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Women’s Basketball: ‘Nova nightmare

Eric Retter | Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Just 4:29 into the second half, there were a lot of long faces on the floor for the Irish.

There was nothing to smile about.

Villanova forward Kate Dessart Mager had just put in another easy layup, and Notre Dame found itself down 43-22 and struggling on both ends of the floor.

The Irish had been in this situation before.

Dating back to their 62-51 loss to then-No. 1 Tennessee on New Year’s Eve, the Irish have trailed by double figures in nine of 12 games.

“They’re just so disappointing to watch sometimes,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “I mean, we just make so many mistakes, after mistake, after mistake on the same play, it’s disheartening to watch sometimes.”

Twenty-three seconds later, sophomore guard Charel Allen hit a jumper and Notre Dame once again began clawing its way back from a big deficit.

The Irish were able to erase the margin in little over nine minutes, tying the game at 52.

They had been here before, too.

Over the course of the past five weeks, Notre Dame has consistently found itself down big. But the Irish have fought back from those deficits surprisingly well. In that stretch, they cut the deficit below three points in five of the contests – winning two.

Allen, who didn’t even start the game, was the engineer of the comeback. The guard scored all 14 of her points after halftime, shooting 7-of-10 from the floor in the second half.

“I thought [Allen] did a nice job when she came in,” McGraw said. “She made a bunch of shots and that’s what we needed to do.”

On Notre Dame’s next possession after tying the game, guard Lindsay Schrader walked to the free throw line with all the momentum squarely behind the Irish. They were surging and poised to take their first lead of the game. And they had put themselves in position to pull off the biggest upset win in program history.

As Schrader missed both free throws, one could almost see the wind go out of Notre Dame’s sails.

Though an Allen jump shot briefly gave the Irish the lead at 58-56 inside the final two minutes, Notre Dame did not resemble the team that had so quickly erased a 21-point Villanova lead. They managed only eight points in the final seven minutes, and allowed the Wildcats to score with backdoor-cut plays that had been so deadly in the first half.

“You claw all the way back from down 20 and you can’t get a rebound or make a free throw to seal the win,” McGraw said. “I’m – I’m just frustrated.”

In overtime, Notre Dame failed to recapture the magic it had for those nine minutes in the second half. The Irish struggled from the free throw line and let Villanova dictate the tempo and come away with the win.

Tuesday night’s game was the third Notre Dame contest that had gone to overtime this season, tying a record set by the ’95-96 team. In those games the Irish are a disappointing 1-2 – the same mark as the team from a decade ago.

After the game, senior guard and team captain Megan Duffy summarized the squad’s resolve.

“One thing about this team is we are not gonna give up when we’re down,” she said.

Her next statement, however, has come to define the team’s recent reality.

“It’s really nothing unless you can pull it out in the end,” she said.

In the end, losing hurts.

And losing in overtime after a monumental comeback hurts more.

But the Irish know that by now.

They’ve been there before.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Eric Retter at eretter@nd.edu.