The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Women’s Basketball Media Day: Squad looks to improve 3-point defense

Jay Fitzpatrick | Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Last season, Notre Dame ranked sixth in the 16-team Big East in team defense, surrendering only 61.6 points per game. But the defense could have been even stronger if not for giving up the third worst 3-point percentage in the conference, allowing opponents to shoot 35.5 percent against it.

All last season, the 3-point defense was a point of emphasis for the Irish, and this season nothing has changed.

“We are going to guard the 3-point line this year. We are determined to guard the 3-point line, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “That is the one thing I think we have talked nonstop since the season ended – what defense can we play that can help us do that – and I think that we haven’t figured it out yet.”

The first step in figuring out her team’s defense will be to decide what kind of personality her team will have, McGraw said. For much of last year, the Irish played their best defense when pressing opponents, but McGraw said she will give different types of defenses a look when practices begin on Friday.

“We really feel pretty good about that. The question is what type of zone do we want to play,” she said. “We will work on our man-to-man, but I don’t think we are going to be as aggressive man-to-man as we want to be. So we’re going to have to mix it up and keep the [other] team off-balance.”

One thing that should help McGraw’s team in developing a zone is the new crop of freshmen – guards Fraderica Miller and Natalie Novosel and forwards Erica Solomon and Kellie Watson.

Solomon and Watson will add length to the Irish defense as both are 6-foot-2. Miller and Novosel are no slouches, either: the freshman backcourt tandem checks in at 5-foot-10 and 5-foot-11, respectively.

McGraw said this added height will make it a lot easier for her team to defend.

“It’s amazing how big we can be in the back line. That really says to me that if we can get a good zone, it’s going to be hard to throw the ball over us,” she said.

Solomon, who echoed McGraw’s need to defend against 3-pointers, said she hopes to be strong on the boards for the Irish this season, but that she also has a team-first outlook for the season.

“I’m comfortable on defense. Whatever coach needs me to do, defense-wise, whether it’s guarding the guards on the perimeter or guarding the post, whatever she needs me to do, I’m going to do it,” she said.

One major change in Notre Dame’s defense from the end of last season will look familiar. Sophomore forward Devereaux Peters was cleared for practice after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) on Feb. 10 in a win against Pittsburgh. When she went down, Peters was the Big East leader in blocked shots with 45, and averaged 5.6 rebounds and 9.0 points to go along with 39 steals.

“[Peters] changes the game. When we lost her in the Pitt game, it changed our defense,” McGraw said. “Our press wasn’t as good. Our defense wasn’t as good.”

McGraw said that, after watching Peters in training sessions, the sophomore hasn’t lost a step on the court, but may need to be patient before trying to go at full speed too quickly.

Peters said she feels good, but is not quite where she wants to be. She said she thinks she will be back at 100 percent at some point during the season.

She also said she is glad to have the added team height defensively.

“I think it’s great. It will be helpful with the taller, kind of skinny guards, because that’s what we have now. And I think it will help a lot in the post, too. I think, as far as defense, we’ll get a lot more steals and tips,” she said.

Junior Erica Williamson returns as the only true center on the Irish roster. The 6-foot-4 Williamson will often be the lone big man in McGraw’s four-guard set, but only because Solomon and Watson will be playing on the perimeter.

As the center, Williamson said she wants to be a strong presence under the basket, taking charges – something she excelled at last season.

“I definitely want to get back to taking charges because I really think that offsets the other team a little bit, a little scared to drive the lane,” she said. “I just want to be a big presence in the post and be there if something happens to the guards.”