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Irish set to challenge Flyers

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, December 8, 2004

After a disappointing loss at home last week against No. 12 Michigan State, Notre Dame (7-1) is back in action Thursday night. The Irish, who dropped from No. 3 to No. 5 after the loss, saw their 25-game home winning streak snapped Thursday in the 82-73 overtime loss.So now they hit the road to face unranked Dayton (4-3) at 7 p.m. Thursday.Thursday’s game will be a homecoming of sorts for Irish point guard Megan Duffy. Duffy attended Chaminade-Julienne High School, just 10 minutes from the university.”I’m excited,” Duffy said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s a good opportunity to play in front of family and friends before I get out of Notre Dame and I have people coming, so it’s exciting.”But as usual, Duffy is most concerned with getting the win.”But really, the most important thing is to get back on a winning track,” she said. “Take [playing at home] out of it – we have to rebound from our Michigan State loss.”The Irish will face a different team than they have been used to this season, as the Flyers have big, agile post players. Against Michigan State, they faced 6-foot-4 Kellie Roehrig, who was big, and as Irish coach Muffet McGraw said after that game, “takes up so much space.” McGraw said the post players Thursday will present a different look for the Irish.”It’s a little different challenge,” McGraw said of the Flyers. “This is a team whose post players are good away from the basket, can beat us off the dribble, a little more versatile than what we’ve seen.”Leading the charge for the Flyers will be senior guard Emily Williams and junior forward Cara Wright, who is playing for the first time since transferring from Arkansas. Williams averages 14.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, while Wright adds 11.5 points and 8.3 rebounds.Williams and Duffy are familiar foes. Williams played her high school basketball at Beavercreek High School, the rival of Duffy’s high school. While there, Williams won the state championship and compiled a 99-6 record. Duffy was also coached by Williams’ father in AAU basketball.”We’ve known each other since we were 10,” Duffy said. “She’s a riot. We talk online occasionally, and she’s a good kid. She’s the leader of their team, so it’ll be fun.”Dayton will be playing its second game with head coach Jim Jabir back on the sidelines after a 35-day medical leave due to heart problems. The Flyers come off a 65-55 overtime win against Wright State Tuesday night. McGraw hopes that for the Irish, the time off and extra practice will make a difference.”We had two good days this week [of practice], and it really helped us,” McGraw said. “We were able to put some things in, work on some things.”Notre Dame has been led so far by Jacqueline Batteast, who averages 19.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Duffy is averaging 14.8 points and has 19 steals in eight games.The Irish know they must get a road win to bounce back from last week’s disappointing loss.”Any game on the road can be dangerous,” McGraw said. “It’s important for us to have a lot of focus.”And with all the added pressure of family and friends in attendance, will Duffy be especially nervous?”I hope I’m not nervous,” she said with a smile. “I think I’m more excited. We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully I won’t be nervous. I’ll just be excited to see everyone.”