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ND Women’s Basketball Commentary: Three game winning streak has Irish poised for postseason

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, February 13, 2007

On Jan. 31, the Irish season was on the verge of collapse. The team had lost three straight games to ranked opponents and was set to face a surging West Virginia team in the Joyce Center Feb. 4 in a game it had to win.

Notre Dame rose to the occasion.

The Irish won that game, and won again against No. 17/16 Louisville three days later. Those wins, coupled with another home win against DePaul Sunday night, have Notre Dame’s season back on track.

The Irish are tied for fifth in the Big East with Pittsburgh and South Florida at 7-4. But in the top-heavy conference, the Irish sit only a game behind the Cardinals, Marquette and Rutgers, all of which are in a three-way tie for second.

“That’s why every game is so important to keep our standing,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “And to be picked to finish eleventh and still have a chance at finishing second this late in the year I think talks about the resilience of this team.”

After its toughest stretch of the season Jan. 23-31 – when it played three ranked teams and got steamrolled by all of them – Notre Dame has a relatively easy schedule to finish out its regular season.

The Irish begin this stretch tonight against Big East-bottom feeder Villanova. The Wildcats are 1-10 in the conference and have not won a game since beating the Mountaineers 70-64 Jan. 6. Villanova has lost its last nine games by an average of 7.8 points to stay cement their place in the Big East basement.

After the Wildcats, the Irish will travel to Providence Saturday for a game against the ninth-place Friars. Providence ended its own seven-game losing streak Saturday with a 93-77 win at St. John’s for only its third Big East win this season.

Notre Dame will be playing some of the worst teams in the conference, but McGraw is not looking past either opponent.

“Now we’ve got to win some games on the road and it’s going to be a tough stretch for us,” McGraw said. “Villanova is always a tough game for us to play and is playing everybody close.”

Even with a strong season so far, the Irish still have some work to do to ensure a good seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

The most pressing issue for the Irish is to win their three remaining road games against Villanova, Providence and DePaul Feb. 26. Notre Dame is only 3-7 on the road, and none of its road wins are against a ranked team. The Irish will have to prove they can win away from the Joyce Center to impress the selection committee.

Notre Dame will also have to beat No. 23 Rutgers at home Feb. 24 to round out its home schedule. The Irish have seen success in the Joyce Center, including wins over Louisville, No. 18 Bowling Green and No. 16 Purdue, and their only loss came to Indiana Dec. 3.

But another big win over a ranked opponent would do nothing but help the Irish cause.

“It’s important to take care of your home court when the NCAA selection committee starts looking at where they’re going to seed us,” McGraw said. “It’s important to know that we’ve been able to do the job at home.”

With seven conference wins and a relatively easy remaining schedule in the Big East, the Irish are almost a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. But, if it can round out its schedule with three road wins and a win over another ranked team, Notre Dame could be seeded as high as seventh come March.

Not bad for a team originally projected to barely make the Big East tournament.

But before the Irish can realize any pipe dreams about the Tournament, they have to stay focused on the game at hand and take care of business tonight in Philadelphia.

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

Contact Jay Fitzpatrick at [email protected]