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ND Women’s Basketball: A building block

Jay Fitzpatrick | Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Notre Dame begins its final push to the postseason tonight when it takes on Syracuse at 7 p.m. in the Joyce Center.

The Irish are coming off a hard-fought 76-66 loss to top-ranked and undefeated Connecticut on Sunday, in what was the smallest margin of victory this season for the Huskies. Despite having several opportunities to win, the Irish allowed a 22-1 Connecticut run and fell by the wayside in the second half.

Notre Dame left the game with a fighter’s attitude, having hung with the best team in the country.

“We can play with an athletic team like this. We know that we can move the ball and get rebounds with an athletic team. We know that we can play with a team like this,” Irish guard Ashley Barlow said in the postgame press conference.

Now that the top dog is out of the way, the Irish can begin their three-game slugfest for seeding in the Big East tournament. The Orange are first on the docket. Syracuse sits tied with West Virginia for 11th place at 4-9 in the conference and 15-11 overall.

Although the tournament expanded to include all 16 teams this season, the Irish (sixth place at 18-7, 7-6) still have a chance to improve their seed. But they will likely need to win all of their remaining games to do so.

Notre Dame is one game behind DePaul (20-7, 8-5), whose remaining games are against Marquette, South Florida and Cincinnati, teams in the middle or bottom of the conference. Notre Dame swept the season series with DePaul, but still needs the Blue Demons to lose at least one game to move up to the No. 5 seed.

But first the Irish have to get past the Orange, who are led by senior Chandrea Jones. The 5-foot-9 guard leads the team in scoring (16.7 points per game), rebounding (8.5) and 3-point field goal percentage (.314).

Sophomore guard Erica Morrow has also lit up the scoreboard for Syracuse this season, averaging 16 points per game while shooting .295 from beyond the arch. This season, Morrow has taken 166 3-point attempts, compared to 297 by Notre Dame’s entire roster.

Notre Dame has spread the wealth offensively this season, and has four players scoring in double figures. Barlow leads the team with 12.8 points per game, followed by senior guard Lindsay Schrader at 12.2, junior point guard Melissa Lechlitner at 10.7 and sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski at 10.3.

Bruszewski has been one of the top performers for the Irish of late, and had scored in double figures in five straight games before the Connecticut loss, in which she managed just nine points.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw attributed Bruszewski’s recent success to her more relaxed approach to the game.

“[Bruszewski is] just playing well in the last couple of games,” McGraw said. “I think it’s a little bit easier when you’re a sophomore playing. You don’t have quite the same pressure on you, you can just go out and play your game.”