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ND Women’s Basketball Commentary: McGraw’s ‘play their game’ approach works

Laura Myers | Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Before virtually every contest, Irish coach Muffet McGraw tells reporters that the Irish just need to “play their game” and they’ll be okay.

So what does that mean?

A pressure defense that never lets up? Fast breakaways and easy layups? Solid 3-point shooting? Yes, that is how the No. 3 team in the country plays — but it’s not what McGraw means.

When Notre Dame is playing its game, senior captain Melissa Lechlitner is directing the offense perfectly while senior captain Ashley Barlow works on intimidating much taller opponents. Fifth-year senior Lindsay Schrader is consistently finding the basket. Freshman Skylar Diggins is in the opposing point guard’s face, arms flailing as she defends what should be the simple act of taking the ball down the court.

When Notre Dame plays its game, it plays with poise and confidence and can rival any team in the country

Against South Florida on Jan. 12, Notre Dame wasn’t all there to begin the game. They missed wide-open shots and did not defend by their usual standards. 

Up by three with eight minutes to play, Schrader said afterwards, the captains looked at each other and said they’d be okay. They knew that they would win the game, and they did, 81-64.

Cut to much tougher opponents this week in Louisville and No. 16 West Virginia.

At Louisville Wednesday night, the Irish found themselves down 12 early but rallied to tie the game at 37 going into halftime. In the second half, they held Louisville without a field goal for more than eight minutes, scored 13 unanswered and went on to win 78-60.
Sunday’s game at West Virginia was almost the same story. The Mountaineers led 42-31 at halftime. Two big runs later, Notre Dame came out victorious, 74-66.

Those two games came after Notre Dame’s loss to No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 16. The first eight minutes of that contest showed exactly what Notre Dame’s game does not look like — turnovers, awful rebounding, inaccurate shooting. Notre Dame allowed Connecticut’s superior athletes to run up and down the court, scoring with no defensive pressure. For the first time, the cool, experienced squad looked intimidated.

But that was just eight minutes.

Yes, the Irish were down 24-4 with no hope of recouping the lead. But from that point on, they played the Huskies almost evenly, getting outscored 46-42. Sure, a 70-46 loss is never something to be proud of, but Notre Dame left with the knowledge that it had played with the best team in the country for the better part of the game.

It was right about 9:15 p.m. on Jan. 16 when the Irish were last intimidated by an opponent, and it may not happen again this season.

Even when down against Louisville and West Virginia, the team kept its cool with an internal expectation to win.

With a loaded Big East schedule still to come, starting with tonight’s game against Providence and ending with one more bout against Connecticut, Notre Dame might want to tip off its sell-out crowds to what they already know.

The games will be close. The games will be exciting. But the Irish aren’t going to fret over the idea of losing.

They’re just going to play their game.

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

Contact Laura Myers at [email protected]