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Irish need answers, wins away from home

Joe Hettler | Wednesday, January 21, 2004

They can beat ranked foes like Virginia Tech and Connecticut at home, but for whatever reason, the Notre Dame women can’t beat anyone on the road.That trend must end soon for the Irish if they’re going to make a strong run at the NCAA Tournament in March. Notre Dame gets a chance to improve its road mark tonight against Syracuse in Manley Field House at 7 p.m.”We want to play every game at home,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “Right now we just can’t win on the road, and we’re just beating our heads against a wall trying to figure out a reason for it. We’re losing to teams that are not quite as talented when we’re on the road.”The Irish are 1-7 in true road games – games at the opponent’s home court – while staking a perfect 7-0 record at the Joyce Center. Disappointing road losses this season include Michigan State, Georgetown and West Virginia.”We’re just so comfortable playing at home,” McGraw said. “The crowd really helps us, and I think there’s an immaturity to that – that you need somebody else to pick you up. That’s what we have to work on – how can we individually and as a group find the poise to withstand playing on the road? So far we haven’t found the answer.”Struggling on offense or defense can be fixed during practices leading up to a game.Figuring out how to beat teams in their home arena in front of a hostile crowd isn’t an easy task.”We’ve tried a lot of different things, and I still feel it has to be a combination of people that we’re putting in the games,” McGraw said. “So we’re yet again looking at not changing the starting lineup, but playing different people at different times.”The Irish have moved from an offensive-oriented starting lineup to a more defensive-oriented group, which includes Megan Duffy, Le’Tania Severe, Teresa Borton, Jacqueline Batteast and Monique Hernandez. McGraw said she plans on starting that lineup against the Orangewomen.McGraw was not expecting such struggles on the road, especially with four seniors and three juniors returning to the team.”I’m disappointed the upperclassmen haven’t been able to get it done on the road,” McGraw said. “It’s a veteran team who is just struggling to find an answer.”At 9-7 and 2-2 in the Big East, Notre Dame needs this game if they hope to make a run at the conference championship. Three teams have just one loss in the Big East, including Syracuse. The Orangewomen are just 6-8 overall, but they recently defeated Rutgers to become 3-1 in conference play. Notre Dame meets Miami (4-1) two times this season, while the Irish have already defeated Connecticut (4-1).Syracuse is led by reigning Big East Player of the Week Julie McBride, who averaged 20.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and five assists in two wins over Rutgers and Providence last week. Freshman Lauren Kohn has won back-to-back Big East Freshman of the Week honors after scoring 11.5 points and 3.5 rebounds for the Orangewomen in their most recent games.”Julie McBride is a great player. She’s a senior and a great guard,” McGraw said. “She’s played well against us quite a few times, and we have a lot of respect for her. We really need to shut her down.”Syracuse’s greatest weakness is their lack of depth. Orangewoman coach Keith Cieplicki uses only seven players during most games.Notre Dame heads back to the Joyce Center Saturday to face 13-3, 3-2 Villanova at noon before traveling to face conference leader Miami (15-1, 4-1) at Coral Gables on Jan. 28.