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ND Women’s Basketball: Carrying momentum

Chris Masoud | Friday, January 29, 2010

The advantages of playing in the Big East are obvious: immediate national exposure and special consideration during playoff seeding in March. The not-so-obvious disadvantage: playing the toughest road schedule in the country, a reality the Irish will face this weekend as they travel to Syracuse.

Regardless of team allegiance, the Carrier Dome is widely held as one of the more thrilling environments college basketball has to offer. But for No. 3 Notre Dame (18-1, 5-1 Big East), the home of the Orange should be downright hostile Saturday afternoon.

“It’s a tough weekend, a tough stretch. This is probably the toughest weekend of the year for us,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I’m not worried so much about the playing on the road because we have a veteran, experienced point guard that can really stand the pressure. I’m not as worried about the environment, just that they’re a really good team, and everyone in the Big East is tough at home.”

Syracuse (16-4, 3-4) had a sensational start to the season, finishing its out-of-conference schedule undefeated in 13 games and breaking into the AP Top 25 rankings. Since then the stars have unaligned, and the Orange have fallen to eighth in the conference rankings. Still, McGraw says they are a much more dangerous team than their record suggests.

“They’ve had a couple of close losses, so I think they’re an excellent team, definitely one of the most talented,” McGraw said. “They definitely have a great scoring team, and they’re really good defensively. They’re just long and athletic. They play a zone similar to what the men’s team plays and it’s really effective.”

In addition to the talent they bring on defense, the Orange boast an offense ranked third in the Big East in points per game and field goal percentage. Leading her team with 14.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, Nicole Michael directs a transition offense that looks to catch the Irish off guard at a moment’s notice.

“They’re a challenge. Nicole Michael, a first-team Big East type of player, she is really, really talented,” McGraw said. “She’s a big guard at 6-1, so she can really shoot over a lot of our guards. She’s got a nice three-point shot, can put it on the floor, plays around the basket. She’ll post up small guards.”

Michael is not the lone threat. Junior guard Erica Morrow provides support on the wing, while freshman standout Kayla Alexander gives the Syracuse another weapon under the basket.

“They’ve added a great post player in Kayla Alexander,” McGraw said. “She’s just a freshman, but now they have the inside-outside that they didn’t have last year.”

Led by junior forward Becca Bruszewski’s 10 points, Notre Dame had its way in the post against Providence Wednesday night. While the Syracuse centers will be a more difficult challenge, McGraw still expects her rotation of Bruszewski, junior forward Devereaux Peters, and senior center Erica Williamson to contribute once again.

“Becca’s come along. She’s had two good games in a row. Erica Williamson is coming off a really good game against Providence, so we expect to use her quite a bit defensively,” McGraw said. “I think the post players are really coming alive right now.”

Tipoff is at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Fifth-year senior guard Lindsay Schrader is one of seven players who have been added to the 2009-10 State Farm Wade Trophy Watch List Thursday. Since 1978, the trophy has been awarded to the women’s national player of the year in college basketball.