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Irish face tough home test

Joe Hettler | Wednesday, February 25, 2004

They did it once. Tonight they’ll try to do it again.

Notre Dame’s defense shut down the high-octane offense of No. 21 Miami when the teams first met Jan. 28 in a 59-50 Irish win in Coral Gables, Fla. The Irish hope for a repeat performance when the Hurricanes visit the Joyce Center at 8 p.m. for a conference matchup.

“They’re a great team,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think the key is transition defense. That’s what we really worked hard on, taking away their transition game, and we were very successful at it last time and that limited their points.”

Miami has four starters averaging double figures and a fifth that averages 9.5 points per game. Tamara James leads the team with 16.9 points a contest.

“I’m little concerned because, defensively, we haven’t played that well the last couple of games,” McGraw said. “Miami is just a powerhouse offensive team. They really can score. It’s going to be a mental challenge for us to get back in that mindset that we have to get our intensity back on defense.”

The Hurricanes offense exploded in the team’s last game – an 81-43 victory over Seton Hall. By comparison Notre Dame lost to Seton Hall 51-45 earlier this season.

“That’s kind of scary,” McGraw said. “To see our Seton Hall score and their Seton Hall score, I’m sure they were talking about that too.”

McGraw plans to use Monique Hernandez and Breona Gray more in the game to give the Irish a quicker defensive squad.

While the Hurricanes have many weapons, Notre Dame first needs to contain James. The sophomore guard is the reigning Big East Player of the Week. She averaged 24.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in Miami’s wins over Syracuse and Seton Hall. Along with James, Chanivia Broussard, Yalonda McCormick and Shaquana Wilkins all average at least 11.5 points per game.

This game has significant consequences for the Big East standings. Notre Dame sits 17-8 and 10-3 in the Big East conference, while Miami is 20-4 and 9-4 in conference play. The Hurricanes lost three straight games, starting with their lost to Notre Dame a month ago, but have recovered to win their last four decisions.

Even though Notre Dame hasn’t lost at home this season, and the Irish need the win to stay in sole position of second place in the conference, McGraw said the pressure isn’t on her team.

“I think there’s a lot less pressure on us,” McGraw said. “We had to beat St. John’s and Pittsburgh and Providence. We absolutely had to win those games because they’re at the bottom of the standings.”

a great team that is ranked so we’re back to having an opportunity to beat a ranked team. The pressure is really on Miami.”