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ND Women’s Basketball: Team earns win at Villanova

Meaghan Veselik | Sunday, January 30, 2011

No. 9 Notre Dame topped another opponent Saturday night, defeating Villanova 58-43 on the road in a match that was not as easy as the final score makes it seem.

But Irish coach Muffet McGraw said she was pleased with Notre Dame’s (18-4, 7-1 Big East) performance, especially its defense.

“I was really thrilled with the win. We knew it was going to be one of those games where we would score below our average,” McGraw said. “I thought we would score in 60s, but I was really pleased with our defense. To hold a team like Villanova that relies a lot on their three-point shooting to just one three in each half … I think that may be the best defense we’ve ever played against them.”

Seniors Becca Bruszewski and Devereaux Peters guided the Irish defense, which has played an increasingly important role in the team’s success this season. Bruszewski had a team-high 10 rebounds, and Peters nine, as each grabbed four steals.

“[The defense] came through very well, and I was happy with the three-point defense, in particular,” McGraw said. “That was something we worked on all week leading into the Villanova game, and everybody did a great job guarding the three-point line.”

Peters shone again on offense with a team-high 20 points. Sophomore guard Skylar Diggins added 13 and junior guard Natalie Novosel chipped in 11. Bruszewski had 10.

McGraw said she is impressed with Peters’ continued strong performance.

“I thought [Peters] was magnificent at Villanova and really had an All-America type of game. She played well and was consistent at both ends of floor,” Muffet said. “She also is in great shape and never looked tired, even though she was part of the press for most of the game. She’s been playing really well for us and she just continues to surpass my expectations.”

Laura Sweeney had 14 points for Villanova, which has now suffered four-straight losses.

Despite Peters’ 20-point game, Notre Dame’s mere 58 points was a season-low finish for the Irish, their fewest since losing 59-44 to top-ranked Connecticut on March 8, 2010, in last season’s Big East Semifinals. Holding its opponent to less than 50 points was nothing new, however, as the team has now done so 10 times this season, including four of their first Big East opponents.

Villanova took a five-point lead early in the first half, but Notre Dame quickly brought the advantage, bringing the game to 32-20 Irish at the half.

The final numbers don’t reflect the Wildcat’s efforts to overcome Notre Dame’s lead heading into the second half, but they were never able to come closer than six.

“I never thought we would lose, but we did have some opportunities that we let slip by,” McGraw said of her team allowing Villanova to close in on their lead, however slight it was. “At the same time, it was a great challenge for us to see how we would respond to adversity on the road. Devereaux [Peters] made some big shots, Natalie [Novosel] and Skylar [Diggins] made some key free throws and Becca [Bruszewski] and [senior] Brittany [Mallory] each made a huge defensive stop at the end of the game, getting some critical steals to help us close it out.”

The Irish are back in action at the Purcell Pavilion Tuesday against Syracuse (16-4, 4-3 Big East).

McGraw is looking forward to getting her team back on their home court and on a more regular game schedule, which will begin Tuesday.

“We really need to get back into a rhythm (of playing regularly). We had a whole week off before Villanova and then we came out flat,” she said. “It will be good to get right back to game mode with practice Monday and then playing Syracuse on Tuesday. I think we need to get back to playing more and trying to get back into same rhythm we had earlier.”

Notre Dame will face the Orange Tuesday with a 7 p.m. tip-off.