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3-pointers kill Irish against Villanova

Bill Brink | Sunday, March 8, 2009

Certain events during a basketball game influence the outcome more than others. A blocked shot demoralizes the offense more than defensive stop. Scoring as the shot clock winds down wears the defense out more than scoring on a fast break. And 3-point shots — they hurt the defense more than anything.

Hit one, and you’re immediately ahead by less or behind by more than normal. Allow two in a row, as No. 5-seed Notre Dame did in its 58-47 loss to No. 4-seed Villanova Sunday, and that’s a six-point swing. Allow 10 in the game, or more than half of Villanova’s points, and you’re hard-pressed to win.

It’s not like this was unprecedented. Notre Dame has struggled to guard the perimeter for the better part of three seasons. Considering its lineup is guard-dominated, that shouldn’t happen.

And how many threes did the Wildcats hit against Notre Dame earlier this season? 10. They set the NCAA record last season for 3-pointers made. It’s no shock that they can hit the three.

It wasn’t only the 3-pointers the Irish allowed that doomed them. Their 29-percent shooting in the second half, the fact that they only had three assists compared to 13 turnovers and Villanova hitting 10-of-11 free throws didn’t help. But knowing Villanova’s penchant for deep shots, knowing how well the Wildcats shot last time they faced the Irish and knowing Notre Dame’s history of 3-point defense, it’s hard to imagine that they let it happen again.

“What is tough about Villanova is that everyone on their team can shoot threes,” junior guard Melissa Lechlitner said. “As soon you cover one person and get out to the next one, they swing it one more time for that extra pass and any of their five players can knock down that shot.”

That’s how the Wildcats killed the Irish, with the extra pass. In the first half, Villanova would swing the ball around the perimeter until it found the open man; twice it was senior forward Lisa Karcic.

In the second, Notre Dame left sophomore center Heather Scanlon open twice, in the same spot, and she hit two threes within 34 seconds. Those capped a 10-0 run and gave the Wildcats a 39-33 lead. Notre Dame would trail from there on out.

“People don’t know that Heather can shoot threes,” Wildcats coach Harry Perretta said. “She’s done that in two or three games, where she’s made a couple big threes in the second half. But the other team doesn’t really know that because she doesn’t shot a lot of them.”

Scanlon said she looked to pass, but thought the shot clock was running out on the first one she hit. Once she made one, she kept going.

“I guess that sparked everyone,” Scanlon said. “We always were taught to keep shooting even if we are missing.”

Part of the problem with the perimeter defense was senior forward Laura Kurz’ play in the paint in the second half. Kurz was 3-of-9 from the field in the first half, but finished 8-of-14 with 21 points.

“We were trying to double-team Laura Kurz because she was hurting us,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We were sending the guard who was rotating down, then we were rotating back out defensively and for some reason we stopped short on her twice. We wanted to make her put the ball on the floor but we didn’t get out in time.”

Notre Dame has the capability of playing good 3-point defense. The Irish held St. John’s to 2-of-10 from behind the arc in Saturday’s game. If they want to limit their NCAA Tournament opponents from 3-point range, they have to play tighter on the perimeter as well as in the paint.

Oftentimes, the help-side defender would rotate down to the block when the ball was out on the perimeter on the other side. Seeing this, Villanova would swing the ball around the perimeter to whomever the help-side defender left open — in the first half, Karcic. And once, an Irish defender bit on junior guard Maria Getty’s ball fake and shuffled to her left, leaving Getty wide open for the three.

To avoid the help-side defender moving towards the block, the post has to do its job. Lock down the post so the perimeter defenders can stop the deep ball.

McGraw said she focused on defense almost exclusively leading up to the Big East tournament. Don’t expect her to change anything in her practice philosophy between now and the NCAA Tournament.