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Rutgers not a worry for ND

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, February 18, 2005

The last time these two teams met, the circumstances were completely different.

Notre Dame was fighting for its Big East life in the toughest stretch of its season, and Rutgers was coming off of a week of upsets. Notre Dame needed a win, and the Irish got one, 63-47 with a huge second half comeback.

Saturday, however, is much different for the No. 5 Irish (23-3, 11-2 Big East), as they are in first place in the Big East with just three games to play, including Saturday’s contest.

“We’re in the drivers’ seat,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “But at the same time, there’s no pressure. It’s not like it’s a must-win game.

“I’m so much more relaxed,” McGraw said with a smile. “I don’t think we’ve taken the time to appreciate what we’ve done.”

But despite the game not being a must-win, it is still important for the Irish, who take a 10-game win streak into the matchup. With a win, Notre Dame could help its case for a top seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, as well as be on its way for a regular season Big East title.

No. 10 Rutgers (19-5, 10-2 Big East), meanwhile, comes off a scare against Syracuse (11-13, 3-10 Big East). The Scarlet Knights had to score the final 10 points to come away with a 64-54 win in New York Feb. 16.

“We had a tough game there, too,” McGraw said. “Syracuse is a pretty good team.”

And the Irish will have their hands full come Saturday. The last time they faced the Scarlet Knights on Jan. 23, Notre Dame needed a 23-0 second half run to come back from a 13-point halftime deficit.

“Taking care of the ball is the No. 1 key to the game,” McGraw said. “We’ve got to take care of the ball, because they’re so good in transition. So if we can limit our turnovers, which is what we did in the second half of that game, then we have a chance to win -that, and rebound. Those are the two big things we’ve got to do.”

Leading the Irish will be All-American forward Jacqueline Batteast (17.9 points, 6.6 rebounds per game) and point guard Megan Duffy (11.6 points, 5.5 assists per game). Batteast scored 27 points the last time the Irish faced the Scarlet Knights at the Joyce Center. Saturday’s game will be played in Piscataway, N.J., at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, also known as the RAC.

“It’s a hostile environment,” McGraw said. “It’s tough.”

The Irish will have to play better than they did Tuesday night against No. 25 Boston College, when they scored just 15 points in the first half. McGraw said Thursday she didn’t know what the cause of the slow start was, or why the team shot just 34.5 percent against Boston College.

“I don’t feel like we’ve been shooting the ball well lately,” McGraw said.

Rutgers, meanwhile is led by star point guard Cappie Pondexter and freshman Matee Ajavon, who comes off the bench. Chelsea Newton adds senior leadership for the Scarlet Knights, who defeated Connecticut 76-62, Feb. 13, putting the Irish atop the Big East.

Tipoff is set for noon Saturday.


u Megan Duffy was named to ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-District V Second Team. Duffy holds a 3.45 cumulative grade-point average in the College of Arts and Letters as a double major in psychology and computer applications. Duffy earned a 3.83 GPA last fall, earning Dean’s List honors for the first time.