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Women’s Basketball: What break?

Bill Brink | Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Classes may be ending, but for Notre Dame, the work is not.

Valparaiso will come to South Bend to face the No. 17 Irish (8-1) Wednesday in Notre Dame’s last game before winter break. Notre Dame has six games over the holiday, including contests against Tennessee, Louisville and West Virginia after Christmas Day.

Notre Dame defeated Valparaiso by one point last season when then-senior guard Breona Gray hit a free throw to give the Irish the win with one second remaining.

“We’re definitely not taking them lightly,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said of the Crusaders.

Valparaiso has won its last three games. In each, guard Agnieszka Kulaga has led the team in scoring with 21, 18 and 25 points. Her season scoring average is also a team-best at 13.8 points per game.

“[The Crusaders are] just going to keep getting better as they go,” McGraw said. “Now they’re playing much better than they were at the beginning of the year.”

Valparaiso (3-5) presents a threat to Notre Dame’s low post play and also boasts a formidable perimeter game, McGraw said.

“They have more speed in the post,” McGraw said. “They have the ability to shoot the three. They’re smart, they run good stuff on offense. It’s a really tough matchup for us.”

But McGraw said freshman forward Devereaux Peters will give Valparaiso problems inside.

“She plays well in the center spot. She’s a tough matchup for them,” McGraw said. “She’s a shot blocker, she can rebound, she can do a lot of things.”

Peters and fellow freshman forward Becca Bruszewski have settled into their roles for the Irish. Peters started strong, but McGraw said she has recently improved her ability to stay focused after getting in foul trouble. Peters had two fouls in the first 15 minutes against Purdue Saturday, but McGraw said she retained her composure in the second half.

“I thought Saturday she did a great job in the second half,” McGraw said. “Normally she gets really down on herself when she gets a couple of fouls but I thought she really came out in the second half and played great, maybe her best game of the season.”

Bruszewski, McGraw said, settled into a groove after some offensive adjustments.

“She was still trying to find her place on the team in terms of her role and what was expected of her,” McGraw said.

Bruszewski made quicker progress on the defensive end of the floor, and McGraw said that enabled her to show coaches what she can do in game situations.

“In the Maryland game I felt like we needed defense, so it was a good opportunity for her to come in, and she played really well,” McGraw said. “So it was a confidence boost for her, but it also gave us a chance to see what she’s capable of doing.”

McGraw said she talked with Bruszewski about her shooting habits and told her to look for different types of shots than those of centers Melissa D’Amico and Erica Williamson.

“She started doing that in practice. She started getting different kinds of shots,” McGraw said. “I think she just needed to feel comfortable.”

After facing Valparaiso, the Irish are off until Dec. 21, when they play IUPUI on the road. Playing over the break, McGraw said, can help forge a better atmosphere for the players.

“I think it’s a little easier because there’s no school,” McGraw said. “There’s no studying, there’s no tests, so it’s all basketball. I think that’s a little more fun. They get to bond really well, so the chemistry’s always good.”

Notre Dame will play the Volunteers at home before traveling to face Louisville and West Virginia. McGraw’s philosophy is consistent no matter who the Irish face, she said.

“We tell them the same thing,” McGraw said of her message to the team.

Not only does her style stay constant, but she said the team, in effect, polices itself.

“This is a team that’s never satisfied when they come out of a game,” McGraw said. “The Bowling Green game, they were really disappointed with the way they played. It’s not enough for them just to win. They know they have to play better in order to get better. They’re pretty focused on one game.”