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ND Women’s Basketball: Stop the leader

Bill Brink | Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Notre Dame found its stride on defense Saturday against Cincinnati. And just in time, too, because tonight the No. 19 Irish face senior guard Shavonte Zellous, the Big East’s leading scorer, and the No. 22 Panthers at the Peterson Events Center.

Zellous averages 23.8 points per game, second in the country, and just dropped 31 in a home win over Marquette on Jan. 30. She was also recently named to the Wooden Award watch list. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said Zellous will get her points and that the Irish don’t have a defender who can guard her.

“We’re going to work hard, but she’s just that good,” McGraw said. “Losing [sophomore forward] Devereaux [Peters], she would have been someone who can challenge shots and things.”

Pittsburgh is 16-4 and 6-2 in the Big East. The Panthers have won five straight and beat Marquette by 32 points. Notre Dame defeated Cincinnati 66-50 at home Saturday and is also 16-4, but the Irish have a 5-3 conference record.

Notre Dame doesn’t have a go-to scorer this season like it did last season with Charel Allen. The teams on Notre Dame’s schedule for the past few games have had that scorer – Laura Kurz, Epiphanny Prince and Zellous. McGraw said not having that scorer, however, helps balance the offense.

“I think when you rely on one player, if they have a bad game, you can lose,” she said. “We have a lot of people who can step up.”

The last time the two teams played, Pittsburgh upset then-No. 9 Notre Dame in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament on March 9, 2008. Then-senior center Marcedes Walker scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds.

Although Walker graduated, Pittsburgh still presents challenges in the post in the form of 6-foot-6 freshman center Shawnice “Pepper” Wilson. Wilson leads the team in rebounding with 6.9 per game, shoots 50 percent from the field and 90.3 percent from the foul line. McGraw said junior center Erica Williamson will need to be effective on defense to limit Wilson.

“I think we’ll hope that Erica can have a good defensive game against her, because she’s a big body in there,” McGraw said. “She’s shooting the ball pretty well, she’s rebounding well. We’ve got a lot of work to do to contain her.”

Regardless of the challenges Pittsburgh presents, McGraw said Notre Dame’s sense of urgency had returned, and that the veterans, senior guard Lindsay Schrader and junior guard Melissa Lechlitner, were spearheading the team’s efforts.

“I think [the urgency’s] mostly coming from Schrader and Lech, and I think those two are at that point where they’re trying to get everybody on their same page,” McGraw said. “And I think we’re there. I think the freshmen are ready to step up and contribute.”

One of those freshman, forward Kellie Watson, contributed in a big way against Cincinnati. She hit two 3-pointers in less than a minute to seal Notre Dame’s win. The team, McGraw said, needs the same mindset it had against the Bearcats to defeat Pittsburgh.

“We have to be ready to compete, we got to get on the boards, we got to get loose balls, and we have to do all the little things,” McGraw said.

That mindset, however, can coexist with enjoying the game, McGraw said.

“I think it’s just your attitude and your approach,” McGraw said. “I think you can look at things a lot of different ways, and if you choose to be positive I think you will have a lot more fun.”


uA knee injury has bothered freshman guard Natalie Novosel and kept her out of practice Sunday, McGraw said.

“She’s been playing hard, it’s just been really painful for her,” McGraw said. “She’s not going to get over it, so hopefully she can play through it.”

uFreshman guard Fraderica Miller sprained her foot last Wednesday, McGraw said. She was in a walking boot during the Cincinnati game. McGraw said she will not play tomorrow but should be back by the end of the week.