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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Offense stalls against Rutgers

Eric Retter | Monday, February 21, 2005

With 12 minutes, 58 seconds left in the second half, Notre Dame guard Megan Duffy dribbled the ball up court, and, guarded heavily, looked around and passed the ball.Once the ball left her hands, it never touched a teammate, and Rutgers guard Matee Ajavon intercepted the ball and took it the length of the court for a layup, giving the Scarlet Knights a 39-31 lead.The exchange typified how Saturday afternoon went for the No. 5 Irish, as the team tied a season high by turning the ball over 23 times in a 59-48 loss at No. 10 Rutgers.Throughout the game, Rutgers swamped Notre Dame, not only forcing turnovers but holding the Irish to a 33 percent field goal percentage for the game.”That’s probably the best defensive effort that we’ve seen by an opponent this year,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “They got a lot of results out of their pressure defense.”Guard Chelsea Newton led the Scarlet Knights on defense, taking five of the team’s 16 steals. Newton also helped her team on the offensive side of the court, as Rutgers jumped out to a 32-20 halftime lead as she got seven of her eight assists in the first half.The Irish struggled in virtually every offensive category in the first half, shooting only 5-20 from the field. But the Irish kept themselves in the ballgame by capitalizing on Rutgers’ 11 first-half fouls, getting half of their first-half points behind a 10-of-12 first half performance from the free-throw line.”I thought we competed well in the first half,” McGraw said. “We just didn’t have shots fall for us.”As the second half began, Notre Dame looked poised to come back by doing what it has specialized in all season – dominate the second half. The Irish took advantage of the first 4:56 of the half by going on an 11-1 run to cut the Rutgers lead to 33-31. Junior forward Courtney Lavere scored four of her eight points during that run, and senior All-American Jacqueline Batteast, who finished with 14 points, complemented her with three points in that span as the Irish were able to score from inside.McGraw saw lots of promise in her team’s run.”I thought we showed a lot of heart coming back early in the second half,” she said.One of the reasons that Notre Dame started so successfully was because they were able to finally shut down Scarlet Knights’ guard Cappie Pondexter, who had only one of her 13 points in the second half.”Cappie shot the ball well in the first half, but we did a much better job stopping her [in the second half],” McGraw said.However, as Pondexter cooled off, her teammates began heating up. Newton scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half. As soon as the Irish got close, Rutgers responded by going on a run of their own, outscoring Notre Dame 15-2 in a 7:06 stretch. In the last 8:58, the Scarlet Knights stopped the Irish every time they even came close to building momentum, and Notre Dame was never able to cut the lead below 10 points.The Irish will have a full week off before facing West Virginia on Saturday for Senior Day at the Joyce Center.Notes:McGraw left the team for Philadelphia after the game due to the death of her father, Joseph G. O’Brien, 79. Mcgraw found out about his early Saturday morning death before the game but did not tell the team until after the game.