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ND Women’s Basketball: Playing to rest

Bill Brink | Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Notre Dame’s close win over DePaul Sunday came in a timely fashion, because two of the next three teams it faces will put the heat on the Irish.

The Fighting Irish had lost four of six heading into Sunday’s win and better hope they can create momentum. Angel McCoughtry and No. 10 Louisville come to the Joyce Center Wednesday, and on Feb. 22 Notre Dame travels to Storrs to throw its best at undefeated No. 1 Connecticut.

At this point in the Big East (and in the country, for that matter) it’s Connecticut and everyone else. But there is a battle for the No. 4 spot in the conference, which will give a team two byes in the conference tournament. The top eight get a bye, the top four get two. Here are the standings:

The best: No. 1 Connecticut (23-0, 9-0)

No competition, period. The Huskies blow teams out of the water. They lead the conference in scoring (86.6 ppg), field goal percentage (51.9) and assists (21.5 per game). They beat then-No. 2 North Carolina by 30 in Chapel Hill and Louisville 93-65 on Jan. 26. In their most recent game Saturday, they beat Marquette, in Milwaukee, 83-49. They play St. John’s, Pittsburgh and Providence before the Irish visit them, and it’s conceivable they could go undefeated through the conference tournament the way they’re playing. Sophomore forward Maya Moore is fourth in the Big East in scoring with 19.9 points per game.

The really good: No. 10 Louisville (21-3, 8-2), No. 19 Pittsburgh (17-4, 7-2)

The Cardinals were 15-1 in their last 16 games before they lost to West Virginia 79-70 at home Saturday. Losing to the team in last place in the conference at home shows they’re beatable – but they’re still dangerous. Senior forward Angel McCoughtry is second in the Big East in scoring, averaging 22.5 points per game.

The Panthers have won six straight games and beat the Irish by 12 on Feb. 3. Senior guard Shavonte Zellous leads the conference in scoring and is third in the nation with 24 points per game. The Panthers face Rutgers tonight.

The pretty solid: Villanova (15-8, 7-2), No. 22 Notre Dame (17-5, 6-4), No. 25 DePaul (18-6, 6-4)

The Wildcats have also won six straight and most recently beat Seton Hall on the road Saturday. They face Marquette and DePaul before traveling to Pittsburgh. Senior forward Laura Kurz is fifth in the Big East in scoring with 18 points per game.

Notre Dame has lost four of its last seven, but after Louisville and Connecticut, the rest of its conference schedule is favorable. Notre Dame plays South Florida, Providence, Syracuse and West Virginia, all in the bottom half of the conference. Those four teams have 11 conference wins among them.

DePaul just lost a close game to the Irish in the Joyce Center, which ended the Blue Demons’ five-game win streak. They face Seton Hall Wednesday. It will be these three teams comprising the fight for the second bye.

The middle: Rutgers (13-8, 5-5), Marquette (13-10, 4-5) and South Florida (4-6, 17-7)

Talk about a slip. Rutgers has lost three of its last five (although it did beat Notre Dame at home in that stretch) and needed double-overtime to take down Georgetown Saturday. The Scarlet Knights have junior guard Epiphanny Prince, who is third in the conference with 20.5 points per game, as well as 6-foot-4 senior center Kia Vaughn. It’s tough to count them out yet.

The Golden Eagles had a little slip of their own, losing four of their last six. Senior guard Krystal Ellis recently became the school’s all-time leading scorer. Villanova comes to town tonight.

Four of six is the popular trend, because South Florida’s lost four of its last six games as well. The Bulls beat Syracuse 88-79 Sunday and had five players in double figures. They’re still within range of that last bye.

The halfway decent: St. John’s (15-7, 3-6), Cincinnati (13-9, 3-6), Providence (9-13, 3-6), Seton Hall (15-8, 3-7)

The Red Storm just beat Cincinnati Sunday, but they face Connecticut, who they haven’t beaten since 1993, on Wednesday. Providence also beat the Bearcats, in double-overtime, on Feb. 3. Since every team makes the conference tournament this year, any of these teams could make a run, but making the NCAA Tournament will be tough with their conference records.

The pretty bad: Syracuse (14-9, 3-7), Georgetown (13-10, 3-7), West Virginia (13-9, 2-7)

These teams don’t have much of a chance to making a run. They will have to get past UConn, Louisville or Pittsburgh to get to the conference tournament semifinal or final, which they’ll need for tournament consideration. They have a chance to reaching the second round, because the top teams won’t have played yet, but they won’t get much farther than that.