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ND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Duffy is fearless leader of scrappy Irish squad

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Just seven minutes into the second half, Tuesday’s game looked to be well on its way to being decided. After playing what coach Muffet McGraw called its best half of basketball all year, Notre Dame seemed about to fold. Down 51-39 after an 18-0 DePaul run, things were not looking good for a struggling Notre Dame team.

But the Irish didn’t give up. In fact, they responded by playing like they hadn’t all year, coming back from 12 down and going on a run of their own while holding DePaul scoreless for 8:29 and coming away with a hard-fought 78-75 victory over the No. 10 Blue Demons. It was the first win over a top-10 team this year for No. 24 Notre Dame after the brilliant second-half comeback.

“We’ve had a lot of practice getting behind big,” McGraw said somewhat sarcastically after the game.

The Irish, after all, had lost three of their last four Big East games before Tuesday night, two by at least 10 points, and all three to unranked teams.

But this time was different, thanks to Megan Duffy.

The senior point guard took this team on her shoulders for the entire 39 minutes she played. And for the minute she was out of the game in the first half, the Irish looked dazed and confused, forcing McGraw to put her star point guard and leader back in the game.

Duffy played some of the best basketball she’s played all year. Hitting shots when the shot clock was winding down, making key shot after shot. The 5-foot-7 guard even rebounded, pulling down a career-high eight boards. She just missed a triple-double, adding 23 points and nine assists to her game to go along with three steals and just two turnovers.

She was the glue this Irish team needed to win the game. She set the tone, she played the way her team needed to play and they followed her without missing a beat.

The normally offensively quiet Breona Gray hit two big threes while scoring 10 points on the night, Lindsay Schrader hit big shot after big shot good for nine points and Crystal Erwin brought the attitude and physical presence to the post to help Courtney LaVere contain DePaul star Khara Smith.

But it began and ended with this team’s fearless leader.

When she dove for a loose ball and was in obvious pain, she played through it. After the game, in typical style, she shrugged it off as nothing. Just like the Irish shrugged off DePaul’s 18-0 run and kept playing hard.

“I took a hard foul and two people fell on me,” Duffy said nonchalantly when asked about the injury and the pain she appeared to be in. “I was fine after a few minutes of collecting myself and shaking it off. I was fine after that.”

As Megan Duffy does, this team does. And Tuesday night, the senior point guard found a way to take Notre Dame all the way back to being a team capable of beating a top-10 DePaul squad that had only lost one game before Tuesday, after the Irish had lost to inferior St. John’s, Seton Hall and Louisville in previous Big East games. Duffy reminded this team what it is like to be the elite team it was a year ago.

“And Megan, what can you say about Megan?” McGraw said at the end of her opening remarks. “Almost a triple-double. That’s the best point guard in America right there.”

And for those remarks to come from the ever-demanding Muffet McGraw, a former point guard herself – well, that speaks volumes for just how well Megan Duffy not only led but played on Tuesday night.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Observer.

Contact Heather Van Hoegarden at hvanhoeg@nd.edu