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ND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: New teams stiffen 2005-06 slate

Heather VanHoegarden | Tuesday, September 20, 2005

In their first year in the revised Big East Conference, the Irish will once again play a tough schedule that includes games against nine teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season.

“It’s really challenging,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said of the schedule released Monday. “I think the Big East is going to have a great year.”

The Irish open the season on Nov. 1 with an exhibition game against Division-II Indianapolis at the Joyce Center. They go on to play another Division-II opponent, Ferris State, before the regular season opener against rival Michigan at the Joyce Center on Nov. 18. This game will be played at 9 p.m. after the pep rally for the Notre Dame-Syracuse football game that Saturday.

“It’s a natural rivalry for Notre Dame,” McGraw said. “I think the fans are always excited about seeing a rival team like that, and being fairly close, I think that for their fans to be able to make the trip will be a fun game as well.”

Other non-conference games are against 2005 Final Four member Tennessee at the Joyce Center Dec. 31, and games against Big Ten members Wisconsin (Dec. 4) and Purdue (Dec. 7), both on the road.

But the real focus for the Irish will be figuring out the new Big East teams – DePaul, Marquette, South Florida and Louisville are joining the conference this year for the first time with the departures of Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami to the ACC. The Irish play DePaul, who finished 26-5 last season, twice while they face the other three once each – Marquette, Cincinnati and South Florida at home and Louisville and Cincinnati on the road.

“I think it’s going to be a lot harder for us in terms of scouting because we’re obviously very familiar with the other teams in the league, and now we’ve got to learn from top to bottom five new teams,” McGraw said. “We have played Marquette before, but that’s it.”

And the two games with DePaul will renew another past rivalry as the Irish face Doug Bruno’s Conference USA championship team.

“DePaul used to be a big rival, so now we’re going to learn about their team all over again,” McGraw said. “These are some of the best teams coming out of Conference USA, and so it’s going to be interesting to see how they’re going to play against each other and how they’re going to play against the Big East itself. I’m just glad to have geographically a lot more schools in the Midwest.”

Other tough Big East games will be Rutgers, who Notre Dame plays on the road, and Connecticut, who the Irish only have to play once at home. The Irish have struggled with the Scarlet Knights on the road, losing both last year and twice in 2004.

“We’ve got some great teams,” McGraw said of the Big East. “I think Rutgers will be a top-five team this year; Connecticut is always a good team. And with these teams coming in, between DePaul, Marquette, Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida, I think that our schedule is going to be even more challenging this year than last year in the Big East.”