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ND Women’s Basketball: Freshmen fulfill key bench rolls

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Irish coach Muffet McGraw has stressed the importance of the bench in her team’s success. That was the case Sunday night, as it has been all season, with freshman guard Ashley Barlow helping lead Notre Dame past West Virginia 77-67.

“I think [Barlow has] been a spark for us all year, and when she comes in the game we’re trying to get her to be a little more aggressive offensively because we need her to score,” McGraw said. “She really did that tonight.”

Barlow is one part of Notre Dame’s trio of freshmen that compose the large portion of the team’s substitutes – along with guard Melissa Lechlitner and center Erica Williamson.

These two have each been integral to the team’s success, filling in at the point and the post, respectively, to run the offense while Notre Dame’s veterans rest on the sidelines.

Williamson has been a presence inside all season, averaging six rebounds per game while blocking a team-high 28 shots. Lechlitner has filled in well all season off the bench for starting point guard Tulyah Gaines and has 31 assists in conference games, compared to only 12 turnovers. But Barlow has provided the biggest spark to the Irish offense, averaging 10.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game this season.

“It’s been a challenge, but I think I’m up for it,” said Barlow of the transition to college basketball. “I just try to come in and try to bring energy to the team and do what I need to do for the team.”

Even though these three garner the majority of the team’s substitution playing time, they are not the only ones sitting with McGraw at the start of the game.

Joining them off the bench for the Irish are freshman Danielle Ben-Tsvulun and junior Amanda Tsipis. Tsipis and Ben-Tsvulun have been able to get some time on the floor this season, although it has generally been limited to late-game situations in already decided games.

For Tsipis, her biggest game of the season was Dec. 28 against Prairie View A&M, where she played seven minutes, grabbed two boards and had two points. Ben-Tsvulun had her breakout game Sunday against the Mountaineers, coming in late in the first half.

Even though Ben-Tsvulun had only one minute in the game, she worked hard up and down the court. The freshman forward scored four points, including one fast-break layup to close out the half.

“She did a really nice job at the end of the half, and I was really pleased with her,” McGraw said. “We thought about playing her a little bit more in the second half, we were just about to when they went on that run, because I think she can really post up strong.”

For McGraw, the freshmen performances have been a highlight for her team this year. Coupled with the five veterans that make up the starting lineup, Barlow, Lechlitner and Williamson have been able to enter the game and play strong enough that the Irish don’t miss a step.

“Our bench – they’ve been outscoring the other team’s bench all year long, And you know it’s all freshmen,” she said. “So it’s great to see that every game, that our freshmen are coming in and playing like veterans. And this time of the year we need them to do that.”