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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish ‘desperate’ for league win at home against Friars

Ken Fowler | Friday, February 3, 2006

Notre Dame hopes to continue its winning ways and climb back to .500 in Big East play Saturday at home against Providence.

The Irish (13-7 overall, 4-5 Big East) topped Syracuse 67-55 Tuesday night in the Carrier Dome and will face the struggling but well-balanced Friars at 1 p.m.

Providence (6-14, 1-8) suffered a blowout loss at the hands of Marquette Tuesday to remain tied with Georgetown at the bottom of the conference standings. The Friars lone conference victory was a 58-57 victory over Cincinnati Jan. 7, and they have lost five of their last seven games by 10 points or more.

“I think there’s going to be an air of desperation in the arena,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said Thursday. “They’ve got to win to get into the Big East tournament, I guess.

“And we’ve just got to win.”

Despite the poor record, Providence does have three players averaging double digits in scoring and two approaching 10 rebounds per game.

Junior forward Shauna Snyder missed seven games earlier this season but has averaged 13.2 points per game for the Friars since returning. Freshman guard Chelsea Marandola has contributed early and often, starting all 20 contests and scoring 12.8 points per game.

But senior Gayle Nwafili is Providence’s most versatile and dangerous weapon. The 6-foot-1 center enters Saturday’s contest averaging 12.7 points and 9.2 rebounds a night.

“She’s a tough matchup for us because she plays a lot on the perimeter,” McGraw said. “She’s very mobile, and she will even shoot from the three-point line – she’s made some threes this year. She’s a tough matchup for all of our posts.”

Notre Dame’s inside presence will be a key to the game. The team has not established a dominant post game, and cleaning up the glass has been one of Providence’s few strengths.

“We’ve struggled all year rebounding, and our post players are the ones that are struggling,” McGraw said. “[Junior forward] Crystal Erwin is leading our team in rebounding. She’s doing a really good job inside. And [freshman guard] Lindsay [Schrader] doing a good job rebounding. But everybody else needs to do better.”

McGraw said she hopes Schrader plays as well Saturday as she did against Syracuse.

With standout guard Megan Duffy held to just seven field goal attempts within the three-point line, Schrader led the Irish Tuesday with 24 points on 9-of-19 shooting from the floor.

“I think that because they guarded Megan so well – she didn’t get enough shots – Lindsay was there to pick up the slack,” McGraw said. “I think in a normal game Megan will get a few more and Lindsay may get a few less. But I see [Schrader] getting 15 shots a game.”

After the Irish posted 42 points in the second half of their Tuesday victory at Syracuse, McGraw said she hopes the offense can produce just as well at home this weekend.

“I’m feeling a lot better about the offense right now [than after Notre Dame’s 69-43 loss to Rutgers],” she said. “I think we’re stepping up and taking more shots.”

Notes:

u The NCAA released its official Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) standings for the first time Wednesday. The official formula, long kept secret and used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee in determining the tournament bracket, was not released, but team rankings were assigned.

Notre Dame ranked No. 28 out of 332 Division I teams through games played on Monday. That leaves Notre Dame near the traditional “bubble.”

Each year, the tournament selection committee chooses 33 teams for at-large bids, along with the winners of each conference championship.

CollegeRPI.com, a private Web site that tries to duplicate the official RPI rankings, lists Notre Dame’s at No. 31 with a strength of schedule – likely an important factor in the official ratings – ranked No. 13.