Saturday, March 03, 2007

DePaul 76, Notre Dame Women's Basketball 71

Big East First Round

Editor's Note: I was only able to catch about 15 minutes of a close but otherwise uneventful 73-66 win by the men's basketball team over Rutgers. Dave was there, so I'll let him decide if he wants to do a full writeup.
The men next play in the Big East tournament. Notre Dame knows that it has a first round bye, meaning their next game is on March 8, but they do not yet know their seed. At the time of this writing, they stand in fourth place, half a game back of Louisville. But if Louisville loses at home on Sunday to lowly Seton Hall, the Cards and the Irish will have the same in-conference regular season record. Since Notre Dame beat Louisville earlier this season, the Irish would move ahead and take the #3 seed.

As Marquette is to the Notre Dame men, DePaul is to the Notre Dame women. By virtue of being nearby Catholic schools, Notre Dame and DePaul already faced each other on a regular basis. Now that the Blue Demons have joined the Big East, the rivalry has already intensified. ND and DePaul had already faced off twice this season, including once just this past Monday, and each time the home team won. This contest, at the ever-so-neutral Hartford Civic Center, would be the decider. To add to the intensity, at least from DePaul's perspective, the Demons were playing for a spot in the NCAA tournament, while the Irish were merely playing to improve their seed in the tourney.
The first half was predictably well-fought, albeit very sloppy. The Irish, led by Breona Gray's 12, took a 36-34 advantage into the locker room after a half that saw 10+ turnovers from each team. In the second half, DePaul came out like they had something to play for. The Demons built a double digit lead, and ND compounded the problem by panicking and forcing bad jumpers. Things were looking dire: Tulyah Gaines and Melissa Lechlitner already had 4 fouls, Gray had gone cold, Ashely Barlow was scoreless, and Charel Allen was uncharacteristically quiet.
Finally, with about 10 minutes to go, the Irish started to find success with their backdoor-cutting offense. Unfortunately, though, while they had started scoring again, they weren't yet making stops. Finally with about 6 minutes to go did the momentum began to turn. But I have to give major credit to DePaul head coach Doug Bruno in this one. Instead of waiting for Notre Dame to come all the way back, and then react, he cut the rally (or rallies) off before they could even start. Bruno called a time out the first time the lead was cut to 8, and then a few minutes later when the lead was first cut to 6, as if to say, "This is the break-even point. We're not going to let them get any closer than this."
Notre Dame did get closer, and at one point had the game tied at 66. Charel Allen took over the scoring, Ashely Barlow went on the hard-nosed attack on both ends of the floor, and Erica Williamson became a presence on defense. But the Irish were never able to take the lead after that point, and DePaul held on to win 76-71.

Other random observations from this game:
  • Lechlitner is money on jumpers from just inside the free throw line. If she can build her game around that, she's in great shape.

  • Barlow is listed at 5'9", and at one point she had to guard DePaul's 6' Jenna Rubino. Rubino looked a little more than 3" taller than Barlow, so I'm guessing that 5'9" is a little generous. (Of course, I'll probably walk by Barlow on campus one day and find out that listing myself at 5'10" is a little generous, but now I'm just getting off topic.) If Barlow was half a foot taller, she could easily become one of the most dominant forwards in the game. (See Parker, Candace, and yes I know I'm actually admitting to liking a Tennessee player.) But because she is a physical player that's good down low, it's easy to forget that she can also shoot from the outside and make her free throws very well. So maybe national attention still isn't out of the question.

  • In case you couldn't tell, I think the backcourt duo of Lechlitner and Barlow will be very good in the years to come.

  • Either she just had one bad game, or Melissa D'Amico hasn't yet learned how to use her size effectively. Her positioning was poor on defense and on rebounding opportunities, and that neutralized her height advantage. I'm not trying to call her out for poor play - like I said, she may have just had a bad day. I'm just saying that she has potential to use her 6'5" to a great advantage.

  • At this point, I've already mentioned Notre Dame's other two promising freshman, and their other center, so Erica Williamson is probably starting to feel left out. As a freshman, Williamson isn't a finished product, but she did play well enough for a deserved spot alongside Lechlitner and Barlow on the Big East All-Freshman team. This is the first time three players from the same school have been named Big East All-Freshmen.

  • It's amazing how Charel Allen and Russell Carter's careers have paralleled each other's. Both are athletic guard/forwards. They can make the three, but their strength is in driving to the basket. Two years ago, they were simply bench players with promise. Last year, they were the first option off the bench. This year, they're the energetic team leaders on offense. Even their stats are eerily similar: for the regular season, both Allen and Carter are among the Big East leaders for averaging almost exactly 17 points per game. Fortunately for the women, Charel Allen is only a junior.