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This year’s version of the Irish more complete

Heather VanHoegarden | Monday, November 15, 2004

Breona Gray leapt in front of the Nebraska guard, tipped the pass and took it coast-to-coast to complete the steal and the bucket. Then in the second half, she did it again – this time on the left side.

Fueled by a strong effort on the boards and on defense, the Irish pulled away from the Cornhuskers at the end of the first half, much like they did two days ago against Illinois State.

This Irish team is hungry. Sure they have a star in Jacqueline Batteast, a preseason All-American and preseason National Player of the Year.

But they had her last year.

Then there’s last year’s Big East Most Improved Player, Megan Duffy. She doesn’t turn the ball over, and chances are, you’re not going take the ball when she’s dribbling. She can score, she can shoot.

But they had her last year too.

So why is this year’s Irish team different?

What they didn’t have was this year’s Teresa Borton. The mild-mannered senior has been aggressive on offense and on the boards. Sunday she put up 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in 24 minutes of play. Borton’s contributions were big, as she was Notre Dame’s second leading scorer and their leading rebounder.

Borton hit almost every shot she took, making 6-of-10 from the floor. She pulled down almost every rebound in her immediate area. Right side, left side, it didn’t matter – Borton finished. When Courtney LaVere got in early foul trouble, it was Borton who raised her game.

“It’s really great to see different people stepping up,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

Borton’s play Sunday is a microcosm of this year’s Irish team. Her hustle and aggressive play is seen throughout this Notre Dame team.

Gray put up a career-high 12 points while shutting down Nebraska’s Kiera Hardy, holding her to 2-of-16 from the field, days after she scored 28 points on Western Illinois in the Cornhuskers’ previous game. It was a career day for Gray.

And while her teammates are missing shots, Charel Allen was all over the boards. The 5-foot-11 freshman grabbed eight rebounds, most of them coming off her own hustle and nose for the ball.

Duffy is all over the court, even if she isn’t shooting well, like Sunday night. Batteast is all over the boards and on offense, she is as aggressive as she needs to be. But when she is double-teamed, she knows what to do with the ball. And her teammates know even better.

This Irish team is not the team from a year ago.

They move the ball better on offense. They hustle more.

Sure, the defense is comparable.

But the real difference in this Notre Dame team is its aggressiveness – and the fact that Batteast is not the only threat.

And for the Irish, that’s just what they needed this year. That’s what has won them two straight games by at least 15 points.

Now a true test will come Wednesday night when they face No. 6 Duke.

That’s when this team will really need its other players to rally around Batteast.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Heather Van Hoegarden at [email protected]