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Wildcats planning to spoil

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, January 23, 2004

After splitting a pair of road games, Notre Dame returns home Saturday to face No. 23 Villanova (13-3, 3-2 Big East).The Irish (10-7, 3-2 Big East) come off a big win at Syracuse Wednesday, but lost to West Virginia Saturday.Now the task at hand is to defend their 12-game home winning streak. “We’re so comfortable playing at home mainly because our crowd has been so loud this season,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “They’ve been incredible.”McGraw and the Irish face a Villanova team that has always given them trouble. The last three games in the Notre Dame-Villanova series have been decided by a combined total of six points. Out of the 17 games between the two teams, eight have been decided by eight points or less.Last year was no different. In then-freshman Megan Duffy’s first start at Notre Dame, the Irish knocked off then-No. 20 Villanova 58-56 Jan. 25, 2003. But the Irish later lost to the Wildcats 50-39 in the Big East quarterfinals, March 9.Tomorrow’s game also has big implications for both teams. They are tied for third place in the Big East with Boston College, Syracuse and West Virginia, all with a 3-2 conference record. Connecticut (4-1) and Miami (5-1) sit atop the standings.Saturday, the Irish will be greeted by the Big East’s top defensive team. The Wildcats give up only 53.3 points per game, which equals Connecticut for the Big East’s best.They also lead the country in fewest turnovers per game, with 9.3 per game. The next best team, University of Montana, averages 12.5 turnovers per game.”Villanova is a great team,” McGraw said. “They’re going to slow the game down and try to catch us napping.”But the Irish are ready to fight back, as they played well Wednesday night on the road after a tough loss to West Virginia. They gave up only 35 points, a record low given up by the Irish in a Big East road game.Junior Jacqueline Batteast is averaging 19.3 points and 10 rebounds with four straight double doubles in Big East play. Duffy leads the team in assists, with 4.81 per game, to along with her 11.5 points per game average.Meanwhile, the Wildcats haven’t played since its 62-51 win over Seton Hall Jan. 17. They are lead by all-around player Courtney Mix, who leads the team in rebounds (7.3 per game), assists (4.7 per game), and steals (1.5 per game). She also averages 7.8 points per game and 1.4 blocks per game.The Wildcats’ Liad Suez leads her team in scoring with a 13.6 points-per-game average. She shoots 46 percent from the floor and 40.2 percent from beyond the arc.However, the Wildcats haven’t played for a week, and the Irish hope to catch them off guard in their first and only Big East regular season matchup.”We’ve got to stay focused,” McGraw said.