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ND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Team looks for third straight Big East win

Bill Brink | Friday, February 9, 2007

After an impressive second-half comeback over Louisville, Notre Dame faces DePaul with a chance to capture its third victory Sunday at 5:30 p.m. in the Joyce Center.

DePaul (15-9, 5-6 Big East) has lost its last three games on the road, falling to Connecticut, St. John’s and Louisville. Irish coach Muffet McGraw appreciates the home court advantage her team will have Sunday.

“I think we’ll real confident playing at home,” McGraw said. “I think particularly for the freshmen it’s just easier for them to play at home. And I think they enjoy the crowd. The crowd is really helping us win games right now.”

The Blue Demons defeated South Florida 72-65 Tuesday. Forward Caprice Smith led the team with 17 points and 15 rebounds, and was one of five players in double figures during the game.

Smith, who scores 15.5 points per game, is one of three starters who average more than 10 points per game. Guards Allie Quigley (15.3 points) and Jenna Rubino (12.2 points) are the other two.

“Even the ones that aren’t averaging double figures will be pretty soon,” McGraw said. “They do have a very balanced team and they’ve had a lot of injuries and recently they’ve gotten a couple of kids back.”

The Blue Demons’ offensive style may present challenges to the Irish. The team lacks a bona fide center, which lends its offense to a more fast-paced, guard-dominated style.

“They really play a five out, five guards kind of offense,” McGraw said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to guard that. They have good 3-point shooters. It’s going to be a difficult matchup for us because they don’t have the big center like we have.”

Poor shooting has hampered the Blue Demons in big games. In its 78-61 loss to St. John’s, DePaul sank only 19 percent of its attempts from 3-point range. In the 86-68 loss to Louisville, the Blue Demons only managed 29 percent of their field goals.

Notre Dame comes into the game having won its last two games, an impressive offensive display against West Virginia and a defensive shutdown of Louisville. Guard Charel Allen led the Irish with 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting against the Cardinals, and guard Breona Gray was 3-of-6 from 3-point range, scoring 12 total points.

Freshmen Ashley Barlow and Erica Williamson saw considerable playing time against Louisville and made good use of it. Barlow dropped 15 points and grabbed six rebounds in 30 minutes while Williamson helped neutralize Cardinals center Chauntise Wright in the paint.

DePaul averages 41.5 rebounds per game, 1.6 more than it allows its opponents and 3.9 more than Notre Dame. Rebounding will be addressed in practices leading up to the game.

“We just need to keep working on the things we need to improve on,” McGraw said. “Working on our offense and working on rebounding. Just kind of the fundamentals really.”

With the Big East tournament looming, Notre Dame’s play needs to continue at this level. After DePaul, the Irish go on the road to face Villanova and Providence. They return home to host Georgetown and Rutgers, and finally travel to DePaul in their final game of the regular season.

McGraw isn’t concerned about her team staying focused or getting caught up in their recent success.

“We have a long way to go, a lot of games left,” she said. “And this is not a team that looks past anyone, so I think we’re ready to go.”