Feb. 21, 2004
PITTSBURGH – Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast (South Bend, Ind./Washington HS) scored 17 points, including the go-ahead free throw with 41.3 seconds remaining as Notre Dame fought back a determined challenge from Pittsburgh, 72-68, before a raucous crowd of 7,814 at the Petersen Events Center. The Irish shot 56.5 percent from the floor (26 of 46) to record their eighth win in the last nine games and their fourth road win in five tries. Notre Dame also remained perfect in 14 series meetings with the Panthers, and opened up a one-game lead for second place in the BIG EAST Conference standings.
Senior guard Jeneka Joyce (Topeka, Kan./Washburn Rural HS) lit up the skies with a career-high performance for the third consecutive game, scoring 16 points and tying her personal best with five three-point field goals. Sophomore forward Courtney LaVere (Ventura, Calif./Buena HS) chipped in with 13 points on six of seven shooting. LaToya Kincaid led all scorers with 24 points for Pittsburgh, which suffered its 10th consecutive loss.
Notre Dame (17-8, 10-3 BIG EAST) jumped out to an early 8-2 lead behind a pair of treys from Joyce. The Irish pushed their advantage to seven points on two occasions, the second at 21-14 on a fastbreak layup by LaVere with 9:19 to go in the first half. Boosted by their largest crowd of the season, the Panthers (6-18, 2-12) battled back with a 9-4 spurt, getting within 25-23 on a bucket by Stacy Moore with six minutes left in the frame.
From there, the teams traded baskets over the next four minutes before Kincaid scored 10 straight points for her team, giving them their first lead at 35-32 at the 1:58 mark. Joyce then closed out the first half like she had opened it, banging home two triples to highlight an 8-2 Notre Dame run as the Irish took a 40-37 lead to the locker room.
Notre Dame continued its sharp offensive play early in the second half, opening the period on a 15-4 run to take its largest lead of the day at 55-41 with 16:01 to play. All told, the Irish had ripped off a 23-6 run in 5:28 spanning the two halves and the visitors were seemingly in control at the first media time-out of the second half.
However, as quickly as Notre Dame built its edge, Pittsburgh came roaring back with a 16-3 charge, including seven points from Jennifer Brown, and cut the margin to a single point (58-57) with 8:29 still to play. With its collective backs against the wall, the Irish regained their footing as freshman forward Crystal Erwin (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./St. Paul HS) hit a layup and Batteast converted an old-fashioned three-point play to rebuild a 63-57 advantage at the 6:36 mark. But, that only served as a temporary break in the Pittsburgh comeback, as the Panthers then scored 11 of the next 15 points and took their first lead of the second half when Amy Kunich nailed a three-pointer over two Irish players as the shot clock expired for a 68-67 edge with 2:18 remaining.
Notre Dame’s resolve was tested even further after misfiring on its next possession, but Pittsburgh couldn’t expand its lead, missing a shot of its own and Joyce was fouled on the rebound. She would hit one of two foul shots to tie the game at 68-68 with 1:31 remaining. After the Panthers then came up empty again on their offensive end, the Irish got the ball to Batteast and she was fouled by Brown with 41.3 seconds left. The Naismith Award finalist canned the first of her two charities, putting her team back in front, but she missed the second free throw, giving Pittsburgh a chance. That opportunity was quashed when LaVere swatted away a Panther shot and sophomore guard Megan Duffy (Dayton, Ohio/Chaminade-Julienne HS) was fouled after collecting the loose ball with 16 seconds to play.
Duffy kept things interesting by making just the second of her two free throws for a 70-68 Notre Dame lead. However, with the crowd at a fever pitch and time winding down, senior guard Le’Tania Severe (Pembroke Pines, Fla./Fort Lauderdale HS) stepped into the passing lane and picked off Kunich’s pass before she was fouled with 4.7 seconds left. The Irish captain calmly knocked down both of her free throws and Notre Dame’s victory was secure.
The Irish will return home to face No. 22/21 Miami Wednesday at 8 p.m. (ET) at the Joyce Center. The game will be broadcast live to a nationwide audience on College Sports Television (CSTV).
— ND —