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ND Women’s Basketball: Four on four

Jared Jedick | Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The No. 4 Irish will open up their preseason schedule tonight in the Purcell Pavilion against a scrappy Indianapolis team that defeated a well-respected Valparaiso squad in their preseason opener. Indianapolis currently sits at No. 4 in the Div. II polls.

“We don’t know a lot about Indianapolis, but from what we do know they are exactly what we need right now,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “They shoot a lot of 3s, and they run a lot of screens. They are going to be a great challenge for our man-to-man defense.”

The Irish were picked to take second in the Big East Preseason Coach’s Poll, an accolade that McGraw is pleased to have received, but one that she believes the team has to work hard to justify.

“It is nice to look and say we have gotten some respect, it’s nice to have respect, but now we have to earn it,” McGraw said. “We have the ranking and now we want to get the work in behind it.”

McGraw also has high expectations for her team, as she knows they have to experience necessary to have a special year.

“Yeah, I have really high expectations for this year, we have a really veteran team,” McGraw said. “It will be nice to get some good post play because our guards are playing very well this year.”

Working on their defense is McGraw’s number one priority for the preseason, and playing a team like Indianapolis at this early stage will provide a good gauge of where the team is.
“We are just working on our defense and trying to create an attitude of defensive pressure,” McGraw said.

The preseason is also an important time for McGraw to develop her subbing strategies and see who plays well with whom.

“I have not been able to practice how I am going to sub yet, and that’s something else I am going to look at,” McGraw said.

The Irish return all 12 members of the squad that went 22-9 a year ago and earned a bid to its 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament.

“We have a veteran lineup, so our captains can concentrate on themselves a little bit more then having to worry about what the other ones are doing,” McGraw said. “Whoever we have in the game there are going to be some veterans to help the freshman.”

McGraw said the chemistry from the 2008-09 should carry over into this season because the players have spent so much time together.

“I think the chemistry is going to be good,” McGraw said. “It is going to be a lot more competitive.”

To create this competitive atmosphere, McGraw has upped the intensity in practice and allowed to girls to rough it up a little bit.

“This year we are practicing more against ourselves,” McGraw said. “We do not have the guy practice players and we are beating up on each other a lot more than we did last year.”

Sophomore guard Natalie Novosel has been the most improved player of the offseason, according to McGraw, and she said she expects to see big things out of her this upcoming season.

“[Novosel] is certainly the most improved player on the team,” McGraw said. “Natalie is more confident, she is shooting the ball more, she is more comfortable, and she is just playing and looking to score and to make things happen.”

Joining the team this year are two well-respected freshmen, guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, whom McGraw expects to be helped by the veteran presence on the team and develop nicely as the year continues.

“I need to see what they can do in game situations,” McGraw said. “Skylar is playing well and Turner is doing some good things too. It will be good for them to get the uniform on, get in some game situations. It is hard to be a point guard as a freshman, but I think they have learned a lot. I am really pleased with both of them.”

McGraw said the teams hope to create a powerful and intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams in the new arena.

“It’s just exciting walking in,” McGraw said. “Just coming in the tunnel and looking around and you feel like it’s a big-time arena. It will be exciting to see how it looks full. I think it is going to be a little bit more intimidating when the opponent walks in.”

The game will begin at 7 p.m. in the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center.