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ND Women’s Basketball: Squad prepares for Red Storm defense

By Cory Bernard | Friday, January 18, 2013

The Irish have begun their Big East season with four straight wins, including a victory over then-top-ranked Connecticut Jan. 5. On paper, No. 2 Notre Dame (15-1, 4-0 Big East) should easily handle unranked St. John’s on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.

According to Irish coach Muffet McGraw, however, the Red Storm (9-6, 3-0) possess the talent and poise to challenge the Irish this weekend.

“They have got great guard play,” McGraw said of St. John’s. “They beat Connecticut last year ⎯ a huge win for them ⎯ and so they have the kind of players that have the kind of confidence to come in, especially to another opponent’s gym, and play really well. They have got some good players inside, also, so they have really got a great balance to their team. They are good defensively, they can score a lot of points. They present a lot of challenges for us.”

In its last two contests, St. John’s has blown out its opponents en route to an unblemished league record. The Red Storm topped Seton Hall 72-46 on Saturday and routed Pittsburgh 61-32 on Wednesday. McGraw said the Irish will need to start fast in order to take advantage of their home court advantage and quell the Red Storm’s confidence.

“I think it’s important for us to keep our crowd in the game,” she said. “[St. John's is] undefeated in Big East play, so they are coming in with a high level of confidence. We need to come out and get off to a good start.”

In its contest Wednesday, St. John’s received contributions from all ten healthy players, as every participant in the game scored point. Freshman guard Aliyyah Handford in particular has been on a roll. She registered her fourth straight game in double figures against the Panthers (9-7, 0-3). According to McGraw, first-year Red Storm coach Joe Tartamella has maintained most of the same schemes as his predecessor Kim Barnes Arico while navigating much of the early season without a full roster.

“I think they are doing a lot of the same things [as last season], McGraw said. “[Tartamella] has done a really good job with them. They had some injuries early in the year and they have responded well since then. I think personnel-wise it’s just really similar and the style of play I think is similar, also.”

In their 79-64 victory against Georgetown on Tuesday, the Irish turned the ball over a season-high 28 times. McGraw thinks Notre Dame will be able to easily correct their mistakes Sunday.

“You know, [the turnovers] were interesting,” she said. “I watched all 28 of the turnovers and kind of categorized them. To me, it’s about if it’s a good decision and we weren’t successful at it or if it’s a bad decision, and I thought 25 of them were good decisions. We just, we lost the handle on the ball, we weren’t sharp really just with the passing and catching part but the decision making was good, so I think we can fix that pretty quickly.”

Notre Dame will attempt to move its Big East record to 5-0 Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. The ball tips against the Red Storm at noon.

Contact Cory Bernard at cbernard@nd.edu