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Women’s Basketball: Seniors to play last home game

Joseph Monardo | Thursday, February 23, 2012

As the Irish head into the final two games of their season, the team’s seniors prepare for their final regular season game in the Purcell Pavilion.

On senior day Saturday, No. 3 Notre Dame will attempt to take another step toward earning the Big East regular season championship when it hosts South Florida.

After suffering their second loss of the season on Feb. 12 when unranked West Virginia escaped from South Bend with a 65-63 victory, the Irish (26-2, 13-1 Big East) responded with two convincing wins, most recently at Louisville.

“In the second half against Louisville we scored 40 points. We haven’t done that in a long time,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “The Big East is a great defensive league. There are a lot of really good teams, but for us to really have an explosion like that on offense really felt good. I think we all just kind of relaxed a little bit and said, ‘Finally, this is it, we are back,’ and we’ve had really good practices since then.”

The Irish will welcome a South Florida team (15-13, 7-7 Big East) boasting a three-game winning streak. In the Bulls’ 62-50 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday, senior guard Jasmine Wynne scored a team-high 14 points in her first game back since missing three games due to concussion symptoms. Wynne leads the Bulls in scoring and rebounding, averaging 15.6 and 5.8, respectively, and heads the versatile South Florida offense.

“Their guards are really good — they are athletic, they are fast, they can shoot,” McGraw said. “Their post players like to shoot threes, so it is a little different look for our post.”

South Florida currently occupies the ninth spot in the Big East rankings, while the Irish sit atop the conference standings. On senior night, the Irish will have to be especially careful to not overlook their opponent.

“Sometimes we can play down to our competition’s level,” senior guard Natalie Novosel said. “I think with South Florida, we need to come in and take care of it. It’s going to be an emotional night.”

Senior guard Fraderica Miller, graduate student forward Devereaux Peters and graduate student guard Brittany Mallory join Novosel as this year’s Irish graduating class. In an attempt to help the team focus, the Irish will wait until after Saturday’s game to celebrate the careers of these four players.

McGraw said emotions will run high, despite the fact that the team will play in the Purcell Pavilion during the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

“We are going to try to push the festivities after the game,” she said. “I think that will maybe lessen the emotion at the beginning.

Because we are hosting the first and second rounds, this won’t really be the last game we are playing here, but … when I look at those seniors, it’s sad for me … It’s going to be emotional for me.”

Only two days after facing off with South Florida, the Irish will travel to Connecticut to conclude their regular season Monday against the Big East’s No. 2 team.

“Once we take care of [South Florida], it will be easier to go into Connecticut, to get some momentum going,” Novosel said. “We’ve got a lot of seniors and a lot of good veterans coming back, so I think with that experience we will be able to calm the team down and take one game at a time.”

Notre Dame will tip off against South Florida at 2 p.m. at the Purcell Pavilion on Saturday before travelling to battle the Huskies at 9 p.m. Monday.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu