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Comeback Kids: Squad erases 15 point deficit to beat Pitt on Senior Night

Ken Fowler | Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Freshman Lindsay Schrader scored 20 points and sophomore Charel Allen added 16 as Notre Dame erased a 15-point deficit to top Pittsburgh 72-65 on Senior Night at the Joyce Center Tuesday.

“On Senior Night, it was the day of the underclassmen,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought Charel and Lindsay both played really well.”

The win helped Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament prospects and ensured the Irish of the No. 10 seed in this weekend’s Big East Tournament in Hartford, Conn. Notre Dame’s first game of the tournament will be Saturday at 6 p.m. against South Florida in the Hartford Civic Center.

“This team has a lot of pride,” McGraw said. “To get back to .500 was really important for us for our NCAA Tournament hopes.”

The Irish used a 17-5 run in the first eight minutes of the second half Tuesday to turn a 41-31 deficit at the break into 48-46 lead. Allen capped the run with 12:21 left in the game when she hit a 15-foot jumper from the left side after she grabbed one of Notre Dame’s eight second-half offensive rebounds.

Senior Megan Duffy sparked the high intensity second half for Notre Dame when the 5-foot-7 point guard made a hard foul on Panthers 6-foot-3 space-eating center Marcedes Walker – and both players fell to the floor.

“I just tried to make a play on the ball,” Duffy said. “I just wanted to not get crunched afterwards.”

Walker, who had eight inches on Duffy, had to come out of the game because of blood on her arm, and the Irish played motivated ball from that point forward.

Walker tied her season high with 12 points and 18 rebounds in the game, but said Irish senior forward Courtney LaVere and Notre Dame’s help defense improved dramatically in the second half.

“I compliment their whole team for playing great defense and coming out aggressive,” Walker said. “And as a team, we didn’t match their aggressiveness in the second half.”

Pittsburgh head coach Agnus Berenato said Notre Dame’s intensity in the second half was the key difference in the game.

“It was really a war out there. People were definitely playing for something,” she said. “In the second half, the crowd got into it … and all of a sudden, it looked like our crew got shell-shocked.”

After Allen’s shot gave the Irish the 48-46 lead, the two teams battled back and forth for the next eight minutes. With Notre Dame clinging to a two-point lead, senior Courtney LaVere converted a layup in transition on a pass from Duffy to put the Irish up 63-59.

The assist was one of six on the night for Duffy, who also had 11 points and four rebounds. Sophomore guard Tulyah Gaines led Notre Dame’s 21-assist performance with eight dishes of her own.

LaVere had success on the defensive end to go along with her offense. She finished the night with 14 points, five rebounds and five blocks. She held Walker to 2-of-12 shooting in 31 minutes of physical play before fouling out with 1:29 remaining in her final game in the Joyce Center.

“She’s so big in the lane – she takes up so much space – I thought we did a decent job,” LaVere said of the Irish defense on Walker. “I thought we did a good job at getting more bodies there and making it hard to shoot.”

Pittsburgh’s biggest lead of the night came with 2:26 left in the first when guard Maddy Brown hit a 3-pointer off the glass from the left side to put the Panthers ahead 38-23.

Notes:

u The 15-point comeback was the second largest in Notre Dame history. The largest comeback for a victory in team history is Notre Dame’s win over Connecticut in the 2001 Final Four when the Irish came back from a 47-31 halftime hole against the Huskies to win 90-75.

u With Duffy, LaVere and Allen scoring more than 10 points, it was the ninth straight game the Irish had three players in double digits.

u Notre Dame commited just two turnovers in the second half.