ND Women’s Basketball: Panthers challenge winning streak
Bill Brink | Friday, February 8, 2008
After the Irish knocked two straight change-ups out of the park, the Panthers will bring some chin music.
No. 16 Notre Dame will face No. 15 Pittsburgh Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Joyce Center, a tough game for the Irish after two easy wins. The Panthers (18-4, 8-1 Big East) will be Notre Dame’s biggest challenge since it lost to No. 1 Connecticut at home on Jan. 27.
In the Panthers’ most recent game, they defeated Seton Hall 64-44 at home. Senior center Marcedes Walker did not play because of a sprained ankle; freshman forward Chelsea Cole started in her place. Cole scored 17 points in the game and averages 4.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Walker also missed Pittsburgh’s 64-60 loss to No. 4 Rutgers on Feb. 2, and it is unclear whether Walker will play Sunday. She averages a double-double, scoring 14.1 per game and grabbing 10.1 boards.
After losing to Penn State early in the season, Pittsburgh’s only losses have come against No. 3 Maryland, No. 15 Duke and Rugters. Before losing to the Scarlet Knights, the Panthers accumulated 11 straight wins.
In seven of those 11 victories, junior guard Shavonte Zellous led Pittsburgh in scoring. Zellous averages 20.1 points per game this season and shoots 45 percent from field goal range.
The Panthers offense thrives in conference play. In their nine games against Big East opponents, all five starters have averaged at least 10 points.
Sophomore guard Jania Sims is the only true 3-point threat the Panthers have. Sims has made 43.8 percent of her 3-point attempts.
In their last meeting, Pittsburgh beat Notre Dame 71-62 at the Peterson Events Center in Pittsburgh on Jan. 31, 2007. Zellous scored 17 points, and Walker had 16.
The Panthers as a team shoot 45 percent from the field and average 75 points a game. They also average 43.4 rebounds per game, 9.1 more than their opponents.
After a great start to the season, the Irish have struggled lately, losing four of their last nine games. Notre Dame won its last two games by large margins – 85-54 over Providence at home on Jan. 30, and 73-41 over Cincinnati on the road on Feb. 2. The Irish shot just 36 percent in the first half and went into the break tied at 26, but they hit all 17 free throw attempts in the second period en route to the win.
All four Irish losses in the last nine games, however, came against ranked opponents – which doesn’t bode well against the ranked Panthers.
The Irish have three players who average over 10 points per game. Senior guard Charel Allen leads the team with 14.2 points per game, followed by sophomore guard Ashley Barlow, who scores 12.9 per game.
Freshman forward Devereaux Peters averages 8.9 points per game and, despite the fact that Notre Dame lost to Connecticut and DePaul, led the Irish in rebounding in both games. She averages 5.6 per game.
Irish coach Muffet McGraw’s weekly Big East conference call with reporters was cancelled due to scheduling conflicts, and The Observer was unable to contact the coach.