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ND Women’s Basketball: Game key, but not ‘must-win’

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, January 30, 2009

Even though Notre Dame has lost three of its last four games – and most recently was embarrassed at home against Rutgers – Irish coach Muffet McGraw said she is reluctant to call Saturday’s game against Cincinnati a “must-win.”

“I think it’s important that we play better, at least execute the defense better,” she said. “I don’t wan to call anything ‘must-win’ this early in the season, but certainly a win would be a welcome change. We just want to feel good about how we are playing.”

The Irish struggled mightily against Rutgers on both ends of the court Tuesday night. After opening up with four straight free throws, the Irish were held scoreless until the 10:22 mark in the first half while the Scarlet Knights rattled off 17 straight points. That trend was continued throughout the game, and the Irish could never find their way at either end.

As for the Cincinnati game, McGraw said she is more concerned right now with fixing the defense.

“I think we can win scoring 60, but over the last few games it’s been creeping up towards 70.”

During Notre Dame’s current funk, the Irish have allowed 75 to Marquette, 67 in the win over St. Johns, 55 to Villanova and 78 most recently against Rutgers.

The defense will not have any rest going into Saturday’s game as it plays one of the most prolific outside games in the conference in the Bearcats. Cincinnati has already taken 411 shots from beyond the arc (making 129 for a .314 shooting percentage), compared to only 77-for-226 for the Irish.

“[Cincinnati is] going to challenge us. The 3-point defense is not as effective as I’d like it to be,” McGraw said. “I think we will be better – we worked on [3-point] defense in practice this week – but the three is our No. 1 concern.”

The last two games, perimeter shooting has been the main reason for Notre Dame’s defeats. Villanova shot 10-of-27 on Jan. 24 and Rutgers shot 7-of-14 from 3-point distance on Tuesday.

The Irish hold a slight advantage over the Bearcats in height – the tallest players to receive significant minutes for Cincinnati this season are 6-foot-1 forwards Michelle Jones and Val Schuster. McGraw said that Cincinnati makes up for this lack of height with athleticism in the post.

“I don’t think [size] is going to be a factor because [the Cincinnati posts] are so physical,” McGraw said. “They’re a good matchup, they’re strong, but they can also step back and shoot threes.”

McGraw said she expects for junior guard Kahla Roudebush to be the Bearcats’ most potent offensive weapon. Roudebush leads the team with 16 points, in addition to tallying 4.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game this season.

“Roudebush is a veteran, experienced player,” McGraw said. “She’ll step up and play well.”

Cincinnati has also added talented freshman guard Shanasa Sanders, who is averaging 7.2 points (third best on the team) and 3.7 rebounds per game. Sanders was named the Big East Freshman of the Week on Jan. 19.

“They are a very different team than last year,” McGraw said.

The Bearcats are nursing a two-game losing streak of their own, but that is not something to take too seriously based on their recent opponents, McGraw said. On Jan. 20 Cincinnati lost 66-50 at No. 6 Louisville and on Jan. 24 it lost 65-34 against top-ranked and undefeated Connecticut.

Tipoff Saturday is at 2 p.m. at the Joyce Center.