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ND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: 4-game streak on the line

Bill Brink | Friday, February 16, 2007

Although Tuesday’s performance at Villanova would indicate otherwise, Notre Dame has struggled on the road this season. But the Irish can reverse that trend Saturday when they travel to Providence.

The Irish (17-8, 8-4 Big East) are 4-7 on the road this season, including a three-game road losing streak between Jan. 23 and Jan. 31. They broke the streak against the Wildcats with a 75-58 victory Tuesday.

Providence (13-12, 3-9 Big East) has had success in its home gym this season, despite losing eight of their last nine games. Irish coach Muffet McGraw believes that the game will be tough, but that her team will be ready.

“This game is really important to us because they beat Louisville at home, and took Marquette to a two- or three-point game,” she said. “It’s going to be important for us to be focused on them.”

McGraw also stressed the difficulty of playing Providence, who is 8-5 at home, on its own floor.

“They’ve played a lot of teams close – at Providence,” she said. “They have a big home-court advantage, so we’re gonna be ready for them.”

Providence guard Chelsea Marandola averages 16.2 points per game on 43.8 percent three-point shooting. Marandola will be one of the toughest tests Notre Dame will face this season.

“They have really good guards,” McGraw said. “They’re very good at penetrating to the basket, and they have good shooters.”

The Irish are in good position to challenge Providence’s guard play behind the imposing play of guard Charel Allen, who has scored 25 points in her last two games and averaged 22.4 points in her last five. Allen leads the team with 17 points per game on the season and is sixth in the Big East in scoring.

“Offensively, she’s been playing really well,” McGraw said of Allen. “She’s been looking for her shot a little bit, and going with the flow of the offense. We’re really starting to peak right now. We’re playing well together, everyone’s doing what they can do.”

Right there with Allen is freshmen guard Ashley Barlow, who at 11 points per game is second on the team in scoring. Receiving a lot of playing time but not starting until recently, Barlow brings a good deal of skills to Notre Dame’s offense.

“What I’m looking for from her is to continue to rebound,” McGraw said. “She’s a really good offensive rebounder, that’s probably her strength. She does a lot of little things well.”

Role-player guard Breona Gray, who hit two of Notre Dame’s three 3-pointers against Villanova, rounds out the Irish backcourt.

“I think Breona Gray has made some big shots for us,” McGraw said. “We have a lot of weapons.”

Finishing the games may be a problem for Notre Dame. Against Villanova, the Wildcats brought the game to within three points in the second half. Providence is capable of similar production – against St. John’s Feb. 10, the Friars erased an 18-halftime deficit and won 93-77. Forward Catherine Bove, who is second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.1 points per game, scored 14 of her 17 points in the second half.

The team has been in those situations before, however, and McGraw cited execution as the difference-maker.

“It’s a game of runs. We’re gonna make runs, and then the other team’s gonna make a run, and we have to kind of withstand that,” McGraw said. “We have to be solid defensively and we have to work on our rebounding. Offensively, we have to continue to execute. We’ve had a lot of games where we’ve had leads, and a lot of games that have been close, and we’ve had a lot of poise and a lot of confidence.”

Although intensely focused on the game at hand, McGraw acknowledged the importance of the outcome in the future.

“It’s a great time for us,” she said. “And it’s a great time for our resume for the NCAA Tournament, because resumes are so important.”