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ND Women’s Basketball: Lady Toppers await Irish in NIT quarterfinals

Bill Brink | Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Notre Dame enters the quarterfinals of the preseason NIT Tuesday when it faces Western Kentucky after both teams won their first round games handily.

The Irish defeated Miami (Ohio) 98-50 and the Lady Toppers beat East Tennessee State 90-73 Friday.

Notre Dame has scored more than 90 points in each of its first three games, but Irish coach Muffet McGraw said the early matchups can’t compare to what the Irish will face against Western Kentucky, who finished last season 23-9.

“[Western Kentucky is] definitely the best team [we’ve faced] so far this year,” McGraw said.

Before their win in the first round of the NIT, the Lady Toppers beat Lindsey Wilson 95-62 in an exhibition game Nov. 4.

Forward Crystal Kelly provides a potent scoring threat for the Lady Toppers and led the team with 24.1 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game last season.

As good as Kelly is, McGraw said, she’s not the only key to the Lady Toppers’ success.

“Like most good teams, they’re not one-dimensional,” McGraw said. “You can’t just focus on her because they have good perimeter shooters and other perimeter players.”

On the perimeter, three Lady Toppers shot over 35 percent from 3-point range. Guards Kenzie Rich, Cammie Campbell and Tifany Saragosa averaged 35.7, 35.1 and 35.5 percent, respectively, from behind the arc.

Western Kentucky, who averaged 38 rebounds per game last year, presents a challenge to an Irish team that McGraw said has struggled in the paint. McGraw was displeased with the 24 offensive rebounds Notre Dame allowed to the RedHawks on Friday.

“Rebounding’s a problem, so we worked on that a little bit,” McGraw said.

Notre Dame has a powerful offense to counter Western Kentucky’s. Irish guard Lindsay Schrader, back this year after missing last season because of a torn ACL, has played well in the first three games. Schrader hit 10-of-12 shots for 20 points in 17 minutes in the game against Miami.

Freshman forward Devereaux Peters has been productive on both ends of the floor. She scored six points and had eight rebounds along with five blocks against the RedHawks.

“She’s been able to really find her role,” McGraw said of Peters. “And defensively, rebounding, blocking shots. But she’s also been able to score. And I think that’s been a big bonus for us that she’s so quick and she moves so well.”

Because Notre Dame operates a four-guard offense, Peters hasn’t had as much playing time. She shares a spot on the floor with centers Erica Williamson and Melissa D’Amico.

“We tried to make it as easy a transition as we could by kind of holding her in one spot, and she’s done so well there,” McGraw said.

But as she matures and learns the offense, McGraw said, Peters will play on the perimeter, something she has experimented with already.

“She’s played on the perimeter already when she’s been with Erica, and that’s what she’s going to do,” McGraw said.

McGraw was not worried about the blowout wins lulling the Irish into a false sense of security. The leadership on the team, she said, is strong enough to ensure that doesn’t happen.

“Whoever we play next, all season long, that’s the game we’re going to focus on,” McGraw said. “They’re definitely ready. They’re not taking anyone lightly.”