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Women’s Basketball: Injuries end Irish season, lead to Gophers’ win

Bill Brink | Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Déjà vu can be positive or negative, and unfortunately the Irish got all of the bad kind and none of the good.

Notre Dame lost sophomore forward Devereaux Peters to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the same ACL she tore last February. While we’re at it, sophomore guard Brittany Mallory had the same injury. But there would be no return to the Sweet 16 for the Irish, who finished 22-9 but lost to Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament March 22.

The Irish received the No. 7 seed in the Tournament and got a chance to play at home in the first round, but lost 79-71 to the No. 10-seed Gophers.

The Irish gave up eight 3-pointers, a common problem for them all season. Five of them went to Gophers guard Katie Ohm.

“Same old story, every game, we can’t defend the 3-point line,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said after the game. “It was a fantastic crowd out there today and we didn’t give them their money’s worth.”

Ohm hit back-to-back 3s that acted as an early death knell for the Irish.

“When Ohm hit those two back-to-back 3s that was really the gamebreaker right there,” Irish junior guard Melissa Lechlitner said after the game.

The Irish return every player next season, thanks to senior guard Lindsay Schrader’s extra year of eligibility due to a torn ACL before her sophomore season.

Peters tore her ACL during a win over Boston College on Nov. 23. Since she only played in three games, she can receive a medical redshirt.

Notre Dame’s start to the season boded well. The Irish began with a seven-game winning streak that included a 62-51 win over Purdue. Lechlitner scored 19 points to lead the team.

The Irish suffered their first setback at Michigan, where they lost 63-59 in overtime. Notre Dame missed layups in the extra period and allowed Michigan’s Stephany Skrba to score twice in a row. The Irish also lost Mallory to her ACL injury in the game.

The Irish wouldn’t lose again until they entered Big East play, running off seven straight victories. Included in these games was a 59-57 win over No. 20 Vanderbilt during which Notre Dame came back from down 18 points. Notre Dame outscored Vanderbilt 35-21 in the second half, led by Schrader and sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski with 12. Bruszewski scored 10 of her 12 points in the second half.

Once Notre Dame entered conference play, however, it had difficulty mounting a winning streak like it had against non-conference opponents. The Irish defeated DePaul and Georgetown but then lost three of their next four.

Marquette defeated the Irish on the road, 75-65, to start the skid. Notre Dame responded by edging St. John’s 70-67 in a tough game. Schrader blocked a potentially game-tying 3-pointer to secure the Irish victory. Lechlitner had 15 points and Schrader and junior guard Ashley Barlow each had 13.

Two straight losses to Villanova and Rutgers dampened the win. The Wildcats beat the Irish 55-48 on the road and sank 10 3-pointers in the process.

“That’s their game,” McGraw said after the game. “I actually thought we did a decent job holding them to 55 points.”

Barlow led the low-scoring Irish offense with 11 points. Senior forward Laura Kurz had 16 points for the Wildcats.

The Scarlet Knights didn’t make life any easier when they visited the Joyce Center. Brittany Ray scored 26 points and Epiphanny Prince 24 in a 78-68 win over the Irish.

“I thought Rutgers’ two best players stepped up and played great,” McGraw said. “We battled at the end. We definitely tried to fight down the stretch but it was too little, too late.”

Freshman guard Natalie Novosel led the team with 19 points, going 7-of-11 from field goal range. Lechlitner had 18 and Barlow added 17. This dropped Notre Dame’s record to 15-4, 4-3 in conference play.

The Irish alternated wins and losses for the next six games before ending the season on a three-game win streak.

Schrader made sure the Irish beat Cincinnati by scoring 19 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in a 66-50 win at the Joyce Center.

“We’re just sick of losing, and we’re sick of talking about losing,” Schrader said after the game. “We have to go out there and let our actions show.”

Freshman forward Kellie Watson hit two back-to-back 3s near the end of the game.

No momentum for Notre Dame, however, because Pittsburgh’s Shavonte Zellous scored 29 points as the Panthers defeated the Irish 82-70 on the road. Freshman forward Erica Solomon scored 14 points in the game, as did Bruszewski. The Irish got within one in the second half, but Pittsburgh went on a 14-6 run to put them away.

Notre Dame spanked DePaul in the Blue Demons’ house the first time around, and the Blue Demons came for revenge. DePaul had a long 3-point attempt to tie that came close, but clanged off the rim to give Notre Dame a 62-59 win during “The Pink Zone” promotion that raised money to fight cancer.

“I was holding my breath. That was a pretty open shot from quite a ways out,” McGraw said. “I was saying some prayers there.”

Bruszewski hit a baseline jumper with 50 seconds left to give Notre Dame a two-point lead and the Irish made their free throws down the stretch. She finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

No. 10 Louisville came to town next, and Notre Dame gave the Cardinals a tough challenge, but lost 71-66. Notre Dame had a 6-0 run to pull within two in the final minutes, but Lechlitner fouled Cardinals senior Angel McCoughtry as she attempted a 3-pointer. McCoughtry made all three free throws and Louisville came out on top.

“When you look at us now, they’re a top 10 team and we obviously are right there with them,” McGraw told the Associated Press after the game. “So even though we lost I think we can draw some good things from that game.”

After a win on the road at South Florida, Notre Dame traveled to Storrs to face the undefeated, No. 1 team in the nation, Connecticut. The Huskies had blown out opponents all season, but the Irish stayed within 10 points in a 76-66 loss. The margin of victory tied the lowest for Connecticut on the season.

Barlow led the Irish with 18 points and Schrader had 17, but four Huskies starters scored in double figures.

From there, Notre Dame won out against Syracuse, Providence and West Virginia and earned the No. 5 seed and a first-round bye in the Big East tournament in Hartford, Conn. In the second round, the Irish faced No. 13-seed St. John’s and, after a dismal first half, outscored the Red Storm 42-23 in the second half to win 62-45.

Schrader had her seventh double-double of the season, which broke Notre Dame’s single-season record for guards.

“I was getting on the block more,” she said after the game. “I got a lot more opportunities and I was just making them.”

This gave the Irish a second-round matchup against No. 4-seed Villanova, and the Wildcats used the same tools to beat the Irish as earlier in the season. They hit 10 3s on their way to a 58-47 win.

Kurz had 21 points and 11 rebounds and Wildcats forward Lisa Karcic had 11 points. Siobahn O’Connor hit three of her six 3-point attempts.

“We were trying to double-team Lurz because she was hurting us down low, we were sending the double team down and rotating back out defensively,” McGraw said after the game. “For some reason we stopped short on her twice.”

Notre Dame earned the No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament but lost to Minnesota. The prospects for next year, however, look positive. Schrader and Mallory will be healthy and Skylar Diggins, one of the nation’s top high school guards and a senior at nearby Washington High School in South Bend, will play for the Irish.

“We had seen her play and I knew she was going to be a great player,” McGraw told The Observer. “She was really special and I think we could tell that right away.”