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ND hopes to get first road win

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, December 1, 2006

After going 0-2 with 53.5 points per game in their first two road games this season, Notre Dame is ready to turn this trend around tonight at Michigan.

The Irish (4-2) are coming off a big win against Richmond Tuesday night, while the Wolverines (5-2) look much improved after winning only four games all of last season.

“They’re off to their best start in a long time,” McGraw said. “They’ve got a new sixth player – [freshman center Krista] Phillips – who’s really changing the game for them.”

In fact, Phillips has been able to take over games despite only starting four of the Wolverines seven games this season. She is second on the team in both points per game (8.9) and rebounds per game (5.4).

“[Phillips has] done a lot of good things. She’s definitely somebody who’s going to be a force for us just because of her size [6’6″],” McGraw said.

But Philips is not the only Wolverines freshman making an impact this season. Freshman starting guard LeQuisha Whitfield has started all seven games for Michigan this season, averaging 9.4 points per game in 19.3 minutes.

Even with these two freshmen, the Wolverines have a veteran heavy lineup that returns all five starters from last season as well as 10 letter winners. But McGraw feels that Notre Dame’s combination of veterans and freshmen will also be effective in Ann Arbor.

We’ve got some veterans and we certainly start a veteran lineup but our freshmen play so many minutes,” she said. Their contribution has been tremendous, and we do get a little bit younger when we sub.”

But this youth will definitely play a factor in the Irish bid for their first win away from the Joyce Center.

“That’s our youth showing again I think. We’re working on it,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw of her team’s road woes this season. “We’re looking to see what kind of things we can change up on gameday, maybe getting on a bus will be getting a little different than getting on a plane.”

One of the things McGraw has stressed this season has been her team’s rebounding. Notre Dame has struggled at times on the boards and despite four big home wins, the team has been unable to box out opponents effectively. The Irish have been outrebounded 36.3-37 against consistently smaller opposition.

“We’re really concentrating on rebounding where every drill we’re talking about rebounding, seeing if we can improve individually,” McGraw said. “We’re watching a lot of film to stress how we’ve got to box out a little bit better an I think we’re doing it.”

Even though the Irish have had trouble getting the ball off the glass, they have been able to put it in the hoop in their four wins this season. The team has outscored opponents 86.8-70, giving up less than 70 points to every opponent but one.

The game against Michigan is the first of a three-game stretch against Big Ten opponents for the Irish, who will follow the Wolverines with home games against in-state rivals Indiana and Purdue on Sunday and Wednesday of next week. Despite these two big games next week, McGraw and her team remain focused on the task at hand – Michigan.