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No. 5 seed Irish face winner of Syracuse-St. John’s

Bill Brink | Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Irish need rest, and they earned an extra day of it. No. 20 Notre Dame enjoys a first-round bye in the Big East championship this weekend at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

Notre Dame (21-7, 10-6 Big East) got the No. 5 seed in the tournament, which in the new 16-team format gives it a bye. On Saturday at noon, the Irish play the winner of Friday’s matchup between No. 12 seed Syracuse and No. 13 seed St. John’s.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said she likes the new tournament format.

“I think it’s a good format,” she said. “We’ll have to go through it a couple of years before we can really tell, but I think it’s a great idea.”

Notre Dame has won four of five heading into the tournament with the only loss coming to top-ranked, No. 1-seed, undefeated Connecticut at home.

“I’m kind of looking at it as we played five good games in a row,” McGraw said. “We have a lot of offensive momentum, I would say.”

More than that, McGraw said everyone on the team, freshmen to senior, has contributed of late. She said while the senior guard Lindsay Schrader and sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski have gotten most of the attention, everyone else has chipped in.

“I feel like all the starters are playing well, and it’s a really good feeling going in. everybody’s contributing,” McGraw said.

Freshman forward Kellie Watson, McGraw said, has passed the ball well recently. Watson turned down several open looks in Notre Dame’s last game, a 72-66 win over West Virginia at home Monday, to pass to teammates.

“She’s a fantastic passer, and that’s something that I thought when I saw her in high school is really her greatest strength,” McGraw said. “She has great visions and can get the ball out of her hands so quickly.”

Watson had three assists in each of the last two games. She also broke a four-game stretch without hitting a 3-pointer when she sank one against the Mountaineers.

McGraw also mentioned junior guard Melissa Lechlitner, who went through a scoring drought recently, as someone who’s playing better. In the five games before the West Virginia game, Lechlitner shot 29.7 percent from field goal range, but made 4-of-9 shots Monday.

Finally, junior center Erica Williamson has surged in the past three games. She scored 20 and 21 points back to back against DePaul and Georgetown in early January, but never topped six points for the next 10 games. Against Syracuse, however, she scored 18 and had 11 rebounds, and she scored 13 against West Virginia.

The Irish have faced both the Red Storm and the Orange recently and won both times. They beat St. John’s 70-67 at home on Jan. 17, and the Orange 90-79 at home on Feb. 24.

“They were both really good games,” McGraw said. “The St. John’s game we had to defend the 3-point line to win, and then the Syracuse game was very close throughout.”

That defense, McGraw said, still leaves something to be desired. The team worked on it during practice Wednesday, McGraw said. She did say, however, that she was happy with where the offense was.

Both teams present similar challenges to the Irish, McGraw said.

“They’re both really athletic, they both have quickness – they’re a little bit quicker than we are,” McGraw said. “They’ll both play some zone and some man. We’re trying to find some new wrinkles and new things to do coming into the tournament, but it’s nice that we’ve played them both recently so we have some film on them.”


uMcGraw said the team needed rest, so they took practice off on Tuesday and will take practice off again today.