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ND Women’s Basketball: Unconventional offense to challenge the Irish

Kelsey Manning | Thursday, January 19, 2012

After the offensive explosion that was Notre Dame’s 120-44 win over Pittsburgh Tuesday, the No. 2 Irish look to maintain their momentum as they face the challenges of Villanova’s slower-paced game on Saturday.

“Villanova is a really difficult team to guard,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “They are going to hold the ball, they are going to try to keep the score in the 40s, 50s ­­— as low as they possibly can. Of course, we want to score more, so it’s going to be a battle of pace.

“I think they are going to slow it down, use a lot of the shot clock. They are going to shoot a ton of threes, 25 or 30 threes. We have got to be able to guard them because they have a great motion offense.”

Though the Irish (18-1, 6-0 Big East) are coming off a blowout win that broke six school scoring records, McGraw said the victory has not made her squad lax.

“I think you have to be focused and have your eye on the goal, which is to get bet-ter every game, and you have to come into practice ready to work hard the next day, and that is what this team has been so good at. They’ve got their eye on the present, and we are trying to stay focused on the present.”

Meanwhile, the Wildcats (12-6, 2-3) are coming to South Bend fresh off winning the 2011-2012 Philadelphia Big Five Championship with a convincing 52-30 win over Pennsylvania. The victory marked the team’s 13th Big Five title under head coach Harry Perretta. Averaging 59.5 points this season and allowing just 52.1, Villanova features a slow-paced half-court game that graduate student guard Brittany Mallory said the team has been preparing for in practice.

“In practice we get frustrated [by Villanova’s style of play], and that’s the best place to get it out because when it comes game time, we need to be perfect and we need to execute,” Mallory said. “It’s going to be a little frustrating. They shoot a lot of threes and they make a lot of passes in one 30-second offense, so we are going to have to move past the frustration and keep playing.”

McGraw echoed Mallory’s sentiments on the uniqueness of the Wildcats’ style.

“We don’t ever want to play Villanova,” she said. “It’s a difficult game to prepare for; it doesn’t really help you to prepare for anybody else; it’s a completely different scout. It’s like an anomaly in the middle of the season. It will be difficult to switch gears, and if they are able to slow us down, we’ve got to play a half-court game.”

In addition to dealing with Villanova’s pace, McGraw emphasized a few other key points the Irish will look to improve upon.

“We have plenty of things to work on,” McGraw said. “We are looking at doing some different things with our press. Defensively we can get better, rebounding-wise, guarding the ball screen. I think there are a lot of things that we can improve on, and we just need to keep working to get better.”

Those things will be especially important for Notre Dame when it takes on No. 7 Tennessee on Monday at home. The 15-4 Vols, led by coach Pat Summitt, have averaged 78.4 points so far this season and feature a pair of elite scorers in versatile senior guard-forward Shekinna Stricklen and graduate student forward Glory Johnson.

But according to McGraw, the Irish will not be looking past the Wildcats.

“I don’t think it will be difficult,” she said. “It is a Big East game, and I think when the Big East teams come in, we have always got to be ready. “

Mallory said the keys to being ready for Saturday will be communication and defending Villanova’s half-court game.

“Coming to play Villanova, it’s going to be about communication and our defense more importantly, so we are not really looking past them,” she said. “We know it’s going to be a tough game, it always is.”

The Irish tip off against the Wildcats at the Purcell Pavilion on Saturday at 1 p.m.