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Knocking down another ranked foe

Joe Hettler | Thursday, January 29, 2004

After three straight wins over ranked opponents, Wednesday’s upset at No. 16 Miami wasn’t a turning point in Notre Dame’s season. But it was certainly pivotal.The Irish used a second-half surge and an outstanding defensive effort to upend conference leader Miami (16-2, 5-2) 59-50 in Coral Gables. The Irish improved to 3-7 against true road foes and 12-7 overall, 5-2 in the Big East.”We felt like we needed to boost our resume a little bit, and a big win like this on the road was what we needed,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence.”Megan Duffy had 14 points, six rebounds and five assists and Courtney LaVere led the team with 15 bench points on 6-of-11 shooting. Jacqueline Batteast narrowly missed another double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds.But once again, the story for Notre Dame was its defense. “I thought our defense was outstanding,” McGraw said. “We really did a great job talking and pressuring the ball.”Miami entered the game averaging over 75 points a contest, but could only muster two-thirds of that total Wednesday. Notre Dame’s zone defense held the Hurricanes to only 37 percent field goal shooting for the game, including 31 percent in the second half. Tamara James hit 6-of-12 shots and finished the game with 16 points, while Shaquana Wilkins added 10 points for the Hurricanes.Miami jumped out to an early 20-12 lead as Notre Dame showed lackluster play for most of the first half. But the Irish closed the gap to 28-26 by scoring six of the final eight points heading into intermission.”At halftime, we thought, ‘We’re only down two, and we probably played our worst half of basketball since the West Virginia game, and we’re still in the game,'” McGraw said. “That was the good part.”The Irish took over the game in the first few minutes of the second half. LaVere and Crystal Erwin scored eight points, and Duffy knocked down a 3-pointer to cap an 11-2 run that gave Notre Dame a nine-point advantage at the first television timeout. “We continued to be aggressive. What we did was we ran the floor a lot better. … We started setting the tempo at a faster pace, and I don’t think they were ready for it,” McGraw said.McGraw said her bench players made the most significant contributions. The Irish bench played substantial minutes and outscored Miami’s bench 33-8. Erwin and Katy Flecky finished with seven points each, and Breona Gray added four points. All three players logged at least 18 minutes for the game.Notre Dame led by eight points four separate times in the second half but saw that lead cut to just three with 3:28 left on a layup by Wilkins. But the Irish used solid free throw shooting to put the Hurricanes away, making 8-of-10 free throws in the last 1:10.The win is Notre Dame’s fifth against top 25 opponents in eight tries. It also moves the team into a tie with Miami for second-place in the conference, one game behind Connecticut. The Irish defeated the Huskies 66-51 at the Joyce Center Jan. 13. Notre Dame will face its fifth straight ranked opponent when they play No. 23 Boston College Saturday at the Joyce Center. The Eagles are 4-3 in Big East play this season after beating Providence 76-42 Wednesday night.