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The first big challenge

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, November 17, 2004

No. 11 Notre Dame will face its first challenge of this young season tonight, and it will be a big one.

No. 6 Duke is in town, fresh off of two blowout preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament wins. They defeated Davidson 89-69 and South Florida 82-50.

“We’re expecting a very good team who has a lot more size than anybody we’ve faced or anybody we will face,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

The Blue Devils (2-0) are still a very good basketball team, despite losing All-American Alana Beard to graduation. They are led by junior Monique Currie, who is averaging 18.5 points, eight rebounds and 4.5 assists per game this season. Currie is joined by freshman point guard Wanisha Smith, who earned her first collegiate start against South Florida. In that start, she scored 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting in 30 minutes.

Smith, who will square off against Irish junior point guard Megan Duffy, is starting in place of Lindsey Harding. Harding, a third-team all-ACC selection last season, was suspended indefinitely by coach Gail Goestenkors for breaking unspecified team rules, according to the Associated Press.

“I think they have real different look than they did last year,” McGraw said. “It’s difficult to scout them because it’s so early and we haven’t seen game tape this year and everything last year went through Alana Beard so it’s really going to be a challenge for us because it’s like playing a whole new team.”

Another threat is guard Jessica Foley, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer against Conn-ecticut last season.

But Currie has the most experience for Duke. She will be a challenge for the Irish defense and recently was named one of the top-five wing players in the country by ESPN.com, an honor received by Irish forward Jacqueline Batteast as well.

“I think [Currie] is a great shooter,” McGraw said. “She’s definitely a great perimeter

threat for them.”

But the real challenge may be on the blocks. The Blue Devils boast an impressive front line with 6-foot-3 center Mistie Williams, who averaged 10 points and 5.4 rebounds, and led the ACC with a 67.1 percent field goal percentage in 2003. Duke has been very successful in the paint, shooting 54.7 percent inside the three-point line, and outrebounding opponents by 15 rebounds per game this season.

Notre Dame will counter Currie with a star of its own in Batteast. The 6-foot-2 senior was an honorable mention Associated Press All-American last season, and has been solid thus far for the Irish.

She will be joined down low by Courtney LaVere and Teresa Borton. McGraw said the post game will be especially important tonight, despite the Currie and Batteast matchup.

“We absolutely need [to be aggressive] against Duke because they’re so big,” McGraw said. “I think the game’s going to be won on the backboard. It’s going to be a battle of the inside game. You’ve got two marquee players going, in Currie and Jackie and that’s

going to be great to watch, but I think the game will really be won inside.”

For the Irish, this game will be a gauge of where this team is early in the season. It will help them see their weaknesses and hopefully help them once Big East play starts.

“It’s great to play top teams early on because you get to see where you are against a really good opponent,” McGraw said. “It’s like a measuring stick to see if you’re where you need to be and how far you are from where you want to get. I think only good things can happen from this game.”

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Joyce Center, where the Irish have a 22-game winning streak.

“I’m happy to be at home,” McGraw said. “Our fans have been great the first two games of the NIT; we’ve had just great crowds. They’ve really helped us and were going to need them.”

Notes

u Notre Dame leads the series with Duke, 3-1. The last time these two teams met, No. 11/19 Notre Dame destroyed No. 6/4 Duke in 1998, winning 84-57 at the Joyce Center. Ruth Riley led the Irish with 20 points, 18 rebounds and eight blocked shots, and Danielle Green added 20 points and 15 rebounds.

u Notre Dame was originally tied with Ohio State for No. 10 in the Associated Press poll, but dropped to No. 11 after Ohio State defeated St. Joseph’s in the preseason WNIT.

u Tickets are still available through the Notre Dame ticket ofice by calling 631-7356. Ticket prices, as mandated by the preseason WNIT and not Notre Dame, are $7 for students.