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ND Women’s Basketball: First round is rematch between Notre Dame, DePaul

Joe Meixell | Friday, March 2, 2007

Heading into the conference tournament was not the time the Irish wanted to lose two straight games by double figures. But the 7-seed Irish have a chance to make amends in the first round of the Big East, where they face 10-seed DePaul again Saturday at 6 p.m.

In its last game against DePaul Monday, Notre Dame was out-rebounded, got itself in early foul trouble and consistently gave up open looks from beyond the arc. In order to effectively counter the Blue Demon offensive attack, Notre Dame is looking to find a way to slow DePaul’s outside shooting.

“We’re going to fix [our 3-point defense] today,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said before practice Wednesday.

DePaul had success shooting over Notre Dame’s defense, sinking 11-of-22 from 3-point land. In response, Notre Dame hopes to find a way to put better pressure on DePaul’s perimeter players. Forward Caprice Smith and guards Jenna Rubino and Missy Mitidiero had success from three-point range against Notre Dame. Smith hit 2-of-5 attempts from behind the arc, Rubino was 3-of-5, and Mitidiero made 3-of-7.

McGraw said the inside-outside versatility of Smith threw the biggest wrench into the Irish defense during their last meeting.

“She was a problem whether she was screening or stepping back,” she said. “Whoever guarded her couldn’t guard her on the perimeter.”

Irish freshman center Erica Williamson, one of the players charged with guarding Smith, agreed with McGraw’s assessment.

“Being a post player, our girl that we’re guarding, she’s going to be setting all the screens,” she said.

The players also hope to improve communication and see it as vital if the Irish are going to slow DePaul’s outside shot.

“We have a lot of switch-offs where we left someone open,” Williamson said. “We were going to switch, but we didn’t.”

Because the DePaul game unveiled the team’s weakness in dramatic fashion, Notre Dame has watched extensive film on that one contest. The defensive struggles, however, have plagued the Irish all season.

“We’ve been working on defensive concepts that we’ve been working on all season but have just been a major problem for us,” guard Melissa Lechlitner said.

DePaul enters the contest connecting on 34.5 percent of its 3-point shots. To limit the Blue Demon effectiveness, Notre Dame looks to put more pressure on their shooters and keep them from getting open looks at the basket.

“Our zone is really good; our man-to-man needs a lot of work,” McGraw said. “We didn’t play a lot of zone against DePaul – it was a lot of man-to-man, so that was more of a communication problem.”

DePaul out-rebounded Notre Dame 44-33 in their last meeting. With Williamson, center Melissa D’Amico and forward Crystal Erwin in the paint, rebounding hasn’t hampered the Irish in the second half of the season but caused them problems against the Blue Demons. Williamson in particular felt she needed improvement.

“I didn’t have a very good rebounding game against DePaul, so for me that’s going to be a big thing,” Williamson said.

Notre Dame hopes to hinder DePaul’s offense and allow its own offense to get rolling. Guard Ashley Barlow scored 21 points, sank three 3-pointers and had eight rebounds Monday. Guard Charel Allen scored only 10 points on and was hampered by early foul trouble Monday, but has been consistent on offense all season, averaging 17 points per game.

Notre Dame’s free-throw shooting, which has been stellar all season, suffered in the second half of the game. The Irish shot 77.8 percent from the line in the first half but only made 10-of-18 attempts in the second half.

If Notre Dame beats 10-seed DePaul Saturday, they go on to face 2-seed Rutgers, who earned a first-round bye. Last season, the 10-seed Irish defeated South Florida 73-66 to start the tournament but lost in the second round to eventual conference champion Connecticut.

They have their work cut out for them, but the Irish know what they need to fix and how to fix it.

“We’ve just got to be out there talking,” Williamson said. “Communication and rebounding. That’s what we gotta do, and come home with a ‘W.'”