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ND Women’s Basketball Column: Key to success lies in bench contributions

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, March 3, 2009

West Virginia knows the struggle of playing without help from the bench.

After injuries took out some of the players, sickness kept the team’s starting point guard out during No. 23 Notre Dame’s 72-66 win Monday.

“We just gotta suck it up,” West Virgina senior guard Takisha Granberry said in a press conference after Monday’s game.

Notre Dame hasn’t experienced this problem much this season, but Monday and in the past few games, it could probably sympathize with West Virginia’s predicament.

In a 10-game stretch from Jan. 10 to Feb. 17, the Irish bench chipped in 16.5 points per game. In the last four, the bench has scored 7.5 points per game.

Where did the points go?

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw has said in recent weeks that the freshmen are burnt out. Unfortunately for the Irish, the freshmen are all they have off the bench because sophomore guard Brittany Mallory and sophomore forward Devereaux Peters tore their s and are out for the remainder of the season.

McGraw tries to keep veterans on the floor with the freshman to alleviate the scoring drought; when fouls allow, she’ll sub in both a veteran and a freshman. Freshman Natalie Novosel will replace junior Melissa Lechlitner, but senior Lindsay Schrader will replace freshman Kellie Watson. Against West Virginia, junior Erica Williamson would exchange spots with freshman Erica Solomon until Solomon got into foul trouble.

Solomon scored five points and had three rebounds and Watson had four points, including a 3-pointer, and three assists. Novosel finished with one point.

Despite the trouble the freshmen had today, McGraw was more optimistic about their performance than she had been in previous games.

“Today we had the most bench points we have had in a long time. Our bench has not scored much lately,” McGraw said in a press conference after Monday’s game. “I was excited that Kellie made a three. That has to make her feel good. And Erica was going to have a good game before she got in foul trouble. I thought the bench played better today than they have all year.”

It’s understandable a freshman going deep into the Big East season may burn out their first time through, so it’s not fair to criticize the girls too heavily. They have their talents. Watson can shoot the three and had a few open looks Monday but chose to pump fake and dish instead. Solomon’s athleticism allows her to score and rebound in the paint, and once she learns to keep out of foul trouble she’ll be a great complement to Becca Bruszewsk and Williamson down low.

Novosel has great ability to draw contact in the paint and make off-balance layups, and her midrange jump shot, while not as potent as Lindsay Schrader’s or Melissa Lechlitner’s, forces defenses to respect it and can hurt them when they don’t.

So this conundrum requires to two things.

First, the frosh have to summon their talents. Come conference tournament time this weekend, the team will need their contributions. Watson has to take those threes. Novosel has to drive the lane, or fake it, pull up and shoot. Solomon needs to box out and attempt layups in the paint.

Second, the veterans need to realize the bench production likely won’t reach its previous levels and adapt. To keep up with the competition, they need to make some changes.

The team threw the ball away because of miscommunication Monday. That can’t happen.

Players messed up switching off screens and lost players while on defense. Can’t happen.

Some veterans took hasty shots rather than setting up an offense when the freshmen were on the court. Won’t work.

“We kind of escaped today. I wanted to win the game and look good doing it,” McGraw said. “I’m not really frustrated, it’s just a little disappointing.”

Monday’s game wasn’t pretty. Increased freshmen contribution and veteran adaptation to the new level of contribution may not make future games prettier, but it will make them balanced and give Notre Dame back the edge it used to have.