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Women’s Basketball: Irish travel to East Lansing for first road game of the season

Jared Jedick | Thursday, November 19, 2009

No. 5 Notre Dame will travel to East Lansing, Mich., this evening to face No. 21 Michigan State in the Irish’s first big road test of the year in a battle of size versus speed.

The Irish (1-0) will face a stiff test, as the Spartans (1-1) boast a strong size advantage at almost every position.

“They are big,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “They are the biggest team we have played, and may be the biggest team we will play all year. Every position they have a huge size advantage on us.”

Spartan senior center Allyssa DeHaan is a whopping 6-foot-9 and will present a distinct challenge to a smaller Irish defense trying to keep her from running up a lot of points.

“They just present a lot of matchup problems for us,” McGraw said. “6-foot 9-inches is somebody we really have nobody to guard. It is going to be a challenge for us.”

The Irish really have nobody to prevent DeHaan from getting the ball or to guard her one-on-one, so the Irish will try to mix up their defenses to keep the Spartans off balance, according to McGraw.

“I don’t think we can prevent her from getting the ball at her size,” McGraw said. “We have a couple of things we are going to try.”

The Irish must counter Michigan State’s size with speed and strong play from a lineup loaded with guards.

“Our strength is at the guard spot,” McGraw said. “We are going to have to score a lot of points.”

But McGraw does not want to the team to fall in love with the 3, as she believes that will hurt their chances to win.

“My worry is that we stand out there and shoot too much,” McGraw said. “Last year we were shooting 25 3s and we made nine. We don’t want to have to rely on 3-point shooting, we want to be able to score in other ways.”

An Irish player who has shined against the Spartans in the past is sophomore forward Kellie Watson, who put up 18 points last year against Michigan State. But Watson has been hampered lately with a leg injury, and has just been returning to practice and game action over the past few weeks. McGraw is not sure what contribution she will be able to make against the Spartans.

“Her role right now is very different than last year because of her injuries,” McGraw said. “She really has only been practicing for a week and a half. She really has a lot of catch-up to do. She is really behind right now.”

Not being able to fully utilize Watson is a concern for McGraw, but she believes she will be able to work into the game.

“We were hoping she could move into the post a little bit with her size,” McGraw said. “It gives us another big body in there and she is definitely capable of guarding people.”

A point of emphasis after last week’s 27 turnovers against Arkansas Pine Bluff has been to limit those mistakes, according to McGraw, as she did not like the sloppy play she saw at home. McGraw said she hopes that the turnovers were a product of the team coming together while playing their first game of the season.

“I think we were really sloppy in that first game, and I am hoping a lot of it was first game jitters and being anxious and having a lot of open people,” McGraw said. “So I am hoping that we can settle down tonight and play our normal game.”

The key to the Irish’s ability to control the ball will be senior guard and captain Melissa Lechlitner, who will be running the point.

“Lech did a great job taking care of the ball, and hopefully we will have the ball in her hands a lot,” McGraw said.

The Irish hope to clean up their sloppy play and get their first road win against a tough opponent.