u Better effort needed from top-ranked team
Assistant Sports Editor
For the third game in a row, the Irish were unable to build an early lead. The nation's No. 1 team allowed the 9-13 Panthers to remain in the game late into the second half. With 9:26 remaining, the ninth-place team in the Big East closed to within 47-41.
"Overall I'm just really disappointed — we have to fix it," said Irish head coach Muffet McGraw, showing obvious disappointment. "We're just waiting for somebody to come beat us, the way that we're playing right now."
The Catholic middle school cheerleaders that helped out on Tuesday showed more interest in the game than the players wearing the gold uniforms.
"I think that we played with a little bit of a lack of interest at times — especially defensively," said McGraw. Time and time again Pittsburgh point guard Laine Selwyn ran circles around the Irish defense, finishing with 23 points, 13 points above her season average.
Offensively, the Irish struggled to find a rhythm the entire night. After setting a school record for fewest turnovers in a game at Boston College on Saturday with nine, the Irish handed Pittsburgh the ball 18 times.
Point guard Niele Ivey suffered a floor burn early in the game, and sustained a deep thigh bruise in the second half.
" I thought that mentally she had a lot of breakdowns out there," McGraw said.
The couple that successfully ran across the court held together only by the apple that was in each of their mouths proved to have a better grasp than the Irish offense.
After turning the ball over an all-time low nine times against Boston College on Saturday, the Irish matched that total in the first half. Power forward Kelley Siemon committed three of those first-half miscues.
Siemon expects more of a home court advantage than the Irish have displayed since upsetting No. 1 Connecticut.
"I think we should have the kind of pride where teams should come in here and not even be able to score 50," Siemon said. "I think if we played tomorrow, we'd kill a team by 70. That's how mad I feel."
Pitt coach Traci Waites observed her team — playing without two injured starters — stay in the game with the most heralded team in women's basketball in recent weeks.
"I think the only place Notre Dame hurt us in my opinion is on the boards," Waites said. "I thought we played pretty tough defense and we got great shots."
With all the attention the Irish have been getting as the No. 1 team as of late, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid overconfidence. Rather than displaying the anxiousness to go out on the court and dominate for 40 minutes as they did in early-season games against the likes of Arizona, North Carolina and Fordham, the Irish appear to be wading through the remaining games before hitting the postseason tournaments.
"We get up big, we just expect that teams are going to quit this season," McGraw said, observing how Pittsburgh never slacked off. "They're still fighting out there trying to make it close."
Following the press conference, parents and children seeking autographs and offering congratulatory words swarmed McGraw and the Irish players. While such behavior is to be appreciated, it lessens the impact of a game in which the Irish played like anything but a No. 1 team.
With a week off before playing two East Coast in four days at Syracuse and Rutgers, the Irish must realize that this is the pivotal point in their season. They can put together the strong defense displayed a week ago against Providence and the nearly flawless offense shown at Boston College.
Or they can drift further down the river of underachievement displayed Wednesday night. "Its frustrating to see how much talent we have and not show it. Every game's important for us," Ivey said. "We just don't want to look back and regret anything that we did. We just need to go out and play hard every game."
With five games left until the postseason, now there's no looking back.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Sports Stories for Thursday, February 8, 2001