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ND Women’s Basketball: UConn Territory

Jared Jedick | Friday, January 15, 2010

The Irish will take the court Saturday in Storrs, Conn., for a clash with top-ranked Connecticut to determine who will maintain a perfect record and gain supremacy in the Big East.

“It’s always a good measuring stick when you play UConn, to find out where you are and where you need to be,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

No. 3 Notre Dame (15-0, 2-0 Big East) and No. 1 Connecticut (15-0, 3-0 Big East) both enter the weekend undefeated. The Huskies are riding a 55-game winning streak, the second longest in NCAA women’s basketball history. The Huskies also hold the longest streak, of 70 straight wins in the 2001-2003 seasons.

When the two teams faced off last year, the Irish gave Connecticut one of its stiffest challenges over the course of their winning streak, losing 76-66, one of the Huskies’ smallest margins of victory over the course of their streak.

The Irish and Huskies are two of just four remaining undefeated teams in Division I. Notre Dame’s lower rank places the team in the unfamiliar position of underdogs.

“You look at your schedule, and you know, we’ve played some ranked teams but we have not really had to play a game where we were the underdog,” McGraw said. “It’s kind of a nice opportunity for us to look at this game as a game where we see where we are.”

McGraw said she believes this year’s additions to the roster will be able to make a difference in the game.

“We have three new players,” McGraw said. “We have Brittany Mallory back, and I think she’s playing great basketball. I think she’s the best sixth man in the Big East. We’ve got Devereaux Peters back … and then we’ve got Skylar [Diggins]. I think the addition of those three players makes us a very different team than we were last year.”

Though just a freshman, Diggins has been leading the Irish attack this year and averages 13.5 points per game. Overall, Notre Dame has a balanced attack, featuring five players scoring more than nine points per game.

One of the Irish’s main concerns Saturday will be to corral Connecticut’s center, Tina Charles. Charles averages 17.9 points per game along with 8.5 rebounds per game. Notre Dame is particularly low on big post players this year, leaving the Irish to rely on strong team defense from junior forwards Becca Bruszewski and Peters.

“Tina Charles this year is even better than she was last year,” McGraw said.

The Irish are also concerned about the Huskies’ transition offense featuring junior forward Maya Moore, who leads the Huskies with 19 points per game.

“We don’t match up with them very well,” McGraw said. “They’ve got a great transition game because they’re so good with rebounds.”

The Irish players said they refuse to let the Huskies’ impressive record distress them.
“They get some of their wins off of intimidating people,” senior guard Ashley Barlow said. “No, we will not be intimidated. We will not back down. They will hit us and we will hit right back. We are not going to let anybody push us around.”

The game will be the premier of ESPN’s Women’s Basketball College Gameday, putting added pressure on all the players, but McGraw does not want the team feeling any added stress to win with the hype.

“It’s not a game with any pressure to win,” McGraw said. “Every other game we’ve played we’ve been expecting to win. It’s a different feeling going into the game.”

McGraw still feels the team can rise to the occasion and snatch a big victory.

“The perception is that UConn has to play poorly and the other team has to play well,” McGraw said. “I would say that’s pretty true. I think UConn is an incredibly talented team, and if they play well they’re going to win. I don’t think there’s anybody in the country that would disagree with that. I would say that yes, they’ve either got to shoot poorly or have foul trouble, or something has to go wrong for them, and we’ve got to play really well.”

McGraw sees a light at the end of the tunnel if the Irish can focus on what they do best.
“I think we’ve got to play our game,” McGraw said. “We’ve got to play the way that we’ve been successful.”

Notre Dame and Connecticut tipoff at 9 p.m. Saturday in the Gampel Pavilion.