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ND Women’s Basketball: Garden State escape

Laura Myers | Tuesday, February 2, 2010

No. 3 Notre Dame held off a scrappy Rutgers team Monday to defeat the Scarlet Knights for the first time since 2005. Prior to their 75-63 win at the Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J., the Irish had lost five straight to Rutgers.

Notre Dame (20-1, 7-1 Big East) took the lead with 12 minutes to go in the first half but had to work to keep it.

“It was a great win,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought the seniors really came in focused, they hadn’t beaten them in their last three tries, and they were all instrumental in the win.”

Though the Irish were up by as many as nine early in the second half, Rutgers (12-10, 4-4) employed a high-energy defense to disrupt Notre Dame and was able to cut the lead down to two points several times.

“They’re a great team,” McGraw said. “They are just so, so athletic. Their press, their defense. They’re an outstanding defensive team. Their backs were against the wall, they needed a win.”

However, Notre Dame’s leaders stepped up just as the younger Rutgers squad began to get tired.

With a 57-53 lead and 3:10 left to go in the game, senior guard Ashley Barlow hit a 3-pointer to spark a 9-2 run by the Irish. Two minutes later Notre Dame led 66-55 and simply needed to run out the clock.

“That was a huge shot,” McGraw said. “[Barlow] is certainly somebody we’d like to have shoot the ball in that situation. It was really big.”

In a low-scoring first half, Rutgers was up 9-5 after five minutes of play. Notre Dame soon erased that lead with a 10-2 run punctuated by six Scarlet Knight turnovers. Rutgers turned the ball over 15 times in the first half, and the Irish made the most of the opportunities to score 14 points. Notre Dame went into halftime leading 31-23.

“They were focused in the beginning, they came out ready to go,” McGraw said. “We matched their intensity. I was really proud of the team.”

The Scarlet Knights cut the Irish lead quickly after halftime. Though they did not even attempt a free throw in the first half, they scored six in the first five minutes to cut the lead to 38-33. In the period, Rutgers shot 14-of-18 from the line.

Freshman guard Skylar Diggins led the Irish with 14 points. Junior forward Becca Bruszewski (13), senior guard Melissa Lechlitner (12), junior forward Devereaux Peters (11) and senior guard Lindsay Schrader (10) all scored in double figures as well.

“Our strength is in our balance,” McGraw said. “We don’t rely on one person and that makes us hard to guard. We share the ball, we work for the good shot.”

Rutgers guard Khadijah Rushdan scored 16 points to lead her team, while forward Myia McCurdy added 14, all in the second half. Center Chelsey Lee recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.  

The Scarlet Knights out-rebounded the Irish 46-38, though each team grabbed 20 boards in the second half. The Irish have struggled with rebounding all season.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do there,” McGraw said. “We’ve got to figure that out. It’s going to cost us a game. So we’ll be working on that in practice this week.”

Notre Dame will have a short break before returning home to face Pittsburgh Saturday.
“We need it. We’re exhausted,” McGraw said. “Four games in eight days, that was a brutal stretch of the season.”

That game will begin at 2 p.m. in the Purcell Pavilion.