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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: McGraw, players reflect on season

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, April 1, 2005

The women’s college basketball season concludes this weekend in Indianapolis, but the Irish will be watching on their television sets. After their season started with high hopes of Notre Dame’s first Final Four since the 2001 national championship, the Irish were upset by fifth-seeded Arizona State 70-61 on March 21 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“We met and watched the film and really I wanted them to take the pain with them,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I wanted them to remember the pain they felt in the locker room after the game and not to ever want to go through that again. It’s all a mindset, it’s an attitude that you have to have, and we just didn’t seem to have it in the beginning of the second half of that game.”

The Irish finished the season 27-6, the third most victories in school history, won the preseason WNIT tournament and finished second in the Big East conference.

They return three starters next season. But next year’s team will have the tough task of replacing graduating seniors Jacqueline Batteast, a third team Associated Press All-American, who led the Irish in scoring with 16.9 points per game, and Teresa Borton, who never missed a game in her four years.

“It’s really going to be hard to replace them because they scored and rebounded,” McGraw said. “Jackie, we wanted her to have the ball in every clutch situation, so we’re going to have somebody else to do that.”

First in line was freshman Charel Allen, named to the Big East all-freshman team this season. However, Allen suffered a torn ACL and MCL in her left knee and will have surgery in about a month once the MCL heals, McGraw said. Allen is expected to return for practice in October.

“She should be ready for practice,” McGraw said. “We don’t expect her to be 100 percent, but she’ll be cleared to play.

“Charel was going to step up and maybe be our go-to scorer next year, even as a sophomore.”

While Allen should give the Irish a scorer, junior point guard Megan Duffy will return as the team’s leader and heart and soul. The gutsy guard was named honorable mention Associated Press All-American and earned first team All-Big East for Notre Dame this season.

“That is so important to have a good leader, you can’t win without a leader,” McGraw said. “I think Megan’s going to run the team like she did this year, and she’s improved every year.”

Duffy will be joined in the backcourt by defensive stopper Breona Gray, who had a solid sophomore season, and freshman Tulyah Gaines, who gained valuable experience in a backup role this season.

“Tulyah really came on at the end of the year,” McGraw said.

Borton’s inside presence will be filled by another freshman, Melissa D’Amico. The 6-foot-5 forward/center saw limited action this season, but McGraw thinks she will be a big contributor next season, playing in the post next to returning starter junior Courtney LaVere and sophomore Crystal Erwin.

“[D’Amico] is going to be a dominating presence in the lane for us on both ends of the floor,” McGraw said. “I think that she is talented, she works hard, and I really feel like she is going to play a major role for us inside. Not so much in scoring, but just in contributing.”

And even with these three freshmen seeing increased roles next year, Notre Dame will get even younger with two top recruits coming in: McDonald’s All-American Lindsay Schrader and honorable mention All-American Chandrica Smith.

Schrader will join the Irish out of Bartlett, Ill. The 2005 Illinois Ms. Basketball is a pure scorer, averaging 22.1 points per game her senior year.

“She’s someone who can shoot the ball, score from the perimeter, rebound – she’s got a lot of strengths on offense,” McGraw said of Schrader, who scored nine points in the All-American game Wednesday night at the Joyce Center.

Smith will bring an athletic presence to the Irish.

“Chandrica is a great defender who can rebound, which was a huge weakness we had this year,” McGraw said. “So I think between Lindsay and Chandrica, we’re going to count on the two of them together to make up for what we lost, losing Jackie.”

But for now, this year’s team is still struggling a little with the disappointing end to the year.

“You lose your sense of urgency when a season’s over because you go from having great purpose to not having a reason to get in here,” McGraw said. “And it’s a difficult time of year sometimes when you don’t end as well as you want to.

“Megan’s [mood] I know is exactly like mine – she’s mad, and she’s been mad for a week. I think she wishes the first game was tomorrow so we could get another game going.”

But Duffy and the Irish have to wait, and this weekend, they have to watch.