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Defensive Irish go on the road

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, February 6, 2004

No. 23 Notre Dame looks for its sixth straight win as the Irish go on the road to face Seton Hall Sunday afternoon.

The Pirates (12-8, 4-5 Big East) come off a 64-40 loss to Virginia Tech, but hold an impressive 7-2 home record. Their only losses came against No. 4 Connecticut and Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, the Irish have played outstanding defense in their past eight games, holding all but one opponent to 50 points or less in their seven wins. Notre Dame defeated Georgetown Wednesday night 66-52, holding the Hoyas to a season-low 29.6 percent shooting.

But Seton Hall is a defensive-minded team as well, as they only allow 56.6 points per game. Offensively, they average 61.4 points per game.

Junior Ashley Bush leads the Pirates in scoring, averaging 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. However, she is the only Pirate with a double figure scoring average.

The last time these two teams met, March 1, 2003, the Irish escaped with a 62-60 win at home on Katy Flecky’s two free throws with two seconds to play. So this year, the Irish are ready for a challenge.

“Overall, they’re a great defensive team,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “They’re terrific rebounders, and they’re really athletic. They hold teams down. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”

The Pirates out-rebound their opponents by almost ten rebounds per game, as they average 41.7 rebounds to opponents’ 31.9. Notre Dame, on the other hand, averages 37.2 rebounds per game.

“We’re going to work on rebounding,” McGraw said.

The Irish hope to carry their performance at home on the road, as they are 10-0 at the Joyce Center this season. But after two road wins in the past two weeks, the Irish feel as though they have figured out how to play on the road.

“Winning the Syracuse and Miami games have really given us confidence on the road,” McGraw said. “We’ve really got to stay focused. Every game is really important for us and the team knows that.”

Notre Dame, led by Jacqueline Batteast (15 points, 8.3 rebounds per game) and Megan Duffy (11.4 points, 4.6 assists per game), has won 11 of their last 14 games since starting the season 3-4.

“We really took a lot of lumps early on, and we were fortunate that we were able to maintain our mental toughness because that was a long stretch,” McGraw said. “I think this team has been really resilient this year.”

The Irish success has been in large part due to their commitment to defense, according to McGraw. Players know that they will play only if they excel on defense, and McGraw has shown this throughout the season in her substitutions.

“Putting Monique Hernandez in the starting lineup was a huge sign that we’re serious about [defense],” McGraw said. “The other people are starting to improve defensively. We’re definitely starting our best defensive group. I think that by substituting, they’re getting the picture.”

Notre Dame hopes to carry over their defensive intensity this weekend on the road, in what could prove to be another defensive battle.

“Seton Hall is another great team and a big test for us on the road,” McGraw said. “That’s going to be a big challenge for us to go out there. They’re a great defensive team, so it should be another defensive battle, but it’s one that we’re looking forward to.”