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ND Women’s Basketball: Team refocusing on defense

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, January 16, 2009

Notre Dame’s main focus will be reestablishing its defensive intensity when it takes on St. John’s Saturday, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said Thursday.

This emphasis is a direct result of Notre Dame’s second loss of the season, a 75-65 defeat at Marquette on Tuesday, which McGraw attributed to a lack of commitment on the defensive side of the court.

“We did not play our normal game defensively [against Marquette],” McGraw said. “They got a lot of shots – a lot of easy shots – and that was disappointing.”

McGraw said she is confident that those problems have been fixed after a solid practice on Wednesday.

“We worked hard on it [Wednesday] and I think we will get our commitment and our fight back,” she said.

Despite the lacking defensive effort in the Marquette game, McGraw said her team’s effort in Wednesday’s practice showed her that they were moving on and learning from the loss.

“I was really, really happy when I left practice [Wednesday] because I always feel like I can tell what my team’s going to be like the practice after a loss,” McGraw said. “That’s a really important practice to see how they come out. Are they feeling sorry for themselves, what’s their frame of mind, what’s their attitude. And we really got after it defensively.”

She said her team had “a fighter’s mentality” in that practice, which she said she expects to carry over into the game.

The defense will get an immediate test from the Red Storm’s top two shooters – senior guards Monique McLean and Kelly McManmon – who are shooting 46.5 and 39.4 percent overall and 47.1 and 41.4 percent from distance, respectively.

“McLean’s one of the best in the country. She was at one point third in the NCAA,” McGraw said. “Those two are huge concerns because we have to get better defensively in a lot of ways.”

McGraw said she wants her team to be able to play more zone defenses when they get in foul trouble, but that the 3-point threats from St. John’s could make that difficult.

Last year’s Achilles heal, defending from beyond the arc, has been a strength of this season’s Irish squad. The team is allowing only a 25.8 shooting percentage from 3-point land, compared to 39.1 percent a season ago.

McGraw said she was thrilled with her team’s 3-point defense, which ranks near the top of the NCAA.

“We’re in the top 10 in the nation … We were God awful last year, so this is a huge improvement and something that we hope to continue. So it’s a concern, but this group looks at it as a challenge,” she said.

One thing that has not been a disappointment through the first half of the Irish season has been the play of freshman guard Natalie Novosel, who is shooting 53.9 percent overall, but upped that to 70.8 percent in the team’s four Big East matchups so far.

“Natalie drives the ball really well, and she’s getting a lot of layups, which is why she’s shooting the ball really well,” McGraw said. “We’re thrilled with the way she’s playing, she’s given us great minutes off the bench.”