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ND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Defeating the Demons

Eric Retter | Wednesday, January 18, 2006

For No. 24 Notre Dame, defeating a top-10 ranked opponent is always a big win. When that victory comes after losing four out of five, it can be a momentous one.

The Irish found themselves in that position Tuesday night, topping No. 10 DePaul 78-75 in what could prove to be the watershed win of the season. The win over DePaul ended a rough stretch that included disappointing Big East losses to St. John’s, Louisville and Seton Hall, losses that dropped Notre Dame from No. 12 to No. 24 in the Associaed Press poll.

“I think everybody’s got to feel pretty confident after that game knowing we can beat a ranked team,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said.

The Irish at times still looked like they were struggling team. After center Melissa D’Amico’s layup gave Notre Dame a 39-33 lead early in the second half, DePaul went on a 4:28, 18-0 run to give the Blue Demons a 51-39 lead with 13:30 to play in the game.

“During that stretch we had just some communication breakdowns because we were switching defenses so much,” senior point guard Megan Duffy said.

The Blue Demon run was started and led by guard Jenna Rubino, who had the first nine points of the stretch, all of them from behind the arc.

Rabino’s standout performance was aided by Notre Dame’s commitment to stopping All-American center Khara Smith from dominating inside the post.

“We were trying to get someone down there so she couldn’t get the ball,” McGraw said. “We were trying to limit her touches.”

Ultimately, just as the Joyce Center crowd was on the verge of sighing a collective “here we go again,” Notre Dame regained the form it had displayed at times early in the game. With 13:06 left to play and the game quickly slipping away, guard Breona Gray hit a 3-pointer that ignited the Irish to their own 18-0 run, giving them a 57-51 lead with 6:46 to go.

“I wasn’t really sure if I was going take it or not, but I was wide open, so I thought, ‘Why not just take it?'” Gray said. “I’m used to shooting wide open shots.”

During the game-changing run, five different Notre Dame players scored, including freshman guard Lindsay Schrader, who finished with nine points despite coming off the bench backing up Charel Allen, which has been an unfamiliar role for her this season.

“It bothered me. I just wanted to prove to [McGraw] that I belonged in the starting line up,” Schrader said. “Charel’s an excellent player, you can’t doubt that. She deserves to be in the starting lineup right now.”

With 2:40 left in the game, DePaul was able to cut the Irish lead to 63-61 after forward Rachel Carney hit a 3-pointer, but the Blue Demons were never able to regain the lead. Down the stretch, Duffy took over in the clutch, scoring six points in the final 2:11, including going 4-4 from the free throw line with less than a minute left to help ice the Blue Demons. Overall, she finished with 23 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, the latter tying a career high set back in 2003 against Villanova.

In the end, McGraw somewhat sarcastically credited the Irish’s recent struggles for the comeback win.

“I don’t think [falling behind big] really bothered us because we’ve been here before,” she said. “I thought the preparation over the last couple weeks for that particular moment really helped us.”