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ND Women’s Basketball: Looking ahead

Andrew Owens | Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Irish have faced adversity throughout the season and lost key players of late, but one thing has remained constant: the team continues to win.

No. 8 Notre Dame (18-4, 7-1 Big East) is set to begin the second half of a crucial Big East season tonight as it plays host to Syracuse (16-4, 4-3). One of the main challenges for the Irish will be stopping the strong play of the Orange post game.

“They’re a really good team,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “They have a strong inside and 3-point combination. They also rank third in the country in rebounding margin, so that will be a good challenge for us.”

The Orange enter the contest on a three-game winning streak but will face a tough task in extending that streak at the Purcell Pavilion. The Irish have been victorious in five consecutive games since the heartbreaking 79-76 loss to Connecticut at home Jan. 8.

Recent circumstances have cut the Irish rotation short in recent weeks, as two players have had to leave the team for various reasons, but McGraw said that has created an opportunity for other players to grow leading up to the NCAA tournament.

“The team is adjusting really well,” McGraw said. “We’re playing very well lately. We’re looking inside more for our post players. [Freshman forward] Natalie Achonwa is playing really well, so we have seven players in the rotation as of late.”

The Irish defense has led the team during the five-game winning streak, as they have not allowed more than 60 points in any of those contests. That strong defensive play will need to continue as Notre Dame enters the final month of the regular season.

“We’re continually trying to get better,” McGraw said. “We’ve been sloppy at times, but have done a nice job with our 3-point defense.”

The improvements to the 3-point defense were evident in the 58-43 win over Villanova on Saturday. The Wildcats made just two of their 16 attempts from beyond the arc.

The matchup with Syracuse will likely be an important litmus test for the Irish defense as the Big East and NCAA tournaments are around the corner. Syracuse features four players averaging in double figures, led by senior guard Erica Morrow, who will test the Notre Dame guard rotation.

The game will tip off at 7 p.m. at the Purcell Pavilion as both teams aim to notch a key Big East win.