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Huskies shut down Irish sharpshooter in win

Jay Fitzpatrick | Monday, January 29, 2007

Despite plenty of effort from start to finish, Notre Dame could not get a shot to fall, losing to No. 5/7 Connecticut 64-47 Saturday night at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.

“I think our resilience again [was a strength]. I think it’s been tremendous,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said Sunday by phone. “I think we really just couldn’t make a shot and we played pretty good defensively.”

Notre Dame was unable to find its offensive rhythm throughout the game, shooting only 24.2 percent (16-of-66) from the floor to Connecticut’s 46.7 percent.

One main aspect of the team’s struggles offensively was the fact that guard Charel Allen – Notre Dame’s leading scorer – was unable to find her shot, finishing with only eight points on 2-of-17 shooting.

“We really need Charel to shoot the ball. That’s something she’s been doing well for us all year long,” McGraw said. “She was covered really well and Kalana Greene from Connecticut did just a great job on her.”

McGraw also said that one of the most important issues in the Irish offense based on the loss at Connecticut will be to find another consistent scorer to complement Allen.

“We needed somebody to step up and take over a little bit of the scoring,” she said. “And Crystal Erwin did a very good job, and Erica Williamson. But we just need a little bit more help for her.”

The Irish played tight against the Lady Huskies for the first half and were only down 12-11 at 10:39 to play in the half after forward Crystal Erwin sank a 3-pointer. But the Irish offense started to lag as Connecticut pulled farther away as the half drew to a close at 29-23.

Following the intermission, the Irish were unable to create an offensive spark and the Lady Huskies quickly increased their lead. Huskies center Tina Charles took control of the game in the post, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds to secure the Connecticut lead. Charles would finish the game with 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks – one shy of the second triple-double in Connecticut history.

“I told Tina that this was her best defensive game, not just because of the blocked shots but I thought it was her best defensive game because she was in the right place at the right time most of the time,” Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma said in his post-game press conference Saturday.

The Irish finished the game with 18 turnovers, considerably higher than their previous three turnover totals. Notre Dame only gave the ball up 12 times against Marquette Jan. 23, 11 times against Syracuse Jan. 20 and 10 times against St. John’s Jan. 16.

On the other side, Notre Dame was able to take advantage of the Lady Huskies’ mistakes, forcing 27 turnovers and outscoring Connecticut 22-19 after a giveaway.

“We did a lot of really good things and unfortunately our biggest problem was that we just couldn’t score, and I think the turnovers were a result of not having the open looks we would normally get and maybe forcing the ball a little bit,” McGraw said.

One of the bright spots in the Irish loss, McGraw said, was the play of her three freshmen – center Erica Williamson and guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner.

“That’s a pretty intimidating environment – the biggest crowd we’d played in front of since Tennessee – and I thought they handled themselves really well,” McGraw said. “I think that we outscored their bench [23-16]. I think that’s a big thing for us.”

The loss was Notre Dame’s second in a row – the first time this season it has lost back-to-back games. The Irish will try to turn their luck around Jan. 31 as they finish off a three-game road trip at Pittsburgh.