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ND Women’s Basketball: Squad survives Mountain scare

Eric Retter | Monday, February 5, 2007

Not even a 25-6 West Virginia run in the second half could help the Mountaineers overcome Notre Dame Sunday in a near-empty Joyce Center.

The Irish (14-8, 5-4 Big East), who had amassed a commanding lead and led by as many as 24 with 9:19 to play, were able to weather the Mountaineers’ attack en route to a 77-67 victory.

“At least we didn’t quit,” Mountaineers coach Mike Carey said.

At the outset, it seemed like neither team would have much success offensively. Notre Dame didn’t score for the first 3:19 of the game, and West Virginia (15-8, 6-4 Big East) didn’t get onto the board until 5:35 had elapsed.

But behind eight first half points from forward Crystal Erwin and six from guard Charel Allen, the Irish went on a 20-6 run to open the game and took a 38-17 lead into the intermission. The Mountaineers tally for the first half marked the fewest points the Irish have allowed in a half this season.

“Give them credit – they took us out of our offense,” Carey said.

The second half started off with more Irish domination as Notre Dame built up a 60-36 lead with just under 10 minutes to play, but an offensive slump and a Mountaineer hot streak allowed West Virginia to make a game of it by the end of the fourth quarter.

“West Virginia’s a really good team and they didn’t play as well in the first half as they normally do,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “You could see in the second half what a good team they are.”

Mountaineer center Olayinka Sanni scored eight of her 16 points in the final 10 minutes of the game, including six during a 16-2 West Virginia run that helped the Mountaineers cut Notre Dame’s lead from 62-40 to 64-56 in a 4:27 span.

“We had that little bit of a lull, [and] we gave up too many easy baskets to [West Virginia],” McGraw said. “I think we got tentative. We were afraid to foul and we didn’t play our best defense … that kind of turned the game around for them.”

With 3:27 left, Irish freshman guard Ashley Barlow made a layup that broke a 14-0 West Virginia run and allowed Notre Dame to increase the lead back to 10 and curb the Mountaineers momentum.

“I knew we hadn’t scored in a while, [so] we tried to run the play and they left the lane wide open so I took it,” Barlow said.

McGraw was pleased with Barlow, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.

“I thought that was one of her better games,” McGraw said. “She did an outstanding job pursuing the ball.”

Barlow’s rebound total was second only to Allen’s nine. The Irish were dominant on the boards, outrebounding the Mountaineers 46-23.

“We were really attacking the boards,” McGraw said. “We held them to three offensive rebounds in the first half so I thought that was outstanding.”

Still, the Mountaineers didn’t go away quietly, and West Virginia sophomore Sparkle Davis’ 3-pointer with 1:10 left cut Notre Dame’s lead to 68-63 – the closest the Mountaineers came in the second half.

The Irish made 9-of-10 from the charity stripe in the final two minutes, including 4-of-4 by Allen, who finished with a game-high 26 points. For the game, the Irish were 33-39 from the line.

“Thank God we’re good free throw shooters because it came down to making free throws when it counted,” McGraw said. “We sure weren’t going to stop them.”

After the game, McGraw thanked the small Super Bowl Sunday crowd over the arena PA system.

“Our fans are dedicated and I’m sure those at home had an earphone in listening to the game,” McGraw said. “We really needed the crowd at the end of the game and they were instrumental in our win.”

Notes:

Notre Dame’s 33 made free throws matched a Notre Dame and Joyce Center record last achieved on Mar. 19, 2000 in a second-round NCAA game against George Washington.