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ND Women’s Basketball: Notre Dame seeks first road win against Southern Cal

Jay Fitzpatrick | Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Notre Dame looks to win its first road game of the season Friday when it travels to Los Angeles to face USC.

The Irish are coming off a big win Sunday when they beat Western Michigan 87-67 behind an efficient offense led by point guard Tulyah Gaines. Gaines dropped eight points in the win while leading the Irish with nine assists, giving her 17 on the year.

But Gaines is not the only giver on the Irish squad this season. Freshman guard Melissa Lechlitner has come off the bench to distribute 12 assists while senior guard Breona Gray has seven.

“We’re looking for each other. We’re making the extra pass,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We’re doing a lot of good things offensively – we’re scoring a lot of points.”

The Irish offense has been running on all cylinders this season, averaging 77 points per game, including a 49-point performance against Penn State Nov. 16. In each of Notre Dame’s three wins this season, it has scored more than 80 points. The Irish are also shooting .432 from the floor, compared to .426 for their opponents.

Despite the offensive efficiency, McGraw still thinks her defense needs work.

“We need to make a big improvement on defense and rebounding. They’re our two big problems right now,” McGraw said. “We need to hold them to fewer points, and then we need to do a better job on the boards.”

So far this season, Notre Dame has out-rebounded its opponents by only eight boards (145-137) while allowing opponents to effectively shoot the three at 41.5 percent.

One reason McGraw is concerned about her defense is because of the abilities of Trojans guard Eshaya Murphy and center Chloe Kerr. Murphy enters the game against the Irish averaging a double-double, putting up 21 points and 10.7 rebounds in three. Kerr has also been a strong force in the paint for the Trojans, averaging 16.7 points and 8.7 rebounds.

“Kerr is somebody we have to really worry about because she’s agile, she can shoot the three point, [jump shots] and [inside shots],” McGraw said. “So it’s going to be a really tough assignment defensively.”

This assignment could become even more difficult with the knee injury to center Erica Williamson. After playing strong in Notre Dame’s first two games, the freshman went down with an injury that forced her to sit out the game against Western Michigan. McGraw said that Williamson did practice on Monday and will continue to practice throughout the week, but her status for Friday’s game is still uncertain. Losing Williamson would force junior center Melissa D’Amico into more action, while also giving the Irish only one true center to match up against the versatile Kerr.

Although one of McGraw’s three top freshmen went down, she still has her other two top substitutes ready to play the Trojans – guards Lechlitner and Ashley Barlow. Both have made critical contributions coming off the bench this season, with Barlow averaging 11.3 points per game – third best on the team – while Lechlitner has been able to run the point effectively to spell Gaines.

“They’re just doing a great job in all ways. They’ve really assimilated all the information quickly. They’ve learned their spots,” McGraw said of her two freshman guards. “I think at this point after four games they’ve proved they belong in the mix in the top eight, and they really have made some big contributions for us.”

Overall, Gaines is confident in her team’s ability to take its first road win Friday.

“We practice [defending] every day, and we’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do on the court,” she said. “so I think we’ll be alright.”