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Eric Retter | Thursday, February 1, 2007

Pittsburgh defeated Notre Dame for the first time in 17 tries Wednesday.

The Panthers (16-5, 4-4 Big East) erased a nine point deficit to beat the Irish (13-8, 4-4 Big East) 71-62 in Pittsburgh Wednesday.

The loss gives Notre Dame its third loss in a row, all of them on the road. The Irish lost to Connecticut 65-47 Saturday and fell to Marquette 71-62 on Jan. 23.

“We’re just incredibly inconsistent offensively right now,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

The Irish came out strong early and looked to be in control during most of the first half. Behind eight points from freshman center Erica Williamson, who finished with 10 points and eight rebounds for the game, Notre Dame jumped to a 22-13 lead with 5:51 to play in the opening period.

“Erica’s been playing really well … [and] she’s doing exactly what we’re asking her to do,” McGraw said. “Right now, she’s somebody we can really count on, [and] for a freshman I think she’s doing great.”

The Irish lead, however, evaporated within the next three minutes, as Pittsburgh went on a 9-0 run to tie the game at 22 before the Irish recovered and went into halftime with a 28-26 lead.

The Panthers opened up the second half with another big run, going on a 15-5 stretch over the opening 10 minutes to give themselves a 41-33 lead. Center Jania Sims scored six of her nine points on the game during the run, and guard Shavonte Zellous, who finished with a team-high 17 points, contributed four.

“I think we didn’t play as well defensively [to start the second half],” McGraw said. “We turned the ball over, gave them a couple of easy shots.”

A Zellous jumper with 4:15 to play gave Pittsburgh its largest lead of the game at 56-46, but the Irish fought back and cut the lead to four with just under two minutes to play. With just over one minute to play, Notre Dame made it a one-possession game after 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions from freshman guard Ashley Barlow and Allen made it 63-60.

The Irish couldn’t cut it any closer, however, as they allowed Pittsburgh to pull down the offensive rebound after missed Panther free-throws down stretch. Perhaps the most damage came after Sims missed both of her free throws with 1:04 to go, grabbed her own rebound, got fouled again and then sunk both shots from the line to give Pittsburgh a 62-57 lead.

“We have a very small margin for error, and we can’t afford to not be boxing out every time,” McGraw said. “It’s how we lost the game.”

McGraw was not pleased with the play of most of her veteran players.

“We’re not getting production from the people we need to be getting it from, and I think our veteran players – with the exception of Tulyah [Gaines] and Charel [Allen] – really aren’t contributing right now,” she said.” “You got to be able to depend on your seniors and right now we’ve just been inconsistent.”