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ND Women’s Basketball: Schedule lightens with 1-7 Bearcats

Bill Brink | Friday, February 1, 2008

Since losing two straight and four of nine overall after Jan. 5, the Irish are finally getting a break.

They travel to Cincinnati to face the Bearcats Saturday at 3 p.m., three days after handily defeating Providence at home. The Bearcats are 10-10 overall, but have struggled with conference opponents – they are 1-7 in Big East play and, after beating Georgetown on Jan. 8, have lost six straight to conference teams.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said every road game would be a “great test” for Notre Dame, which will play three road games in a row later this month.

Regardless of the opponent, McGraw feels the team has work to do.

“We just have to get sharper,” she said. “I feel like we’ve lost a little bit of our execution.”

The Irish aren’t too far from where they need to be. They are 16-5 (4-3 Big East) and recently beat Providence by 17 points. However, consecutive losses to DePaul and No. 1 Connecticut highlighted faults in the Irish defense. McGraw said improvements on defense come from variation.

“We try to mix things up a little bit,” she said. “One thing I’ve realized, finally, is that we can’t play man to man for 40 minutes. We can’t play any one thing for 40 minutes. We have to constantly mix up the defenses.”

Against the Friars, Notre Dame used man-to-man defense along with different variations of zone. In combination with the blanketing full-court press the Irish employed to slow Providence’s advance up the court, the Irish defense held the Friars to just 19 points in the first half.

“Eventually teams figure it out when you do the same thing over and over again, and I think teams have figured out our half-court press,” McGraw said. “So we’re throwing some man to man, we changed the look of the press.”

The Bearcats present a new challenge to the troubled Notre Dame perimeter defense.

“The biggest thing we’re worried about is that they all shoot threes,” McGraw said. “We gotta get out and guard the three-point line, as we talk about every game is something we need to work on. But now the post players are shooting threes.

“We’ve had a few games where we didn’t have to worry about the post players stepping out to shoot it, but now we’re back to back to having [sophomore center] Erica [Williamson] run around on the three-point line and that’s always a problem.”

The Bearcats are without junior guard/forward Shelley Bellman, who will miss the entire season because of a leg injury.

“You have to kind of rework your own game plan when you lose your best player,” McGraw said. “Going right up into the first game, now you have to change your whole plan of attack. And it’s an opportunity for other people to step up.”

Sophomore guard Kahla Roudebush leads the Bearcats in scoring, dropping 15.1 points per game. Junior forward Jill Stevens isn’t far behind with 13.5 points and 9.5 boards per game. Stevens shoots 41.5 percent from three-point range. The Bearcats as a team rank second in the conference in free throw percentage, shooting 74.8 percent from the foul line.

Notre Dame ranks third the Big East in scoring offense with 79 points per game and second in field goal percentage at 46.2 percent. Freshman forward Devereaux Peters is second in the Big East in shots blocked, averaging 2.05 per game.

McGraw said she would like to use a smaller lineup against Cincinnati, but was afraid that the defense would give up points in the block because the Bearcats have two 6-foot-3 players (Natasha Graboski and Jill Stephens).

“[Peters] can handle one of them, but that’s the question, will that give us a disadvantage at some point on the block,” McGraw said.