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ND Women’s Basketball: ‘Just stingy’

Bill Brink | Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Notre Dame has already faced three potential Final Four teams this season in No. 4 Maryland, No. 1 Connecticut and No. 3 Tennessee.

Tonight, they face a fourth.

The No. 14 Irish, who left for Piscataway, N.J., after practice Monday, will play a No. 5 Rutgers team that beat previously undefeated Connecticut on Feb. 5 and might have knocked off then-No. 1 Tennessee on Feb. 11 if not for a controversial clock malfunction.

Despite the difficult games earlier in the season, coach Muffet McGraw said this will be Notre Dame’s toughest yet.

“One, it’s on the road; and two, they’re, I think, a better team than Tennessee,” McGraw said.

McGraw said the key to success against the Scarlet Knights is simple.

“We have to shoot the ball well,” she said. “They’re just stingy, darn it, they really don’t like to give up a lot of points.

“We’ve got to take care of the ball, we’ve got to get good shots, and we’ve gotta make them. We have to shoot the ball well because we’re not going to get a lot of second-chance opportunities.”

The Scarlet Knights’ (20-4, 10-1 Big East) offense, which McGraw said is “slower than you’d guess,” is second-to-last in the conference and averages only 61.1 points per game. They make up for it with their defense, however – ranking No. 2 in the Big East in scoring defense with 51.1 points allowed per game.

Despite its low scoring totals, Rutgers has offensive firepower at the guard position. Sportswriters recently voted senior Matee Ajavon, who scores 12.5 points per game, a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the nation’s top point guard. Sophomore Epiphanny Prince leads the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game.

“I think Matee is just sensational. She’s going to be a first-round draft pick,” McGraw said. “And Epiphanny Prince is having an incredible year. If she hadn’t been in foul trouble that first half of the Tennessee game, that would have been a whole different game.”

Rutgers will challenge Notre Dame (20-5, 8-3) in an area the Irish usually dominate – bench performance. In a 71-50 defeat of South Florida Saturday, the Scarlet Knights’ reserves outscored the Bulls’ bench 31-3. No opposing bench has outscored Notre Dame’s bench this season, and McGraw said she expects the back-ups to be strong again tonight.

“Our bench has done a great job all year,” she said. “And that’s been our strength, so we’re really counting on our bench to step up in this game.”

The reserves proved crucial in Notre Dame’s 79-67 win over Syracuse Saturday. Sophomore guard Melissa Lechlitner came off the bench and hit two shots in succession in the final three minutes to help the Irish break a 64-64 tie and pull away for the win.

“Those two field goals she had [were] really, really big, and I thought [freshman forward] Becca [Bruszewski] had a couple of big ones too, and [freshman guard] Brittany [Mallory] in the first half,” McGraw said. “I think the bench is really doing their job.”

McGraw sounded pleased both with her team’s performance during its five-game win streak and with the opportunity to play another top-five team.

“We’re playing with a lot of confidence, and we have absolutely nothing to lose,” she said. “We’re going into this game as an underdog. We can just play hard and see what happens.”

Although she didn’t discuss the issue at length with her team, McGraw said the players felt the same way.

“I think they’re thinking the same thing,” she said. “We’re the underdog, they’re a great team. I think we know how good they are, we certainly respect their talent, but we also feel like we’ve had a chance to play some other Final Four teams, so we’re not going to be intimidated.”


u McGraw said senior guard Tulyah Gaines is probable for tonight’s game after injuring her left shoulder against Syracuse.

“We’ll have to see how she gets through practice [Monday],” McGraw said.