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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish tip off season tonight

Bill Brink | Thursday, November 1, 2007

Notre Dame welcomes Southern Indiana to the Joyce Center tonight for its preseason opener, its first game since a second-round exit in the 2007 NCAA tournament.

The last contest, a 60-51 loss to No. 1 North Carolina that was closer than the score indicated, displayed the team’s ability to play with anyone when they chose to, a theme of the 2006-07 season.

The Irish put together winning streaks of four and six games last season, but also lost three straight on the road against Big East opponents and three straight to end the regular season. Their losses in the final game of the regular season and in the first round of the Big East tournament both came at the hands of DePaul.

Notre Dame finished 20-12 (10-6 Big East) last season, but the Irish had an impressive record at home. Notre Dame was 14-2 at the Joyce Center and won nine straight home games before losing to Rutgers on Feb. 24.

With a highly touted freshman class, a number of returning starters and junior guard Lindsay Schrader back after missing last season because of a torn ACL, the Irish have quite the array of weapons for 2007-08

The freshmen class, composed of forwards Becca Bruszewski and Devereaux Peters and guard Brittany Mallory, was ranked 11th in the nation by Blue Star Basketball. Notre Dame has now had a top-25 recruiting class for 11 consecutive seasons.

The team lost only two players to graduation, Crystal Erwin and Breona Gray. The pair averaged 12.2 points per game between them. Schrader, who averaged 10.5 points per game as a freshman, will contend for Gray’s spot.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw plans to use a four-guard offense this season, in part to improve the team’s perimeter defense. Opponents shot from the outside often and effectively against Notre Dame last season – teams made 40 percent or more of their three-point attempts 10 times last season.

“It fits our team. This is the offense for our team,” Schrader said at the Women’s Basketball Media Day on Oct. 10.

The Screaming Eagles finished last season with a 16-12 (10-9 Great Lakes Valley Conference) record and received votes in this year’s USA Today/ESPN Division II Top 25 Preseason Coaches Poll. Senior forward Jasmine Baines, who averaged 11 points per game last season, is the team’s top returning scorer. Tonight’s game will be the first preseason game for Southern Indiana as well.

Senior All-America guard Charel Allen was named as a preseason candidate for the John R. Wooden Women’s Award, given to the top player who best represents the term “student-athlete.” Allen led the Irish in scoring and rebounding (17 points per game, 6.2 rebounds) last season.

She is expected to be the leader of McGraw’s new four-guard offense and continue to put up big numbers for the Irish in her final season in South Bend.

The Irish were picked to finish fifth in the Big East by the conference’s coaches, behind Connecticut, Rutgers, West Virginia and Pittsburgh.

The Irish finished fifth in the conference last season after being picked to end their season in 11th place at the beginning of the 2006 campaign.

Tip-off is set for 7:00 tonight.