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ND Women’s Basketball: Prince and the Scarlet Knights face the Irish at the JACC

BIll Brink | Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A loss gives Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw the itch to play again, and soon. But Sunday, her players felt it too.

When the coaches walked into practice Sunday afternoon, McGraw said the players were already out there practicing.

“They were out there doing drills,” McGraw said. “It was really uplifting for us to see how determined they were. They were just like, let’s go. Let’s get out there and let’s go.”

The No. 17 Irish will need that practice time before they welcome Rutgers to the Joyce Center tonight, three days after losing to Villanova on the road Saturday. McGraw said she worked on offense during Sunday’s practice because she focused on defense so much previously.

“I wasn’t happy with the defense, and now we’re struggling to score a little it,” McGraw said.

The Irish are 15-3, 4-2 in the Big East conference, and have lost two of their last three games. Rutgers just dropped out of the top 25 after losing to DePaul 60-58 Saturday, a loss that broke its three-game win streak. The Scarlet Knights are 11-6, 3-3 in the Big East.

The Irish defense has to contend with Scarlet Knights junior guard Epiphanny Prince, who is third in the conference in scoring average at 20.4 points per game. McGraw said Prince is versatile and that she’s not sure the Irish can stop the Rutgers guard. They will have to keep tabs on her because she’s the focal point of Rutgers’ offense, McGraw said, but they can’t forget the rest of the team.

“I don’t think it’s a situation where we can let her get whatever she wants because she might get 40,” McGraw said. “We don’t want that. And the rest of their team, even though their numbers aren’t as good, they’re still capable.”

Despite Prince’s skill, McGraw said winning the rebounding battle will determine the game. She also said freshman forward Erica Solomon, who grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds against Villanova, will need to compete in the paint.

“We’re going to need her to get 10 [Tuesday] because she’s someone who can go out there and compete with the Rutgers post players,” McGraw said. “We really need her to have a good game.”

Those Rutgers post players, McGraw said, are “bigger, faster and more athletic” than Notre Dame. Six-foot-4 center Kia Vaughn averages 6.6 rebounds per game, and Prince, despite being 5-foot-9, grabs 4.9 per game.

Junior guard Melissa Lechlitner has amplified her offensive presence this season, but especially of late. She’s hitting 47 percent of her 3-point shots and averaging 11.1 points per game. Lechlitner has scored double figures in three of the last four games.

“I think she’s the most improved player in the conference,” McGraw said. “I think she’s a little underrated in the conference. I think she’s very comfortable with the ball, we’re so comfortable with her against pressure handling things.

“We’d like her to shoot more – it’s tough as the point guard. We’re trying to get a little more out of transition so she can score more.”

Notre Dame tips off against the Scarlet Knights at 8 p.m.