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Women’s Basketball: Duffy takes on role of passer, scorer, leader

Ken Fowler | Friday, March 3, 2006

Megan Duffy has had people in her face all year.

“I’ve been faced, I feel like, with every kind of defense,” Duffy said. “They’ve put players that are taller than me, like 6-foot athletic players and scrappy players. There’s been box-and-one’s, and most game’s my defender never leaves me.”

The senior preseason All-American entered the 2005-06 campaign with a reputation as the nation’s top pure point guard, but her team this season was different than the Irish squads she had led from the point in the past. So her role changed. And opposing teams had to adjust.

“I’ve always been a point guard,” Duffy said. “I get my kicks out of setting people up and seeing them score.”

Playing with standout forward Jacqueline Batteast last season, Duffy’s 178 assists were the third most by a junior in team history. But a year later, Batteast is gone and the product of Chaminade-Julienne H.S. in Dayton, Ohio, has evolved into Notre Dame’s top scoring weapon on offense.

“I think the entire season coming in, I realized I had to be a scorer from the point guard position, which is a little different for me,” Duffy said. “Normally, your first role as a point guard is to set everybody up, and I still have to keep that in my mind.”

Duffy enters this weekend’s Big East Tournament as the conference’s eighth leading scorer, averaging 15.5 points per game. Her assist totals have fallen from 5.39 per game as a junior to 4.25 this season, but her scoring is up from 12.3 points per game.

“My assists have down this year, but I kind of knew that coming into this year,” Duffy said. “I can’t get too bogged down with that or frustrated with it.”

After scoring 11 points in Notre Dame’s 72-65 Senior Night victory over Pittsburgh Tuesday, Duffy extended her double-digit scoring streak to 12 games, the longest such mark of her career. Notre Dame was just 1-3 in the Big East and losers of three of four when the streak began. Now, the Irish have won three consecutive crucial games – scoring 70 or more points in each game – to greatly improve their NCAA Tournament chances.

“It was definitely a little different being in that position, but I think I’ve had to have that [scoring] mentality all year,” she said. “Sometimes it has to be a little stronger when we’re struggling to score.”

Notre Dame has struggled mightily at times in a wildly inconsistent season, but head coach Muffet McGraw said there is always one constant on the team.

“We definitely have gotten to that point where you just want to give up, and we’ve battled through that,” McGraw said. “I think that’s a real testament to Megan Duffy and the character that she brings to the team. She never quits, and the team just really feeds off her.”

The team fed off Duffy Tuesday when the 5-foot-7 senior laid a hard foul on 6-foot-3 Panthers center Marcedes Walker on a collision that forced Walker to take a breather and turned the emotional tide of the game. The team fed off Duffy Feb. 22 when she hit 5-of-9 from 3-point range in a 22-point performance. And the team fed off her Feb. 25 when Duffy iced a win the Irish desperately needed in Cincinnati.

“I feel like the first half of games, sometimes I find myself being a little too passive out there,” Duffy said. “Once the second half comes – and overtime – I’ve got to be able to step up my game. Whether it’s knocking down free throws or getting some good shots for the team.”

That she has done, and that she has taught her team.

“That’s one thing I know about this team – we’re going to keep fighting,” Duffy said.

During Notre Dame’s 75-66 overtime victory over the Bearcats, Duffy coolly sank 8-of-8 from the free throw line in the extra session and finished with 10 points in the five extra minutes.

The ice in her veins is so evident that Pittsburgh head coach Agnus Berenato refused to foul Duffy with 22 seconds remaining three days later because she thought it would be an exercise in futility.

“Why foul?” Berenato asked. “Megan makes her free throws. Why, when we played so hard for 40 minutes, let her get two more points?”

It’s just that simple when Duffy’s at the line late in the game – opposing coaches don’t even hope the 89-percent free-throw shooter will miss.

McGraw said Duffy knows she can make the big shots and her example is the best thing for a young, struggling team like this year’s Irish squad.

“It’s been challenging for the players to really keep themselves up,” the coach said. “I think that’s where we really feed off Megan because she never loses her confidence.”

And that’s no matter how hard other teams try to break her poise.

Duffy said the toughest part about scoring is the bulls-eye that rests on her jersey. After the Pittsburgh game, Berenato said the Panthers’ main goal in the contest was to keep Duffy below her scoring average.

But now it’s not just opposing teams keeping a close eye on Duffy – WNBA teams are scouting her as a first-round pick for the 2006 draft. During the Big East television broadcast of Notre Dame’s win over Cincinnati, former Connecticut and New York Liberty star Rebecca Lobo said she expected Duffy to be a top-10 pick.

“She’s got all the skills … to lead a team,” Lobo said.

Duffy said she has tried to suppress all thoughts about a future in the WNBA for now.

“The past two years, I’ve realized that it’s a dream of mine and a goal of mine to play professional basketball,” she said. “It’s one of those things that you keep in the back of your mind. My senior year has kind of been a job interview for these four, five, six months. I can’t be absorbed in it too much because that’s when you start playing poor and mentally get out of it.”

Duffy said while she is looking forward to a possible career in the WNBA, she is also trying to enjoy her experience at Notre Dame and as a co-captain of the team with fellow senior, forward Courtney LaVere.

“It’s been a tremendous four years for me,” she said in the press conference after Notre Dame’s win on Senior Night. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Playing for Coach McGraw, and with my teammates and with my sidekick here, Courtney, it’s been a lot of fun.”

Duffy ended Senior Night with the ball in her hands as Berenato’s Panthers moved back and allowed her to cross halfcourt.

“I was lucky to have my hands on the ball the last few seconds,” Duffy said. “It’s a good way to go out.”