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ND Women’s Basketball Commentary: Irish took their hits, ready to start anew

Bill Brink | Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Some of Notre Dame’s fans stayed in their seats after the Irish lost to Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday, their blue- and gold-painted faces staring blankly at the empty court. They looked dumbfounded, unsure of what had just transpired.

The Irish probably felt the same way. Questions must have fluttered around their heads after the game: why did we start so slow? Why couldn’t we guard the 3-point line?

There’s not an excuse that answers these questions well, but there is hope in the future.

Notre Dame’s knees lacked any luck this season. Sophomore forward Devereaux Peters tore the same anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that she tore in February last season. She had worked her way back, but went down in the third game of the season.

Peters is 6-foot-2 and has a huge wingspan. She disrupts offenses, whether it be leading the press, at the top of the key or blocking shots in the paint. Her absence hurt Notre Dame’s ability to pressure opposing teams and, more importantly in its current predicament, its ability to contest 3-pointers.

A few games later, sophomore guard Brittany Mallory tore her ACL against Michigan. Irish coach Muffet McGraw said earlier this season that Mallory was one of the team’s toughest defenders and called her “fearless.” A fearless defender – sounds like someone who can contribute to 3-point defense.

Next year, they’re both back. So is senior guard Lindsay Schrader, who has another year of eligibility since she took a medical redshirt her sophomore season. And junior guards Melissa Lechlitner and Ashley Barlow.

That doesn’t excuse Notre Dame’s play, especially near the end of the season. Notre Dame allowed 10 3-pointers to Villanova in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament and eight to Minnesota. It’s tough to win games when you do that.

It also doesn’t excuse the slow start the Irish had, despite a home crowd, or their inability to keep the game close once they pulled within two in the second half, despite losing Schrader to a back injury.

The players were the first to discuss the team’s problems. Lechlitner acknowledged that the defense was lacking and the team let Gophers guard Emily Fox run rampant on the court. Barlow put it straight and simple.

“No defense, can’t win,” she said.

The Irish had potential to be great at the start of the season. They were 11-1, with the only defeat an overtime loss to Michigan, when they entered conference play. They went 10-6 in the Big East, respectable and enough for a No. 5 seed in the tournament, but just shy of being a truly elite team.

Next year they have that capability. They have length and tenacity on defense to force teams inside rather than allowing them to shoot over the Irish. They’ve got proven scorers. They’ve got tons of potential points in freshmen Erica Solomon and Natalie Novosel.

They also managed to snag basketball’s equivalent of Manti Te’o – Skylar Diggins, a 5-foot-8 senior point guard from South Bend’s Washington High School and the nation’s No. 1 recruit. So they have that going for them … which is nice.

The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Bill Brink at wbrink@nd.edu