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Irish teams struggle early in tournaments

Heather VanHoegarden | Tuesday, March 16, 2004

HARTFORD – After the Irish went on a 15-0 run 45 seconds into their Big East Tournament game against Rutgers, the band started playing and the Notre Dame crowd could be heard. It seemed like the Irish were back in the Joyce Center, where they went undefeated in the regular season.But it wasn’t South Bend, and the tide soon turned Mar. 7 at the Hartford Civic Center as No. 7 seed Rutgers (20-10, 10-6 in the Big East) took advantage of a late collapse from No. 2 seed Notre Dame to come away with a 51-45 victory in the quarterfinals of the Big East Championship.”We came here to win,” Scarlet Knights coach C. Vivian Stringer said. “We didn’t come here to waste our time.”Notre Dame (19-10, 12-4) was led by junior forward Jacqueline Batteast, who scored 16 points on 7-for-15 shooting in the first half. She scored 11 of the Irish’s first 17 points before finishing with 22.Rutgers, meanwhile, after tying the game at 2, did not score again until 9:58 remained in the half. But once the Scarlet Knights did, they began their comeback.Led by Big East first-teamer Cappie Pondexter (24 points, 7 rebounds), the Scarlet Knights exploded for a 17-5 run to trail 23-19 at the half.”I thought it was a game of two of the best players in the country showing why they are up for the Naismith award,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “Cappie played a great game, and Jackie really carried us. I thought the biggest difference in the game – Cappie goes 12-for-12 from the line, and Jackie goes 3-for-4, and Dawn McCullouch steps up for Rutgers and nobody steps up to help Jackie for us.”The Irish had no one else in double digits, but Katy Flecky and Courtney LaVere both had eight points and Flecky added seven rebounds. The team’s second-leading scorer throughout the season, Megan Duffy, was held scoreless and took only four shots.Meanwhile, McCullouch was key for Rutgers, whose No. 2 scorer Chelsea Newton was out with a concussion. McCullouch had 15 points in 40 minutes, two of which tied the game at 23 with 17:02 to play.The Irish seemed about to pull away with a 35-29 lead on two Teresa Borton free throws with 10:13 to play. That was when things went awry for Notre Dame.Rutgers went a mini-run, rattling off six straight points to tie the game, and then Notre Dame turned the ball over three straight times against the Scarlet Knights’ full court pressure.But Rutgers returned the favor with a shot-clock violation, and Batteast hit 1-of-2 free throws to put the Irish ahead 36-35, but Pondexter responded with two free throws of her own with 5:22 to play to put the Scarlet Knights up 37-36.Le’Tania Severe was able to tie the game at 43 with 1:36 remaining on a three point play off a putback. Two more free throws by Pondexter, who hit 10-for-10 in the last nine minutes of action, put the Scarlet Knights up 45-43 with 90 seconds remaining. The Irish had the ball, but Duffy missed a jumper and Shalicia Hurns grabbed the rebound for Rutgers. The Irish would get one last chance, as Pondexter then turned the ball over, giving the Irish 38 seconds to work with. But their hopes of winning were soon dispelled. Severe got trapped at midcourt and tried to lob a pass to Batteast over the Rutgers defense, but the ball was stolen away by Hurns, who dished it to Pondexter for the layup to make it a four-point game.”As soon as I saw her throw it, I knew she didn’t have enough air on it to get it over my head, so with my instincts, I just read it the whole way,” Hurns said. “My teammates did a great job of trapping her at halfcourt, and that’s what led to the steal.”Hurns was also a large part of limiting Batteast in the second half, as she was unable to dominate as she did in the first 20 minutes of play.”They had more people in the lane, they were more physical and they responded to how I was playing,” Batteast, who also grabbed eight rebounds, said. “The difference was I was hitting those shots in the first half and didn’t in the second half.”The 6-foot-3 Hurns, an AAU teammate of Batteast, only scored six points and grabbed four rebounds, but she was able to match the athleticism of Batteast with her rangy arms. “They’re very, very physical,” McGraw said. “They have the athleticism to guard Jackie. She’s a matchup problem for most teams, but not for them.”Rutgers went on to defeat West Virginia in the semifinals, before losing in the championship to Boston College, who defeated Miami and Connecticut to reach the finals.Notes:u This was the third year in a row that the No. 7 seed beat the No. 2 seed in the Big East quarterfinals. Last year, Miami beat Rutgers, and Syracuse beat Notre Dame in 2002. u Batteast was named to the Big East first team and Duffy was named the conference’s most improved player at the Big East awards banquet Friday.u Batteast moved into 12th place on Notre Dame’s all-time scoring list, with 1,249 career points.