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Women’s Basketball: Falling into place

Ken Fowler | Monday, February 6, 2006

Megan Duffy took her seat next to the coaches on the Irish bench Saturday with 7:12 remaining in Notre Dame’s 66-48 victory over Providence, an indication the Irish finally had an easy win under their belts.

“It was nice to get a break,” said Duffy, who played just 29 minutes in the contest after averaging 38.5 minutes in the team’s first 20 games. It was her lowest total minutes since Dec. 17, when she played just 26 minutes in Notre Dame’s rout of Arkansas State in the Duel in the Desert.

The senior guard had 12 points and eight rebounds Saturday, but her outlet passing in transition and six assists were keys to the Irish victory.

“I was really pleased with our transition game,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said after the game. “The guards were doing a really good job running the floor, so it was easy.”

A lot of things seemed easy for the Irish against Providence, including Notre Dame’s ability to shut down Friars star Gayle Nwafili. The 6-foot-1 center shot just 2-of-14 from the floor and managed only six points.

“We did a great job on her; I was really pleased,” McGraw said. “We were worried about being able to play man-to-man on her because she’s quick and she can drive the ball. And I thought our post did an excellent job on her all around – man, zone, whatever we were in.”

Providence coach Phil Seymore said the Irish defense on Nwafili made it impossible for the Friars to compete.

“If she’s not scoring, say your prayers,” Seymore said of Nwafili. “They outmatched us physically, and just basketball-wise, they’re better … They are just more talented than we are.”

Notre Dame’s main presence in the post was Courtney LaVere. The senior had two blocks and shut down Nwafili – and she kept that success going on the other side of the court, hitting 9-of-10 from the floor for 18 points.

At 6-foot-3, LaVere said she planned to take advantage of her size against Providence.

“I knew there was going to be a lot of mismatches, so I thought I’d be able to score in the block a lot easier,” she said. “It was nice that I hit my shots. It got me in a rhythm for the whole game.”

The Irish established control of the game midway through the first half and steadily increased their lead the rest of the way.

With the game tied at 12 with 14:27 remaining in the opening half, LaVere hit a jumper at the top of the key, and Notre Dame had the lead for good.

Largely behind the hustle play of Charel Allen and Tulyah Gaines, the Irish extended their advantage to 39-28 by intermission. Allen finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Gaines matched Allen’s eight rebounds and added six points of her own. Each had three steals.

“Defensively, I thought Charel and Tulyah did a great job on the boards,” McGraw said.

Duffy said Breona Gray’s play was also crucial in the win. Gray finished with 10 points in 22 minutes.

“As long as they run, that’s my job to get them the ball,” Duffy said. “It’s hard to catch Tulyah and ‘Bre’ when they get out and run. And they did a fantastic job of filling the lanes and then finishing.”

Notre Dame kept up its fast-paced offense in the second half, extending the lead to 60-36 midway through the second period. Duffy said the quick tempo Irish attack help their defense, which held Providence to 6-of-32 (18.8 percent) shooting in the second half.

“[The fast pace is nice] because we get some easy buckets and don’t have to run as much offense out of it,” she said. “That gets our legs underneath us, and we get some easy baskets, and it’s a little easier on the defensive end to get some stops.”

Notre Dame next faces Villanova on Tuesday at the Joyce Center. That game has been switched from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m. for television purposes.

Notes:

u The four players in double digits scoring for the Irish were the most since five players scored 10 or more in Notre Dame’s 68-55 win over Utah Dec. 18.

u The 48 points allowed was the best defensive performance for the Irish since their season-opening 55-45 win over Michigan Nov. 18.