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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish ready for Bruins after two big wins

Meaghan Veselik | Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The No. 12 Irish will face their first big challenge of the season tonight when they host No. 15 UCLA in the two teams’ first meeting since 1998.

“It’s going to be a big challenge. It’s a great opportunity for us to come out and play a really good team early in the season,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “It’s just a great situation to see what are they going to do, something we haven’t seen yet obviously since we’ve only played two games, so there’s still a lot that we haven’t seen, and get some work against the zone, we haven’t had a lot to work against the zone yet either. I think a lot of good things [will come out tomorrow].”

Notre Dame (2-0) defeated New Hampshire 99-48 last week and Morehead State 91-28 Monday to commence its season. In the win over New Hampshire, the Irish recorded new program records in steals (36) and forced turnovers (49). The wins marked the first back-to-back wins by at least 50 points for the first time in school history. McGraw said UCLA will not be as easy of an opponent, but will give the Irish a chance to evaluate themselves better than in their first two contests.

“They’re fast, they’re quick, they rebound really well, they’re obviously the best team we’ve seen so far this year, so it’s going to be a good test for us to see where [we are] right now,” McGraw said. “What do we need to work on, what do we need to get better at, it’s a great opportunity for us to see where we are.”

The Bruins (2-0) return four starters and six of their seven top scorers from last season, including junior forward Jasmine Dixon, who was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder a year ago. But McGraw said her team’s focus isn’t on their opponents right now.

“At this time of year especially, you just want to focus on yourself, and say, we have to contain the ball, we have to rebound, and make adjustments as the game goes on,” she said. “But initially we have to try to execute. We’re still so caught up in what we’re doing that that [worrying about the other team] will come later.”

McGraw said the Irish were working on keeping up the intensity and energy in practice and in the games.

“They press so we will get to see a team like ourselves. What that’s like for forty minutes to see what the press looks like, and it will be good for us to figure it out,” McGraw said. “We haven’t had to execute. We want to see what we can do offensively. We haven’t had a chance to really get a lot of half court offense working.”

McGraw said she has been able to see an improvement from her post players so far this season, both the starters and players coming off the bench.

“I really think they’re playing better. Each game, each practice, they look better,” she said. “They’re playing together post to post, their interior passing has gotten better, I think they’re really starting to get comfortable in the offense. I’m confident in them.”

Looking beyond just the posts, McGraw said the Irish are going to need to be ready on all sides of the court tonight, especially when the Bruins move up on sophomore guard Skylar Diggins at the point.

“I imagine they’re going to try to key on [Skylar], but it will be up to everybody else to try to handle the ball, that everyone else is ready,” she said.

Diggins said she was ready to use her own quickness, as well as her teammates, as an advantage and a means to control the game.

“Practice has been intense and we’ve been working on what we need to work on but at the same time realizing we have to stop what they do, too,” Diggins said. “Focusing on our game and really want to control the tempo tomorrow.

“We definitely want to use our quickness to our advantage, making sure we rebound and box and get out in transition and get some buckets. That’s how we get started and that brings the energy and hopefully our crowd gets involved, it’s going to be a nice atmosphere. [Tonight is] just going to be a great place for basketball, a great atmosphere.”

The Irish play host to the Bruins tonight, with a 7 p.m. tipoff at Purcell Pavilion.