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Women’s Basketball: Not sure which Irish team will show up

Eric Retter | Friday, March 3, 2006

Who’s going to show up?

That’s the biggest question for the Irish this weekend as they head to Hartford for the Big East tournament.

Over the course of the season, No. 10-seeded Notre Dame has proven it can hang with anyone, that it can play good teams and that it can erase deficits.

This is the team that came back from 15 down to beat Pittsburgh Tuesday. This is the team that overcame a 12-point deficit to beat DePaul 78-75 on Jan. 17, This is the team that erased a 21-point deficit against Villanova Feb. 7 before falling 69-65 in overtime.

When they want to, they can play with anybody.

However, the Irish (17-10, 8-8) have had seven of their 10 losses come by 10 points or more, including a 29-point drubbing at the hands of the DePaul Blue Demons and an embarrassing 74-61 loss to Seton Hall, a team that finished with three wins in the Big East.

Because of this, it’s no surprise that Irish coach Muffet McGraw described her team as “frustrating to watch” after Notre Dame lost a heartbreaker to South Florida – its opponent in Saturday’s first round – squandering a 15-point second-half rally and losing 69-65 in overtime Jan. 28.

For much of their season, it has seemed at times that two Irish teams have played every game: a first-half team that digs itself a big hole and a second half one that desperately fights out of them.

At halftime of Tuesday’s game, when the Irish were down by 10, senior point guard Megan Duffy gave the team her final regular season halftime talk.

“We looked flat out there. I didn’t think we were working hard enough,” Duffy said. “Nothing that I don’t normally say.”

As has become the pattern, second-half Notre Dame sent the game to overtime and eventually won 72-65.

Heading into the Big East tournament, where the Irish desperately need a strong showing to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, Notre Dame needs to break out of the pattern that has become too common this season.

Yes, the Irish have heart, and have shown it in their numerous comebacks from big-time deficits. In do-or-die games – the only type of games that Notre Dame will play from here on out – this coolness under pressure will be a very valuable asset.

At the same time, the Irish are only coming back from big deficits because they continuously find themselves in them, and they have trailed by at least 10 in 12 games this season.

Much of this relates back to the on-court inconsistency Notre Dame has showed throughout the season. Though the team has become more consistent in recent games, many of their games have been marred by long scoring droughts and offensive struggles.

While improving the offensive consistency has been one of McGraw’s focus points in practice all season, the team has continued to be a streaky squad.

“If I knew how to explain it, we would have a better record than what we have now,” sophomore guard Charel Allen said.

Over the course of the season, the Big East has proven that, top to bottom, it is one of the most competitive conferences in college basketball. During the regular season, the Irish generally played the nine teams ranked ahead of them closely, beating three – Marquette, DePaul, and Pittsburgh – and losing to two more – South Florida and Villanova, in overtime.

When the tournament starts Saturday, Notre Dame has the opportunity to reverse many of their close losses, beginning with South Florida.

However, to make any kind of postseason run, the Irish will need more than the standard halftime speech to get them out of a funk. If they start the game off flat, they run a good chance of being on a westbound plane Saturday night.

In the history of conference 10-seeds, the Irish might prove to be one of the better ones, and the team has a chance to make noise this weekend.

For that to happen though, they need to avoid the droughts and deficits that have plagued the starts of many of their games.

From now on, second-half Notre Dame will need to pull a double shift.

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

Contact Eric Retter at [email protected]