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ND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Batteast’s play not stellar, but rest of team makes up for it

Joe Hettler | Monday, March 21, 2005

FRESNO, Calif. – Clank after clank, brick after brick, Jacqueline Batteast kept chucking up jumpers in Notre Dame’s first-round NCAA Tourna-ment game against California Santa Barbara Saturday, and she kept watching helplessly as the ball went anywhere but through the hoop. After dra-wing a foul late in the second half, in the midst of missing yet another short field goal, Batteast fired the ball off the basket in frustration, then missed both ensuing free throw attempts.It was that kind of day on offense for the Big East Player of the Year.But Notre Dame didn’t panic or lose confidence, despite its star’s rough shooting performance. The Irish simply found another way to win. Thanks to a total team effort, Notre Dame scratched and clawed its way past an underrated Santa Barbara team, 61-51, to advance to its 10th straight second-round appearance.And they did it by getting contributions from everyone. Breona Gray recorded her second double-figure scoring performance in the last three games, finishing with 10 points. But her biggest play came with 2:27 left and the Irish clinging to a 50-46 lead.Covering Santa Barbara’s star player, Kristen Mann, Gray anticipated a pass from the Gauchos’ Erin O’Bryan. When O’Bryan threw the ball to Mann, Gray knocked it away, then gained control and made an easy layup to put the Irish up by six. Instead of an opportunity to cut Notre Dame’s lead in half, Santa Barbara found itself all but finished.”That was a huge basket,” Santa Barbara coach Mark French said.In the first half, when Courtney LaVere, Teresa Borton and Crystal Erwin all had two fouls, Irish coach Muffet McGraw turned to seldom-used freshman Melissa D’Amico to fill in. The youngster did so admirably, logging five minutes and tallying an offensive rebound and a put-back bucket. In the whole scheme of things, that line may seem insignificant. But more important than scoring or rebounding, D’Amico played well enough to keep LaVere, Borton and Erwin on the bench, where they couldn’t get into any more foul trouble.Megan Duffy’s performance was outstanding en route to 18 points, including 8-of-10 from the line, which nailed Santa Barbara’s coffin. The first-team All-Big East selection provided the scoring Batteast usually does – and did so while running the team well, like she normally does.Freshman Charel Allen struggled to just 1-of-6 from the field, but added 5-of-6 free throws to score seven points in 19 minutes off the bench. Crystal Erwin did not start either, but complimented Allen’s points with six rebounds in just 14 minutes.And even Batteast, who finished with just eight points on 4-of-14 shooting, made her mark by grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds and dishing out three assists.All nine Notre Dame players who saw action did their part to beat Santa Barbara. In past games, in past seasons, the Irish might have folded when Batteast went cold. They might have lost confidence and lost faith in their abilities. Or they might have just plain lost. But this version of Notre Dame didn’t even flinch when Batteast missed time and time again. This 2004-05 squad just found a way to win.Now the Irish face challenge number two on their path to Indianapolis. No. 5 Arizona State looked impressive in its win over No. 12 Eastern Kentucky. The Sun Devils drained 60 percent of their shots and had 49 points at halftime. Notre Dame will have its hands full against an athletic, big, physical team tonight.But if Saturday’s win taught the Irish anything, it was that they are much more than Batteast. With her playing well, Notre Dame is as good as anyone in the country. When she’s not, the Irish still have enough firepower to get the job done.As the final buzzer sounded Saturday, Batteast showed little emotion by clapping her hands softly and congratulating her opponents on a good game. The senior didn’t care whether she had 48 points or eight – all that mattered was a final score in favor of the Irish. Batteast gets an opportunity tonight to make up for her tough offensive day against Santa Barbara. She rarely has a bad shooting performance two games in a row. But Batteast knows that even if her shot doesn’t fall as usual, the rest of the Irish will be there, backing her up.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.Contact Joe Hettler at jhettler@nd.edu.