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Women’s Basketball: Chi-town showdown

Eric Retter | Friday, February 10, 2006

The Irish are hoping their second meeting with DePaul will have the same end result as their first one.

Notre Dame (14-8, 5-6 Big East) will travel to Chicago Sunday, where they will take on No. 17 DePaul (19-5, 6-5) at 5:40 p.m. in a nationally televised rematch of their Jan. 17 game. Notre Dame won that game, 78-75, coming back from a 12-point deficit in the second half.

The Irish, who have found themselves behind more than ten points in nine of their last 12 contests, will look to play strong from the opening whistle.

“We’re getting down too big of a hole early, and that’s what we need to avoid,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “That’s why we’ve been changing the lineup, trying to find a group to get out to a good start, and we really haven’t done that yet.”

Senior guard Megan Duffy will head Notre Dame’s lineup. She averages 15.7 points and 38.7 minutes per game. Senior Courtney LaVere also should start, averaging 14.6 points a game the past three contests.

But McGraw said the Irish will rotate their players in the first half and play the hot hands towards the end of the game.

“Everybody goes and plays in the first half, and whoever plays the best plays in the second half,” McGraw said.

The Blue Demons will challenge with center Khara Smith, who is currently fourth in the Big East with 17.9 points per game.

“She’s a tough matchup; she’s a really good player,” McGraw said. “We did a pretty good job on her last time we played her, and we played a lot of defenses, so I think that’s what were going to do again. The biggest thing with her is we can’t let her get good position.”

Notre Dame will also look to contain guard Jenna Rubino, who scored 25 points in the teams’ previous match-up.

“Rubino just went off on us last game,” McGraw said.

While Rubino and Smith attract the most pre-game attention, McGraw has emphasized her team must stop everyone on the well-rounded DePaul team.

“They’re a very good team,” she said. “We can’t focus on just one or two people.”

Sunday’s rematch comes at a point in the season when the Irish, who are currently ninth in the Big East, need to play well to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive and keep from slipping out of the top-12 in the conference, where they would be ineligible for the conference tournament.

“I think there’s a sense of urgency now,” McGraw said. “We’ve kind of had our back against the wall for a while now. I think that’s why we had that fierce comeback against Villanova. We know how important every game is.”

The Irish’s road back to .500 will go through unfriendly territory, as DePaul has been 11-1 this season in front of its home crowd.

“It’s a tough place to play,” McGraw said. “They get a great crowd, a really hostile environment. It’s going to be very difficult, maybe the most difficult environment we’ve been in this year.”

The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.