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Irish take momentum into UConn territory

Deirdre Krasula | Friday, February 20, 2009

Winning on the road against South Florida was a huge confidence booster for the Irish, but Connecticut has had wins like that game after game. That’s why the Huskies are the No. 1 team in the nation.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said the Irish are up for the challenge. The trip to Connecticut is always one the team looks forward to, and with Connecticut fans that treat basketball like Notre Dame does football, the Irish women know they’ll be respected no matter what the outcome.

“We always like playing there because the crowd is always so great. They have a lot of energy and it really is an educated crowd. They cheer for good basketball and certainly their seeing a lot of it the way Connecticut has been playing all year. They’re an outstanding team,” McGraw said.

Coming of a huge 86-79 win over South Florida Tuesday, the Irish know they can play with teams at the top of the Big East. But Connecticut is a different story. The Huskies nicked off South Florida 83-37 in January and defeated Louisville 93-65 later that month. The smallest margin of victory for the Huskies was 11 points in their 82-71 win over Georgia Tech back in November.

One of the main reasons Connecticut has been able to win so definitively throughout its season rests largely on the hands of sophomore forward Maya Moore. In her freshman season she was named the Big East player of the year, the first time a freshman player garnered the award on the women’s or men’s side. She is one of the most well-rounded players in the country.

“She’s an amazing player,” McGraw said. “She’s somebody that you enjoy watching because she’s a hard worker, she’s a really great kid. She’s just a great person and I think everybody likes her. And when you watch her play you just have to kind of smile and when you watch her play other teams, it’s fun to watch. I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy it as much on Sunday. But there’s so many things she can do. She can control the game at both ends of the floor, she’s a great defender. She can score in so many different ways and she’s just pretty unstoppable.”

But the Irish have their own sophomore who’s starting to come into her own. Forward Becca Bruszewski had 20 points over South Florida and five defensive boards. McGraw said Bruszewski deserves all the credit for her improvement.

“We’ve played her at a lot of different spots, she’s got a lot of versatility. She can play on the perimeter or inside. She’s having a lot of fun the way she’s playing right now and I think that for her that’s when she plays at her best. We’re not looking for her, we’re not running plays for her, she’s just creating her own shot right now and playing within the framework of the offense,” McGraw said.

Even though Bruszewski has been making field goals, the rest of the Irish haven’t been as consistent. And against the Huskies they can’t afford to make those mistakes. So McGraw said if the Irish will strive for one thing against the Huskies it’s a boost in their defensive game.

“Because we have times where we don’t shoot the ball particularly well, we have times where we will go four or five minutes without a field goal. We’ve had those kind of droughts, so we really need to pick it up on the defensive end,” McGraw said.

The Irish will look to put a dent defensively in Moore and the Huskies Sunday at 2 p.m.