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ND Women’s Basketball: New confidence gives new hope

Laura Myers | Thursday, January 20, 2011

The look on Becca Bruszewski’s face in the first five minutes of Notre Dame’s 80-58 win over Georgetown Tuesday was all anyone needed to see.

The senior forward scored four of her 10 points in the opening minutes of the game. Twice, she barreled through several defenders on her way to the basket, her eyes fiercely inquiring why the Hoyas were trying to mess with her team.

The concentration on Skylar Diggins face in the first half Tuesday was another tell. The sophomore guard hit five of eight shots and five of five free throws for a total of 17 first-half points, enough to bury the country’s No. 16 team by halftime.

That attitude of overwhelming confidence has spread to the rest of the team, and has become obvious to those watching.

“Now I think top to bottom we have that. I think everybody’s getting that now,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We’re feeding off of Becca, and we’re feeding off of Skylar. When you look at two people like that who are out there battling all the time, it makes you want to work hard too.”

That Georgetown was ranked didn’t matter to the Irish, who were clearly ready to fight.

It was Notre Dame’s first win over a ranked team this season after several close losses, none more heartbreaking than its narrow defeat at the hands of Connecticut on Jan. 8.

But rankings didn’t matter in that game, either. The Irish approached the game like any other, started strong and led or kept close throughout the game, until a few missed opportunities at the end allowed the Huskies to take the ultimate 79-76 lead.

“Notre Dame outplayed us in every way today,” Huskies coach Geno Auriemma admitted after the game.

In January 2010, the No. 3 Irish fell to No. 1 Connecticut by 24 points. Motivated by the loss, they won eight straight before losing twice in a row — to St. John’s and Georgetown. They went on to lose twice more to Connecticut, by 25 and 12 points, respectively.

This season is already radically different from last in personnel and results. But now, it is also different in the team’s toughness and poise, and that will make the difference going forward.

Since losing by nine points at No. 2 Baylor in December, the Irish have won 11 of 12 and have developed the awareness that they can play with anyone in the country. They’ll need to keep that idea in their minds to make it through the rest of the Big East season — and there’s no indication they won’t.

This year’s Connecticut game, which easily could have gone in the other direction, was the first example. The intimidation factor that played a significant role in the three games the Irish and Huskies played last year was gone. No longer was it McGraw admitting that Notre Dame would have to be at its best and Connecticut at its worst for there to be a chance at an upset. Instead, it was the Irish players knowing there was a chance, and Auriemma realizing his own luck.

“Somehow we won the game in the last four minutes,” he said. “That is kind of how basketball goes sometimes.”

Three games later came the victory over Georgetown, Notre Dame’s biggest win over a ranked opponent since a 93-58 win over No. 23 Miami in 2004. Each player did her job on offense and defense. The Irish shot 53.8 percent from the field, with four players scoring points in double figures. They out-rebounded the Hoyas 36-30 and took advantage of 21 Georgetown turnovers for 31 points.

“When we’re playing like that, we’re a dangerous team,” Diggins said.

Next on the list will be St. John’s on Sunday, and the Irish are ready to avenge another of last year’s losses. The Red Storm come in with a two-game winning streak and a chance to break into the top-25 with a quality win.

But it seems unlikely that Bruszewski, Diggins and the rest of the Irish will allow that to happen.

If anything, Notre Dame will be the ones intimidating the Red Storm.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers2@nd.edu