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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish open Big East season at Providence

Meaghan Veselik | Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The No. 18 Irish have faced an array of opponents from a variety of conferences in the first month of the season, but tonight marks a new beginning for Notre Dame as it opens its Big East schedule at Providence.

“It’s [kind of] a clean slate,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said of opening the team’s conference season. “You know, the first game, it’s important to start off on a good note. So we want to go out with a lot of intensity. We worked on our defense today, I wasn’t really happy with our defense against Purdue so we spent some time on that today. That’s something we really want to improve on by the time we get to the Big East [Tournament].”

Tonight’s game marks Notre Dame’s earliest Big East opener since the team’s title-run in the 2000-01 season when they defeated Villanova 64-33 at home on Dec. 6, 2000, which is a fitting reoccurrence since this year marks the 10th anniversary of the program’s only national championship.

But, as McGraw said, Notre Dame has improvements to make on their defense, as well as in other areas of its game in preparation for the tough conference slate. Many of these areas are ones she observed in Sunday’s contest against Purdue, which she called an “ugly present” for her birthday.

“Blocking out. We missed a lot of box outs and executing on the offense,” McGraw said. “Just being smart with the ball and making good decisions.”

McGraw hopes that the Irish will try to work the ball into Notre Dame’s post players, who have been very successful this season and scored the majority of the team’s points against Purdue.

“We’re just trying to get the guards to look in a little bit more,” she said. “The posts have been very successful, we shot 50 percent from the field with all four of them [seniors Devereaux Peters and Becca Bruszewski, junior Erica Soloman and freshman Natalie Achonwa] combined [against Purdue], so they’re doing a really good job and we want to continue to look in because they’re playing well. We have to give them more touches.”

Notre Dame’s guards have been just as essential to its success and ability to put up a fight in the first month of its season, especially sophomore Skylar Diggins and junior Natalie Novosel. Diggins, Notre Dame’s starting point guard, was named to the Big East Weekly Honor Roll this week for her performances at No. 2/3 Baylor last Wednesday and against Purdue on Sunday. At the other guard position, Novosel has stepped up her play this season, often leading the team in scoring as she has been averaging 16.3 per game. Her contributions haven’t gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.

“She’s really talented and … she’s been playing really well all year,” McGraw said about Novosel. “She’s just taking what the defense gives her, she’s not forcing things. Her and Skylar are playing really well together, she’s just got great instincts, and she can really score. We like her to shoot the ball.”

Both guards’ abilities will be necessary for the Irish tonight when they take on the Friars. Notre Dame leads the series 18-0, but Providence can challenge the Irish’s team speed and also have the ability to hit some of their weak spots.

“They’ve got great team speed, really good guard play. They always seem to have really good guards,” McGraw said.

“They can push the tempo, they shoot the three much than better than we do, and they drive the ball really well, so we’ll have some challenges for our defense.”

McGraw and the Irish take on the Friars tonight at 7 p.m. at Alumni Hall in Providence, R.I. in the hopes to open their Big East season with a win.