June 13, 2016
By Chris Masters
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame women’s basketball team will tip off its 40th anniversary season with a home game against Central Michigan University in the first round of the 23rd annual Preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT), it was announced Monday by tournament operator and manager Triple Crown Sports. The Fighting Irish and Chippewas will tangle at 7 p.m. (ET) Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion, with ticket information to be released at a later date.
Central Michigan posted a 22-11 record last season, winning the Mid-American Conference (MAC) West Division with a 14-4 mark. The Chippewas went on to reach the MAC Tournament championship game and earned a berth in the postseason WNIT, falling in the opening round of that event to IUPUI.
Led by last year’s MAC Coach of the Year, Sue Guevara, CMU should be bolstered next year by the return of four starters and 12 veterans, led by the reigning MAC Freshman of the Year Presley Hudson, fellow All-MAC Second Team pick Tinara Moore and MAC Sixth Player of the Year Jewel Cotton.
“We’re thrilled with the chance to play in the Preseason WNIT once again,” said Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame’s Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach. “We have played Central Michigan in the past and they will be a tough first-round matchup. They have an up-tempo, high-octane offense and are a strong defensive team. It will be a challenge for us in our season opener, and I hope our fans are as excited as we are about the start of next season.”
Notre Dame and Central Michigan will be meeting for the sixth time, with the Fighting Irish owning a 4-1 series lead on the Chippewas (2-1 in South Bend). The two sides last met on the hardwood on Dec. 22, 2013, when Notre Dame defeated CMU, 106-72 at Purcell Pavilion behind a (then) career-high 30 points and 11 rebounds from All-America guard (as well as future WNBA No. 1 draft pick and 2015 WNBA Rookie of the Year) Jewell Loyd. Current Fighting Irish senior All-America guard Lindsay Allen (Mitchellville, Md./St. John’s College) also started for Notre Dame that afternoon, contributing 11 points and a game-high six assists without a turnover.
Should the Fighting Irish defeat Central Michigan in their Preseason WNIT opener, they would move on to face the winner of the Fordham-Furman first-round contest that will be played in Bronx, New York, also on Nov. 11. That Preseason WNIT quarterfinal game would take place on either Nov. 13-14, with Notre Dame expected to play host to that game as well. On the other hand, an opening-round loss to Central Michigan would drop the Fighting Irish into the consolation bracket, with matchups and sites to be determined at a later date.
The Preseason WNIT semifinals are slated for Nov. 17 and the title game to take place at 3 p.m. (ET) Nov. 20 live on CBS Sports Network. All tournament games, in both the championship and consolation brackets, will be held at campus sites around the country.
The Fighting Irish are among 11 teams in this year’s Preseason WNIT that advanced to postseason play in 2015-16, led by NCAA Final Four participant Washington, second-round qualifier (and Southeastern Conference member) Missouri, the reigning Mountain West Conference champion Colorado State and perennial Horizon League power Green Bay. All four squads also joined Notre Dame in both major national polls at some point last season – Green Bay looms as a possible semifinal opponent for the Fighting Irish, while Washington, Missouri and Colorado State are lined up on the other side of the tournament bracket.
Notre Dame will be making its fifth appearance in the Preseason WNIT, having won the tournament title in 2004 with four consecutive wins at Purcell Pavilion, including the last two against top-10 opponents Duke (76-65) and Ohio State (66-62). The Fighting Irish are one of three returning Preseason WNIT champions in the 2016 field, along with Washington (1994) and Colorado State (1998).
Notre Dame last competed in the Preseason WNIT in 2011, when the Fighting Irish advanced to the tournament championship game on the strength of victories over Akron (81-61), Indiana State (99-34) and Hartford (98-43), all at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame then traveled to Waco, Texas, for a “1-vs.-2” matchup against top-ranked Baylor, coming up on the short end of a 94-81 decision against the Lady Bears, a team the Fighting Irish would face again less than five months later in the NCAA championship game at Denver’s Pepsi Center.
Notre Dame also advanced to the Preseason WNIT semifinals in 1997 (wins over Kent State at home and on the road at Iowa, loss to Tennessee, win over N.C. State in now-defunct consolation game, with the latter two games in Ruston, Louisiana) and 2007 (home wins over Miami-Ohio and Western Kentucky before a semifinal loss at Maryland).
The Atlantic Coast Conference has seen three teams win the Preseason WNIT since tournament debuted in 1994. Maryland (now a member of the Big Ten) claimed the 2007 crown, while North Carolina took the title in 2008 and 2012 (the last time an ACC school participated in the event). In addition, current ACC member Louisville won the Preseason WNIT in 2013 while it was still part of the American Athletic Conference.
After posting a 33-2 record this season and sweeping the ACC regular-season and tournament titles for third consecutive year, as well as making its seventh consecutive NCAA Sweet 16 appearances, Notre Dame is expected to return three starters next year, including a pair of two-time All-Americans in Allen and junior forward/ACC Player of the Year Brianna Turner (Pearland, Texas/Manvel), along with eight monogram recipients. The Fighting Irish also will be welcoming back guard Ali Patberg (Columbus, Ind./Columbus North), the 2015 MaxPreps National High School Player of the Year and Indiana Miss Basketball, who missed her freshman year with a knee injury.
What’s more, Notre Dame adds one of the nation’s top five incoming freshman classes for 2016-17, featuring a pair of national high school players of the year in Gatorade Award recipient Erin Boley (Hodgenville, Ky./Elizabethtown) and Naismith Award honoree Jackie Young (Princeton, Ind./Princeton Community). The two Fighting Irish rookies, who were named Miss Basketball in their respective states, squared off this past weekend during the annual Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Series, with Young scoring 52 points (just shy of the series scoring record of 55 set by Tiffany Gooden in 1994) while leading Indiana to a sweep of Kentucky. The Notre Dame duo was especially sharp in the first of the two games, played June 11 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, with Young registering 30 points, 12 rebounds and five steals, while Boley rang up 27 points and 11 rebounds.
For more information on the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, visit the main women’s basketball page on the University’s official athletics web site (UND.com/ndwbb), sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women’s basketball Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat accounts (@ndwbb), like the program on Facebook, or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the “Fan Center” pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
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Chris Masters, associate athletics communications director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2001 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women’s basketball and women’s golf programs. A native of San Francisco, California, Masters is a 1996 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, earned his master’s degree from Kansas State University in 1998, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).