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ND Women’s Basketball: ND can’t sustain rally attempt, falls 76-60 to Rutgers

Jay Fitzpatrick | Monday, February 26, 2007

After the Irish cut Rutgers’ lead to 52-46 with eight minutes remaining at the Joyce Center Saturday, Scarlet Knights guard Matee Ajavon took over.

Ajavon scored six straight points to extend the lead to 12 points, and eventually scored 15 straight points for the Scarlet Knights, putting the game well out of reach for Notre Dame as the Irish fell 76-60.

“There were several patterns that we called that isolated her or she knew that she knew she should be isolated because she saw the advantage,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said.

Ajavon finished the game with 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. She was also one of four Rutgers starters to end the game in double figures, joined by forward Essence Carson (17 points), guard Epiphanny Prince (10) and center Kia Vaughn (13), who added a game-high 10 rebounds for the game’s only double-double.

In Ajavons’ second half stretch, the Irish were confounded by offensive stagnation as they struggled to find open looks. Rutgers’ tough defense forced Notre Dame to commit 16 turnovers – leading to 21 points – including back-to-back possessions where an Ajavon steal led to an easy layup.

“I think they’re the best defensive team we’ve seen. They’re active, they’re athletic, we couldn’t get by anybody,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well, and I think 95 percent of that was because they were really on us.”

The Irish were also hindered by their inability to defend the 3-point line, something McGraw said has been a consistent problem this season. The Scarlet Knights shot 54 percent from 3-point range, and used the long-range shots to quell hope for an Irish comeback.

“We got beat just one-on-one in the zone; it wasn’t really the zone that beat us,” McGraw said. “That’s the best team of three-point shooters they’ve had in a long time.”

Irish guard Charel Allen tried to will her team back in the second half, finishing with a team-high 20 points, but too many missed shots (7-of-18 from the floor) gave the ball back to Rutgers too often.

“We’d get a steal or a miss or get a stop and we’d come down and weren’t able to convert. That kind of took the wind out of our sails,” McGraw said

As a whole, the team shot only 43 percent from the floor, including 4-of-14 from three-point range.

Notre Dame held close in the first half, but Rutgers pulled away quickly in the second stanza, using missed Irish shots and threes of their own to pull ahead, leading by eight 5:34 into the second.

The Irish finish off the regular season at DePaul tonight at 8 in Notre Dame’s only repeat matchup this season. The Irish won the previous game 78-70 in the Joyce Center behind Allen’s 25 points and 13 rebounds.

With a win over the Blue Demons, Notre Dame would effectively clinch a first-round bye in the Big East tournament – a goal for the Irish ever since preseason predictions had them finishing 11th.

Since the last game, DePaul has stayed in the bottom half of the Big East, but at 10th remains solidly locked into the tournament this weekend. DePaul has won two of its last three, falling only to Pittsburgh on the road 87-80 Saturday.

“We’ve got a tough job to go to DePaul on Monday because we had a good game with them here so we’ve got to focus on that and get ready for the Big East tournament and see if some other teams can help us out by beating some teams they weren’t supposed to,” McGraw said.