Feb. 23, 2009
2008-09 ND Women’s Basketball: Game 26
#23/24 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (18-7 / 7-6 BIG EAST) vs. Syracuse Orange (15-11 / 4-9 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 24, 2009
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. – Joyce Center (11,418)
SERIES: ND leads 21-2
1ST MTG: ND 81-64 (1/16/88)
LAST MTG: ND 79-67 (2/16/08)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (video) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TEXT ALERT: UND.com
TICKETS: (574) 631-7356
- Notre Dame needs one victory to reach the 10-win mark at home for the 12th time in its 14-year BIG EAST membership.
- Tuesday represents the third time this season that the Irish have faced a 48-hour turnaround between games.
No. 23 Irish Back Home To Face Syracuse Tuesday Night
Only one week remains in the 2008-09 BIG EAST regular season and No. 23 Notre Dame will look to begin a strong finishing kick when it plays host to Syracuse Tuesday at 7 p.m. (ET) inside the Joyce Center. The Irish currently are in a three-way tie for sixth place in the BIG EAST standings, two games back of fourth (the latter holding the final “double-bye” for the upcoming BIG EAST Championship).
Notre Dame (18-7, 7-6) opened some eyes around the country on Sunday, going toe-to-toe with top-ranked Connecticut on its home floor before coming up on the short end of a 76-66 score. The Irish led by as many as six points in the first half, and put the Huskies behind in the second half for the first time before giving UConn its closest game of the season.
- Notre Dame is ranked 23rd in this week’s Associated Press poll and was ranked 24th in last week’s ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll.
- Syracuse is not ranked.
A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Notre Dame (18-7, 7-6) is up one spot to 23rd in this week’s Associated Press poll and is part of a three-way tie for sixth place (with Marquette and Rutgers) in the 16-team BIG EAST standings. The Irish are one game back of fifth-place DePaul (whom Notre Dame defeated twice this year to own the tiebreaker) and two games behind fourth-place Villanova with three games left in the regular season.
Despite losing two key players (sophomores Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory) to season-ending knee injuries earlier in the year, Notre Dame consistently has ranked among the top 40 teams in the nation in scoring offense (currently 26th at 72.4 ppg.) and scoring margin (39th at +10.4 ppg.).
The Irish also feature a balanced offense that sees four players presently scoring in double figures. In addition, nine different players have led the team in scoring at least once during the year, while 10 of the 12 players have scored in double figures at least once to date.
Junior guard Ashley Barlow leads a tightly-bunched scoring crew for Notre Dame at 12.8 points per game, while ranking second on the team with 5.0 rebounds a night. She also is among the BIG EAST leaders in steals (2.6 spg.) and has knocked down a team-high 31 three-pointers (including a career-high four treys in Sunday’s loss at top-ranked Connecticut).
Senior guard Lindsay Schrader has posted career-high averages almost across the board this season, placing second on the squad in scoring (12.2 ppg.) and first in rebounding (7.2 rpg.). She also has recorded a team-high five double-doubles this year, including three in the past six games, capped by a 17-point, 11-rebound effort at Connecticut.
The Irish also are paced by two of the BIG EAST’s most improved players in junior point guard Melissa Lechlitner and sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski. A first-year starter, Lechlitner is third on the team in scoring (10.7 ppg.) while setting the pace with 3.6 assists per game, a 1.48 assist/turnover ratio and a .365 three-point percentage (all well above her previous career highs).
Also in her first year as a starter, Bruszewski has doubled her scoring (10.3 ppg.) and rebounding (4.8 rpg.) averages, along with a .498 field goal percentage that is 11th-best in the BIG EAST. What’s more, she is in the midst of the most successful run of her young career, averaging 15.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in her last five games, including a career-high 20 points on Feb. 17 at USF.
Potent Notables About The Irish
- Notre Dame is among the nation’s winningest programs during the past 12 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking seventh with 310 victories.
- Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in attendance each of the past eight seasons. This year, the program has averaged 7,512 fans for its 11 home games. The Irish also have drawn 5,000-or-more fans to 121 of their last 123 home games, including six Joyce Center sellouts of 11,418 (most recently on Dec. 7, 2008 vs. Purdue).
- The Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as seven Notre Dame players have been selected in the past eight seasons. Charel Allen was the most recent Irish player to be chosen, going to the Sacramento Monarchs in the third round (43rd overall pick) of the 2008 WNBA Draft. Allen, Megan Duffy (New York) and Ruth Riley (San Antonio) all were active in the league during the ’08 season, with all three teams making the playoffs (San Antonio made the WNBA Finals, while New York was the Eastern Conference runner-up). Three of Notre Dame’s eight WNBA alums have won a total of four league championships — Riley won a pair of crowns with the Detroit Shock (2003 Finals MVP, 2006), Coquese Washington toiled for the 2000 Houston Comets, while Jacqueline Batteast was Riley’s teammate on the ’06 title-winning squad in Detroit.
- For the third year in a row, the Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October 2008. Notre Dame also was one of only four teams with a perfect ’07 GSR to advance to the 2008 NCAA Sweet 16 (joining Oklahoma State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt). Furthermore, since Muffet McGraw became the Irish head coach in 1987, every Notre Dame women’s basketball player that has completed her athletic and academic eligibility at the University has graduated (a 57-for-57 success rate).
A Quick Look At Syracuse
Coming off the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years and best record (22-9) in its BIG EAST era, Syracuse has set the bar for its future success. With a young roster, the Orange (15-11, 4-9) have experienced some highs and lows this season, but remain one of the conference’s up-and-coming squads.
SU comes into Tuesday night’s game having lost eight of its last 10, including a 73-72 decision at home to Georgetown on Sunday night. The Orange won the battle on the boards (43-37) and forced 17 Hoya turnovers, but struggled to find their own shooting eye, hitting at a .333 clip in the loss.
Senior guard Chandrea Jones led SU with 23 points, while junior guard Nicole Michael notched a double-double with 13 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Sophomore guard Erica Morrow chipped in 10 points, a game-best six assists (without a turnover) and five rebounds for the Orange.
That trio has controlled the balance of Syracuse’s production this year. Jones leads the team in scoring (16.7 ppg.) and rebounding (8.5 rpg.), Morrow is second in scoring (16.0 ppg.) and first in steals (2.64 spg.) and Michael is third in scoring (14.3 ppg.) and second in rebounding (8.3 rpg.) and field goal percentage (.464).
Quentin Hillsman, the reigning BIG EAST Co-Coach of the Year, is in his third season at Syracuse with a 46-40 (.535) career record. He is 0-2 all-time against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Syracuse Series
Tuesday marks the 24th time that Notre Dame and Syracuse will tangle on the hardwood, with the Irish holding a 21-2 series lead. Notre Dame has won the past eight matchups with the Orange, and is 17-0 all-time against SU in BIG EAST regular-season play, with the last Syracuse win coming in the 2002 BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals (84-79 at Piscataway, N.J.).
The Last Time ND And Syracuse Met
When Chandrea Jones made her only basket of the game and finished a three-point play, Syracuse was tied with Notre Dame with just over three minutes left and magic was in the Carrier Dome air again. But Melissa Lechlitner had other ideas.
After Erica Morrow had led a 10-2 run by the No. 21/23 Orange to put them in front 61-60 with 5:13 left, Lechlitner hit a baseline jumper to break a 64-all tie and followed with a runner in the lane, her only baskets of the game, as the 16th-ranked Irish scored 10 straight points and beat No. 21/23 Syracuse, 79-67, on Feb. 16, 2008.
Charel Allen had 22 points and a season-high 12 rebounds and Erica Williamson had 14 points and a season-best 11 rebounds to pace Notre Dame. In the decisive final minutes, Morrow missed a baseline jumper, Jones and Vaida Sipaviciute were called for fouls, and Jones committed a turnover to halt the Orange attack.
Morrow led the Orange with 19 points, Nicole Michael had 14 points and six rebounds, and Sipaviciute had 12 points. Jones, the team’s leading scorer at 16 points, finished with just four on 1-for-12 shooting for the Orange, who lost for only the second time in 12 home games all season.
Notre Dame outrebounded Syracuse 45-31, including a 20-14 margin on the offensive glass.
The Last Time ND And Syracuse Met At The Joyce Center
Charel Allen posted her second career double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds to help Notre Dame earn an 83-55 BIG EAST win over Syracuse on Jan. 20, 2007, at the Joyce Center.
Melissa Lechlitner had arguably the best day of her young career, registering personal highs with 18 points and six rebounds, as well as five assists without a turnover. Tulyah Gaines nearly had a double-double of her own, finishing with 10 points and a career-high-tying nine assists, while Erica Williamson also came close to a double-double with eight points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Fantasia Goodwin scored a team-high 16 points for Syracuse. Nicole Michael added a double-double with 14 points and a team-best 10 rebounds, and Vaida Sipaviciute also scored 14 points for the visitors.
After the teams traded opening baskets, Notre Dame surged in front with 11 of the next 13 points, with Allen accounting for nine markers. Syracuse got back within seven points twice, the second coming at 18-11 on Goodwin’s triple with 11:22 remaining in the first half. A minute later, the Irish had their first double-digit lead of the game, and Lechlitner kept Notre Dame up by double figures for good on a three-pointer for a 27-15 spread at the 7:52 mark. The teams played almost evenly the rest of the period, with the Irish taking a 41-23 lead at halftime.
Allen’s long jumper 17 seconds into the second half put Notre Dame up by 20 points. That margin remained for the next three minutes until the Orange went on a 9-0 run, getting within 49-38 on a jumper in the lane by Sipaviciute with 12:52 to go. However, Lechlitner converted an old-fashioned three-point play on the next Irish possession and SU never got closer than 13 points from then on. A game-ending 16-4 run helped Notre Dame finish with its largest margin of the afternoon.
Other ND-Syracuse Series Tidbits
- The Irish have won all 10 series games against Syracuse at the Joyce Center by an average margin of 20.6 points per game. Nine of those 10 games in South Bend also have been decided by double-digit margins, including the past eight.
- Notre Dame has scored at least 70 points in 18 of the 23 series games with Syracuse, while the Orange have topped that mark twice in the series (last coming in their most recent win, 84-79, on March 3, 2002, in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at Piscataway, N.J.)
- The Irish defense has played a key role during its current eight-game series winning streak. Notre Dame has limited Syracuse to 52.3 points per game in that stretch, including two games of 35 points or fewer.
- Syracuse is one of eight programs against whom Notre Dame has at least 20 series wins; the others are Marquette (28), Georgetown (23), Dayton/Detroit/Valparaiso (22), Loyola-Chicago (21) and Xavier (20).
- In four of the past five games vs. Syracuse, Notre Dame has had at least one player set (at the time) a new career scoring high — Breona Gray (17 on Jan. 5, 2005), Charel Allen (17 on Jan. 19, 2005), Lindsay Schrader (24 on Jan. 31, 2006) and Melissa Lechlitner (18 on Jan. 20, 2007). All four players went on to eclipse those point totals later in their careers.
- Notre Dame sophomore forward Devereaux Peters and Syracuse sophomore guard Erica Morrow both played in the 2007 McDonald’s High School All-America Game in Louisville. Peters had one point, five rebounds and two blocks as a reserve for the West squad, while Morrow came off the bench to tally four points, three rebounds and three steals for the East team, which earned a 105-76 victory. Peters is out for the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee on Nov. 23 at Boston College.
- While Irish junior center Erica Williamson now calls Charlotte, N.C., home, she spent many of her formative years in Rochester, N.Y., and attended Honeoye Falls-Lima High School for her first three prep seasons (helping the school win a state title in 2005) before her family moved to Charlotte that summer.
Empire (State) Records
Notre Dame is 43-4 (.915) all-time against New York schools, including a 23-0 record at the Joyce Center. In those 23 victories, only three have been by single digits — a 71-66 win over Syracuse on Dec. 8, 1990, a 72-65 victory over St. John’s on Jan. 26, 2005, and a 70-67 win over St. John’s earlier this season (Jan. 17).
Coincidentally, those two squads also account for all four New York wins over the Irish (two for each school).
Peaking When It Counts
When the regular season enters its stretch run in the month of February, Notre Dame historically seems to raise its level of play. Since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, the Irish are 79-23 (.775) in February games, including a 45-5 (.900) mark at home.
In the 22-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-present), the Irish are 127-38 (.770) in the month of February, including a 67-11 (.859) home record. In that time, Notre Dame has not had a losing February, and only once did the Irish end the month at .500 (4-4 in 1988-89, McGraw’s second season in South Bend).
Last year, Notre Dame continued its trend of winning records in February under McGraw, going 6-1 with only a 57-51 loss at No. 5/4 Rutgers on Feb. 19, 2008.
Notre Dame is 5-3 against Associated Press Top 25 opponents this season, with four of those victories coming against non-conference opponents. That marks the first time in school history the Irish have registered four non-conference Top 25 victories in the regular season. The four ranked wins also currently represent nearly half of the BIG EAST’s nine Top 25 wins during the 2008-09 non-conference schedule (no other league school has more than two Top 25 non-conference victories this season).
Two of Notre Dame’s three losses to ranked opponents have come against AP top-10 foes by an average of 7.5 points. The Irish dropped a 71-66 decision at home to No. 10/12 Louisville on Feb. 11, and bowed at top-ranked Connecticut, 76-66, on Feb. 22 (the closest any team has come to taking down the Huskies this season).
Closer Than You Think
Notre Dame’s seven losses this season have come by an average of 8.3 points per game (all by 12 points or fewer), and in six of them, the Irish either led in the second half, or had a chance to take the lead down the stretch.
On Dec. 10 at Michigan, Notre Dame led by two with 13 seconds left in regulation, but a turnover allowed the Wolverines to send the game to OT. In the extra session, the Irish had two chances to tie or take the lead in the final 20 seconds, but came up short, falling 63-59.
On Jan. 13 at Marquette, Notre Dame led by as many as eight points in the second half, and trailed by only two with 4:30 to play before the Golden Eagles pulled away for a 75-65 win.
On Jan. 24 at Villanova, the Irish never led, but also rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit to get within one point three times in the second half. Notre Dame had four second-half possessions with a chance to tie or take the lead, but could never quite manage to break through, as the Wildcats gamely hung on for a 55-48 win.
On Feb. 3 at No. 22/24 Pittsburgh, Notre Dame nearly erased a 13-point first-half deficit, trimming the margin to one point twice, and even had a chance to tie, but missed one of two free throws 4:45 into the second half before the Panthers finally drew clear down the stretch.
On Feb. 11 vs. No. 10/12 Louisville, the Irish used a 12-2 second-half run to virtually wipe out a 14-point Cardinal lead, getting within 63-61 with 1:49 left before Louisville earned a three-shot foul with one second on the shot clock on the ensuing possession (and hit all three free throws). Notre Dame got back within three twice more in the final minute, but the Cardinals made a basket and three free throws to keep the Irish at bay.
On Feb. 22 at No. 1 Connecticut, Notre Dame took a 43-41 lead with 16:11 to play, becoming the first team to own a second-half lead on the Huskies this season. However, Connecticut responded with a 22-1 run during the next 6:39 to wrest control away from the Irish, who rallied back within eight points twice in the final 1:13.
A Real Smart Al-Lech
Junior point guard and tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner had started only once in her first two seasons at Notre Dame, but the Mishawaka, Ind., native seems to be making up for lost time this year, while emerging as one of the most improved players in the BIG EAST Conference.
Lechlitner has nearly doubled her scoring average from last year to 10.7 points per game, with 13 double-figure scoring nights (after 16 in her first two seasons combined). She also tossed in a career-high 19 points on Dec. 7 in a victory over No. 17/20 Purdue at the Joyce Center.
In addition, Lechlitner ranks among the conference pacesetters in assists (12th, 3.6 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (eighth, 1.48). Her numbers are even better since BIG EAST play began, ranking sixth in assists (4.2 apg.) and seventh in assist/turnover ratio (1.62). Across the board, these averages are career highs, in some cases even doubling her previous bests.
Off the court, Lechlitner was a prime candidate for ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District status, having been nominated for the honor after compiling a 3.357 cumulative grade-point average (GPA) through the fall 2008 semester as she works towards her degree in psychology.
One Killer B
Sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski is making the most of her first season as a starter for the Irish, ranking fourth on the team in scoring (10.3 ppg.), third in rebounding (4.8 rpg.) and second in field goal percentage (.498, 11th in the BIG EAST Conference). The Valparaiso, Ind., native has doubled last year’s scoring (5.0 ppg.) and rebounding (2.5 rpg.) averages, while adding a reliable three-point shot to her arsenal (.375, 15-of-40) after making 1-of-2 from beyond the arc last season.
Bruszewski has been especially sharp in the past six games, averaging 15.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game with a .500 field goal percentage (36-of-72). She has scored in double figures in five of those six games, with her first career double-double (14 points, career-high 12 rebounds) on Feb. 8 in a win over No. 25 DePaul. More recently on Feb. 17 at South Florida, she poured in a career-high 20 points, including a personal-best 8-of-8 free throws, the last four foul shots coming in a game-ending 11-4 run that helped power the Irish to the win.
Make Mine A Grand(e)
With 16 points against No. 10/12 Louisville on Feb. 11, junior guard and tri-captain Ashley Barlow became the 24th player in Notre Dame women’s basketball history to score 1,000 career points. Barlow hit the milestone on the nose by making two free throws with 37 seconds left.
Now tied for 22nd on the Irish all-time scoring list (1,034), Barlow is the first Notre Dame player to score her 1,000th career point since Charel Allen reached the mark on Feb. 26, 2007, at DePaul. Barlow also could be joined in the Irish 1,000-Point Club later this season by senior guard and fellow captain Lindsay Schrader, who presently has 971 career points.
Using Her Charge Card
Junior center Erica Williamson has developed an uncanny knack for drawing charges despite her 6-foot-4 frame. The Charlotte, N.C., product has taken a team-high 11 charges this season, nearly half of Notre Dame’s team total of 25 to date.
This is the first season the Irish have tracked charges taken (which are an unofficial statistic and not recognized by the NCAA), although it is believed Williamson drew at least a dozen offensive fouls last year.
Novosel Is Just Plain Nasty
Freshman guard Natalie Novosel earned the nickname “nasty” for her gritty and competitive style of play at Lexington Catholic High School in Lexington, Ky., but it would seem that moniker is becoming approproiate for her budding career at Notre Dame as well.
After scoring in double figures once in her first nine games (when she averaged 5.1 ppg.), Novosel has come alive with seven double-digit games in her last 16 outings, averaging 8.5 points per game in that stretch. She has been solid in BIG EAST play as well, where she ranks fifth on the team in scoring (8.4 ppg.) and eighth in the conference with a .541 field goal percentage.
A two-time BIG EAST Freshman of the Week, Novosel’s progress was most recently apparent on Feb. 11 vs. No. 10/12 Louisville, when she tossed in 17 points (7-11 FG) and tied her season highs with four assists and four steals in 26 minutes of court time.
Piping Hot Turnovers
After forcing an opponent-record 737 turnovers (21.7 per game) last season, Notre Dame is on a similar pace again this year, causing 491 turnovers (19.6 per game) through 25 games.
More than half of those turnovers have come via Irish steals, with Notre Dame registering 255 thefts (10.2 per game, third in the BIG EAST) after leading the conference in that category each of the past two seasons — the first time the Irish won their league’s steal title since 1990-91, when they took top honors in the old Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League) with a school-record 397 steals (12.4 spg.), while their 237 steals (14.8 spg.) in conference play remain a Horizon League standard to this day.
Born To Run
Notre Dame has used some impressive scoring streaks to take command in several games this season. In fact, the Irish have fashioned nine game-changing runs during which they have outscored their opponent by at least 12 points.
Furthermore, Notre Dame has manufactured three streaks of at least 16 consecutive points this season, including a 27-0 blitz in the second half of its win over Georgia Southern on Nov. 25. That was the second-longest run of unanswered points in school history, topped only by a 31-0 run in the first half of a win over Pittsburgh on Jan. 18, 1997, at the Joyce Center.
Notre Dame is 19-9 (.679) in true road games during the past two seasons. In addition, the past seven road losses for the Irish have been decided by an average of 8.4 points per game (all by 12 points or fewer), including all five road setbacks this season (average margin of 8.6 ppg.).
From Dec. 28-Jan. 6, the Irish embarked on a four-game road swing, their longest regular-season trip since early in the 2002-03 season, sweeping games at Charlotte (68-61), No. 20/19 Vanderbilt (59-57), Seton Hall (66-60) and DePaul (86-62).
It was the first time Notre Dame won four consecutive games, all on the road (opponent’s home floor) since Jan. 7-19, 1991, when the Irish won at Butler (80-64), DePaul (81-66), Loyola-Chicago (66-55) and Marquette (91-73) in succession during Notre Dame’s first full week as a ranked team in program history.
New Kids On The Block
It may not be exactly the way Irish head coach Muffet McGraw envisioned it prior to the season, but Notre Dame’s freshman class has been getting some valuable on-the-job training this year.
With season-ending knee injuries to sophomores Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory, the Irish bench now basically consists of the four-player freshman class — forward Erica Solomon and Kellie Watson and guards Natalie Novosel and Fraderica Miller.
Yet, despite their relative lack of experience at the college level, all four players have made solid contributions to Notre Dame’s 18-7 record. Three of the four have scored in double figures at least three times (Novosel-8, Solomon-7, Watson-3), with both Watson and Novosel also twice being named the BIG EAST Freshman of the Week (Watson – Dec. 1 & 8; Novosel – Dec. 29 & Jan. 12).
What’s more, those three aforementioned players each are averaging at least 15 minutes per night, while the speedy Miller has emerged as Notre Dame’s go-to defensive stopper, averaging nearly one steal per game in her 17 appearances this season.
Notre Dame’s knack for quick player development should come as no surprise — the Irish have developed five BIG EAST All-Freshman Team selections in the past two seasons alone (including Peters and Mallory last year), the most of any team in the conference.
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has seen nine different players lead the team in scoring this season, with six of the Irish leading scorers also registering a career-scoring high at some point this year — Brittany Mallory vs. Georgia Southern (19), Kellie Watson vs. Michigan State (18), Melissa Lechlitner vs. Purdue (19), Erica Williamson vs. Georgetown (21), Natalie Novosel vs. Rutgers (19) and Becca Bruszewski at South Florida (20). The other team-leading scorers this season have been junior guard Ashley Barlow, who has set the pace for the Irish eight times, senior guard Lindsay Schrader, who has posted five team-high scoring games, and freshman forward Erica Solomon, who tossed in a team-high 14 points on Feb. 3 at No. 22/24 Pittsburgh.
The only three players on the Irish roster who have not taken a turn leading the team in scoring thus far are injured sophomore forward Devereaux Peters (out for season with torn ACL in her left knee), freshman guard Fraderica Miller and walk-on junior guard Alena Christiansen, who was added to the Irish roster on Dec. 19.
The balanced scoring load has reappeared for the Irish in the past 11 games, with seven different players leading the team in scoring — in order, they have been Williamson (Georgetown), Barlow/Lechlitner (Marquette), Lechlitner (St. John’s), Barlow (Villanova), Novosel (Rutgers), Schrader (Cincinnati), Bruszewski/Solomon (Pittsburgh), Barlow (DePaul), Bruszewski (Louisville), Schrader (South Florida) and Barlow (Connecticut).
For the season, 10 of the 12 players on Notre Dame roster have scored in double figures at least once, with Miller and Christiansen aiming to join that club.
More On The Balance Beam
Notre Dame was ranked among the top 50 in eight NCAA team statistical categories (as of Monday), led by a No. 26 ranking in scoring offense (72.4 ppg.).
At the same time, only one Irish player is appearing in the top 50 of the 10 NCAA individual statistical rankings — junior guard Ashley Barlow currently stands 44th in the nation in steals (2.6 spg.).
A Start We Can Believe In
Notre Dame’s 14-1 start was the second-best 15-game debut in school history. The only time an Irish squad started better than this year’s club was 2000-01, when Notre Dame opened the season with a school-record 23 consecutive wins en route to the program’s first No. 1 ranking and eventually, its first national championship.
Notre Dame is ranked 23rd in this week’s Associated Press poll, rising one spot from the previous week’s rank. It’s the 36th consecutive AP poll appearance for the Irish, who moved into the Top 10 for the ninth time in the past 13 seasons (1996-97 through 2008-09) with their No. 8 ranking on Dec. 8.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 176 weeks during the program’s 32-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 13th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also is tied for 24th all-time in that category.
In addition, the Irish earned their 35th consecutive ranking in last week’s ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches’ poll, dipping two spots to No. 24 (the new poll comes out Tuesday afternoon). Notre Dame’s season-high poll position of fourth on Jan. 6 and 13 was the highest ranking for Notre Dame in the coaches poll since the week of Jan. 5, 2005, when the Irish checked in at No. 3. Notre Dame has appeared in the coaches’ poll for 166 weeks during its history (all coming during McGraw’s tenure).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 24 people in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Besides her 176 AP poll appearances while coaching at Notre Dame, McGraw was the starting point guard at Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) as a senior in 1977, helping the Hawks rise to No. 3 in the nation. Of the 24 people on this list, 13 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart).
Nostradamus In High Heels
With the Irish trailing at No. 20/19 Vanderbilt, 36-24, at halftime on Dec. 30, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw calmly walked into the locker room and assured her team that they were about to pull off one of the greatest comebacks in school history. As it turned out, she was right on the money.
After the Commodores expanded their lead to 18 points on two occasions (the last at 46-28 with 15:56 to play), Notre Dame went to work, blitzing Vanderbilt with a 22-0 run over the next 8:40 to take the lead. VU tied the game at 50-50, but the Irish then went on top for good on a layup by sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski with 4:06 left, capping the improbable rally.
The previous school-record comeback had been 16 points, which took place on March 30, 2001, at the NCAA Women’s Final Four in St. Louis, when Notre Dame erased a 47-31 deficit late in the first half and charged past Connecticut, 90-75 on the way to the program’s first national championship.
Game #25 Recap: Connecticut
Maya Moore scored 18 points to help Connecticut remain unbeaten with a 76-66 victory over No. 24 Notre Dame on Sunday at the XL Center in Hartford — the smallest margin of victory for the Huskies this season.
Renee Montgomery led UConn with 20 points, eight assists and five steals and Tina Charles had 19 points and eight rebounds as the Huskies (27-0, 13-0 BIG EAST) posted their 37th consecutive home win. It was their fifth win over a Top 25 team this season — they beat the first four by an average of just under 35 points.
Before Sunday, UConn’s toughest game was an 11-point win over Georgia Tech in the season opener. Despite the loss, Notre Dame (18-7, 7-6) played one of its better games.
The Irish led for much of the first half, and were ahead 43-41 almost four minutes into the second — the first time the Huskies trailed after intermission this season.
A pair of baskets by Moore and two three-pointers by Montgomery started a 22-1 run over the next seven minutes that put the game away. During the span, Moore had 12 points and Montgomery added two assists and two steals.
The Huskies had trailed for just over 27 minutes all season. But UConn missed its first five shots and the Irish took a 6-0 lead, the biggest deficit the Huskies have faced all year.
Connecticut didn’t get its first basket until Charles hit a layup three minutes into the game. Montgomery gave UConn its first lead with a three-pointer that made it 11-10.
The Irish led 33-28 before an 8-0 Huskies’ run gave Connecticut a 36-33 halftime lead. Notre Dame shot 43 percent in the first half and made 4-for-7 three-point shots, including three by Barlow.
Noting The Connecticut Game
- Notre Dame was playing a ranked opponent for the fourth time in five games (and second top-10 opponent in three games), the first time the Irish have faced such a daunting stretch since the end of the 2002-03 season (March 9-30), when they lost to No. 20/18 Villanova, 50-39 in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals, but came back with victories over 22nd-ranked Arizona (59-47) and No. 8/7 Kansas State (59-53) in Manhattan, Kan., in the first two rounds of the NCAA East Regional, before bowing to 10th-ranked Purdue in the regional semifinals, 66-47, in Dayton, Ohio.
- The Irish are 5-3 against ranked opponents this season (2-2 on the road).
- The last four times Notre Dame has played a top-10 team, it has lost by an average of only 7.75 points per game (all by 10 points or fewer), including a 71-66 loss to No. 10/12 Louisville at home on Feb. 11.
- Notre Dame put Connecticut in unfamiliar territory on several fronts — smallest margin of victory (10 points, previously was 11 in 82-71 home win over Georgia Tech on Nov. 16), largest deficit faced (6-0 at 18:06 of the first half; previous had been four points on three occasions), most combined minutes trailed in a game (16:53, including 16:30 in the first half; previous had been 7:14 vs. LSU on Jan. 3), first time trailing in the second half (43-41 with 16:11 left) and second-smallest halftime lead of the season (36-33; Georgia Tech and UConn were tied at 34-34 on Nov. 16).
- Connecticut now holds a 22-4 series lead on Notre Dame, including a 13-1 record on its home floor (either in Storrs, where the Huskies are 8-1 vs. the Irish, or in Hartford, where UConn is 5-0 vs. Notre Dame, including two wins in BIG EAST Championship play).
- Sunday’s game was the closest in the series since Notre Dame’s last win over the Huskies, 65-59 on Jan. 30, 2005, at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.
- Barlow also knocked down a career-high four three-pointers, after having made three treys on 11 different occasions (most recently on Jan. 27 vs. Rutgers at the Joyce Center).
- Barlow converted a rare four-point play at the 11:10 mark of the first half, the first four-point play by a Notre Dame player in more than six years (Feb. 16, 2003, when Alicia Ratay pulled off the feat in a 67-61 win at Providence).
- Schrader notched her second consecutive double-double and team-leading fifth double-double of the season, putting her just one away from Danielle Green’s school record for double-doubles by a guard in a single season (a mark she set in 1998-99).
- Schrader also registered her ninth career double-double, two shy of current assistant coach Niele Ivey’s career record for double-doubles by a guard, set from 1996-2001.
- Junior center Erica Williamson had one blocked shot, rising into a tie for ninth place on the Irish career blocks list with 97 rejections, matching the total of former teammate Melissa D’Amico from 2004-08.
Peters, Mallory Out For Season
Sophomores Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory will miss the remainder of the 2008-09 season after each player suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee. Peters’ injury occurred in the first half of Notre Dame’s win at Boston College on Nov. 23. Meanwhile, Mallory went down in the opening minute of overtime on Dec. 10 at Michigan. Mallory underwent successful corrective surgery on Jan. 6, while Peters did the same on Feb. 6, with both players now beginning their respective rehabilitation programs.
Peters had played in only three games at the time of her injury, while Mallory had seen action in seven games. Thus, both players appear to meet the guidelines for the NCAA’s hardship waiver (Rule 14.2.4; sometimes informally referred to as a “medical redshirt”) that stipulates a petitioning student-athlete may not have played in more than 30 percent of a team’s scheduled number of regular-season games (Notre Dame is slated to play 28 regular-season games in 2008-09).
Both players are expected to petition for the NCAA hardship waiver. If granted, both Peters and Mallory will maintain three years of athletic eligibility beginning with the 2009-10 season.
Christiansen Joins Irish Roster
With the injuries to Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory, Notre Dame added junior walk-on guard Alena Christiansen to its roster on Dec. 19. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native has appeared in four games, averaging 0.8 points and 0.3 rebounds in 2.0 minutes per contest.
A supplemental biographical sketch on Christiansen can be found in the players’ section of the PDF version of these game notes.
Half And Half
During the past nine seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 161-16 (.910) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 89 of their last 99 such contests.
This season, Notre Dame is 15-2 when it is ahead at the break, losing 63-59 in overtime at Michigan on Dec. 10, and 75-65 at Marquette on Jan. 13.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense…
During the past 14 seasons (1995-96 to present), Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season (Notre Dame’s first in the BIG EAST Conference), the Irish have an amazing 193-13 (.937) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game.
Notre Dame is 9-1 in such games this season, with wins over LSU, Boston College, Georgia Southern, Purdue, Valparaiso, Loyola-Chicago, Vanderbilt, Cincinnati and DePaul (second game). The lone loss came Jan. 24 at Villanova (55-48).
…But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 14 seasons (since 1995-96), the Irish are 122-4 (.968) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are a pair of overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995, a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, and an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008.
Notre Dame has scored at least 80 points in eight games this year, winning each time. Last season, the Irish won 14 of 15 games when reaching the 80-point mark.
Now That’s A Home Court Advantage
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame’s success has been its stellar play at home. In fact, the Irish have been virtually untouchable at home in recent years, winning 171 of their last 194 games (.881) at the 11,418-seat Joyce Center, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span. Notre Dame also has a 97-17 (.851) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the Joyce Center, sporting a 31-game league winning streak at home before it ended with a 48-45 loss to Villanova in the ’02 home finale.
The Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 76 of their last 82 non-BIG EAST contests (.927) at the Joyce Center, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Four of the losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents — Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT) and Indiana in 2006 (54-51) — with the other two defeats coming to Tennessee in 2005 (62-51) and 2008 (87-63). The Purdue loss also snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak which began after the UW setback.
Since its inaugural season in 1977-78, Notre Dame has played all of its games at the Joyce Center, posting a 321-84 (.793) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, setting a school record for home wins in a season.
The Dec. 7 home game vs. No. 17/20 Purdue was sold out, representing the sixth women’s basketball sellout (11,418 capacity) in school history and the third in the past two seasons. It also was the first time in the 22-game series between the Irish and Boilermakers that an on-campus game sold out.
On Jan. 27, Notre Dame drew 10,082 fans for its game against Rutgers, marking the largest weeknight crowd in school history and the eighth-largest overall audience in the program’s 32-year annals.
The Feb. 8 WBCA Pink Zone game vs. No. 25 DePaul attracted 10,011 fans, making it the ninth-largest crowd in school history and a record-tying third gathering of 10,000 fans or more this season (matching last year’s record).
A full rundown of the top crowds in Joyce Center history can be found in the sidebar on page 9 of the PDF version of this notes package.
Irish Have New Home On The Dial
On Aug. 27, 2008, the Notre Dame athletics department announced it had partnered with the LeSEA Broadcasting Network, making Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) the new radio home of Notre Dame women’s basketball in the South Bend market.
LeSEA now originates all Notre Dame women’s basketball games, with those events carried on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), marking the first time since the 1998-99 season that the Irish are heard on an FM station. Combined, these two stations blanket the nation’s No. 89 media market (South Bend-Elkhart), covering a 21-county area in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan that contains more than 1.35 million listeners (better than 800,000 in the greater South Bend area alone). All told, Notre Dame’s new women’s basketball network stretches from Kalamazoo, Mich., to the north, North Judson, Ind., to the west, Macy, Ind., (home of former Irish All-America center Ruth Riley) to the south, and LaGrange, Ind., to the east.
Women’s basketball game broadcasts also continue to be streamed live and free of charge on Notre Dame’s official athletics Web site (UND.com) through the Fighting Irish All-Access multimedia package.
Bob Nagle, the voice of Notre Dame women’s basketball from 1996-97 through 1998-99 (including the program’s first NCAA Final Four berth in 1997), returns as the play-by-play voice of the Irish this season.
Notre Dame On The Small Screen
Notre Dame will have at least 20 regular-season games televised during the 2008-09 season. Highlighting this year’s broadcast schedule are eight nationally-televised Irish women’s basketball contests, including five games on the ESPN family of networks and three others on CBS College Sports.
In addition, Notre Dame continues to expand its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. All 11 Irish regular-season home games not selected for commercial TV coverage will air live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com, via the site’s free multimedia package, Fighting Irish All-Access.
This year’s TV slate continues a recent trend that has seen the Irish become a regular fixture on television. Beginning with the NCAA championship season of 2000-01 and continuing through this year, Notre Dame has played in 133 televised games, including 83 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Senior guard Lindsay Schrader and junior guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner are team captains for the 2008-09 season. All three players are serving as captains for the first time in their careers, and each received the captain’s honor following a vote of their teammates prior to the season.
Shootaround With Beth & Debbie
For the second consecutive year, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) is featuring a weekly national women’s basketball podcast entitled “Shootaround With Beth & Debbie”. The 30-minute show, which is available for download each Wednesday during the basketball season through the WBCA web site (www.wbca.org), is hosted by national women’s basketball television broadcasters Beth Mowins and Debbie Antonelli. It features in-depth analysis of all the latest happenings in the world of women’s college basketball, as well as interviews with some of the game’s top coaches — in fact, Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw was a guest on one of the podcast’s first airings early last year.
ND To Host NCAA Tourney Games in 2009
Notre Dame’s Joyce Center will serve as one of 16 host sites for first- and second-round games in this year’s NCAA Championship on March 22 & 24.
All-session tickets for this year’s NCAA Championship games at the Joyce Center are available by contacting the Notre Dame athletics ticket office (574-631-7356).
Notre Dame has played in the NCAA Championship on its home floor five times before, most recently defeating Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) and Middle Tennessee in 2004 to make the program’s sixth NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. All told, the Irish are 6-1 in NCAA tourney play at the Joyce Center, winning six in a row since an 81-76 first-round loss to Minnesota in 1994.
Notre Dame Welcomes NCAA Pinnacle Of Fitness Challenge Program
The NCAA announced the details for the 2009 Pinnacle of Fitness challenge program which will energize middle school age children in nine cities across the United States and allow them to compete for a chance to win the national title in St. Louis during the week of the 2009 NCAA Women’s Final Four.
The Joyce Center at the University of Notre Dame is one of the nine sites for the competition and will host its first Middle School Challenge at halftime of the first-round game of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship that will be played on March 22. An additional Middle School Challenge will take place on March 24 during halftime of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship second-round game at the Joyce Center. For tickets call (574) 631-7356 or go online to www.UND.com.
The Pinnacle of Fitness challenge is an NCAA Division I women’s basketball initiative of healthy living and education that will challenge and improve individuals and their communities. The 2009 Pinnacle of Fitness challenge is expected to involve 100 middle schools in nine selected cities, with 74,000 middle school students participating.
The cornerstone of the program is the Middle School Challenge, which will educate and challenge students to improve their level of physical fitness through leading active lives, goal setting and developing life skills. The program will reward youth for improving their health and wellness and will be conducted at sites that will host a first- and second-round or regional round of competition during the 2009 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship.
The Middle School Challenge will begin with each of the competing middle schools conducting in-school physical fitness assessment and testing. The top-10 students from the competing middle schools will compete in progressive on-court competitions at the sites during the regular season and again during the championship.
Competing middle schools and individual students will be recognized through school rewards that include fitness support funding for equipment, special events and awards. The winning middle school from each region will be awarded the opportunity to compete in the NCAA National Pinnacle of Fitness challenge on center court at NCAA Hoop City Refreshed by Coca-ColaÂ® during the 2009 Women’s Final Four. There, one middle school will be named the 2009 Pinnacle of Fitness challenge champion.
Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
After a wildly-successful debut last season, Notre Dame is bringing back its “Big Mac” promotion for 2008-09, offering fans a coupon for a free Big Mac from South Bend-area McDonald’s restaurants if the Irish score at least 88 points in a home game.
It didn’t take long for the burger watch to fire back up again this year, as Notre Dame has topped the 88-point mark three times — in its lone exhibition game (96-30 over Gannon on Nov. 5), as well as regular season games against Evansville (96-61 on Nov. 19) and Loyola-Chicago (89-45 on Dec. 20).
Last year, the Irish reached the magic number eight times, doing so in both exhibition wins, along with regular-season victories over Miami (Ohio), Boston College, Canisius, Valparaiso, Marquette and South Florida.
It should come as no surprise that in the short history of the promotion, the Notre Dame player with the most “Big Mac” baskets shares the same initials with the tasty burger — sophomore guard Brittany Mallory, who was sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) four times.
This season, it’s been the Irish freshmen who have taken on the “Big Mac” mantle of responsibility, with guard Natalie Novosel doing the honors in the Gannon exhibition and Loyola-Chicago game, and forward Erica Solomon putting Notre Dame over the top against Evansville.
Joyce Center Arena Renovation Underway
On Sept. 13, 2008, groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Purcell Pavilion, including the Joyce Center arena addition and renovation, were held to kick off the first phase of the two-year project to upgrade the home for Notre Dame basketball and volleyball.
The first phase of the project, that began in September 2008, involves construction of a new three-story structure at the south end of the arena. That structure will include a new three-story lobby, the Notre Dame ticket operations (approximately 4,500 square feet) and a varsity shop to sell apparel and souvenirs (approximately 3,000 square feet), in addition to a new club seating and hospitality area.
Replacement of the existing Joyce Center arena seating, including installation of chair-back seating throughout the arena, is expected to take place after the University’s Commencement Exercises in May 2009. The entire project is scheduled for completion in January 2010. The arena is expected to re-open by mid-October 2009, in time for the start of the basketball season and the end of the volleyball season.
The University announced in October 2007 that this $26.3 million project had received a $12.5 million leadership gift from Notre Dame alumnus and Trustee Philip J. Purcell III, the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Morgan Stanley.
Exterior changes to the Joyce Center that began taking shape in September include a new, three-story addition on the south end of the current structure. The third floor area will include the stadium club/hospitality area. The first-floor addition will include almost 4,500 square feet for ticket offices (including four exterior and 10 interior tickets windows), 3,000 square feet for the varsity shop, as well as a completely new main entrance and lobby situated between Gates 8 and 10. The new entrance will feature graphics and theming that highlight Notre Dame’s competing athletic programs.
For more information on the new Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, see the inside back cover of the 2008-09 Notre Dame women’s basketball media guide, or go on-line for a virtual tour at www.UND.com/purcell.
Next Game: Providence
Notre Dame will play its final road game of the 2008-09 regular season on Saturday when it travels to Providence, R.I., for a 2 p.m. (ET) matchup with the Friars at Alumni Hall.
PC (9-17, 3-10), which holds a win over nationally-ranked Pittsburgh among its conquests this season, has dropped 13 of its last 16 games, including four in a row, as it gets set to welcome Marquette to town Wednesday night.
— ND —