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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish lose twice to ranked teams

Bill Brink | Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Irish won four of their six games over the break, but their perimeter defense haunted them once again.

No. 17 Notre Dame lost both games played against ranked teams – at home against No. 2 Tennessee 87-63 on Jan. 5 and at No. 14 West Virginia 56-50 Sunday. The Irish (13-3, 1-1 Big East) allowed 11 three-pointers against Tennessee, their highest since they allowed 12 to Maryland on Nov. 16.

Tennessee guard Angie Bjorklund destroyed the Irish defense, hitting 7-of-9 on 3-point attempts. Irish coach Muffet McGraw called her team’s performance a “total breakdown of the defense.”

Volunteers forward Candace Parker added 20 points and eight rebounds. McGraw said the team may have focused its defense too much on Parker, something it did not intend to do.

“We really weren’t planning on trying to shut Parker down,” McGraw said. “We were going to double team her if she got the ball. We kind of triple-teamed her sometimes, and double-teamed her when she didn’t have the ball. We really didn’t do what we wanted to do.”

Notre Dame opened conference play with an 82-74 win over Louisville on Jan. 8. Irish guard Charel Allen scored 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds, her best performance of the year. The teams were tied at the half, but a 10-2 Irish run in the second half helped Notre Dame pull away. Freshman forward Devereaux Peters earned her first start in the game.

Notre Dame ranks third in the Big East in scoring, but against West Virginia it forgot why and how. The Irish shot 17.9 percent from the field in the first half and scored only 11 points at the break.

“I kept looking out there going, ‘What can I do?’,” McGraw said.

The Irish found their way in the second half and worked their way back into the game. Notre Dame trailed by three with 1:22 remaining, but the Mountaineers made a field goal and eight foul shots that put the game out of reach. Notre Dame’s 11 first-half points was a school-record low.

“I felt we played individually instead of as a team,” McGraw said. “They needed to work together a little bit more, and that’s why I felt there was a big change in the second half because we did work together a lot more.”

Freshman guard Brittany Mallory hit a season-high three 3-point shots in the game. The Irish recruited Mallory for her long-range abilities, and McGraw said she likes Mallory on the perimeter.

“We need a 3-point threat, and I think she has to be that threat for us,” McGraw said.

The Irish also defeated IUPUI, St. Francis and Richmond during the break.

Notre Dame continues conference play against Villanova tonight at 7 in the Joyce Center. The Wildcats (11-5, 1-2 Big East) defeated Georgetown on Saturday 57-51 at home, after dropping two of three.

Villanova, McGraw said, plays a five-guard system, similar to Notre Dame’s four-guard style. The system is especially taxing on the larger Irish team, McGraw said.

“They have a lot of motion in their offense, so it’s very difficult and they’re very, very, very smart,” McGraw said. “They read the defense well, and they look at every opportunity to get an open shot. It makes it really hard defensively for our big guys, especially, to guard them.”

Notre Dame may play five guards to counter the offense, an option McGraw said the team did last year and something she referred to as Plan B.

The Wildcats have three players – forwards Stacie Witman and Laura Kurz and forward/center Lisa Karcic – who average in double figures. The trio has scored 98 of the Wildcats’ 106 points in the past two games and scored Villanova’s only points in its 51-49 loss to Seton Hall on Jan. 8.

McGraw said Peters will come off the bench against Villanova despite earning a starting nod against Louisville.

“She does great things when she’s in there,” McGraw said. “Maybe with this game in particular she can watch a little bit more, and see what she can see from the bench.”