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ND Women’s Basketball: Orange crushed

Bill Brink | Monday, February 18, 2008

It just hadn’t been Melissa Lechlitner’s night.

The sophomore guard was 0-for-5 from the floor, and her only two points came on free throws. But moments after coming off the bench late in the second half, two quick jump shots salvaged her game.

Lechlitner hit a jumper with 2:52 remaining and another with 2:17 left to spark No. 16 Notre Dame’s offense on a 15-3 run en route to a 79-67 win over No. 21 Syracuse Saturday at the Carrier Dome.

The Irish hit 11 foul shots in the final 1:20 to widen the gap.

Notre Dame improved to 20-5 (8-3 Big East) on the season and passed the Orange (19-5, 7-4) to move into fourth place in the conference.

Notre Dame has won at least 20 games in 14 of the past 15 seasons, and in 18 of Muffet McGraw’s 21 seasons as head coach.

“I think it’s great for this group that we got [20 wins] early,” McGraw said. “We’ve always used that as a barometer for getting into the NCAA Tournament.”

The Irish took over in the paint on both ends of the floor and had 14 more rebounds than the Orange – who have averaged an advantage of 9.5 boards per game this season. They kept their rebounding totals balanced as well – they had 20 on offense and 25 on defense.

“That was critical,” McGraw said. “We really needed that, especially at the end after being tied, we had a couple of great stops. We did some nice things on the boards.”

Charel Allen led the Irish with 22 points and 12 rebounds. It was the first time an Irish player had had at least 20 points and 10 rebounds since Allen did it last season, on Feb. 11 against DePaul.

“This was the best game of her Big East season,” McGraw said. “She was aggressive, she was looking for her shot, and she took care of the ball. She was wire to wire the best player on the floor.”

Sophomore center Erica Williamson hit eight of her 12 free throws and had 14 points and 11 rebounds. Notre Dame hadn’t had two players manage double-doubles since Jan. 26, 2005, against St. John’s.

Junior guard Lindsay Schrader had 12 points, and freshman guard Brittany Mallory hit three 3-pointers for nine points.

“[Mallory’s] been shooting the ball well lately at practice,” McGraw said.

Freshman guard Erica Morrow led the Orange, hitting all nine of her foul shots and scoring 19 points. Sophomore forward Nicole Michael scored 14 points, and senior center Vaida Sipaviciute added 12.

McGraw said Morrow hurt the Irish early, but switching to the box-and-one style of defense limited Morrow’s effectiveness.

Notre Dame had previously used a box-and-one against Marquette to shut down Golden Eagles guard Krystal Ellis.

Notre Dame led 58-51 with 8:50 remaining but committed three turnovers and allowed Syracuse to come back. The Orange went on a 10-3 run and made the score 61-60 with 5:13 left in the game.

Mallory’s 3-pointer with 2:12 left in the half put the Irish up 28-21, but four free throws and a layup from Michael again closed the gap to one point.

Senior guard Tulyah Gaines had eight assists – four more than her season average – and two steals in the game.

McGraw said despite reaching the 20-win mark, she and her team aren’t caught up in records or rankings.

“We’re playing really good basketball right now,” she said. “We’re not thinking about numbers.”