame was up to the challenge. They employed a switching defense that didn’t allow the Wildcats to get good looks at the hoop.

“Their defense was very good, they switched the screens real well,” Villanova coach Harry Perretta said.

Notre Dame found success in its team defense, as the Irish were able to guard anyone on the court interchangeably, making the switches on screens very effective.

“I thought it was a great team effort defensively because everybody had to guard a lot of different people,” McGraw said. “I thought we handled their offense about as well as we can.”

Villanova was held to 25.6 percent shooting, and went 0-for-7 from beyond the arc in the second half. The Irish held the Wildcats to 18 points in both halves, making it four consecutive halves that the Notre Dame defense has held its opponent to 20 points or less. Villanova came into the game averaging 61.7 points per game on 41.6 percent shooting.

Against the Wildcats, who like to control the tempo of a game, the defense of the Irish made all the difference in the end result.

“They run the offense to perfection,” McGraw said. “We feel good about the defense because we know how good their offense is.”

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily The Observer. Contact Heather Van Hoegarden at hvanhoeg@nd.edu.