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Bill Brink | Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Notre Dame broke its three-game losing streak with a 77-67 win over West Virginia Sunday, but it will face another tough challenge in No. 17 Louisville tonight at 7 at the Joyce Center.

The Cardinals (21-2, 7-2 Big East) enter the game having won four straight, including an 86-68 victory over DePaul in their last game Feb. 3.

“They’re a great team,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “It gives us a great chance to boost our RPI and play a ranked team.”

Notre Dame’s defense will have to focus on shutting down Cardinals forward Angel McCoughtry, who scored 29 points on 11-of-20 shooting and added 12 rebounds against the Blue Demons. She leads the Cardinals with 21.7 points (49 percent from the field) and 11.5 rebounds per game.

McCoughtry was also recently named to the John R. Wooden Midseason All-American team, a prestigious group of 20 players who will compete for the Player of the Year award at the end of the season.

But the recognized forward is only one reason why the Irish will have their hands full in the paint.

Although Notre Dame out-rebounded West Virginia 46-to-23, it faces a Louisville team who averages 10 more rebounds per game than Notre Dame does – the Cardinals grab 47.8 boards per game compared to Notre Dame’s 37.8.

Aside from McCoughtry, center Jazz Covington (7.5 rebounds per game) will be another obstacle in the post. Louisville also holds a plus-10.8 rebounds per game ratio over their opponents.

But for all of Louisville’s strengths in the post – they struggle from the perimeter. The Cardinals have shot only 29 percent from behind the arc and in their two losses combined sank only 20 percent of their three-point attempts.

Both Louisville losses have come on the road – a 106-94 overtime loss at Providence Jan. 3 and a 74-58 lost to South Florida on Jan. 16. And McGraw understands the importance of capitalizing on the home-court advantage.

“You have to take care of your home court,” McGraw said. “Everyone in the league is struggling to win on the road. There’s not been a decent road win until [Monday] night when Connecticut beat Marquette – that was I think the first one. I think we really have got to take care of our home court. And we have a lot of great opportunities coming up.”

Junior guard Charel Allen will lead the Irish offensively. Allen was named to the Big East Honor Roll for the third time last week, and she also has one Big East Player of the Week under her belt this season.

The most important factor, however, may still be the Joyce Center and the fans who were noticeably absent on Super Bowl Sunday.

“We’re hoping that the crowd comes back for [Wednesday’s Game],” McGraw said. “We’re going to need all the help we can get.”