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ND Women’s Basketball: Nerve ‘RAC’ing

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw knows the No. 21 Irish will have their hands full tonight when they travel to the hostile confines of the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) in Piscataway, N.J., to take on the No. 9 Scarlet Knights.

“If you look at our history there, it’s always been a tough place to play, and Tuesday won’t be an exception,” McGraw said Monday in a Big East conference call.

Rutgers (13-3 overall, 5-0 Big East) is 6-2 at the RAC against the Irish since joining the Big East and has lost only once there – last week to Temple – since the 2003-04 season.

Notre Dame (12-5, 3-3) barely defeated Georgetown Saturday in the much different atmosphere of McDonough Arena, where 1,106 fans filled a high school-style gymnasium.

Tonight, the Irish will try to avoid a repeat performance of their second-half near-meltdown against the Hoyas – but in the rowdy RAC.

Ahead by 17 with 10 minutes remaining, Notre Dame managed to make just one field goal the rest of regulation, and only a missed three-pointer at the buzzer by Georgetown’s Katie Carlin saved the Irish victory.

McGraw said she has a plan for the Irish to stay on their toes against a top foe.

“I think we just have to stay aggressive,” she said. “I think we do need to control the tempo a little bit.”

Part of the problem for Notre Dame in controlling the tempo will be Rutgers’ versatile lineup.

“We’re looking at different combinations to see how we can best match up with Rutgers,” McGraw said. “They’re a difficult matchup when you look at the caliber of player that they have both inside and outside.”

Sophomore Matee Ajavon is central in the Scarlet Knights’ offense, second on Rutgers in assists (3.8) and points (11) per game, while only starting eight of 16 contests.

The only one to top Ajavon in each category is Rutgers top offensive threat, senior guard Cappie Pondexter. Pondexter leads all Scarlet Knights with 22 points and 3.9 assists per game.

McGraw said the challenge of facing a team with a player the caliber of Pondexter and ranking so high may benefit the Irish.

“We had a little more confidence going into the DePaul game probably because we weren’t expected to win,” she said. “When we go into a game when we’re the underdogs, we have a great record against top-25 teams.”

Notes:

u Notre Dame senior guard Megan Duffy was named Big East player of the week after leading the Irish past DePaul and Georgetown last week. In the game against DePaul, Duffy registered 23 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds.

“She’s having just a sensational year,” McGraw said. “I think she’s the best point guard in America.”

Duffy, who co-captained Team USA in the World University Games with Pondexter, was the only Irish player to break double digits in Saturday’s win. Duffy had 16 points on 5-for-8 shooting from the field. She finished the week 55-percent from the floor and a perfect 14-of-14 from the free-throw line.

“She’s the heart and soul of our team – a great leader for us,” McGraw said. “She makes us go.”