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ND Women’s Basketball: Squad looks to stay perfect against Chippewas

Joseph Monardo | Thursday, November 29, 2012

Coming off a convincing 76-64 victory over No. 19 UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, No. 5 Notre Dame carries a perfect record into tonight’s matchup with Central Michigan.

With a home tilt against No. 3 Baylor looming, the Irish (4-0) will travel to Mount Pleasant, Mich., to take on the Chippewas (2-2). Although Central Michigan is unranked out of the Mid-American conference, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said the home team can present several problems to the favored Irish.

“They are really athletic,” she said. “They have some really good players. … [Sophomore guard] Crystal Bradford on the wing, she’s probably their best player and she is just really hard to guard. She is a big guard and she can score in a lot of different ways. They play a lot of five-out – a little four-out, one-in – but they play five-out so they are going to stretch our big guys.

“They are a little bit smaller. This will be the first game where we have a size advantage this year. But they can get up and guard us, they are going to run the floor, drive and kick, they are going to look to take a lot of threes per game. So we are really going to be tested defensively.”

Bradford is the MAC West Player of the Week after scoring 21 points – 15 coming in the second half – on 9-of-11 shooting. Bradford also recorded three blocks, two steals and two assists. For the season, Bradford is second on the team with 14.8 points per game and averages 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.5 blocks and 2.0 steals per game. Bradford can present difficulties for the Irish on both ends of the floor, McGraw said.

“She’s a tough matchup for us because she is strong and physical and yet she’s quick, too,” she said. “I think we are really going to have to try to put the whole team being aware of where she is.”

The Irish also enter the matchup with a conference award in hand, as freshman guard Jewell Loyd earned recognition as the Big East Freshman of the Week. In wins against Mercer and UCLA last week, Loyd led the team with 19.0 points per game on .727 shooting and contributed 6.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game. The freshman has also impressed on the defensive end, McGraw said.

“We were expecting a lot from her coming in,” the coach said of Loyd. “I think she was pretty well-hyped coming in, and deservedly so. She really is strong in every area. Her biggest area of improvement so far has been her defense. That has probably surprised me more than anything because she has really come a long way in maybe two months’ time with where she is defensively, so I’m really happy with that.”

Notre Dame holds a scoring advantage of almost 30 points per game over its opponents, albeit in a small sample size and with blowout wins over Mercer and Massachusetts. Regardless of the impressive statistic, McGraw said she still hopes to see significant improvement in tonight’s contest and all those following.

“I think we want to go into this game, the preparation we are putting in right now in practice is to try to get our game up to the next level,” she said. “I don’t feel like we are there yet, we have a lot of things we are working on, so I think every game for us is a little bit of a measuring stick [of] where are we right now. It’s still November but we’ve got to play at a faster pace than we are playing at right now. We are not where we were last year and that’s what we are trying to get to. So I think we want to come out of that game with a feeling of we executed the offense, we did what we wanted to do defensively and just start to feel good about the way we are playing in general.”

Notre Dame will look to capture its fifth-straight win to start the season against Central Michigan tonight. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. in McGuirk Arena in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu