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Irish hold on to win after squandering early lead

Joe Meixell | Monday, November 20, 2006

After letting Western Michigan climb back from a 10-point deficit, Notre Dame pulled ahead 53-51 after two free throws from center Mellisa D’Amico with 14 minutes to play in the game – a lead they would not relinquish in its 87-67 win Sunday.

The Irish would go on to shut down the Broncos offense, allowing no field goals in the next seven minutes while scoring 18 of the next 22 points.

Guard Breonna Gray set the tone for the Irish run with a three pointer at 13:38 after a kickout from junior point guard Tulyah Gaines set up an open look at the basket.

The Broncos tried to climb back in the game with back-to-back buckets by Sara Vest and Nicole Watkins, but freshman guard Ashley Barlow nailed a three from the left-side of the arch at the baseline. Barlow had found her sweet spot with her first three, as she sank another shot from the same spot beyond the arch to put the lead back to 16 points.

“I was just wide open, so I figured I’d shoot them,” said Barlow, who finished the game 3-of-4 from three-point range. “Nobody was coming at me so I just worked on taking my time and getting the shot. We worked on that before the game.”

One main reason for the big win for Notre Dame was its ability to contain Broncos guard Carrie Moore. Moore was able to put up 18 points on the Irish on 5-of-11 shooting, but this was still a far cry from her average of 32.3 points per game – including a 41-point performance Friday night against Detroit.

“I was really pleased with our defense on Moore,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “She’s a big east caliber player, just an outstanding offensive talent and I think we did a great job on her and kind of wore her down a little bit.”

In charge of guarding Moore was Gray -McGraw’s go-to player for guarding top scorers.

“I take pride in my defense and I’m willing to do anything to get the win for our team,” Gray said. “Coming out and shutting down their best player – that’s my job to do in order to get a win for us.”

The Irish were without freshman center Erica Williamson as a strong post player off the bench, forcing starters D’Amico and forward Crystal Erwin to step up and dominate in the post. Erwin and D’Amico answered the call for the Irish, putting up 14 and 16 points each while dominating in the paint against the shorter Broncos players.

“I thought that [Mellisa D’Amico] played a great game overall – start to finish,” McGraw said. “She was a big presence in the lane offensively and defensively.”

Joining Erwin and D’Amico for the Irish as double-digit scorers were Gray (10), guard Charel Allen (12) and Barlow (17).

The Irish were also able to work the ball against the Western Michigan defense, setting up their offense effectively enough to register 27 assists on 31 made field goals – their highest assist total since Nov. 12, 2004, against Illinois State in the Preseason WNIT. Leading Notre Dame in assists was Gaines, who dished out a career-best nine in the win.

The 20-point win came on the heels of a 75-49 drubbing at the hands of Penn State Thursday. For McGraw, this win and the practices leading up to it were important in building the character of her team.

“We had a really good practice the day after and that’s really for me the indicator after a loss,” she said. “We had two good days of practice, we knew what we had to do, we knew what we did wrong and we’re working to fix it.”