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ND Women’s Basketball Commentary: Irish must play all 40 minutes

Jay Fitzpatrick | Thursday, January 31, 2008

On paper, Notre Dame played a great defensive game in its 85-54 win against Providence Wednesday.

The Irish forced 29 turnovers, including 23 on steals, held Providence to one 3-point attempt and dominated the defensive glass.

But stats like that don’t matter.

Notre Dame played a lax, almost sloppy second half on the defensive end of the court.

It surrendered nearly twice as many points in the second half (35) as it did in the first (19).

When Friars guard Trinity Hull nailed a 3-pointer with 4:49 remaining – Providence’s only triple of the night – it was in part because the Irish defense wasn’t guarding the perimeter as tenaciously as it had done earlier in the game.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw admitted in her post-game news conference that she thought the team “quit playing” at the defensive end of the court during the second half.

Providence also was able to pound the ball inside against the Irish, taking advantage of its height. The Friars played Wednesday night with only eight players, but three of them were 6-foot-4 or taller – giving them a significant edge during times when the Irish had 6-foot-1 forward Becca Bruszewski in the post with four guards around her.

McGraw also said that the team seemed to be complacent with letting Providence get easy shots if it was unable to force a turnover in the press.

“We did a nice job in the first half of getting them to turn the ball over. But if they weren’t turning it over, they were scoring,” McGraw said.

And even the turnovers weren’t that special. Forcing turnovers in large numbers has almost become standard operating procedure for the Irish this season. Not many teams could force 29 takeaways and still boast that it wasn’t a season-high. (It was 33 against Boston College on Nov. 24.)

In fact, the press wasn’t even effective until freshman Devereaux Peters entered the game after the first four minutes. The Irish were down 5-2 at that point and would fall as far back as 9-3 before turning the game around. A few Irish steals and bad Friar shots later, the Irish were back on top.

But the Irish haven’t had trouble scoring against inferior teams all season, with a dozen 80-point scoring nights and three wins by 30 points or more. But what they haven’t done (and what they showed they might not do if they play like they did in the first five minutes Wednesday night against a more talented team) is prove their consistency.

Notre Dame has struggled against every ranked team it has played this season – and even a few unranked ones like Bowling Green. A slow start against a team like Rutgers or Pittsburgh – both of whom the Irish play in the next few weeks – would spell disaster.

Connecticut showed the Irish on Sunday that a small funk, like the one to start the Providence game, could turn ugly fast with its 22-6 run in the first half of a lopsided Husky victory.

So what’s next?

Most importantly, the Irish have to get better defensively or they might not survive February.

Well, they will still make the Big East and NCAA tournaments. Their record and strength of schedule until now will get them that.

But seeding counts. Last year’s team fell victim to this beast, entering the Big East tourney as the seven-seed and March Madness as an eight. Notre Dame lost in the conference tournament to an evenly-matched DePaul squad for a one-and-done. And in the NCAA’s they beat California only to face No. 1 North Carolina for a relatively early exit from the big dance.

If Notre Dame can’t pick up its defensive output for what McGraw called a “brutal schedule” in February, it could be in for another world of hurt come March.

The views expresssed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Jay Fitzpatrick at jfitzpa5@nd.edu.