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Allen to lead team at Joyce against Orange

Joe Meixell | Friday, January 19, 2007

Notre Dame has not lost to Syracuse since March 3, 2003 – and doesn’t want to change that Saturday when the Irish (12-5, 3-1 Big East) square off against the Orange (8-11, 1-4) at 2 p.m. at the Joyce Center.

So far this season, the squad has fared well against Big East opponents, and especially in the Joyce Center. The Irish have won both of their home conference games with ease – a 83-65 drubbing of Saint John’s Jan. 16 and an 81-70 win over Cincinnati Jan. 10.

Overall, Notre Dame has won 9-of-10 home games this season, falling only to Indiana 54-51.

One thing that could trouble the Irish is the high-scoring Orange trio of freshman guard Nicole Michael (16.5 ppg), junior center Vaida Sipaviciute (13.6 ppg) and junior guard Fantasia Goodwin (12.6 ppg).

“[Sipaviciute is] impressive, and they have a freshman who leads them in scoring, and she’s playing really well,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “The three kids that are scoring in double figures are the three that we have to focus on.”

Even though the Orange bring three top scorers into South Bend, the Irish have their own prolific shooter to counter with – junior guard Charel Allen. Allen has averaged 19 points in four Big East games this season and has shot 5-of-7 from the arc.

“She’s the one we look to, to lead us in scoring,” said McGraw of Allen. “She’s been very consistent – she’s been taking great shots. She’s being patient, looking for her opportunities. We’re encouraging her to shoot more and to be more aggressive. I think in the last couple of games she’s definitely done that.”

Of the three, the strong play of Sipaviciute early in the season has concerned McGraw the most. The Orange center has not only averaged double digit this season scoring, but also has 5.5 blocks per game and 35 blocks this season.

“Defensively, they have a really good big kid – Sipaviciute – she hurt us a lot last year,” McGraw said. “So we’ve got to get ready to guard her.”

Matching up with Sipaviciute for the Irish will be the duo of junior Melissa D’Amico and freshman Erica Williamson. D’Amico is coming off a strong performance against St. John’s, posting her first career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Williamson has been one of the conference’s top freshmen centers, averaging 7.5 points and eight boards against Big East opponents. Williamson also set the Notre Dame rookie record for boards against South Florida with 18.

To McGraw, the main problem for her team defensively has been their 3-point defense.

“We’re leading the league in 3-pointers given up,” she said. “Teams have been shooting really well from the 3-point line, and we have to fix that.”

McGraw has planned for this game similarly to how she prepared for St. John’s. The main areas of focus have been preparing the offense to play against Syracuse’s zone defense.

To that end, the Irish have tried to improve their 3-point shooting, something that has hindered them in the past. Overall, the Irish are only shooting 31.4 percent from long distance in conference games and 29.0 percent overall.

But overall, the Irish will need to come out strong on both sides of the court if they want to extend their winning streak against the Orange to seven games.