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ND Women’s Basketball: McGraw fills holes in lineup for NIT

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, November 9, 2007

After dominating two preseason opponents in exhibition games, Notre Dame finally starts its season with the Preseason NIT against Miami of Ohio tonight at 9 p.m.

Notre Dame left the preseason with only one main question mark left in its gameplan – defense. Irish coach Muffet McGraw said she was disappointed with it in their second preseason game Monday against Hillsdale. This week, McGraw said her team went back to basics and placed more of an emphasis on individual defense.

One of the questions that was answered is who will start this season for the Irish. The only spot up for grabs in the preseason was the position battle for center between sophomore Erica Williamson and senior Melissa D’Amico. McGraw said going into the preseason games that she was evaluating the two centers based on a variety of categories, including rebounds, effort, defense, passing and scoring.

“I think Erica had just a little advantage in every category,” McGraw said. “So I think she earned the spot.”

Even though D’Amico lost her starting position from last season, McGraw said she will remain an important part of the team’s offense coming off the bench. She added that the bench is an important part of the team’s strength.

“I just think it makes us stronger and harder to defend when you keep getting good off the bench,” she said.

The Irish also have one other center in the mix, just not for the starting job – freshman Devereaux Peters. McGraw said at this point she is not entertaining the idea that Peters will be a starter but liked her versatility.

“I like her at the center right now, she’s doing a lot of good things in there. But she can play on the perimeter,” McGraw said. “So she just needs to get comfortable in one spot, so we picked the center because it is easier.”

Peters, who is one of the team’s top defenders, notched five blocks in the Hillsdale win.

“She’s a little quicker defensively so she can get to balls. She’s a quick jumper; she can get off her feet and block some shots,” McGraw said. “It changes our defense completely. We go from maybe a little more conservative to a team that can take some risks because the team knows that Devereaux is behind them to block the shot should they get beat.”

In the backcourt, seniors Tulyah Gaines and Charel Allen return and sophomore Ashley Barlow earned the starting job after being named to the all-freshman Big East team.

The team also returns junior Lindsay Schrader, who sat out last season with a knee injury. McGraw said that not only is she back in the lineup, but she is at least as good as she was her freshman year – especially in the way she distributes the ball.

“I couldn’t be happier with her game right now, and the thing I am really excited about right now is her passing,” McGraw said. “Her assists have been tremendous; she has just thrown in some spectacular passes … If she can pass like that all year long, we are going to be a tough team to guard.”

The RedHawks counter Notre Dame’s four-guard set with a three-out, two-in set led by guards Amanda Jackson and Jenna Schone – the team’s two leading scorers last year. Jackson had 17.2 points per game with 4.7 rebounds, while Schone had 11.8 points and 4.5 assists a game.

“They’re guards are outstanding. Jackson is their best player, and she’s going to be really hard for us to guard,” McGraw said. “They’re really good three-point shooters, they are going to put the ball on the floor, and they are just strong on the perimeter.”

McGraw said she doesn’t know yet how she will defend Schone and Jackson or whether she will go with her standard five or a bigger lineup.

“So we’ve got to decide what we’re going to do with that, if Lindsay is going to have to guard the bigger kid, or if we are going to be able to play our normal defense,” she said.

Notes:

uGaines remains questionable for Friday’s game after spraining her right elbow in the second half against Hillsday Monday. Gaines was hit in the lane on a layup attempt and fell hard on her arm. If Gaines cannot start, McGraw said sophomore Melissa Lechlitner will start.