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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish look to beat WVU, end losing streak

Joe Meixell | Friday, February 2, 2007

Notre Dame is hoping to end its current three-game skid, but may have to wait as they face off against a surging West Virginia squad Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at the JACC.

The Irish (13-8, 4-4 Big East) are returning home after a three-game road trip in which the team failed to win a game. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers (15-7, 6-3 Big East) have taken a different route, winning seven straight and eight of their last ten games.

“They’re playing really well right now; they’re in fourth or fifth place in the Big East,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “So it’s kind of a tough game to be coming off a three-game losing streak to face.”

In the Irish’s last game out against Pittsburgh, they failed to put two strong halves together and were outscored 45-34 in the second half en route to a 71-62 loss. One of the main factors in the team’s losses over the road trip according to McGraw was the team’s dependence on guard Charel Allen.

“We need to get a little more from everyone. I think that we’re relying on Charel Allen a little bit too much,” she said.

Overall, Allen is the Irish’s leading scorer at 15.7 points per game and is second on the team with 6.3 rebounds per game. But over the recent road trip, Allen only shot 15-of-55 for 10.6 points per game. McGraw believes that one of her team’s problems during the losing streak has been that no one other than Allen has been able to pick up the slack if she is shut down offensively.

“I think everybody needs to take a little more aggressive approach to the offense and look to score some points,” she said. “And I think everybody needs to rebound a little bit more. I think individually we just need to step up a little bit.”

While Notre Dame’s offense will try to reload, its defense will be tested once again by West Virginia’s strong combination of post play and three-point shooting.

Inside for the Mountaineers, junior center Olayinka Sanni has been a dominant presence averaging 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. West Virginia is also not afraid to launch shots from long distance with two players – guards LaQuita Owens and Sparkle Davis – who have each attempted over 100 three-pointers. In comparison, the Irish on the season have attempted only 204 shots from beyond the arc.

Another crucial factor in the Mountaineers’ success is their familiarity with each other. On West Virginia’s roster, there are three seniors and six juniors compared with only two freshmen.

“And you remember last year, it was the same team that got to the Big East final and they’re on a seven-game winning streak, so they’re on a roll,” McGraw said.

One of the key factors for the Irish in defending against the Mountaineers will again be the play of Notre Dame’s freshmen trio of guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner and center Erica Williamson.

“They’re outscoring most of the teams we’ve played,” McGraw said. “When all of them are freshmen you expect a little inconsistency and certainly we’ve had that. But overall I’m really pleased.”

Against the Panthers, Williamson was one of the few bright spots for the Irish, notching 10 points and eight boards in the loss.

“I think Erica Williamson in particularly lately has really, really stepped up her game. She’s given us great production of the bench both rebounding, scoring and defense,” McGraw said.

Barlow and Lechlitner have been effective in some games this season, McGraw added, but their inconsistency off the bench has hurt the Irish in some games.

“I’m looking for Melissa Lechlitner to continue to shoot the ball and be aggressive attacking. And Ashley Barlow, same thing,” she said. “I think all three of them – they need to take more active roles and not sit back and wait for the upperclassmen to take over.”