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ND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Road warriors

Joe Hettler | Friday, February 4, 2005

Whenever Notre Dame comes to town, Pittsburgh gives new meaning to the words “cheap seats.”

For the second straight season, the Panthers are having their “Pack the Peterson” promotional event in which tickets are just $1 to Saturday’s 2 p.m. tip against Notre Dame (19-3, 7-2 Big East). Pittsburgh tried a similar promotion last season and more than 7,800 people attended. It was the second-largest crowd ever at the Peterson Center for a women’s basketball game. In that game, the Irish barely squeaked by with a 72-68 victory.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw remembers that game well, and said her team must be ready for a difficult road contest this weekend.

“It was a really close game last year, so I think we’ll bring out that film and talk about that a little bit,” McGraw said. “They’re the kind of team that rebounds the ball well, they’re pretty athletic in the post. So they’re going to give us some trouble inside.”

Pittsburgh (11-9, 3-6) has lost its last three games to three tough conference opponents. The Panthers lost to Connecticut on Jan. 26 89-53, Boston College on Jan. 29 72-55 and Villanova Wednesday 70-49.

Six-foot-three freshman center Mercedes Walker paces Pittsburgh by scoring more than 13 points per game, and teammate Katie Histed adds 12 for a team that scores 65 points per contest. The Panthers also outrebound opponents 42.5 to 39, which could pose a major problem for a Notre Dame team whose biggest weakness is controlling the glass. In Wednesday’s win over No. 16 Boston College, the Irish scored 44 points in the paint, but were still outrebounded 45-32, including just nine offensive boards.

“I apparently haven’t been able to get [rebounding] across to them,” McGraw said. “We talked about it all year long. They’re just simply not doing it. One night the post rebound well and the guards don’t. Then the guards rebound, and the post doesn’t. It’s really frustrating that they’re just not doing their job.”

Notre Dame also has the challenge of playing another game with short rest. Since Jan. 2, the Irish have not had more than three full days off between games, and that doesn’t include travel to away contests. McGraw said her team is much more mentally fatigued, than physically at this point.

“Mentally it’s a grind. That’s the problem,” McGraw said. “We just haven’t had that break yet. We’ve played every Sunday so we haven’t had a day off on the weekend. Mentally it’s really draining and so I just got to hope the upperclassmen have the mental toughness and can sustain it to bring the freshmen along.”

McGraw said All-American Jacqueline Batteast, who led Notre Dame with 15 points in 24 minutes Wednesday, is feeling better and should be healthy for Saturday after struggling with the stomach flu for the last two games. Forward Crystal Erwin has the same illness, and her status is more uncertain in terms of how many minutes she’ll be able to log. Erwin was limited to just 12 minutes against Boston College.

A win Saturday keeps the Irish near the top of the Big East rankings. While winning a Big East regular season title would be nice, McGraw said she and the team are more concerned with earning one of four first-round byes in the conference tournament.

“We need to get a bye,” McGraw said. “So that’s something that makes every game so important.”