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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Irish exit tournament early after stellar regular season

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, May 13, 2005

After losing just three of their first 26 games, the Irish lost three of their last seven en route to a disappointing second- round exit in the NCAA Tournament – a bitter end to a season that began with much promise.

Notre Dame, which finished second in the Big East and 27-6 overall, saw a strong start end with a 70-61 loss to fifth-seeded Arizona State in the NCAA Regional in Fresno, Calif. on March 21.

“We looked tired mentally,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said after the game. “It seemed like we hit a wall, and mentally we just couldn’t get over it.”

But at the beginning of the year, the Irish looked to be a top team. Ranked in the top-10 for most of the season, Notre Dame started off on the right foot with a Preseason WNIT championship that included wins over then-No. 6 Duke and then-No. 10 Ohio State. Against Duke, freshman Charel Allen came up big with 16 points, the first of many big games for the first-year. Senior Jacqueline Batteast was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament, leading the Irish with 32 points against the Buckeyes.

The Irish went on to win their next three games against Colorado State, USC and Valparaiso before losing to Michigan State at home. The 82-73 overtime loss snapped Notre Dame’s 25-game home winning streak, which dated back to last season.

However, the squad soon got back on track, winning its next six games, behind Batteast, point guard Megan Duffy and sophomore Crystal Erwin.

Erwin scored 24 points on 9-for-9 shooting on Dec. 11 against Washington while filling in for the injured Courtney LaVere. Batteast hit the game-winning 3-pointer against Marquette Dec. 19 on the road, and Duffy continued her consistent play as the team’s leader.

Notre Dame’s winning streak was snapped Jan. 9 in its third Big East game with a 59-54 loss at Villanova. At that point, the Irish were ranked No. 4 in the country and seemed to be on their way.

But following that game, the Irish were outplayed at home by Connecticut, losing 67-50 to the Huskies, the eventual Big East Tournament Champions.

At that point, McGraw thought the team’s season was at a make-or-break, and along came Purdue.

Notre Dame destroyed the Boilermakers, dominating at home, 86-69. Duffy led the Irish with 17 first-half points, and Batteast added 21.

After the win, the Irish went on a tear, winning their next nine games, including a victory against Rutgers at home on Jan. 23 and at Connecticut Jan. 30. Against the Scarlet Knights, the Irish overcame a 31-20 halftime deficit, using a 23-0 run fueled by Batteast to win 63-47.

Against Connecticut, Notre Dame dominated in the paint, and the win snapped the Huskies’ 112-game Big East home winning streak.

Notre Dame finished the season second in the Big East after falling to Rutgers on the road Feb. 19. The Irish earned the No. 2 seed in the Big East Tournament, where they defeated West Virginia and then fell to No. 3 seed Connecticut.

The Irish received a surprising No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and received one of the toughest draws in the field. They escaped UC-Santa Barbara and star Kristen Mann 61-51 in the first round but fell to Arizona State in the second round.

“We met and watched the film and really, I wanted them to take the pain with them,” 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 lost Batteast, the team Most Valuable Player and third team Associated Press All-American who was drafted by the Minnesota Lynx and center Teresa Borton to graduation. However, despite the fact that only two seniors are gone, they leave big shoes to fill.

“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.”

However, Duffy, an honorable mention Associated Press All-American returns, as does Allen, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL against Arizona State. These two along with forward Courtney LaVere will be the leaders for the Irish next season.

“These seniors have left a great legacy,” McGraw said. “They really raised the bar for us.”

Note:

Megan Duffy accepted an invitation to the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Trials, set to take place May 19-22 in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the United States Olympic Training Center. This is Duffy’s first time at the USA Trials.

Duffy is trying to earn a spot on one of the 12-member teams that will represent the United States at this summer’s World University Games and Under-19 World Championships.