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ND Women’s Basketball: No. 5 Notre Dame set to host rival No. 3 Baylor

By Brian Hartnett | Tuesday, December 4, 2012

When No. 5 Notre Dame takes the court at Purcell Pavilion to meet No. 3 Baylor on Wednesday, the Irish will see a program that has repeatedly denied them the chance to claim basketball’s top spot.

Notre Dame (5-0) fell to Baylor (4-1) twice last season, losing 94-81 in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle in Waco, Texas last November and falling 80-61 in the national championship game in Denver in April.

Irish junior guard Kayla McBride said her team still has last year’s results in mind but is more focused on the present.

“I definitely think our team wants [a win] more, especially after losing to them twice last year,” she said. “But, I think we are a new team, a young team, and this is a real good matchup for us confidence-wise.”

Notre Dame returns home after surviving a 72-63 scare at Central Michigan on Thursday. The Irish carried a one-point lead with 12 minutes to go in the second half and struggled to pull away from the Chippewas (2-4) until the game’s final minutes.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said defensive lapses were responsible for her team’s struggles in its last game.

“We went up to Central Michigan, and were a little lax, with a little lack of focus,” McGraw said. “We didn’t play well defensively and, for us, we have got to rebound every single possession.”

The Irish have controlled the boards and dominated defensively through five games this season, out-rebounding opponents 214-163 and allowing only 53 points per game. Notre Dame’s last two games, against then-No. 19 UCLA and Central Michigan, however, proved to be tough tests for the team’s defensive philosophy, as they allowed an average of 63.5 points in the games and trailed at different points in both contests.

McGraw said the last two games have helped her team begin to develop mental toughness, a quality she hopes will carry over to Wednesday’s contest.

“I think communication is going to be really key, and mental toughness is going to be really key,” she said. “We have played from behind before, and we have to understand that we’ve got to stick with the game plan, which is the best thing we can do.”

McBride said Notre Dame’s offensive game plan for Baylor will depend on the team’s ability to make high-percentage shots. The Irish struggled on the offensive end in their last matchup with Baylor, shooting only 35.5 percent from the field in the national championship game.

“We definitely need to hit open shots, especially on the perimeter,” McBride said. “I don’t think we did that in the national championship game.”

On defense, Notre Dame will look to slow down Baylor’s dynamic offense, led by preseason All-Americans in junior guard Odyssey Sims and senior center Brittney Griner. Griner, last season’s AP and USBWA National Player of the Year, has averaged 21 points per game this season.

“I don’t think there’s necessarily a way of stopping [Griner],” McBride said. “She’s 6-foot-8, so I think you just have to limit her touches. I think Coach McGraw has a really good game plan for that, and, hopefully, we can execute it as she wants us to.”

Unlike last season Baylor enters the game with a loss, as the Bears’ 42-game winning streak was snapped in a 71-69 loss to then-No. 4 Stanford on Nov. 16. Although Baylor has one loss, McGraw said she believes the current Bears’ squad is even more dangerous than last year’s championship team.

“Baylor is exactly the same but probably a little bit better than last year because they have a little bit more,” she said. “They have their whole team back, and they have added some freshmen, so I think they’re a lot further along than we are. I think everyone feels that they’re still the best team in the country when they’re at full strength.”

McBride said the rematch against Baylor will serve as a great learning experience for a young Irish squad with three new starters.

“With younger kids who haven’t really played that much against a team like Baylor, I think this is a good game for them to come out and say, ‘Okay, I’m going to come out and do the things I normally do,'” she said. “And that is going to carry on when we play against the Connecticuts and Tennessees of the world.”

McGraw said she is excited to see how her freshmen and the Irish faithful will respond to the matchup with Baylor.

“It’s a great experience for [the players], especially the freshmen, to see what the best team in the country looks like,” she said. “And, yet, it’s in the friendly confines of the Purcell Pavilion. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to see what the first sellout feels like. And, I hope it helps us shoot the ball well.”

Notre Dame and Baylor will meet up in a national championship game rematch on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Brian Hartnett at bhartnet@nd.edu