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ND Women’s Basketball: Red-hot Rutgers set to visit

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, January 21, 2005

Entering one of the season’s toughest stretches, the Irish start with one of the hottest teams in women’s basketball.No. 6 Rutgers (13-3, 4-0 Big East) comes to town to face the No. 11 Irish (14-3, 3-2 Big East, who are fresh off a 74-61 win on the road against Syracuse.Notre Dame faces St. John’s, No. 13 Connecticut and No. 14 Boston College after they face the Scarlet Knights. That makes three of the next four games against top-15 teams.”I’m happy with the way things are going,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “But we’re coming into another really tough stretch with a couple more ranked teams.”This stretch begins with Rutgers, who is coming off a 74-40 drubbing of Providence.Led by freshman Matee Ajavon’s 13.7 points per game, the Scarlet Knights have knocked off the likes of then-No. 1 LSU, then-No. 8 Tennessee and then-No. 4 Texas, all in just one week.Rutgers is also undefeated in Big East play, but they have played St. John’s, Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Providence, four of the weaker teams in the league.The Scarlet Knights have benefited from the return of senior guard Cappie Pondexter, who has played in seven games after missing the first semester of play. She was a third-team All-American as a junior, and a unanimous selection to the All-Big East first team.However, the point guard is not the only weapon the Scarlet Knights have this season. Junior forward Michelle Campbell is averaging 13.1 points per game to go along with 6.1 rebounds.Rutgers has historically played the Irish tough. Last season, the Scarlet Knights upset the Irish 69-55 at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, known as the RAC. Rutgers beat Notre Dame later in the season as well, upsetting the No. 2-seeded Irish in the second round of the Big East tournament, 51-45, despite playing with just eight players.The Irish hope to end this streak Sunday afternoon, as they try to extend their two-game winning streak.Notre Dame was led Wednesday night by Courtney LaVere, who played for the first time without a knee brace since her arthroscopic knee surgery in December. LaVere recorded 13 points, all in the first half, and 10 rebounds, for her second double-double of the season. All-American Jacqueline Batteast has led the Irish all season, putting up 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting Wednesday. Batteast has had scoring help from point guard Megan Duffy, who scored 17 points Wednesday night. Freshman Charel Allen added a career-high 17 points off the bench as well.The Irish offense has been very balanced all season.”I think we’re starting to get a little more comfortable,” McGraw said. “I think different people are stepping up and playing well, we’re having a lot more options.”Tip-off is Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Joyce Center.