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Women’s Basketball: After 24-point loss earlier in the year, Irish to face Lady Vols

Bill Brink | Friday, March 28, 2008

On a neutral court, Notre Dame will face a two-loss team that beat them by 24 points in the Joyce Center. A team that has won all 19 of its games against the Irish. A team with the best player in the country and one of the best coaches in the history of the game. And a team who can shoot from the outside, something the Irish struggle to defend.

Notre Dame is in it deep.

These are the obstacles that coach Pat Summitt, forward Candace Parker and No. 1 seed Tennessee present when they face the No. 5-seed Irish at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City Sunday at 9:30 p.m. during the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

But Irish coach Muffet McGraw said these are the obstacles Notre Dame must look past to be successful.

“We have a lot of respect for Tennessee and what they’ve done, but we cannot come into the game feeling intimidated,” she said.

Notre Dame reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004. Players who have been to the Tournament before are telling the freshmen to enjoy it.

“I was talking to [guard Melissa] Lech[litner], she said, ‘Soak it up, it doesn’t happen very often,'” freshman guard Brittany Mallory said. “I’m very happy with my team, and can’t wait to play Tennessee.”

Not surprising, considering the outcome of the last game between the two teams. Tennessee hit 11-of-20 3-point attempts when it beat Notre Dame 87-63 on Jan. 5 at the Joyce Center. Notre Dame still has trouble guarding teams behind the arc – Oklahoma guard Jenna Plumley hit six of her 10 3-point attempts and the team hit nine of its 16 during Notre Dame’s 79-75 overtime win over the Sooners in the Tournament’s second round Tuesday.

“We definitely got yelled at for that,” guard Tulyah Gaines said of Plumley’s performance.

Mallory said the team is always thinking about improving perimeter defense.

“That’s something in the back of our mind that we know we need to work on,” Mallory said. “We’ve just gotta get out and play. We can’t let [Vols guard Angie] Bjorklund or anyone get hot on their team.”

McGraw agreed and said the team put too much stress on post defense.

“We just have to get that attitude of, we’re going to get out and guard the 3-point line,” she said. “I think we’re too worried about inside.”

Both McGraw and the players stressed team defense as a necessary factor for a win over Tennessee. The Lady Vols score 78.8 points per game and have two legitimate 3-point threats. Guard Alexis Hornbuckle hits 43.5 percent of her 3-point attempts, and although Bjorklund averages a comparatively middling 37.4 percent from behind the arc, she buried seven of nine against the Irish in January.

Not to mention Parker, who averages 21.1 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game. She had 20 points and eight rebounds in the first contest against Notre Dame.

“I think we were worried so much about Candace Parker we didn’t pay enough attention to the perimeter,” McGraw said. “And I think that they have so many weapons that you really can’t just go at one person and try to shut one person down.”

Because of that, McGraw said, she would look for a defense that could guard many people simultaneously.

“The problem with Tennessee I think they’re all going to get their points,” she said. “So we’ve got to make a stand somewhere. That’s what we’ll have to decide.”

To combat Parker, Notre Dame has a senior class that isn’t quite done yet. Gaines and guard Charel Allen, whose career-high 35 points put Notre Dame in the Sweet 16, continue to drive the team, McGraw said.

“I think Tulyah and Charel have a great sense of urgency,” McGraw said. “Tulyah has had that all year long. She has been the driving force of the team. She is the heart and soul of our group. She gives us energy and makes us go.”