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ND Women’s Basketball Commentary:Irish defensive woes

Jay Fitzpatrick | Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Notre Dame is a good basketball team – but it is clearly not one of the elites.

When the No. 16 Irish (15-4, 3-2 Big East) fell to No. 22 DePaul on Tuesday, it was their fourth loss in as many tries against ranked teams this year. Granted, two of those games were against top-five teams (75-59 against then-No. 3 Maryland on Nov. 16 and 87-63 against No. 2 Tennessee on Jan. 5). But Notre Dame has looked bad in all of those games this year.

The worst part is, the problems have been different every game.

The Terrapins were dominant from beyond the arc, punishing Notre Dame’s impotent 3-point defense with 12 treys against the Irish.

The Lady Vols had a great inside-outside offense working, with guard Angie Bjorklund dropping seven shots from 3-point land and superstar forward Candace Parker dominating the paint for 20 points, eight boards and two blocks.

Notre Dame’s offense was anemic in the first half against West Virginia on Jan. 13, scoring a record-low 11 first-half points before mounting an incomplete comeback.

Tuesday night against DePaul, however, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said that the defense was one of the most embarrassing she has ever seen.

“I don’t know if we are the worst defensive team in the country, but we are certainly the worst defensive team in the Big East,” she said. “… We have no commitment at that end of the floor whatsoever and that was an absolute disgrace.”

The loss to the Blue Demons was indicative of the way Notre Dame has played defense all season. The squad gave up 80 points to Georgetown and Bowling Green and 70 points to Louisville earlier this season. The only difference in those games was that Notre Dame’s offense was good enough to outscore its opponents.

For the past two seasons, Notre Dame has struggled to defend the perimeter. But McGraw said after this game that the problem is at that entire end of the court.

“I think it’s a little bit of everything,” she said. “I was really just disappointed in just everyone’s defense. It’s not just one person, it’s really just everyone.”

The team has been burned all season when in man-to-man defense, and McGraw said that her team must make the switch to the zone defense.

McGraw said she needs to renovate her team’s defense from top to bottom immediately – but that change cannot come soon enough.

The Irish still have to play five regular season games against ranked teams – including Sunday’s contest with top-ranked Connecticut – before the Big East tournament starts on March 8. The Irish are sure to play a quality team in the conference tournament – all 16 teams are over .500, and seven teams (including Notre Dame) are ranked.

If Notre Dame doesn’t fix its defense – a possibility, considering McGraw has talked about clamping down against opponent 3-point shooting since the beginning of last season – it could be in for a world of hurt over the next few months.

The Irish have their toughest remaining games of the season (UConn excluded) on the road – and McGraw has said all season that winning on the road in the Big East is always a challenge.

The Irish still have time left this season to get better before the Big East championship and NCAA Tournament start in March. But if they don’t, the team’s great start will be wasted by a very disappointing finish.

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

Contact Jay Fitzpatrick at jfitzpa5@nd.edu