March 15, 2002
By ELIZABETH A. DAVIS
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Notre Dame struggled earlier in the season against teams trying to beat the defending national champions.
With only two starters from that team back this year, coach Muffett McGraw believed a first-round win would be extremely important for the NCAA tournament newcomers.
Alicia Ratay, a leftover starter, scored 14 points, and freshman reserve Jacqueline Batteast added 13 as Notre Dame (20-9) beat New Mexico 58-44 Friday night in the opening round of the Midwest Regional.
The Irish trailed at the beginning of the second half but used a 15-0 run to take the lead and pull away from the Lobos (22-9).
“This was a huge win for us. We’ve got some young players, and it was important for them to get experience,” McGraw said. “We struggled early in the year, and our confidence was shaken.”
The Irish will play Sunday against the winner of Friday’s second game between second-seeded Tennessee and No. 15 Georgia.
Tenth-seeded New Mexico (22-8), in the NCAA tournament for the second time in school history, was ahead 39-36 with 15:10 remaining.
“We figured out who were the shooters and who was hot at the time. We had to get out on them sooner and contest their shots,” Batteast said. “There were things we adjusted to that helped out.”
Then the Irish held the Lobos, who have never won an NCAA tournament game, scoreless for the next 12 minutes. New Mexico scored only 11 points in the second half, an NCAA record for the lowest scoring output in the first and second rounds.
Chelsea Grear’s second free-throw attempt went in to end the drought with 2:57 remaining.
Meanwhile, Teresa Borton scored and Jeneka Joyce hit a 3 to put Notre Dame ahead 41-39 and start the decisive run.
Rattay made a nice runner in the lane as Grear defended her all the way to the basket. Batteast, the Big East rookie of the year, made a deft pass to Barksdale under the basket that put the Irish ahead 45-39 with 5:38 remaining.
New Mexico couldn’t get any shots to fall and got rattled as the Irish extended the lead. By the time Grear made her free throw, Notre Dame was ahead 51-40, and the Lobos had little chance for a rally.
“It was just a game where we ran out of offense,” New Mexico coach Don Flanagan said. “I thought we did a good job of defending their top scorers.”
New Mexico was ahead in the first half thanks to reserve Melissa Forest, who scored all 12 of her points before the break. Her 3 with 3:50 remaining broke a tie at 21, and she followed it with a basket and another 3 as New Mexico went ahead 29-25 with 2:09 to go.
Batteast answered with a 3 for Notre Dame to cut it to one point 19 seconds later.
“I’m not sure they knew I could shoot,” Forest said. “I didn’t have as good looks in the second half.”
The Lobos scored twice in the last minute to regain a five-point lead before Borton’s putback went in at the buzzer to trim the lead to 33-30 at halftime.
Mandi Moore added 10 points for New Mexico, which had 18 turnovers in the game.