New-found consistency puts IND in thick of things

January 26, 1995|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,Contributing Writer

For the Institute of Notre Dame basketball team, the first month of the season looked a lot like the previous two years.

Having gained a reputation for inconsistency and playing to the level of its competition, IND took the concept to the extreme that month.

On Dec. 14, the Indians were routed by a sub-.500 John Carroll squad, 64-32.

Three weeks later, IND upset then-No. 5 St. Mary's, 60-50.

As improbable as it seems that the same team could produce two such contrasting results, it is what people had come to expect from IND.

The two games further confirmed the Indians' status as a capable, yet underachieving, team.

Or could it be that the victory over St. Mary's was an indication that IND finally was starting to fulfill its potential?

The Indians have been a model of consistency in their five games since then.

Under first-year coach Deb Taylor -- the Indians' third coach in as many years -- IND has won three of the five, including a victory over then-No. 15 Mount de Sales and a win in its rematch with John Carroll.

The losses were to the Catholic League's top two teams -- No. 7 St. Frances and No. 9 Seton Keough -- by a combined nine points. IND had led at halftime in both contests.

With basically the same players that went a combined 21-31 -- including an 11-17 record in the Catholic League -- the past two seasons, the Indians have established themselves as contenders for the league title.

No. 16 IND (8-7 overall, 5-3 league) is tied for third in the division with St. Mary's, two games behind co-leaders St. Frances and Seton Keough with six games remaining.

IND's players, as well as opposing coaches, give Taylor much of the credit for the Indians' turnaround.

"The same talent is here, but they were like a ship without a rudder," said Taylor, who played at the University of Vermont (1984-1988) and served as an assistant at Atholton the past two seasons. "I had to get them to believe in themselves and each other."

Taylor has stressed fundamentals and playing tough man-to-man defense while instilling a winning attitude.

"Their defense is about 200 percent better than it was last year," St. Mary's coach Harry Dobson said.

Said St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton: "They're playing as hard as they've always played, but they're playing more together and smarter."

The Indians are getting solid play from six players, led by junior guard/forward Robin Johnson, who leads the team in scoring (14.3), rebounding (7.3) and field-goal percentage (60 percent).

Senior guard Shannon Skopp (11.6-point average) is IND's top outside shooter and senior Candice Morrison (8.3) leads the team in steals (4.2) and has developed into a fine point guard.

Junior twins Kim and Kelly Pryce and senior forward Debbie Krastel also have been key role players.

Taylor cites her team's performance in the McCorristin Catholic (N.J.) Christmas Tournament as the turning point of the season.

After a disappointing loss to the host team in the opening round dropped the Indians' record to 3-5, Taylor knew something had to be done.

"I challenged the kids that day," Taylor said. "I told them they needed to turn it around now or it will be the same old thing for them."

To help inspire her players, Taylor showed them a motivational tape on the Stanford women's team when it won the NCAA title three years ago.

"It was amazing to see the reaction on my teammates' faces after watching that video," Skopp said. "Everyone was so pumped up after that."

IND responded with one of its best games in a victory over Villa Joseph (N.Y.) in the consolation game. In its first game back after the tournament, IND beat St. Mary's.

The Indians' confidence level gradually has increased ever since. And despite a 45-43 setback to Seton Keough on Monday, it hasn't waned.

"To play Seton Keough that close and lose, it's hard not to get down," Johnson said. "But then we remember that people considered us a bunch of underachievers. To lose to Seton Keough by just two points showed what a bunch of underachievers can do."

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