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Previewing the opponent: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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This next stretch of two games for the Bearcats may be tougher than any two games for any program in the country during any season. Head coach Jamelle Elliott takes her team back to her Alma Mater, UCONN this coming Thursday for what should be an emotional moment for Elliott. Returning to the arena where she dominated college ball; Elliott and the Bearcats will face a team that has dominated the them since their inclusion in the BIG EAST. The Huskies are a team that has actually dominated most teams in college basketball in the recent years, except for the national runner-up squad in Notre Dame that UC will see tomorrow afternoon at Fifth Third Arena. This is one of those moments when the UC basketball fan sighs and shakes their head. Two game versus the no. 2 and no. 3 teams in the country, respectively are never fun. Then again, I guess you can look at it as a chance to drastically change the path of your season. Winning those two games wouldn't just be a great accomplishment. Winning those two games could vault the Bearcats into the projected NCAA tournament field and boost their confidence for their best BIG EAST finish.

"We're just trying to get better everyday as a team," Elliott said. "It just so happens that we have a tough stretch playing the number 10 team in the country, then the number two team in the country, and then the number three team in the country."

Notre Dame is propelled by All-American candidate and the conference's preseason player of the year, Skylar Diggins, who is averaging 16.9 points per game and 5.5 assists per game. In my estimations, Diggins is battling Baylor's Brittney Griner for national player of year honors and the first overall pick in the WNBA draft should they both come out. It will be tough enough for the Bearcats to focus on following Diggins every where she goes tomorrow, but they also will have to be cognizant of Natalie Novosel and Kayla McBride who also both score in double-figures; Novosel with 16.2 points per game and McBride with 12.2 points per game. Graduate student Devereaux Peters averages a team-best 7.6 rebounds per game.

"It's more about us," Elliott said. "The last 20 minutes of practice we did go over a couple of the half-court sets because obviously we want to know how we are going to guard their screens and everything. One of the things I do want to get better at is our zone. I want to be able to play more zone. I want us to execute in the half-court offense especially against the teams that are going to come out and deny us. We're going to see a lot of pressure these next two games. Hopefully this next two game stretch is really going to prepare us to be really successful toward the end of conference season. "

The run-down:

The Fighting Irish stand at 16-1 losing their only game this season against the no. one team in the land, the Baylor Bears. They are undefeated in conference play at 4-0 and are coming off a 20-point road win at Georgetown, who is ranked no. 17 in the national rankings. Notre Dame has scored 90 points or more in seven games this season and even topped the 100 point mark scoring 128 points in a game at Mercer. It's OK, you can sigh and shake your head again UC fans.

The Bearcats will need a heavy dose of, well, everything and anything tomorrow afternoon if they look to take down this juggernaut. Leading scorers Dayeesha Hollins and Bjonee Reaves must score over the 20-point mark and try to limit Diggins' output as much as possible to be successful. Kayla Cook is an important player as well because of her three-point shooting abilities, which will have to be on point tomorrow in an effort to limit Notre Dame's scoring runs and in order to cut down leads where UC can stay within striking distance. Their hard work on blocking out and playing sound defense in practice will have to show as UC cannot allow the Irish to convert on second chance opportunities. They must also limit the Irish's three-point shooting abilities to below average, which may hurt their confidence and force them into turnovers. It is expected that the Bearcats won't get too deep into their bench, so Alyesha Lovett will have to take advantage of her minutes and not become a downgrade off the bench. She will have to become a spark plug rather contributing to the final box score. The return of Jeanise Randolph needs to continue to complement Tiffany Turner and for the Bearcats to win, I believe Randolph will need to have a break-out game.

"You get in trouble when you say 'this is an easy one for us' and now all of a sudden you look bad and you never want to look bad as a top five team," Elliott said about taking advantage of Notre Dame in a trap game scenario. "Injuries can play a factor, so you have to play every game as it's the same way and I'm sure Notre Dame is thinking the same thing."
 
Additional game-time information:

The game is set to start at 3 p.m. pending the finish time of the men's game against Villanova that is being played at Fifth Third Arena at noon. If the men's game goes past 2 p.m. for any reason, then the women's game will not start at 3 p.m., but 60 minutes after the conclusion of the men's game. If the men's game finishes on-time or early, then the women's game will still keep a 3 p.m. tip-off.  

 

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