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How sweet it is

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Just hours after Jacqueline Batteast was named Associated Press honorable mention All-American, she showed the nation why.”Jackie’s carried us in so many big games,” Irish guard Megan Duffy said. “I’m just glad she’s on our team.”Batteast’s dominating performance against Middle Tennessee State catapulted the Irish into the Sweet 16 for the second time in as many years as Notre Dame advanced with a 59-46 victory.It all started 3:19 into the game when Batteast hit a jumper off a Megan Duffy pass. From then on, it was all Batteast. She went on to score 13 more points in the first half, missing just three shots, and pulling down seven rebounds.Batteast made the Blue Raiders defense look silly. They tried to prevent her from getting the ball. That failed. They tried to guard her man-to-man. That effort was also futile.Stop and pull-up, drive to the hoop – it didn’t matter. Almost every time Batteast got the ball, she scored. Bottom line – the only person that could stop Batteast was herself.And that sure didn’t happen.With the Irish up just three points, the second half began with a 13-0 Irish run. Or should we say a 10-0 Batteast run.Just 42 seconds into the half, Batteast hit a lay-up to key the run during which she went 5-for-5 from the field. She proceeded to toss the ball behind her to the trailing Jeneka Joyce, who hit the three-pointer that all but put the Blue Raiders away.The duo jogged down the court with smiles on their faces. They could feel the sweetness of the pending win, and in the process, they were having a blast. Batteast was living up to her potential and Joyce was shooting the ball like everyone knows she can.By the time it was over, Batteast finished with 27 points, tying a career high while playing just 28 minutes. She also grabbed 12 rebounds, including 10 on the defensive end. But her most impressive stat might have also been the lowest – she missed just four shots the entire night, and one in the second half. Even Batteast knew that she couldn’t miss.”It was shocking,” Batteast said of her shooting. “It feels really, really, really good. It was just that kind of night.”It was the kind of night when you don’t want to face the Irish – especially at home.The Jacqueline Batteast that has come to this year’s NCAA tournament is not the one Irish fans saw last year. Last year, Batteast scored 13 points in three games in the tournament. She had that many points in the first half Tuesday night at the Joyce Center.She was the star of the game, not Middle Tennessee State’s Patrice Holmes. Holmes was held to 4-for-15 shooting, good for just nine points. The Sun Belt Tournament MVP could learn a few things about being a star from watching Batteast.And if you are Notre Dame, you have to be glad that Batteast dons the Irish jersey. She presents matchup problems for other teams, and she can flat-out play. It seems that she has finally found her stride as one of the nation’s best players in her third year in an Irish uniform.But if you are unfortunate enough to be an opponent, you go home learning something. For Sun Belt champions Middle Tennessee State, the lesson was how to play like an All-American.

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