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Irish Insights

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Notre Dame women's basketball notebook

The importance of staying loose and other thoughts

Notre Dame and Vermont started play in the NCAA women's tournament in different ways.

The second-seeded Irish (28-5), who defeated No. 15 seed Cleveland State 86-58 Sunday in Purcell Pavilion, looked tentative and uptight in their first game.

Notre Dame committed 10 turnovers in the first half against Cleveland State and fell behind 8-4 in the opening four minutes.

"I think a lot of what the first half was (Sunday) was getting a lot of the jitters out," Irish center Erica Williamson said Monday. "… We stumbled a little in the first half, but we definitely rebounded in the second (half) and played more the way Notre Dame plays. I think the second half is definitely more of a sign of how we play and how we'll play in the future."

The 10th-seeded Catamounts (27-6), who topped No. 7 seed Wisconsin 64-55, stayed loose and upbeat and built a 33-25 halftime lead.

And even though Vermont is in the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time, the Catamounts do not see any reason to change their approach when the play the Irish at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Purcell Pavilion.

"Our team identity shouldn't change just because we won a first-round game," Catamounts forward Alissa Sheftic said. "I think we are going to stay strong, do the dancing in the locker room before hand and on the court, I think we are going to carry on today in practice like we normally have.

"We are going to address some Notre Dame issues, but we talked about it before that it is really about us. It is about what we are going to do to be successful."

Hitting the boards

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw and Vermont coach Sharon Dawley enter Tuesday's game asking their teams to do the same thing – win the rebounding battle.

Neither the Irish nor the Catamounts are great rebounding teams.

Vermont, which averages 38.3 rebounds, is 59th in the country in rebounding margin at 3.8. Notre Dame, which averages 38.9 rebounds, is 80th in the country in rebounding margin at 3.1.

"I think probably every coach in the tournament is telling their team rebounding is the most important thing you can do," McGraw said. "If we can limit the other team's chances, we are going to have a much better shot at winning. That is something we talked about all year long. We have to do a better job on the boards at both ends."

Dawley said her team will be focusing a lot on defensive rebounds to limit the Irish's scoring chances.

Notre Dame had 10 offensive rebounds and 13 second-chance points in its opening-round victory over Cleveland State.

"The only number that we are preaching is one chance, we can't give up any offensive rebounds," Dawley said.

Going inside

Notre Dame has a guard-fueled offense.

The Irish's top three scorers – Skylar Diggins at 13.4 points per game, Ashley Barlow at 11.1 and Lindsay Schrader at 10.9 – are guards.

But Notre Dame has made an effort to get the ball to its post players and it paid off against Cleveland State in the first round.

Forward Becca Bruszewski came off the bench to score a team-high 14 points, and forward Devereaux Peters also came off the bench to scored 12.

"It helps a lot because we are a balanced team, and we can do a lot of inside-out stuff," Peters said. "If the guards are not hitting as much they can kick it inside, and we can create some stuff. That opens them up a lot more."

Pressure point

Notre Dame was able to calm itself down against Cleveland State by applying a full-court press to create turnovers and easy baskets.

The Irish will need to continue to get production from the press as they try to slow down the Catamounts' tall guards, 6-foot-1 Courtney Pilypaitis and 5-10 May Kotsopoulos.

Pilypaitis averages 15.2 points and 4.8 assists, and May Kotsopoulos averages a team-high 17.2 points.

"We are going to try to get up and be aggressive on defense and put a lot of pressure on them," Irish guard Skylar Diggins said.

McGraw said her team plays its best when it is pressing and not over thinking.

"When you are pressing and you are running you are not thinking," McGraw said. "We have so many players that play really well in that kind of game."

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