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ND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Batteast comes up big in team’s win over Scarlet Knights

Joe Hettler | Monday, January 24, 2005

Muffet McGraw’s body language during Notre Dame’s first half against No. 6 Rutgers on Sunday explained exactly how the Irish were playing.She sighed. She yelled. She stomped her feet and ran a hand through her hair. No doubt, McGraw and the rest of the Joyce Center crowd had trouble watching the first 20 minutes between Notre Dame and Rutgers, as the Scarlet Knights embarrassed the Irish en route to a 31-20 halftime lead – a lead that could have, and probably should have, been a lot more.After being beaten around for so long and so badly, how did the Irish deal with such a poor first-half performance? A little locker room talk and a lot of Jacqueline Batteast.Batteast, for the umpteenth time during her illustrious career, put the team on her shoulders and brought the Irish to victory lane – this one in the form of a 63-47 come-from-behind blowout win over a tough, talented Rutgers squad. “I think Batteast decided they weren’t going to lose,” Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer said. That statement about sums up the second half of Sunday’s game.Batteast outscored the entire Rutgers team 18-16 in the second half. She scored 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting, didn’t miss any of her six free throws and grabbed six rebounds while turning the ball over just twice. The all-American scored Notre Dame’s first eight second half points to cut the Rutgers advantage to just five with over 17 minutes to play. She played a key role in getting Notre Dame within in striking distance, then took over the game leading Notre Dame to 23 straight points between 7:48 left in the second half and 11 seconds. As Batteast heated up, her teammates fed off the confidence and turned up their games as well. Guard Megan Duffy had a career-high 11 assists, Crystal Erwin added a career-high nine rebounds and the Irish forced the Scarlet Knights into 17.1 percent second-half field goal shooting, and just 1-of-12 from beyond the arc.The comeback, the confidence, the energy came from one source Sunday – Batteast. This was a game the Irish had no business even having a chance to win after a dreadfully awful first half. Notre Dame was held to their lowest point single half point total of the season – 20. They had an alarming 16 turnovers which Rutgers converted into 19 points.Despite the performance, Notre Dame didn’t quit at the half.”We had a short conversation about what we needed to do,” McGraw said about the locker room talk at intermission.Notre Dame returned to the court refocused. Batteast set the tone by giving the Irish a quick four buckets and the team steamrolled from there, leaving Rutgers in disbelief. The kind of overpowering Notre Dame exercised on Rutgers isn’t supposed to happen to a top-10 team. The Scarlet Knights are arguably the best team in the Big East and beat two top-5 teams within a week’s time this season. But that Rutgers team was nowhere to be found in the final 20 minutes Sunday. Batteast made sure of that.After frowning, yelling and glaring for the entire first half, McGraw had a big smile on her face during post-game television interviews. To her left was Batteast, matching that smile and enjoying another impressive Irish victory. A game that began so poorly for Notre Dame turned into its best win of the season. That’s something that rarely comes about. But so is Batteast – a complete player that has the ability and determination to single-handedly take control of a game. This season, she’s turned a very good Notre Dame team into a championship-caliber team. After Sunday, Rutgers knows this firsthand.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.Contact Joe Hettler at [email protected]