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Team responds to challenge

Heather VanHoegarden | Monday, November 22, 2004

There were just over five minutes left in the game. Down by eight, it was time for the Irish to decide if they were going to make a run for the game or just chalk it up as an early-season learning experience.

Five minutes later, they were raising a trophy, waving to their fans as the preseason WNIT champions.

Notre Dame could have easily given up Saturday night. The Irish could have gone home with their heads up and proud of the way they played against No. 6 Duke earlier in the week, proud of the way they fought that night against Ohio State. But not this team.

Not this year.

“We definitely didn’t want to leave here with any moral victories,” Irish forward Jacqueline Batteast said.

And it was Batteast who wouldn’t let her team do just that.

The All-American finished with 32 points and dominated the Ohio State defense. She played good defense and rebounded. She was the heart and soul of the Irish team.

With four seconds to go in the game, point guard Megan Duffy turned the ball over and Buckeye Caity Matter was wide open in the corner, ready to shoot the game-tying three-pointer. But Batteast was ready to help her teammate. She sprinted from half-court and got to the corner just in time to block the shot, preserving the Irish win.

It was Batteast who wasn’t leaving with a moral victory. With 2:30 to play and the Irish down 64-60, Batteast shot from the right elbow. The ball hit the front of the rim, bounced up, rolled around and went in. Batteast ran down the court yelling in exuberation. Batteast had taken the Irish team on her shoulders, scoring seven points in their 12-0 run to end the game. It didn’t matter how Ohio State tried to guard her. It didn’t matter where she was on the court.

She was going to score.

She was going to win.

And so was the Notre Dame defense.

After they were down eight points, the Irish decided to step it up on defense. They scrambled to get in shooters’ faces, rebounded and didn’t let the Buckeyes score. No shots went in – not even a free throw. The Irish played man-to-man, but it was their team defense that was most impressive. Helping, talking, rebounding – they played textbook defense.

Ohio State was held scoreless the last 5:18 of the game. This Irish team responded. Batteast responded.

The Irish were intense. They played this game like it was an NCAA tournament game. It was unlike a year ago at this time, when Notre Dame lost to Colorado in overtime, 67-63, after failing to come through in the stretch, both offensively and defensively.

This year’s team was up to the challenge. They stepped it up on defense, and on offense, they did what needed to be done – got the ball to Batteast.

For Notre Dame it was a game to build on, a game to turn back to. It was NCAA tournament-type experience without the repercussions. But Notre Dame played as though this game had repercussions. They played like their season was on the line. Every last player on this Irish team wants to win, and it shows.

So the Irish lifted the trophy to the crowd as they extended their home-winning streak and showed the country they are a different team from last year.

And as a result, No. 10 Ohio State was left with the learning experience.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Heather Van Hoegarden at hvanhoeg@nd.edu