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ND Women’s Basketball: Creating separation

Chris Masoud | Friday, January 28, 2011

After completing a five-game conference stretch that included victories over nationally ranked Georgetown and St. John’s, Notre Dame hits the road looking to extend its four-game win streak. Beginning with Saturday’s contest at Villanova, the Irish face four consecutive opponents with conference records of .500 or below.

Despite the brief respite in the conference schedule, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said every team in the Big East is dangerous, including a Wildcats team that is still searching for its first conference win.

“Every game is close — the same thing last year,” McGraw said. “[The Wildcats] lost a lot of games, but if you look, they were in it. With four minutes to go, they’re still in the game. They hang around because of the pace they play. They slow it down — they cut the game in half.”

Riding a three-game losing streak, Villanova (8-11, 0-6 Big East) has struggled to put up points in conference play. While the Wildcats’ 43 points per game average is worst in the conference, they run a slow-paced offense in order to limit the number of possessions in the game and control the tempo.

“You have to stay patient, which is definitely not my strong point,” McGraw said. “It’s a tough game to play because you feel like you don’t have as much control of the game. They’re going to slow it down at every opportunity, and we like to play fast. We might be on defense for 30 seconds every possession — have to be ready to play it.”

In a matchup of opposite styles, Villanova’s deliberate pace clashes with a prolific offense in No. 11 Notre Dame (17-4, 6-1), which leads the Big East in scoring at 77 points per game. The Irish have eclipsed the 90-point mark eight different times this season and are undefeated in each game.

Despite the ability to score at will, McGraw said Villanova will keep the Irish from racking up a large point total due to the Wildcats’ style of play.

“I think it’s going to be a low-scoring game,” McGraw said. “They’re going to walk the ball up — it’s going to feel like a half instead of a full game. They’re going to try and keep the score in the 50s. We’d like it to be in the 70s. It will be a battle of tempo.”

Villanova’s primary threat is sophomore forward Laura Sweeney, the recipient of last season’s Big East Sixth Man Award. Sweeney leads the Wildcats in points (10.2 per game), rebounds (6.1 per game), steals (29) and blocks (25).

But the emergence of junior forward Devereaux Peters and freshman forward Natalie Achonwa has given McGraw much greater flexibility with her roster, allowing her to keep two posts in the game at all times.

“Last year Devereaux was still coming into her own, and now she’s really playing at full strength,” McGraw said. “And then having Natalie Achonwa come off the bench — she’s a great offensive rebounder.”

Notre Dame looks to keep pace in the conference standings when it takes the court Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Purcell Pavilion.