SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame freshman Skylar Diggins drove to the wing on the golden maple Joyce Center court, pulled up and fired in a 3 that touched nothing but net during practice for Sunday's NCAA women's basketball tournament game against Cleveland State. Melissa Lechlitner followed with another pull-up jumper that likewise found its mark with lethal precision. Ashley Barlow, another swish. If what the second-seeded Irish did in their green practice jerseys is any indication, Notre Dame is ready to begin its quest for NCAA Tournament glory. “I was thrilled with practice the last few days,” said Irish head coach Muffet McGraw, who noticed some similarities between her current Irish, and the 2001 Irish team that she coached to the national title. “We have worked so hard, and it has probably been the best we practiced since 2001, as far as getting our intensity and getting things done. “The sense of urgency that has been lacking in the past has found its way back,” McGraw said. “I think this is attributed to our seniors. They know what is going on, and since we have come back from the selection show it has been a completely different attitude at practice.” Notre Dame will unleash a balanced attack against a smaller Cleveland State team. Freshman guard Skylar Diggins leads the Irish with an average of 13.6 points a game. Senior guards Ashley Barlow and Lindsay Schrader each average 11.0 points a game, and each are a force on the boards. Schrader averages 6.8 rebounds a game, and Barlow fights for 5.3 rebounds a game. Melissa Lechlitner runs the Irish attack, averaging 7.9 points and 3.2 assists a game as the floor general. Erica Williamson, at 6-foot-4 Notre Dame's tallest player, has emerged as a threat inside lately and now averages 4.5 points a game. Notre Dame faces a Cleveland State team that runs a motion offense designed to counter height advantages by opponents. “What I like about it, and the reason we went to the five-out motion offense is that we can put the best five players on the floor, regardless of size,” Vikings' head coach Kate Peterson Abiad said. “Our tallest player on the court is 5-11.” Kailey Klein leads Cleveland State, averaging 18.6 points a game. “We don't run a single play for Kailey,” Peterson Abiad said. “She just plays offense, and she runs the motion and reads. She's open, because she knows how to look for the ball, and the girls want her to have it, so we find her a lot.” McGraw said that her players are used to seeing a variety of offenses. “I think they can adapt,” McGraw said of defending Cleveland State's motion attack, which starts with all five players outside of the 3-point line. “I think that by this time in the season we have pretty much seen everything.” A key advantage for Notre Dame is firepower off of the bench. Becca Bruszewski, who has started 26 games, averages 9.6 points a game. Devereaux Peters averages 6.9 points and 5.9 rebounds a game. Brittany Mallory averages 6.9 points a game, and Natalie Novosel averages 5.0 points a game. “Well we don't have a lot of depth,” Peterson Abiad said of her Vikings. “Given that, I am notorious for not subbing a lot. I give my kids a lot, a lot of minutes. I am hoping that the conditioning does not wear out now.”
Staff writer Curt Rallo: email@example.com (574) 235-6152
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