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Women’s Basketball: Louisville comes to town, looking to rebound from bad loss

Bill Brink | Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It doesn’t bode well for the No. 5 team in the country to allow the worst team in the Big East to come back from a halftime deficit, score 54 points in the second half and snap a 19-game home win streak.

Such was Louisville’s fate Saturday against West Virginia. But Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said the loss may anger the team into better play.

“Probably the pessimist in me would say the team coming off the loss is going to be mad,” McGraw said. “They’ve probably had a hard week of practice to fix what they felt they did wrong in the last game.”

The now No. 10 Cardinals (21-3, 8-2 Big East) face the No. 22 Irish at 7 p.m. in the Joyce Center. Notre Dame (17-5, 6-4) defeated No. 25 DePaul 62-59 Sunday afternoon at home. McGraw said she was most proud of the defense in the game – the Irish held DePaul scoreless from 3-point range in the second half.

“When you look at Big East stats, that’s the biggest difference between us and our opponents,” she said. “We’re not shooting well from the 3-point line; they were shooting very well.”

Cardinals senior forward Angel McCoughtry will make sure to test that Irish defense. McCoughtry is second in the conference in scoring and dropped 27 against West Virginia. But it’s not just McCoughtry. The whole team, McGraw said, concerns her.

“They’re more athletic. Faster, stronger, jump higher that we do, they’re just a more athletic team than we are all around,” McGraw said.

She said senior forward Candyce Bingham, who averages 11.3 points per game, complements McCoughtry, but Notre Dame can’t afford to devote all its energy to those two.

“That’s not to say we’re going to disregard the rest of their team, because I think that was the mistake we made at Pitt,” she said.

When facing superior athleticism, McGraw said, you have to play smarter.

“We have to play better position, we have to be very disciplined,” she said. “We’ve got to work on our close-outs and our approach to the perimeter.”

For Notre Dame’s offense to succeed, McGraw said, the freshmen have to match their level of contribution from earlier this season. She said she wants to do a better job of resting the starters and getting more production off the bench.

“Our bench was outscoring teams pretty regularly up through our first maybe 15 games or so, and lately it’s been the other way around,” she said.

The team as a whole is healthy, but McGraw said freshman guard Natalie Novosel has played through painful tendonitis in her knee. Rest will heal it, McGraw said, but that’s not something the team will have anytime soon, so the coaches try to get her rest when they can.

The Irish made four free throws in the final 23 seconds of the DePaul game to secure their lead, two from senior guard Lindsay Schrader, one from junior guard Melissa Lechlitner and one from sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski. McGraw said the team shoots foul shots at the end of practice when the players are tired to simulate game conditions and that she trusts her starters to make the shots.

“That’s where I think Lindsay Schrader, Lech and [junior guard] Ashley [Barlow] and I’d put [junior center] Erica Williamson in that category, those four have stepped up at the end of games and hit huge free throws for us all year long,” she said. “No matter what their percentages during the rest of the game.”