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ND Women’s Basketball Commentary: Irish need to be more selective

Bill Brink | Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Muffet McGraw must have some of the toughest toes in the business.

On every game night, she squeezes them into tight pointed shoes, all with three-inch-plus heels. Oddly enough, McGraw is most comfortable when she assumes this position when her team’s play pleases her, or the Irish are in a good game.

She stands for timeouts, to call out plays or assignments – and when she’s angry. Against Connecticut on Sunday, she stood nearly the entire game.

McGraw crouched once, at the beginning of the second half – for 43 seconds. When freshman forward Devereaux Peters committed her third foul under a minute into the half, she popped back to her feet. She didn’t crouch again until the final two minutes, when the game was out of hand.

I don’t blame her for her frustration. Watching the Irish against UConn was enough to inspire despair in anyone.

It wasn’t that Notre Dame fell hopelessly to the top-ranked team in the nation; its defense played well and the offense showed signs of life. The Irish managed 64 points against a team that entered Sunday’s game allowing only 46 points per game. But that’s what makes the loss even more frustrating.

After Notre Dame got over the shell-shock of watching Huskies freshman forward Maya Moore drain four 3-pointers, a jumper and a foul shot in the first five minutes, it got its act together and fought back. Peters scored twice, sophomore guard Ashley Barlow hit two free throws, and junior guard Lindsay Schrader and senior center Melissa D’Amico both hit jumpers to tie the score at 21 with 11:12 remaining in the first half.

With less than six minutes remaining in the second half, the Irish answered UConn on four straight possessions. Barlow, Peters, senior guard Charel Allen and Schrader all hit jump shots in response to Connecticut’s points.

Granted, UConn led by 20 at this point, but at least the Irish battled. The offensive life was there, but it wasn’t consistent.

Notre Dame shot 33.8 percent from the floor and scored only 16 of its 64 points in the paint. The offense endured a complete reversal from the offense that dropped trips on Georgetown last week.

The difference lies in Notre Dame’s shot selection. Throughout the game, but especially in the second half, Notre Dame would rush its shots, taking pull-up jumpers on fast breaks rather than setting up an offense or hastily driving the lane only to run into a wall of defenders. It also rushed the possessions it did set up, at times forcing bad passes and attempting to score too quickly.

Five minutes into the second half, down 13 points, Allen drove the length of the floor and fired an off-balance, pull-up jumper. A few minutes later, sophomore guard Melissa Lechlitner threw away a pass, causing McGraw to call a timeout. After the timeout, Allen drove into two defenders in the lane.

The team continued to take bad shots and force bad passes for the rest of the game. McGraw, however, wasn’t worried about the shot selection.

“I think there were times when we rushed it, but we want Lindsay, Charel and Ashley – they have to score for us,” McGraw said. “I would rather they went 5-for-14 than didn’t take their shots. I thought Ashley had great shot selection tonight.”

Since Notre Dame trailed for most of the game, it’s only natural that it would look for a chance to get back in the game quickly. The Irish have shot 45.4 percent from the field this season. Barlow, Peters and sophomore center Erica Williamson all shoot over 50 percent, Allen shoots 47 percent and Schrader shoots 45 percent. You can’t fault them for taking the shots.

But if they aren’t falling, you need to try something else. UConn did.

Once Notre Dame found the antidote for Moore, the Huskies funneled the ball in the lane to sophomore center Tina Charles, who scored 22 points.

Once the Irish found that their shots weren’t falling, they needed to attempt to get the ball inside. This would help the consistency that the Irish lacked against the Huskies. McGraw hinted at this concept.

“We could have done a little better at attacking the basket,” McGraw said. “I think we settled for too many jumpers.”

With the size the Irish have under the basket (D’Amico is 6-foot-5, Williams is 6-foot-4 and Peters is 6-foot-2), they need to make an effort to penetrate and take high-percentage shots.

Against the No. 1 team in the country, it may not have worked, but the team needs to make the attempt.