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Irish ready for ‘tall’ challenge

Joe Hettler | Thursday, December 4, 2003

Irish coach Muffet McGraw wanted her players to do one thing at practice Wednesday – grow a few inches.”We were trying to get taller,” McGraw said.Notre Dame (2-3) faces a Wisconsin team (2-2) Thursday night at the Joyce Center that has five players over six feet in height, including a pair of centers that are 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-7, respectively.”They’re the tallest team we’ve played,” McGraw said. “We’re going to just see how it goes.”Wisconsin’s two centers, Emily Ashbaugh and Lello Gebisa, along with 6-foot-3 sister Ebba Gebisa, give the Badgers a distinct advantage in the paint. Notre Dame’s tallest players, Teresa Borton and Courtney LaVere, are a mere 6-foot-3.Ashbaugh leads the Badgers in many offensive and defensive categories, averaging 13.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Guard Ashley Josephson gives Wisconsin an outside threat, knocking down 53.8 percent of her 3-point attempts and dropping 12.5 points per game. She also tallies 6.5 assists and three steals and surprisingly leads the team with eight boards per contest.After losing their season-opener to Northern Illinois 68-65, the Badgers won the Conesto/Coconut Grove Thanksgiving Classic in Miami last weekend. They knocked out Hampton and Butler to win the tournament title. Wisconsin lost their second straight home game Monday, this time by a 64-58 score to Western Illinois.First-year coach Lisa Stone leads the Badgers. She came to Wisconsin from Drake, where she was 64-27 in three years.Meanwhile, Notre Dame looks to rebound after a tough weekend that saw the Irish fall to Michigan State 92-63 and No. 3 Tennessee 83-59. Notre Dame struggled in both games, and the losses knocked the team from the top 25 rankings.Despite struggling through two defeats, McGraw said the team has practiced well since their last two games.”I’m really encouraged. You can tell a lot about a team after a loss,” McGraw said. “We’ve all worked hard to change things, and it’s fun at practice.”Notre Dame won their home opener Nov. 21 against Valparaiso but have faced four other difficult teams on the road, including three ranked opponents in Auburn, Colorado and Tennessee. Irish forward Jacqueline Batteast leads the team with 16.6 points per game and adds 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. She scored a career-high 27 points against Auburn earlier in the year and needs a mere 114 points to reach the 1,000 point mark in her career. She would become just the 20th Irish player to accomplish such a feat.The two teams will face each other for just the second time at the Joyce Center, with Wisconsin winning the only other meeting 81-69 in 1996. Notre Dame leads the series 3-2.McGraw hopes her team will rebound Thursday after dropping two straight games.”We’re playing at a different level than at the beginning of the year,” McGraw said. “A lot of good has come from [the two losses].”