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Women’s Basketball: Irish travel to West Virginia for big game

Ken Fowler | Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Notre Dame can secure a spot in the Big East Tournament with a win over conference foe West Virginia tonight at 7 p.m. in Morganstown, W.Va.

Both teams have struggled over the past few weeks.

The Irish (14-10, 5-8 Big East) enter the WVU Coliseum on the heels of a 79-64 loss to No. 6 Connecticut. The Mountaineers (12-12, 4-9) lost their fifth straight contest Sunday, a 62-58 defeat at the hands of Pittsburgh.

“I think we have similar problems,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We are both scoring not as many points as we would like.”

Notre Dame has not scored 70 points since beating DePaul 78-75 at home on Jan. 17. West Virginia last accomplished the feat against the Blue Demons as well, topping the then-No. 11 Demons 82-70.

After dissecting the team’s 15-point loss to Connecticut, McGraw said sophomore guard Charel Allen will be a key to improving the Irish offense.

“I thought Charel played well in the last five minutes [Sunday], when she had most of her points – I’d like to see her do that for an entire game,” McGraw said. “She has really stepped up and shot the ball when we’ve needed her to. She’s scoring more points now, and that’s what we look for her to do.”

West Virginia will need a strong performance out of center Olayinka Sanni and emerging guard LaQuita Owens if the Mountaineers allow Allen to get hot.

Since West Virginia’s All-American guard and leading scorer Meg Bulger (19.3 points per game) tore her anterior cruciate ligament during the team’s loss to St. John’s on Jan. 29, Sanni and Owens have stepped up to fill the void. Despite the 1-5 record since Bulger’s injury, Owens has had two 20-point performances and a 15-point outing in the six games, and Sanni has maintained her season average of 13.1 points per game.

“It’s just like every other team we’ve played – you can’t just shut down one person [to win],” McGraw said. “I think Sanni’s playing really well for them. She’s a tough matchup for us inside.”

While the Irish must worry about West Virginia’s post presence, the key to West Virginia’s offense has been the team’s three-point shooting. The Mountaineers enter making a strong 35 percent of their shots from long range, while Notre Dame is allowing a league-high 38 percent three-point defense.

McGraw said she is upset with the team’s perimeter defense as a whole but has seen some individual improvement, especially from guard Breona Gray.

“We work on it every day for the whole year, and it’s not getting better,” she said. “I think Charel’s gotten a lot better, and [Gray] is great. We need her and more people to play like her.”

The Irish will need a strong defensive performance if they hope to win, McGraw said.

“They’re a lot more athletic than we are,” she said. “Their guards are shooting the ball [well] from the perimeter.”


u After the loss to the Huskies, Notre Dame’s ratings percentage index (RPI) actually jumped one spot from No. 40 to No. 39. McGraw said she believed the team needed an RPI under 40 to ensure itself of a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The selection committee chooses 31 teams for at-large bids to join the 34 conference winners in the tournament.