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ND readies for Red Raiders

Joe Hettler | Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Middle Tennessee State may have been the No. 13 seed when it defeated No. 4 seed and 12th-ranked North Carolina in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday, but don’t tell Muffet McGraw that.To McGraw, the Blue Raiders victory was no fluke.”I honestly think that the best team won that game,” McGraw said. “I thought Middle Tennessee played much better as a team and played well together.”Notre Dame looks to end Middle Tennessee State’s Cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament at the Joyce Center tonight in a second-round matchup that sends the winner to the Sweet 16 in Hartford, Conn.The Irish (20-10) were pushed to the limit in their first-round game against No. 12-seed Southwest Missouri State. Notre Dame outlasted the Missouri Valley Conference champs 69-65 in overtime Sunday.Middle Tennessee State (24-7) won the Sun Belt conference tournament as the No. 4 seed before knocking out North Carolina – just the third time a No. 13 has advanced past the first round. Patricia Holmes and freshman Krystle Horton led the Blue Raiders. Those two combined for 34 points on 13-of-26 shooting and had just three turnovers.”[Holmes] is a great player, their team leader and their go to player, but the entire team is good,” McGraw said.The Blue Raiders trailed the Tar Heels 13-6 after five minutes, but came back to end the first half on a 9-0 run and take a 35-26 advantage into intermission. With 6:48 left in regulation, Middle Tennessee State built a 12-point lead before North Carolina stormed back with a 10-0 spurt to close within two points.But the Blue Raiders didn’t waver under the pressure, and hung out on to a 67-62 victory. Middle Tennessee State’s demeanor down the stretch of its first-round game impressed McGraw.”They play with great emotion, but also were very poised when North Carolina made their runs [Sunday],” McGraw said.Meanwhile the Irish needed an extra period to stop a determined Southwest Missouri State team. Forwards Jacqueline Batteast and Courtney LaVere combined for 28 points and 24 rebounds as Notre Dame outscored Southwest Missouri State 10-6 in the extra five minutes. Guard Megan Duffy added 16 points for the Irish.McGraw said Notre Dame’s experience of playing close games was critical for the team Sunday and for the rest of the tournament. “I think it really helped [Sunday],” McGraw said. “Our experience at the end of the game, after playing in a ton of close games, really helped us. Our leaders stepped up and that really helped us. I think playing on our home court helps us more than anything.”Middle Tennessee State coach Steffany Smith said her biggest concern is Batteast, and the juniors’ ability to take over a game at any time.”We’ll have several different people guarding her depending on which position she is playing, either one of the players on our front line will match up well with her,” Smith said. “However, no matter who is guarding her, we have to be aware that there needs to be support.”Southwest Missouri State ran a 2-3 zone and doubled and tripled teamed Batteast when she received a pass at the top of the block. Batteast made 7-of-19 shots and was still the game’s high scorer.Smith said her team is thrilled with its first-round upset, but is not ready to exit the tournament just yet.”It doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks, and I know there is going to be a very boisterous crowd out there, and a majority of them will not be cheering for Middle Tennessee, but we’re here to win, we are not just happy to be here,” Smith said. “That’s been our mindset the entire time. We wanted to get to the NCAAs, that was our goal the entire time, its why you’ve worked so hard, and if you’re going to go, why celebrate on just going? I think we have a very good chance to win, if we play well.”