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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish seek to stop surging Friars

Samantha Zuba | Friday, January 25, 2013

While No. 2 Notre Dame was dominating the second half against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, Providence was having an exciting second half of its own.

The Friars (6-12, 1-4 Big East) battled back from a 19-point deficit to upset No. 25 Villanova in overtime. So the Irish (17-1, 6-0 Big East) will face a team high on adrenaline and pride Saturday, which could present a challenge.

“They’re going to come in ready,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “Villanova is a very hard team to play, plus they’re ranked. We’ll need to play our best defense.”

The Friars can be tough to handle even when they do not have heightened inspiration. They feature a dynamic tandem of guards in senior Symone Roberts and sophomore Tori Rule. Both are fast, and they dominate Providence’s scoring statistics. Their speed especially makes them dangerous game-changing threats.

Speedsters are not a new challenge for Notre Dame, who has struggled at times to contain some of the Big East’s faster guards. However, the Irish have demonstrated their ability to adjust, even mid-game, as they did against Pittsburgh (9-9, 0-5 Big East) on Wednesday. They tightened up their defense in the second-half to blow a close game wide open. McGraw recognized that defense is key to her team’s success and dictates whether Notre Dame will play to its full potential on a given night.

“Our intensity on defense controls the outcome of the game,” McGraw said. We stepped up the defense in the second half [against Pitt] with great results…Our team attitude is always about defense. That’s been kind of the trademark of our team. We take pride in our defense.”

As good as the Irish defense can be, they will have to work hard to maintain focus against one of the Big East’s struggling teams. The focus and intensity has to start from tip-off if Notre Dame hopes to contain the Friar guard duo.

“Roberts and Rule are both playing extremely well,” McGraw said. They’re going to be hard to contain. That’s been a problem for us with some of the quicker teams in the Big East.”

Roberts averages 15.3 points per game, and Rule averages 14.7. The Irish’s size could become a factor in stopping the Friars, as the Irish have several taller guards. As long as Notre Dame’s defense can stay in front of Roberts and Rule, it can frustrate Providence’s drives.

Providence senior forward Brianna Edwards also puts up good numbers, but the Irish feature four players averaging in double digits: senior guard Skylar Diggins, junior guard Kayla McBride, junior forward Natalie Achonwa, and freshman guard Jewell Loyd. As a team, the Irish average 46 percent on field goals to Providence’s 36.9 percent, so provided Notre Dame avoids mistakes and laziness on defense, it should be able to use its big scorers to find the offensive rhythm necessary to beat the Friars.

McGraw hopes that the lessons about defense will stick from the game against Pittsburgh as the Irish continue to develop. Though she is proud of what her team has accomplished, McGraw still wants more, and that starts with the pregame attitude. The Irish will head into Saturday’s game ready to work and learn.

“You always learn,” McGraw said. “Individually, each player can look at their game and see that they can do better, and as a team you see what you can work on. We’re a long way from our potential.”

Notre Dame and Providence will take the court at the Purcell Pavilion on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu