March 13, 2005
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – For the 10th consecutive year, and the 12th time in the past 14 seasons, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team is going to the NCAA Tournament. The Irish are seeded fourth in the Tempe Regional and will open up postseason play Saturday against No. 13 seed UC Santa Barbara, the Big West Conference champion, at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif. Saturday’s game will be televised live on ESPN2, approximately 30 minutes following the conclusion of the other Fresno first-round game between Arizona State and Eastern Kentucky, which starts at 11 a.m. (PT)/2 p.m. (ET).
“We are very excited to be back in the NCAA Tournament and are looking forward to heading out to Fresno this week,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said.
“Santa Barbara is an extremely talented team, led by a fantastic player in (Big West Player of the Year) Kristen Mann. We know it’s going to be a challenge, but that’s what NCAA Tournament basketball is all about. I’m also happy for our California and Nevada players, as well as our West Coast alumni, who will get a chance to see us play right in their own backyard.”
Tickets for Notre Dame’s first-round contest in the NCAA Tournament will go on sale at the Notre Dame athletics ticket office (Gate 1 at the Joyce Center) Monday at 9 a.m. (ET), with priority given to season-ticket holders in the seat assignment process. Sales will continue through noon (ET) Tuesday or until the allotment of tickets is sold out. The Notre Dame athletics ticket office will have access to tickets for only those sessions in which the Irish are participating. The single-session price is $25, while all-session tickets are available by calling (559) 278-3647 ($65 adults, $50 group, $25 youth).
Notre Dame (26-5), which earned its third-highest seed ever behind a No. 1 seed in 2001 and a No. 2 seed in 2000, won this year’s Preseason WNIT back in November and went on to finish tied for second place in the BIG EAST Conference. The Irish (ranked 10th in the Associated Press poll and 13th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll) then reached the semifinals of the BIG EAST Championship before falling to eventual winner Connecticut, 67-54 in Hartford. Notre Dame is 21-10 (.677) all-time in NCAA Tournament play, having advanced to the Sweet Sixteen (regional semifinals) six times in the past eight years, including each of the past two campaigns. The Irish also have made two NCAA Final Four appearances and won the national championship in 2001.
UC Santa Barbara (21-8) will enter the NCAA Tournament on a 10-game winning streak, capped off with a 74-66 victory over Idaho in the Big West Tournament title game on Saturday. The Gauchos now have won the last nine Big West Tournament championships and the corresponding NCAA automatic berths that go with those titles. Last season, UCSB made its first-ever trip to the Sweet Sixteen as a No. 11 seed, falling to eventual national champion Connecticut, 63-55 in an East Regional semifinal game at the Hartford Civic Center. Ironically, Notre Dame also reached last year’s East Regional semifinals in Hartford, bowing to top-seeded Penn State, 55-49.
The Irish and Gauchos have played only once before in their history. On Nov. 28, 1997, Notre Dame posted an 86-75 victory at UCSB’s famed Thunderdome behind 23 points from Sheila McMillen and 19 points from Danielle Green. The Irish and Gauchos also have one common opponent this season — Purdue. Notre Dame downed the Boilermakers, 86-69 on Jan. 16 in the second annual BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge, while UCSB lost to Purdue, 66-65 in overtime back on Dec. 3 in southern California.
The winner of Saturday’s Notre Dame-UC Santa Barbara game will move on to face the winner of the other opening-round contest in Fresno between No. 5 seed Arizona State (22-9) and 12th-seeded Eastern Kentucky (23-7). The Irish last faced ASU early in the 2002-03 season (an 81-52 Notre Dame win in Tempe), but have yet to meet EKU on the hardwood.
— ND —