Jan. 13, 2007
TAMPA – Freshman center Erica Williamson (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg) recorded her first career double-double with 11 points and a career-high 18 rebounds, but it wasn’t quite enough as South Florida finally wore down Notre Dame in overtime and pulled out an 87-78 BIG EAST Conference win on Saturday afternoon at the Sun Dome in Tampa. Williamson’s 18 rebounds were a Notre Dame freshman record, as well as the most by any Irish player in nearly four years, and just two off the BIG EAST record for rebounds by a rookie in a conference game.
Williamson led five Notre Dame players in double figures on Saturday, the fourth time this year the Irish have had a quintet of double-digit scorers. Junior center Melissa D’Amico (Manorville, N.Y./William Floyd) set the pace with 13 points and seven rebounds, while freshman guard Ashley Barlow (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike) collected 12 points and nine rebounds. Freshman guard Melissa Lechlitner (Mishawaka, Ind./South Bend St. Joseph’s) tied her career high with 11 points, including the game-tying three-pointer with 11 seconds left in regulation, while junior guard Charel Allen (Monessen, Pa./Monessen) also scored 11 points despite being among a host of Notre Dame players who dodged foul trouble all day long.
The Irish (11-5, 2-1 BIG EAST) lost for only the third game in the past 11 games despite collecting a season-high 53 rebounds and holding the powerful USF offense in check for much of the day. Notre Dame was whistled for 33 fouls in the game, unofficially the most ever by an Irish team (pending further research), while the Bulls set a Notre Dame opponent record by attempting 45 free throws (previous record: 44 by La Salle on Jan. 5, 1992).
South Florida (13-4, 3-1) was led by All-America forward Jessica Dickson, who scored 30 points (making 14-of-18 free throws) and grabbed 11 rebounds. Nalini Miller added a career-high 26 points and 14 rebounds and Daiane Packer came off the bench to chip in 11 points for the Bulls.
Notre Dame played from behind for much of the day, but never trailed by more than nine points at any time. USF used a 10-4 run to reach that margin (22-13) when Packer canned a trey with 14:09 left in the first half. The Irish fought back and got within three points four times later in the period, holding the Bulls to one field goal during the final 6:49 of the period. Packer helped keep the hosts in front with her second triple of the half in the final minute, helping USF maintain a 44-38 lead at the break.
The Irish came charging from the locker room in the second half, opening with a 9-2 run and taking their first lead of the day on a layup by senior guard Breona Gray (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman) with 15:49 to play. After a Packer trey and a Williamson layup, Miller put the Bulls back ahead on a short jumper at the 14:35 mark. During the ensuing five minutes, USF didn’t lead by more than five points, but a quick 5-0 spurt helped push the Bulls back out to a 70-62 edge with 7:30 left.
Again, the Notre Dame defense rose up, this time limiting South Florida to a single field goal in the closing seven-plus minutes of regulation. A 9-2 Irish run got the visitors back within a possession, but Rachel Sheats hit a clutch layup with 2:02 left that made it 74-71, USF. Notre Dame then came up with two big stops, and Lechlitner made it all pay off, getting free on the left wing and finding nothing but cotton on a three-pointer with 11 seconds to play. Packer had a look at a potential game-winner in regulation, but misfired from the left wing and Sheats’ putback was off the mark just before the horn.
The Irish carried their momentum into the opening minutes of overtime, as senior forward Crystal Erwin (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./St. Paul) hit a layup with 29 seconds gone. Dickson answered with two buckets following a Miller field goal, but Erwin came back with another layup in traffic to pull Notre Dame within 80-78 and still 2:47 to go in the extra session. However, that’s where the Irish went cold, missing their final five shots, while USF closed the game on a 7-0 run. Dickson started the game-ending spree with a jumper and the Bulls made five of eight free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
Notre Dame returns home for a pair of BIG EAST games next week, beginning Tuesday at 7 p.m. (ET) when it plays host to St. John’s at the Joyce Center. Tickets remain available for that game and may be purchased through the Irish Athletics Ticket Office (574-631-7356), via the official Notre Dame athletics web site by clicking here or on game day at the Gate 10 ticket windows in the Joyce Center.
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame still leads the all-time series with South Florida, 3-2, with both USF wins coming in overtime (also 68-64 last year at the Joyce Center) … USF’s 87 points were the most the Bulls have scored in the series, while the Irish topped the 70-point mark for the fourth time in five games vs. South Florida … those 87 points also represent the most against the Irish since Nov. 26, 2003 (92-63 loss at Michigan State) and the most by a BIG EAST opponent since Feb. 26, 2000 (89-62 loss at No. 1 Connecticut) … Notre Dame’s 78 points are the most the Irish have scored in a road game since Dec. 7, 2002, when they won at Arizona State, 81-52 … the 78 points by Notre Dame also are the second-most allowed by USF this season (79-71 loss at No. 20/18 Michigan State on Dec. 3) … the Irish went to overtime for the sixth time in the past 33 games (3-3 record) and the fifth time in the past 17 BIG EAST games (2-3 record) … Saturday marked just the second time in 12 all-time games that Notre Dame has ever lost to a Florida school on its home court (other was a 77-76 defeat at Miami on Feb. 3, 1998) … the USF loss was the second this season for the Irish that was decided by 10 points or less (6-2 record) … Notre Dame had five double-digit scorers for the fourth time this year, but lost with a double-figure scoring quintet for the first time since Jan. 11, 2003 (80-70 vs. Miami at the Joyce Center) … Notre Dame had three players foul out of a game for the first time since Dec. 28, 2000 (a 70-61 win at USC where Ruth Riley, Niele Ivey and Kelley Siemon all were disqualified) … USF’s Jessica Dickson was the first Irish opposing player to score 30 points in a game since Jan. 28, 1998, when Villanova’s Jen Beisel scored 30 points in a 70-54 Wildcat win at the Joyce Center … Notre Dame’s 53 rebounds were a season-high and its best mark on the boards since Nov. 18, 2005 (54 vs. Michigan) … Erica Williamson’s 18 rebounds not only set a Notre Dame freshman record, but were two off the BIG EAST mark for a rookie in a league game, a mark jointly held by Villanova great Shelly Pennefather (on Jan. 28, 1984) and most recently by Providence’s Kerri Chatten (vs. St. John’s on Feb. 15, 1995) … Williamson is the fourth different Irish player to record a double-double this season, and the second freshman (Ashley Barlow did so vs. Bowling Green on Nov. 13) … Barlow came within one rebound of a double-double for the third time this season (also vs. IUPUI and Prairie View A&M) … Notre Dame’s freshman trio contributed 34 points and 30 rebounds off the bench — Williamson had a career-high in rebounds (previous: nine at USC on Nov. 24), while guard Melissa Lechitner tied her personal-best point total (set at Penn State on Nov. 16) and both players established new marks for minutes played.