Feb. 21, 2009
2008-09 ND Women’s Basketball: Game 25
#24/24 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (18-6 / 7-5 BIG EAST) vs. #1/1 Connecticut Huskies (26-0 / 12-0 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 22, 2009
TIME: 2:00 p.m. ET
AT: Hartford, Conn. – XL Center (16,294)
SERIES: UCONN leads 21-4
1ST MTG: UCONN 87-64 (1/18/96)
LAST MTG: UCONN 81-64 (1/27/08)
TV: ESPNU (live) (Beth Mowins, p-b-p / Meg Bulger, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (877) 288-2666
- For the fourth time in five games, Notre Dame will face a ranked opponent. The Irish are 5-2 against AP Top 25 teams this season.
- Notre Dame is making its fifth appearance on the ESPN family of networks this season, having won its first four games on the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
No. 24 Irish Square Off With Top-Ranked Connecticut Sunday
As the BIG EAST race makes the turn for home, No. 24 Notre Dame takes aim on the lead horse in the pack as the Irish visit top-ranked Connecticut Sunday for a 2 p.m. (ET) matchup at the XL Center in Hartford. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience by ESPNU.
Notre Dame (18-6, 7-5) got back in the win column and snapped a brief two-game road losing streak in the process with an 86-79 victory at South Florida on Tuesday night. The Irish wiped out an early 14-point deficit with some sharp second-half defense, holding the high-powered Bulls’ offense to just 27 points on 27-percent shooting in the final 20 minutes.
Senior guard Lindsay Schrader collected her fourth double-double of the year with a season-high 26 points and 11 rebounds, while sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski dropped in a career-best 20 points for Notre Dame.
- Notre Dame is ranked 24th in this week’s Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches’ polls.
- Connecticut is No. 1 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches’ polls.
A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Ranked 24th in both major polls this week, Notre Dame (18-6, 7-5) is currently sixth in the 16-team BIG EAST standings, one-half behind fifth-place DePaul (whom the Irish defeated twice this season) and two games back of third-place co-holders Villanova and Pittsburgh, who own the final two “double byes” for the upcoming BIG EAST Championship.
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 30 teams in the nation in scoring offense (currently 26th at 72.6 ppg.) and scoring margin (33rd at +11.3 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 12.6 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 27 three-pointers.
Senior guard Lindsay Schrader has posted career-high averages almost across the board this season, placing second on the squad in scoring (12.0 ppg.) and tops in rebounding (7.1 rpg.). She also has recorded a team-high four double-doubles this year, most recently collecting 26 points and 11 rebounds in Tuesday’s win at South Florida.
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 3.5 assists per game, a 1.53 assist/turnover ratio and a .380 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 16.2 points and 7.0 rebounds in her last five games, including a career-high 20 points on Tuesday night 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 Connecticut
Connecticut enters Sunday’s game as the lone remaining unbeaten team in the nation, sporting a 26-0 record (12-0 in the BIG EAST). The top-ranked Huskies also lead the nation in six NCAA statistical categories (as of Friday), including scoring offense (86.1 ppg.), scoring margin (+32.9 ppg.) and field goal percentage (.511).
Connecticut last played on Wednesday night, taking a 75-39 win at Providence. The Huskies used huge runs at the start of each half (11-0 in the first, 25-0 in the second) to power past the Friars, who committed 26 turnovers and shot 25.5 percent in the contest.
Five Connecticut players scored in double figures at PC, led by sophomore forward Maya Moore’s 16 points and game-high nine rebounds, as well as 15 points and nine boards from freshman guard Tiffany Hayes.
Moore, the reigning BIG EAST Player of the Year, averages a team-best 19.7 points per game, one of three Huskies scoring better than 15 points a night this season. Moore also logs a team-high 9.3 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game, while adding a team-best .414 three-point percentage.
Senior guard Renee Montgomery is second on the team in scoring (16.3 ppg.) and tops in assists (5.3 apg.), while junior center Tina Charles chips in with 15.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, as well as a team-high .600 field goal percentage.
Hall of Fame head coach Geno Auriemma is in his 24th season at Connecticut with a 683-122 (.848) record, the best winning percentage of any Division I coach in history. His teams are 21-4 all-time against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
Notre Dame and Connecticut will meet for the 26th time on Sunday, with the Huskies holding a 21-4 lead in the series (8-1 in Storrs/4-0 in Hartford), including a current five-game winning streak. Connecticut also is 14-3 against the Irish in BIG EAST regular-season action, although the regular-season series is just 4-2 in the Huskies’ favor since the 2003-04 season.
The Last Time ND And Connecticut Met
Notre Dame stopped Maya Moore after she scored the first 15 points for Connecticut. The Fighting Irish never could come up with an answer for Tina Charles, though.
Charles scored 22 points, including nine during a decisive 22-4 first-half run, to lead the top-ranked Huskies to an 81-64 victory over No. 16 Notre Dame on Jan. 27, 2008, at a sold-out Joyce Center.
With the score tied at 21 after Melissa D’Amico’s rebound basket with 11:13 left in the first half, UConn took control as the Irish went 10:52 without a field goal, going 0-for-12 from the field during the run.
UConn went through a bit of a drought as well, making just one basket during a four-minute span. But Brittany Hunter got the Huskies going with a pair of baskets inside. Then Charles, who had eight rebounds, scored nine points in 3:42, putting UConn ahead 41-27 with 1:04 left before intermission.
Lindsay Schrader hit a 14-foot jumper with 21 seconds left to end the Irish drought. UConn, which was 9-of-18 from the field during the run, opened a 43-25 lead when Ketia Swanier made a pair of free throws and led 43-27 at halftime.
Notre Dame closed to 12 points twice in the second half, the final time when Tulyah Gaines hit a 14-foot jumper to cut the lead to 58-46. They had a chance to cut it to 10 points once, but Barlow missed a jumper. Renee Montgomery hit a three-pointer on the other end to ignite a 12-0 UConn run and put the game away.
Moore scored the first 15 points for UConn on 5-of-5 shooting, including 4-of-4 from three-point range, and didn’t score again. Hunter added 11 points for UConn.
The Last Time The Irish And Huskies Met In Connecticut
Tina Charles had 12 points and tied a school-record with nine blocks to help No. 7/5 Connecticut earn a 64-47 win over Notre Dame on Jan. 27, 2007, at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.
Charles also had 10 rebounds and came within one block of recording only the second triple-double in UConn history.
The Huskies jumped to an early 8-4 lead, in what was a sloppy game, as Renee Montgomery hit her first three shots.
Notre Dame shot just 24 percent from the floor, and hit one of its first 11 attempts from the field. But the Irish were able to stay in the game thanks to 15 first-half turnovers by Connecticut, eight in the first 10 minutes of the game. The two teams combined for 45 giveaways — 27 turnovers for Connecticut and 18 for Notre Dame.
UConn led just 29-23 at the half, and got its first double-digit lead, 35-25, three minutes into the second half on a spin move and bucket by Charde Houston.
The Huskies stretched that to 18 after Erwin was called for an intentional foul. Houston hit one foul shot, and Charles hit a jumper on the ensuing possession to put UConn up 54-36.
Other ND-Connecticut Series Tidbits
- All four of Notre Dame’s wins in the series have come since the start of the 2000-01 season (a 14-game span).
- The Irish have held Connecticut fewer than 70 points in five of the past eight series meetings.
- Notre Dame’s 65-59 win at Gampel Pavilion on Jan. 30, 2005, snapped Connecticut’s 112-game BIG EAST regular-season home winning streak.
- Notre Dame is playing its regular-season game against Connecticut in Hartford for the third time, having dropped decisions in 2000 (77-59) and 2002 (80-53). The Irish also fell to the Huskies in BIG EAST Championship play at the XL Center in 2005 (67-54 in the semifinals) and 2006 (71-60 in the quarterfinals).
- All-time, Notre Dame is 2-8 (.200) in Hartford — besides their 0-4 record vs. Connecticut, the Irish have wins over West Virginia (2005 BIG EAST quarterfinals) and South Florida (2006 BIG EAST first round), as well as losses to Rutgers (2004 BIG EAST quarterfinals), DePaul (2007 BIG EAST first round) and Penn State (2004 NCAA East Regional semifinals).
- Connecticut is one of 11 other former or current NCAA champions Notre Dame has faced in its history. The Irish are 26-74 (.260) all-time against schools that have hoisted the hardware (either before or after they won the title), with records of .500 or better against USC (7-2), North Carolina (2-1) and Texas (1-1). The only NCAA winner the Irish have never played is 2005 champion Baylor.
- Sunday’s game will mark the 15th time in the 26-game series that both teams will be ranked at tipoff. At least one team has been ranked in every series matchup.
- For the second consecutive season, Connecticut come into its game with Notre Dame as the top-ranked team in the nation — the Irish are 2-12 (.143) all-time against No. 1 teams, with both victories coming over the Huskies in 2001 (92-76 on Jan. 15 at the Joyce Center; 90-75 on March 30 in the NCAA Women’s Final Four national semifinals at the Savvis Center in St. Louis).
- Connecticut is one of three BIG EAST Conference opponents to hold a series edge over Notre Dame, leading the Irish, 21-4. The other league foes with winning records vs. Notre Dame are Rutgers (16-9) and DePaul (18-14).
- Since the start of the 1998-99 season, Connecticut has lost by 15-plus points seven times, with nearly half (three) of those losses coming to Notre Dame (twice in 2000-01, once in 2003-04).
- Notre Dame is one of four teams in the nation to defeat Connecticut at least three times in the past 14 seasons (1995-96 to present). During that stretch, the only programs with more wins over the Huskies than the Irish are Tennessee (nine) and Rutgers (six), while North Carolina also has defeated UConn three times.
- Notre Dame junior guard Ashley Barlow and Connecticut junior forward Kaili McLaren were teammates on the White squad at the 2006 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) High School All-America Game in Boston. Barlow had four points and four rebounds, while McLaren tallied eight points and two rebounds, but their White Team fell to the Red Team (led by UConn junior center Tina Charles), 68-61.
- Connecticut junior forward/center Cassie Kerns is a native of Valparaiso, Ind., and graduated from Valparaiso High School. Kerns also developed her game with the Indiana Elite AAU program, based at Midwest Basketball Academy in Mishawaka, Ind. (located less than five miles east of the Notre Dame campus). Notre Dame junior guard Melissa Lechlitner and sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski also matriculated from the Indiana Elite program.
- The two head coaches — Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma — have more than a few connections. Both are from the Philadephia metro area (McGraw from West Chester, Auriemma from Norristown), both cut their coaching teeth at Saint Joseph’s (separate stints as assistants under current Ohio State head coach Jim Foster), and both currently serve on the Board of Directors of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) — Auriemma as vice president and McGraw as NCAA Division I Legislative Chair.
Notre Dame is 5-2 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).
Connecticut is the second AP top-10 opponent for the Irish this season, following a 71-66 loss to No. 10 Louisville on Feb. 11 at the Joyce Center. Notre Dame’s last three games against Top 10 opponents each have been decided by 10 points or fewer — in addition to this year’s Louisville game, the Irish fell to third-ranked Tennessee (74-64) in last year’s NCAA Oklahoma City Regional semifinal, and dropped a 57-51 regular-season contest at No. 5/4 Rutgers.
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 79-22 (.782) in February games, including a 45-5 (.900) mark at home.
In the 22-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-present), the Irish are 127-37 (.774) 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.
Closer Than You Think
All six of Notre Dame’s losses this season have come by 12 points or fewer, and in five 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.
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 12 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 (13th, 3.5 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (eighth, 1.5). Her numbers are even better since BIG EAST play began, ranking sixth in assists (4.2 apg.) and fifth in assist/turnover ratio (1.7). 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 (.378, 14-of-37) after making 1-of-2 from beyond the arc last season.
Bruszewski has been especially sharp in the past five games, averaging 16.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game with a .500 field goal percentage (32-of-64). She has scored in double figures in all five games (the longest streak of her young career), with her first career double-double (14 points, career-high 12 rebounds) on Feb. 8 in a win over No. 25 DePaul. Most recently on Tuesday night 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.
Barlow’s Grand Occasion
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 ranking 23rd on the Irish all-time scoring list (1,016), 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 954 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 10 charges this season, nearly half of Notre Dame’s team total of 24 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 15 outings, averaging 9.0 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 (9.0 ppg.) and fifth in the conference with a .556 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 at it again this year, causing 482 turnovers (20.1 per game) through 24 games.
More than half of those turnovers have come via Irish steals, with Notre Dame registering 249 thefts (10.4 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 19-8 (.704) in true road games during the past two seasons. In addition, the past six road losses for the Irish have been decided by 12 points or fewer, including all four road setbacks this season.
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’s 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 18-6 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 16 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 seven 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 this year’s 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 10 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) and Schrader (South Florida).
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 Friday), led by a No. 26 ranking in scoring offense (72.6 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 34th 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 24th in this week’s Associated Press poll, dropping two spots from the previous week’s rank. Still, it is the 35th 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 175 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 stands 25th all-time in that category.
In addition, the Irish earned their 35th consecutive ranking in this week’s ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches’ poll, dipping two spots to No. 24. 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 175 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 #24 Recap: South Florida
Senior guard Lindsay Schrader scored 26 points and sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski added 20 to help No. 24 Notre Dame rally past South Florida 86-79 on Tuesday night at the Sun Dome in Tampa.
Notre Dame (18-6, 7-5 BIG EAST) scored the first five points of the game, but a 15-2 run enabled South Florida (18-8, 5-7) to lead by as many as 14 midway through the first half.
Janae Stokes paced South Florida with 16 points, and Jazmine Sepulveda scored all of her 15 points before the Bulls took a 52-44 advantage into the half.
Porche Grant (14), Jessica Lawson (12) and Shantia Grace (11) also scored in double figures for the Bulls.
Schrader was one of three Notre Dame players to reach double digits before halftime with 14 points. Bruszewski and junior guard Ashley Barlow each chipped in 11.
Barlow finished with 16 and freshman forward Erica Solomon had 10.
Noting The South Florida Game
- For the second time in less than two months, Notre Dame comes back from a deficit of 14 points or more to claim victory, having staged a school-record 18-point rally for a 59-57 win at #20/19 Vanderbilt on Dec. 30.
- Notre Dame improves to 5-2 all-time against South Florida (2-1 in Tampa). Since the Bulls joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06, four of the five series games with the Irish have been decided either in overtime (twice, both won by USF) or by seven points or fewer (twice, both won by ND).
- Notre Dame has scored at least 70 points in six of the seven series games with USF, while the Bulls reached that mark for the second time against the Irish on Tuesday night.
- Notre Dame moves to 14-3 (.824) all-time when playing in the state of Florida, as well as 21-5 (.808) all-time against Florida schools (11-2 on the road).
- Notre Dame wins for the second time in six games this season when trailing at halftime (the Irish were down at Vanderbilt, 36-24, on Dec. 30).
- Notre Dame’s 86 points were the most it has scored since Jan. 6 in an 86-62 win at DePaul.
- Notre Dame’s 30 free throws were the most the Irish have made in a single game since Feb. 4, 2007, when they knocked down a school-record-tying 33 foul shots (on 39 attempts) in a 77-67 win over West Virginia at the Joyce Center.
- The Irish had two players score at least 20 points in the same game for the first time since Dec. 6, 2006, when Breona Gray (22) and Tulyah Gaines (20) both hit the mark in a 67-58 win over #10/9 Purdue at the Joyce Center.
- Schrader’s 26 points were not only a season high, but the most by an Irish player since Charel Allen’s memorable 35-point outing against #14/13 Oklahoma in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament (March 25 in West Lafayette, Ind.). It also was Schrader’s highest scoring night since a career-best 29 points (12-23 FG) vs. Boston College in the first round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament (March 19, also in West Lafayette).
- Schrader is the first Notre Dame player to post a 25-point, 10-rebound game since Feb. 11, 2007, when Allen chalked up 25 points and 13 rebounds in a 78-70 win over DePaul at the Joyce Center.
- Schrader picked up her fourth double-double of the season, two shy of Danielle Green’s single-season school record for guards, a mark she set in 1998-99. Schrader also collected her eighth career double-double, three away from the school record for guards set by current Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey from 1996-2001.
- Barlow moved into 23rd place on the Notre Dame career scoring list with 1,016 points, passing Kelley Siemon (1,006 from 1997-2001).
- Bruszewski posted her fifth consecutive double-figure scoring game with a career-high 20 points, two more than her previous high set three times this season (most recently six days earlier vs. #10/12 Louisville at the Joyce Center). Bruszewski also set a new career high by going 8-for-8 at the foul line, the best free throw shooting night by any Irish player this season.
- Solomon posted her seventh double-digit scoring game of the year and also tied her personal best with 24 minutes played (a mark she previously hit at Seton Hall on Jan. 2).
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 upcoming 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 (including Sunday’s game at Connecticut, which will air on ESPNU) 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 132 televised games, including 82 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 hasn’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: Syracuse
It’s a quick turnaround for Notre Dame, as the Irish return home Tuesday night to take on Syracuse at 7 p.m. (ET) inside the Joyce Center.
The Orange (15-10, 4-8) have lost seven of their last nine as they prepare to play host to Georgetown Sunday night before heading to South Bend.
— ND —