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ND Women’s Basketball: Pittsburgh concludes three-game trip for ND

Jay Fitzpatrick | Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Despite having lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw remains confident in her team’s ability to perform well tonight at Pittsburgh at 7 p.m.

“I feel really good about the psyche of the team right now,” she said. “We had a good practice yesterday. I think we know we played better against Connecticut than against Marquette.

“I think that’s going to be key to see how determined we are and how we can bounce back after two losses.”

The Irish (13-7, 4-3 Big East) will wrap up a three game road trip against the Panthers (15-5, 3-4), a team that until a 51-50 loss to Seton Hall Saturday was ranked in the top 25 of both polls.

In Notre Dame’s previous two games, one of the main problems was its inability to establish a rhythm offensively, pressuring guard Charel Allen – the team’s leading scorer – to put the scoring on her shoulders. But Allen only shot 8-of-37 in the two losses and received little help from her teammates offensively.

“I talked to Charel about her role, basically, and it’s not her job to carry the team,” McGraw said. “So we are encouraging, without changing anything, encouraging Melissa Lechlitner and Breonna [Gray] and Ashley [Barlow] and everyone to look to score. I think they are trying to score.”

Freshmen guards Lechlitner and Barlow along with freshmen center Erica Williamson have been crucial to the team’s success this season. McGraw hopes they will continue that success against the Panthers.

Against Big East opponents, Barlow has averaged 9.3 points per game while Lechlitner has 8.2 points, 3.4 assists and only 1 turnover per game.

“They’ve been playing great, all three of them,” McGraw said of her freshmen. “We outscored Connecticut’s bench, and we’ve outscored a lot of teams’ [benches] that we’ve played. I couldn’t be happier with how the freshmen are coming along, so hopefully they continue to play well and keep getting better.”

Williamson plays a different role for the Irish this season than her fellow freshmen, as she comprises one-half of Notre Dame’s center tandem with junior Melissa D’Amico.

The duo averages a combined 16.4 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game, helping provide the Irish with a strong presence in the post. But against Pittsburgh, the Irish will see a tough opposing center – Marcedes Walker. Walker averages 14.9 points and 8.8 rebounds this season to go with her 18 blocks.

“I expect a little bit more [from the centers],” McGraw said. “I think we got a good double-double in most of the games, and then we tapered off with Marquette and Connecticut. So we need to get back to where we’re getting twenty points and fifteen rebounds between the two of them.”

Walker is one of three players for the Panthers scoring in double figures, along with sophomore guards Shavonte Zellous (19.6) and Xenia Stewart (11.9).

“They have three big scorers. So we’re going to be tested again, as we were at Connecticut and I think we handled that well,” McGraw said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to identify the shooters and be able to find them, and work to keep Walker off the boards.”

But for McGraw the key to the game will be to correct the team’s offensive struggles.

“I just think we feel good about the offense in terms of execution,” she said. “I think we have to set better screens and get a really good shot so that everybody feels that we are accomplishing something. We’re executing; the shots just aren’t dropping.”