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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish cut down on turnovers

Jay Fitzpatrick | Thursday, January 25, 2007

Despite falling to Marquette 71-62 Tuesday night, the Irish still sit in the top half of the Big East standings, due in part to their ability to limit turnovers and sink free throws.

Notre Dame is the best free-throw shooting team in the conference at 77.8 percent and second only to South Florida in turnover margin at plus-3.84 turnovers per game.

“We’re not trying to do too much, I think we’re playing within ourselves and I think that’s why we’re not turning the ball over,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

In 19 games this season, the Irish have committed 330 turnovers, but have limited that number to 10 against St. John’s Jan. 16, 11 against Syracuse Saturday, and only 12 against the Golden Eagles. Accompanying this low turnover rate has been Notre Dame’s ability to steal the ball effective. Notre Dame averages 11.95 steals per game, almost an entire steal more than Connecticut, who ranks second in that category in the Big East at 11.06.

One standout performer in the last three games in regards to turnovers has been freshman guard Melissa Lechlitner. In the past three games, Lechlitner has only one turnover, coming against Marquette Tuesday. Over that same stretch, the freshman has notched 18 assists, including a career high nine against Syracuse.

“I think we’re making better decisions,” McGraw said. “I don’t think we’re forcing things, I think we’re taking more shots rather than trying to force a turnover.”

The other key factor in Notre Dame’s success this season has been free throw shooting. The exceptional free throw rate has not only helped the Irish maintain their leads or shrink those of their opponents, it has in fact saved two important road wins. Notre Dame’s wins against Michigan on Dec. 1 and Valparaiso Dec. 19 were each the result of last-minute free throws.

Against the Wolverines, guard Tulyah Gaines sank the go-ahead points with four seconds to play before guard Charel Allen iced the win at 61-58 with two more foul shots in the final seconds.

At Valparaiso, Breona Gray sank one of her two free throws in the final second to give the Irish a 60-59 win to add to their NCAA Tournament resume.

Even though limiting turnovers and making free throws are important aspects of winning, McGraw understands that her team needs to do more if it hopes to succeed in the remainder of its Big East schedule.

“We don’t talk about [turnovers at practice] at all, and we don’t talk about the free throws, and those are two things we’re doing well,” she said. “I think I might just shut up about everything and see if we get good at something else,” she said.