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Women’s Basketball: ND seeks revenge on Blue Demons

Matthew Robison | Thursday, February 2, 2012

Notre Dame will take on DePaul at home Sunday at Purcell Pavilion in what will be a grudge match for Irish coach Muffet McGraw’s squad.

The Blue Demons (17-6, 4-2 Big East) beat Notre Dame (22-1, 9-0 Big East) last year in the regular season. The Irish went on to beat DePaul in the Big East tournament, but the Blue Demons are never an easy team to defeat, McGraw said.

“They’re a very good team,” she said. “They shoot a lot of three’s, shoot the ball extremely well, and they have a good center.”

DePaul junior center Katherine Harry leads the Big East in rebounding and will challenge Irish senior Devereaux Peters’ recent tear on the glass. Peters has had at least 15 rebounds in her last three games, including a career-high 17 against Rutgers on Tuesday. Peters is only the second player in Notre Dame’s history to accomplish such a feat.

The Blue Demons could challenge Notre Dame’s stingy defense as well. DePaul ranks behind only the Irish and No. 3 Connecticut in conference scoring average. Notre Dame has been able to keep its opponents well below their season averages this season. The Irish held Rutgers, which averages 57.6 points per game, to 41 points Monday.

McGraw said the Irish do not scout each team specifically to pick out exploitable weaknesses. Rather, they have a daily commitment to being the best defensive team they can be.

“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” McGraw said. “We hold teams under their average, and we are in the top five in the nation in steals. We really like to play good pressure defense so we can get some easy transition baskets.”

Notre Dame’s offense has been in a groove this season as well. The Irish lead the conference in points per game, margin of victory, free throw percentage and field goal percentage. Ignited by a fast pace offense due to junior guard Skylar Diggins, the Irish can get out, run and put teams away early.

McGraw is hesitant, however, to say that her team has peaked. She said there is a lot of work to be done.

“We continue to put new things in so that there’s always something new for them to look forward to at practice,” McGraw said.

There is a balance that must be struck between challenging the players in the gym every day and keeping them fresh during the grueling Big East season, McGraw said. The Irish did not practice Thursday to give the team a break.

“We try to give them a lot of time off so we can keep them fresh physically and mentally,” she said.

Even with a huge rematch with the Huskies in Storrs, Conn., looming on the horizon, McGraw said that it has not been a challenge to keep the Irish focused on each game.

“This is a team that is focused on every game,” McGraw said. “I think we know anything can happen in the Big East. Every game is a tough one. They’ve been really good at just looking at the next game.”

Notre Dame takes on DePaul at 1 p.m. in the Purcell Pavilion Sunday. The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.