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ND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Team goes 1-1 against Big 10 foes

Jay Fitzpatrick | Monday, December 4, 2006

Notre Dame split two games against Big Ten teams this weekend, beating Michigan on the road 61-58 Friday before falling to Indiana 54-51 Sunday.The games were both close to the finish, marked by tough defense and strong play down the stretch. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, it was only able to pull out one win.”I thought that was a really disappointing loss [to Indiana] especially in light of how we came out and played our last game [at Michigan],” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought we had the game in hand and just really beat ourselves.”

Indiana 54, Notre Dame 51With only six seconds in the game, Irish guard Charel Allen lost her dribble with the Irish down three, leading to a steal from Hoosiers forward Whitney Thomas to cement Indiana’s 54-51 win.After the steal, the Irish fouled Hoosier guard Kim Roberson. Roberson missed the free throw attempt, but the Irish could not get a last-second shot off, ending the game.Going into the final seconds, Notre Dame and Indiana had traded leads throughout the second half, but a turnover by Allen gave the Hoosiers the ball back, letting Indiana guard Nikki Smith nail a jumpshot to push the Hoosier lead to three. On the possession following the Smith jumper, the Irish could not find the look they wanted for most of the shot clock, until Charel Allen got the ball on the right wing.”I had a wide open look and it just didn’t fall,” Allen said.Although Allen missed the potentially game-tying shot, she did have one of the few bright days shooting for the Irish, posting 17 points and 9 rebounds to match a career high. Melissa D’Amico was the only other Irish player in double figures. The junior center recorded the second double-double of her college career with 15 points and 10 boards.In the first half, things looked grim for the Irish. They shot only 22.6 percent from the floor, including a dismal eight percent from beyond the arc. “We’re not a very good shooting team – 1-for-14 from the 3-point line,” McGraw said. This poor shooting effort was coupled with tough defense against the Hoosiers. Notre Dame held Indiana to just 33.3 percent shooting while out-rebounding the Hoosiers in the first half 28-15. But Notre Dame’s poor scoring performance was enough to give Indiana a 27-22 halftime lead.”We played pretty well – that’s the fewest points we’ve given up all year,” McGraw said. “We just need to find somebody that can make a shot right now.”For McGraw, the main halftime adjustment had to be Notre Dame’s shooting game.”We talked at halftime about just stepping in and just shooting 15-footers,” McGraw said. “We can’t make shots right now so it’s going to be hard for us to win.”This change worked effectively early in the second half, with the Irish going on a 7-0 run to start the second half. The game remained within two points or fewer for the first seven minutes of the half until another big Irish run – this time 10 straight Notre Dame points – gave the Irish their biggest lead of the night at 41-33. “We were getting closer in, I think that was when Charel was hitting some shots inside like 10 feet in, [D’Amico] hit some shots inside,” McGraw said. “We were getting a higher percentage shot at that point.”But the Hoosiers responded quickly, going on their own 9-0 run over the next two minutes to bring the score close. During the Hoosier stretch, Smith took over the game, scoring six straight points of her own – four from the charity stripe, two from the floor – to will Indiana back to a 42-41 lead.The game would remain tight until the end, when unforced Irish errors handed the game over to the Hoosiers.

Notre Dame 61, Michigan 58With four seconds to play, Irish guard Tulyah Gaines sank two free throws to give the Irish a 59-58 lead against the Wolverines en route to an Irish win.”Tulyah’s [free throws] were really, really big because that’s how we won the game,” McGraw said. “We don’t win the game if she doesn’t hit one of those free throws.”After a turnover by Wolverine guard Janelle Cooper and a foul by forward Melinda Queen, Allen sank two more free throws to ice the lead.Despite winning by three points, the Irish were down by four with 22 seconds to play, but a 3-pointer by Allen brought the Irish to within one.Allen was one of three Irish players in double figures with 15 points, alongside Gaines (11) and freshman guard Ashley Barlow (14). Even though those three led the Irish in scoring, McGraw credited her entire team with the win.”The great thing was that everybody contributed,” she said. “Everybody did something. It was a real team effort.”This teamwork was clear down the stretch. Freshman guard Melissa Lechlitner was able to find Barlow for a 3-pointer. Allen nailed threes and swiped errant passes to give the Irish the ball back. Freshman center Erica Williamson notched a steal and set the screen for Allen’s three near the end. And with five seconds remaining, forward Crystal Erwin grabbed a board, giving Gaines a chance to make the game-winning free throws.Despite the win, McGraw was still disappointed in her team’s rebounding. Michigan out-rebounded the Irish 45-32.”We just refused to box out, and it’s really disappointing,” McGraw said.The win was the second big comeback for the Irish in the young season, the first being an 85-81 overtime victory against Bowling Green Nov. 13.”Things haven’t been easy for us and they know every game is going to be a dogfight,” McGraw said. “They really have a lot of inner drive and I think a lot of that comes from Tulyah. I think that she is a great leader for us. She’s always encouraging the team.”