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Tough opening weekend to greet Irish

Joe Hettler | Friday, November 14, 2003

Muffet McGraw believes facing an easy opponent to begin the season is always nice, but her team will likely get more of out a game against a tougher foe.

So instead of playing McNeese State or Western Michigan, No. 15 Notre Dame opens its season against No. 22 Auburn in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association tournament this weekend in Boulder, Colo.

“It’s a great challenge for us, to come right out of the gate and play a very good team” said McGraw, who begins her 17th season at Notre Dame. “I think mentally the team is ready for the season to begin.”

Even if the Irish do not win Friday night against the Tigers, McGraw said the team will still gain valuable experience from the contest.

“It’s kind of a no lose situation. If you lose, you learn and you move on,” McGraw said.

Auburn won the Women’s National Invitational Tournament in 2002 and return all five starters from that team. They will challenge Notre Dame’s ability to run the floor.

“Auburn is a great team,” McGraw said. “They’re very athletic and very quick.”

Auburn coach Joe Ciampi said his Tigers are eager to face a solid opponent such as Notre Dame.

“Notre Dame, as our season opening opponent, will prove to be an early test to see where we are right now,” Ciampi said.

McGraw believes one of the keys to the game will be the tempo.

“We’re pretty uptempo also so controlling the tempo will be a key to the game,” McGraw said. “Our bench is pretty depleted with injuries so we’ll have to see.”

Notre Dame will be without Teresa Borton and Jeneka Joyce for tournament. Both are out with foot injuries.

Besides the game’s tempo, the Irish will have the difficulty of trying to stop Tiger junior Natasha Brackett. Brackett was named MVP of the WNIT last season and became the school’s all-time leading scorer for a sophomore last season.

McGraw isn’t sure how her team will stop Brackett.

“We’re going to let her get her points,” McGraw said. “I don’t know if we have anyone that can stop her. She’s a very good player and a very important player on their team.”

Notre Dame returns four starters from last season’s Sweet Sixteen squad. Captain and guard La’Tania Severe will lead the offense, along with sophomore Megan Duffy. Duffy has played exceptionally in Notre Dame’s first two preseason games.

Juniors Jacqueline Batteast, Katy Flecky and Borton will all play important roles for the Irish. Batteast is a member of the preseason Wooden All-American team and was a Second-Team Big East selection last season.

Flecky and Borton played major role in Notre Dame’s success in 2002-03 and will be expected to step up their games even more this season.

Freshmen Crystal Erwin, Breona Gray and Susie Powers could all contribute from the start of the season, especially Erwin. She brings the Irish a physical offensive and defensive player.

Notre Dame will face either Old Dominion or No. 15 Colorado on Saturday.