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ND Women’s Basketball Commentary: Playing No. 1 UConn twice should help ND

Laura Myers | Tuesday, March 2, 2010

There were a lot of reasons for Notre Dame’s 76-51 loss to No. 1 Connecticut Monday. But Irish coach Muffet McGraw summed them up in three words.
“They’re a great team,” she said. “Really, they’re that good.”
They’re that good.
The Huskies have now won 69 straight games, one shy of their own record set from 2001-03. This is their second straight undefeated regular season, something they also accomplished in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons.
For the second time this season, the Irish fell hard to Connecticut, a team that in the end was simply too athletic, too talented and too good. A team with players, Connecticut guard Kalana Greene said, “weren’t planning on losing.”
Notre Dame was the only Big East team to play Connecticut twice this season, and the results — Monday’s loss and a 70-46 loss on Jan. 16 — weren’t pretty.
But was it really a disadvantage to play Connecticut twice in one season?
Absolutely not. Let’s play them more.
Notre Dame’s loss, coupled with St. John’s 77-65 win over Pittsburgh Monday, bumped the Irish to the No. 5 seed in the Big East tournament. Instead of having a double-bye, Notre Dame will begin the tournament Saturday against the winner of Friday’s first-round game between the No. 12 seed Pittsburgh and the No. 13 seed Louisville.
Each team in the 16-team Big East repeats against one other team over the course of the 16-game conference schedule. Notre Dame played Connecticut twice. St. John’s, which won the No. 4 seed and a double-bye into the conference championship, repeated against last-place Seton Hall.
While the question of fairness could have been avoided altogether if the Irish had been able to defeat the Red Storm on the road last Tuesday, it should still be mentioned that Notre Dame had a significantly harder road to its 12-4 conference record than St. John’s did.
But the Irish also got two chances to play the undisputed, far-and-away best team in the country. This can only help going forward, as they might see the Huskies again as the Big East tournament draws to a close, and maybe again after that in the NCAA Tournament.
In January, Connecticut’s press defense stifled Notre Dame, and the Huskies led 28-6 a little more than 10 minutes into the game.
Monday, the score was 16-15 in favor of the Huskies after 10 minutes.
Connecticut changed up their defense Monday, playing a zone that all but took the Irish guards out of the game but allowed junior forwards Becca Bruszewski and Devereaux Peters to score 15 points apiece once the Irish had adjusted to the different style.
How many more new strategies could Connecticut possibly throw into a third or fourth game against the same opponent? Notre Dame figured it out a little bit more Monday and, if called to play the Huskies again, will have that much more information with which to prepare.
The Irish actually led Monday in several defensive categories, including blocks, steals and forced turnovers. If they can put that together with their solid post play and find a way to improve Monday’s dismal 31.1-percent shooting performance, the next match between the two teams could be a game worth watching until the end.
Even if Notre Dame does not play Connecticut again this season, it can only improve by playing the best competition. After two games against the Huskies, possible NCAA Tournament matchups against No. 2 Stanford or No. 3 Tennessee — both of which lost to Connecticut in the regular season — may seem a little less daunting.
If nothing else, playing Connecticut and other top teams could help Notre Dame get a little bit closer to a day when an opposing coach declares the team to be just “that good.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily of The Observer.
Contact Laura Myers at lmyers2@nd.edu.