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Women’s Basketball: Irish take down No. 15 Pitt

Deirdre Krasula | Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Barely five minutes into the second half, Notre Dame guard Tulyah Gaines grabbed a defensive rebound and sent forward Devereaux Peters down the lane.

Peters converted the pass into a layup – and a foul – to give the No. 16 Irish their first double-digit lead over No. 15 Pittsburgh at 45-35.

Notre Dame (18-5, 6-3 Big East) cruised the rest of the way and came away with an 81-66 decision Sunday at the Joyce Center.

Gaines’ defensive rebound was just one play of many from an Irish defense that couldn’t look more different from the one that stepped on the court earlier this season. Irish coach Muffet McGraw, who has been critical of her team’s ability to defend shots, was pleased with the way the Irish defense has improved.

“I was finally happy with our defense,” she said. “The zone was tremendous. Overall, I was really pleased with the way we played defensively. A lot of pressure, we got aggressive with it.”

Playing off the boards was the only area of Notre Dame’s defense that looked a little rough around the edges – the Panthers pulled down 30 offensive rebounds to Notre Dame’s 10. Pittsburgh out-rebounded the Irish 56-42 overall.

“If we could have just rebounded that would have been the best defensive game we played all year,” McGraw said. “But overall I was really, really pleased.”

Almost 14 minutes into the second half, there was a scary moment for the Irish when Peters went down with an apparent knee injury. The 6-foot-2 freshman grabbed an offensive rebound and then fell to the ground, clutching her left leg. Peters returned to the bench two minutes later on crutches with a leg brace and is set for an MRI today to determine the severity of the injury.

Instead of folding after she went down, however, the Irish rallied and a well-balanced offense continued to shine, despite the loss of Peters.

The Irish left the court with the 29-25 lead at halftime due to the fact that all nine players who saw the court also put points up on the board. Guard Charel Allen, who averages 14.2 points per game, went only 3-for-10 from the field in the game. Guard Ashley Barlow, who averages 12.9 points per game could only manage six against the Panthers. But where those two fell short against Pittsburgh, the rest of the Irish offense picked up.

“[It’s great] to know that we can win a game with Ashley and Charel not having a great game,” McGraw said. “We have different people stepping up off the bench, that’s the kind of production we need coming off the bench and they’ve been doing it all year long.”

Sophomore guard Melissa Lechlitner agreed.

“That’s what’s so great about this team is we’re so balanced,” she said. “Any given night anyone can score.”

Lechlitner came in for the Irish off the bench and had what McGraw called a “career game.” The sophomore went 5-for-7 from the field and 2-for-2 at the line, totaling 12 points.

The win over Pittsburgh also gave freshman Becca Bruszewski the opportunity to increase her minutes. With Peters out due to injury, Bruszewski had the chance to play the post, and she didn’t disappoint.

“I think my teammates found me more,” Bruszewski said. “I was screening and rolling and the guards saw me cutting in the lane and I got easy layups.”

Bruszewski, who scored 10 points for the Irish, was one of five Notre Dame players to post double figures. Joining Bruszewski were guard Lindsey Schrader (12), Lechlitner (12), Gaines (13) and Peters (11).

Pittsburgh center Marcedes Walker led the Panthers with 18 points and 14 rebounds. The senior, who missed last Wednesday’s 64-44 victory over Seton Hall due to ankle injury, did not seem in any pain.

“[My ankle] didn’t really limit me,” Walker said. “I didn’t think about it out there, I knew that coming back it was going to be a struggle, but I just wanted to play my game and really help my teammates out.”

Walker’s efforts weren’t enough to combat Notre Dame’s balanced offense and solid defense. The Irish realized it is their defense that will help them win games over ranked opponents like Pittsburgh.

“That’s what’s gonna win us games, is defense,” Schrader said. “We know we can score, if we’ve got the defense, we’re gonna make it far, I think.”


uMcGraw will donate $420 to breast cancer research because of her team’s 42 rebounds against the Panthers as part of Notre Dame’s “Think Pink” campaign. The money will be evenly split between the Kay Yow/Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Cancer Fund and the Susan G. Komen For The Cure foundation.