Barlow, defense lift No. 17 Notre Dame to easy win over Valparaiso

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Notre Dame didn't need any drama this time to beat Valparaiso.

A year ago the Fighting Irish needed a free throw with 1.2 seconds left to win. On Wednesday night the question wasn't whether the 17th-ranked Irish would beat the Crusaders, but by how much.

The answer was by 38. Ashley Barlow scored 15 of her 19 points in the first half and Notre Dame forced 27 turnovers en route to its seventh straight victory, 94-56 over the Crusaders.

"We really wanted to make a statement early," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I think we felt like we let Bowling Green hang with us for a long time and get confident and we wanted to knock them out in the first half."

The Irish (9-1) succeeded as the Crusaders couldn't handle Notre Dame's pressing defense. Notre Dame forced 16 turnovers in the first half, leading to 19 Irish points.

Back-to-back plays summed up the kind of night it was for the two teams. Agnieszka Kulaga, Valparaiso's leading scorer, took a 10-foot jumper that rolled twice around the rim and appeared as though it would fall in, but spun out instead. The Irish took the ball down the other end and Melissa Lechlitner took a 14-foot baseline jumper that bounced hard off the back of the rim, off the front of the rim and fell in. The basket was part of a 14-2 run that gave the Irish a 23-8 lead.

The Irish followed that moments later with a 15-2 run to move ahead 40-15. Notre Dame shot 58 percent in the first half and led 47-22 at intermission.

Valparaiso coach Keith Freeman, who saw his team lose to Notre Dame 71-46 during the 2001-02 season when the Irish won the national championship, said this year's squad was the toughest he's faced.

"They're deeper, they're more athletic, they have people who can finish plays in transition and they've always been well coached. So now they have a lot more threats to make it difficult for a team like us to take advantage."

The Irish, who needed overtime to win at Bowling Green a week earlier, have won all but one of their six home games this season by at least 30 points.

"I think the crowd really helps us," McGraw said. "We get so energized with the crowd. Everything just seems to flow better at home."

The seven-game winning streak is the Irish's longest since they won 10 straight during the 2004-05 season. Valparaiso (3-6) fell to 0-21 against the Irish, who won by the third-most lopsided score against the Crusaders.

"I think we're a lot better than we were in the past," said Charel Allen, who made her last seven shots to finish with 14 points. "The team chemistry is great. We get along so well off the court and on the court and it shows."

Brittany Mallory and Devereaux Peters had 10 points each for the Irish. Aimee Litka, who is from South Bend, led Valparaiso with a career-high 17 points.

Despite the easy win, McGraw still wasn't totally satisfied.

"They shot 50 percent from the 3-point line and that was something we were trying to key on," she said.