Most pleased with our defense
In 13 seasons as the head coach at Notre Dame, Muffet McGraw has led the Fighting Irish to seven NCAA tournament appearances. In 1997, Notre Dame went to its first Final Four, and in 1999-2000, recorded the best winning percentage in school history. The Fighting Irish are currently 14-0 and ranked No. 3 in the AP poll. Check out McGraw's diary every other week on CNNSI.com.
January 11, 2001
I'm really pleased with the way the team is playing. We came back from the Christmas break very focused and had a tough game at USC right away. It was great to go from 40 inches of snow in South Bend to 75 degrees and sunny in Los Angeles. We were treated to a real Chinese dinner by our alumni club and had a big crowd of Irish fans at the game. It's good to have such great support away from home, and that's one of the best things about Notre Dame -- our fans and alumni are everywhere.
It was a lot of fun to travel to the West coast and then to gear up for a very physical and competitive game. This team is really mature in that they've been able to enjoy the places they've been -- like Orlando for the Honda Elite Four Holiday Classic and Los Angeles -- but they're always ready at game time. As for the game, USC played a very aggressive man to man defense. It was a really good test for us and prepared for the Big East schedule.
We came back and began the main Big East part of our schedule at Virginia Tech, which is in its first year in the conference, so we were not sure what to expect from them. Our game there was their Big East home opener, and they had a great crowd and an exciting atmosphere for women's basketball. It was another opportunity for us to play in a close game and be able to execute and play well in a tough environment.
We've been playing extremely well offensively, but I'm most pleased with our defense. We've really worked hard to improve our defense and, although we still have a little work to do with our rebounding, I'm really happy that we are holding teams in the low 50s. We talked a lot in the preseason about how important it is to be aggressive and strong on defense. We've always been a pretty good offensive team but against the good teams we have struggled defensively. I think our defensive intensity is another reason we are undefeated right now.
Our highly competitive non-conference schedule really prepared us for the rigors of the Big East. Getting ready for conference play is always a big challenge for us, but it is one for which we are well prepared. It seems as though every week is another big week for us and the target on our back is becoming more comfortable.
We have a lot of experience at being the underdog, but our success the last few years has changed that. Our program has come a long way since we joined the Big East, and my team has adjusted well to being the hunted. It's a very different feeling for me, although I can still remember waiting for the poll to come out to see if we got votes and now I couldn't recite the top 25 (unless it's a team we're playing). Our program has evolved into a prominent position nationally and I am proud of what this senior class has accomplished for the university.
Looking at our schedule, we've beaten three teams ranked in the top 10 and other teams who were ranked or getting votes. We've had a very difficult schedule and we've earned our spot in the top 5, although it doesn't really matter that much where we are ranked at this point in the season. We are just focusing on our Big East schedule and trying to continue to improve.
Niele Ivey is having a fantastic all-America year. She is the leader of our team both on and off the court. She is a lot of fun to be around and she makes practice and the road trips a lot of fun (everyone is a victim of her famous "impersonations"). The team looks at her as the leader of the team. She's shooting the ball extremely well, she's a great defensive player and she leads the Big East in assists and steals. All around, she's probably the best player on our team.
Ruth Riley is also having another all-America year. She's been our go-to player and has always come up big for us. She plays well in the big games and is always ready to play. Ruth is someone who is a joy to coach because she is one of those players that always does what she is supposed to do. She studies the scouting reports and knows exactly what is going on. No one works harder on their games than Niele and Ruth.
As well as Niele and Ruth are playing, I think the key to our success is Kelley Siemon and Ericka Haney. Kelley is a good defender, does a great job of talking on defense and has shown great leadership with our team. Ericka is the most improved player on the team and is doing so many good things. She has really matured as a player and seems to understand her role a little better. She has really improved on her assist-to-turnover ratio -- another goal that our entire team is striving to improve.
Alicia Ratay is getting a lot more attention lately. She hasn't been able to score as much from the perimeter lately because teams are really keying on her. I guess you have to expect that when you lead the nation in three-point field-goal percentage. That is why Ruth has been the leading scorer in our last few games because teams are tightening up on the perimeter. Ruth is able to have more one-on-one opportunities on the block -- something she doesn't get very often. Just having Alicia on the floor helps Ruth get open.
On the horizon now is the Connecticut game on Jan. 15, but not until we play a very good Virginia Tech team two days earlier. It would be nice to have more time to prepare for UConn, but on the other hand it gives us less time to think about it. Virginia Tech is a very good team so we can't look ahead.
There's always a lot of hype surrounding the Connecticut game. It's the one game every year that a lot of people want to see. You can't put a whole lot into one game but certainly this team has the confidence to go out and play and know that they can win against anyone in the country.
It is going to be great for our fans to see UConn since they haven't played at the Joyce Center in so long. We've had great crowds all year, so the home court is at least one advantage we'll have on them. They've got a great team and certainly are the best team in the country right now and they've proven that. We just want to go out and play well and maybe a little luck of the Irish wouldn't hurt!
-- Coach McGraw