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ND Women’s Basketball: Same old problems haunt Notre Dame

Jay Fitzpatrick | Monday, March 23, 2009

The circle of this season is now complete. Notre Dame lost 79-71 to Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament because they couldn’t box out, couldn’t defend the 3-point line and couldn’t score for extended stretches.

Irish head coach Muffet McGraw made that very point herself as soon as she began her opening statement in the postgame news conference.

“Same old story, every game…,” she said. “They were very aggressive, they attacked us, we got back on our heels and we never really settled in defensively, which, as you all know, has been a problem for us all year long.”

Starting point guard Melissa Lechlitner echoed McGraw’s sentiments.

“It was our defense; just like coach said. It was the same story all year. We cannot guard people and it was our defense; plain and simple,” Lechlitner said.

But the really frustrating part is how cliché this whole process has become. It’s a story anyone who has witnessed any of Notre Dame’s losses (and some of their closer wins) has seen played out countless times.

McGraw goes into the game talking about the work the team has put in at practice on the defensive end and how she feels confident her players have turned the corner. She talks about how they understand who the other team’s shooters are and that they need to try to at best contain them.

Then the game begins and everything is forgotten. Junior guard Katie Ohm was clearly the Golden Gophers’ distance threat – but she got left alone more often than not and shot 5-of-9 from 3-point land. Minnesota guard Emily Fox led all scorers with 23 points playing her game unhindered from the Irish defense.

“The scouting report told us exactly how she played. She is a great shooter and she can do it off of the dribble. She is one of the best players on the team,” Lechlitner said. “Obviously we didn’t look at the scouting report, because she did exactly what we knew she was going to do. We prepared for it all week long during practice and when it came down to it we didn’t get it done.”

In her news conference after the game, McGraw put the onus of the poor defensive effort on herself, saying that she has to find a way to get her team to guard better.

Part of that should come with age, as the Irish return every player from this year’s squad and add Naismith National High School Player of the Year Skylar Diggins to the roster for 2009-10. McGraw said she has to change the entire mentality of her team to get them to appreciate their defensive efforts for next season.

“We are a team that feeds off our offense so when we score, we feel good about what we’re doing at the other end. We’re backwards in that,” McGraw said. “We need to get excited about our defense and not worry so much about our offense. I think that’s a little bit of immaturity and hopefully they’ll learn from that.”

For most of this season, this has been the case. McGraw talks often about how her philosophy of the game is that she wants to win scoring 60 points. But her team has played most of the season (especially since Big East play started) trying to outshoot opponents.

Just looking at conference play (in part to avoid counting cupcake games early in the season) the Irish averaged 70.5 points per game in-conference while allowing 67.4 points per game. Those aren’t the types of games McGraw wants her team in – and they are the type the Irish have struggled in this season.

And if McGraw doesn’t do something to change the mentality of this team for next season, just get used to more of the same.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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