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Irish Set To Begin Postseason Run Sunday In Big East Quarterfinals

March 3, 2004

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2004 BIG EAST Championship — Quarterfinal
No. 2 seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish (19-9) vs.
No. 7 seed Rutgers (18-10)/No. 10 seed Seton Hall (14-13)

The Date and Time: Sunday, March 7, 2004, at 6 p.m. ET.
The Site: Hartford Civic Center (16,294) in Hartford, Conn.
The Tickets: Still available at the Hartford Civic Center box office or by calling Ticketmaster (860-525-4500). Tickets also may be purchased on-line at www.hartfordciviccenter.com.
The Radio Plans: All Notre Dame games are broadcast live on WDND-AM (ESPN Radio 1580) and/or WNDV-AM (1490) in South Bend with Sean Stires (play-by-play). These broadcasts also are available through the Notre Dame athletics web site at www.und.com.
Real-Time Statistics: Live in-game statistics are available for all games at the BIG EAST Championship via the BIG EAST Championship (www.bigeast.org/sports/wbball/champs) web site.
Web Sites: Notre Dame (www.und.com), Rutgers (www.scarletknights.com), Seton Hall (www.shupirates.com), BIG EAST Conference (www.bigeast.org).

Following a wild regular season that included seven wins over Top 25 opponents, Notre Dame will set its sights on postseason hardware when it faces either Rutgers or Seton Hall in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Conference Championship at 6 p.m. (ET) Sunday at the Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Conn. The second-seeded Irish will be seeking one of the few titles that has eluded the program in its storied history — a BIG EAST postseason crown — and win their first conference tournament championship since they were members of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1994.

  • Notre Dame (19-9) closed out the regular season Tuesday night with a 54-33 win over Syracuse at the Joyce Center. The Irish led virtually all the way in holding the Orangewomen to opponent season lows of 33 points and a .224 field goal percentage.
  • Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast registered her 10th double-double of the season for Notre Dame, finishing with game highs of 13 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Senior guard Le’Tania Severe added 12 points in her final regular-season home game, and freshman guard Breona Gray also played a pivotal role, scoring a career-high 11 points and making all four of her shots from the field.
  • Notre Dame has an overall record of 12-8 in BIG EAST Championship play, having advanced to the semifinals six times and the championship game on four occasions. The last time the Irish played for the BIG EAST title was in 2001, when Connecticut pulled out a last-second 78-76 win at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.

A QUICK LOOK AT THE FIGHTING IRISH
Throughout the 2003-04 season, Notre Dame has found itself in acquisition mode, picking up the knowledge and experience it will need to be highly competitive in the postseason. The Irish have played a rugged schedule that has been ranked in the Top 20 in the nation all year long, and they have faced 10 Top 25 teams, setting a school record with seven regular-season wins against those ranked foes. In addition, Notre Dame endured some early rough patches on the road, but lately, it has begun to learn how to win in hostile environments, winning four of its final six regular-season road games. As such, it seems the Irish are poised for big things as postseason play rolls around.

  • Junior forward and Naismith Award finalist Jacqueline Batteast (15.1 ppg., 8.3 rpg., .451 field goal percentage, 10 double-doubles) has lived up to her accolades this season, ranking among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocked shots (1.29 bpg.). She was named to the WBCA Classic All-Tournament Team on Nov. 15 after a superb weekend that included a career-high 27 points against 22nd-ranked Auburn. She then piled up back-to-back double-doubles vs. No. 20 Colorado (13p, 10r) and Valparaiso (15p, 10r) before logging team bests of 16 points and seven caroms at No. 3 Tennessee, 19 points at Washington and a game-high 13 points with six assists vs. Dayton. She then chalked up her third double-double vs. USC (20p, 13r) to earn the first BIG EAST Player of the Week honor of her career. In her most recent game Tuesday vs. Syracuse, she garnered her 10th double-double of the campaign with game highs of 13 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. During BIG EAST play, she was superb, averaging 15.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game with a .470 field goal percentage and seven double-doubles (along with four other near double-doubles). She now has 68 double-figure scoring games (10th-best in school history) and 29 double-doubles in her three-year Irish career.
  • Junior center Teresa Borton (6.2 ppg., 4.3 rpg., team-high .530 FG%) and sophomore forward Courtney LaVere (8.8 ppg., 4.3 rpg.) also have made important contributions at times this season. Borton has recovered well from off-season heel surgery and was at her best vs. Colorado State and Marquette, ringing up 14 points on both occasions. Borton then added 11 points and eight rebounds at Georgetown, followed by 14 points and six boards against Virginia Tech, before scoring 10 points (4-4 FG) vs. Georgetown and adding 11 points (4-4 FG) against Providence. She also piled up a season-best 11 rebounds at St. John’s, tying her career high in that category. Meanwhile, LaVere, a freshman All-American last year, has had an up-and-down second season. She tied Batteast for team-high scoring honors with 12 points at Michigan State before rising up and carding season highs of 22 points and nine rebounds vs. Wisconsin. She once again cracked double figures on Jan. 1 vs. Marquette, tossing in 16 points on six of 11 shooting. LaVere has been a solid contributor down the stretch, notching eight double-digit scoring games in her last 14 outings.
  • Sophomore Megan Duffy (10.6 ppg., team-high 4.25 apg., team-high .436 3FG%, .816 FT%) is in her first season as the everyday point guard for the Irish and she is proving to be a key cog in the Notre Dame offensive arsenal. After averaging only three points and 2.3 assists per game last year, the Dayton, Ohio, native has more than tripled her scoring output, ranking ninth in the BIG EAST in assists and owning a team-best 1.45 assist/turnover ratio (sixth in the BIG EAST). In addition, she is showing offensive diversity, knocking down 44 three-pointers this season. She also has 16 double-figure scoring games to her credit this year, including a career-high 25 points vs. Wisconsin on Dec. 4, and 22 points at Georgetown on Jan. 7. Her ball handling skills have not diminished, as she also has registered five or more assists in 14 games, including a career-high nine assists on Dec. 7 at Washington. Most recently, she tossed in 14 points (5-9 FG, 2-3 3FG) and had a game-high four assists at Rutgers.
  • Senior captain Le’Tania Severe (7.4 ppg., 3.9 rpg., 3.3 apg., .465 FG%, team-high .817 FT%) has slid over to the shooting guard position in place of the NCAA’s all-time three-point queen, Alicia Ratay, and Severe has filled the role admirably. While not putting up the three-point numbers Ratay had in her remarkable career, Severe is getting her points as a slasher, driving to the basket and creating havoc for opposing defenses. She also is tied for the team lead with 1.5 steals per game and has been a reliable force in the lineup, making 71 consecutive starts. She has scored in double digits eight times this year, including a season-high 15 points against Purdue and Boston College, as well as 12 points against Connecticut. Severe also picked up her first career double-double at St. John’s (10 points and 10 rebounds), came up with a critical steal and two game-clinching free throws at Pittsburgh, and then tied her career high by dishing out nine assists (with only one turnover) on Feb. 25 vs. Miami.

A QUICK LOOK AT RUTGERS
In many ways, Rutgers has gone through the same highs and lows that Notre Dame has experienced this season. Like the Irish, the Scarlet Knights are outstanding on their home floor, going 14-1 at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. And, like the Irish, Rutgers has struggled somewhat on the road, going 4-9 in hostile territory. The two teams also have played difficult schedules this season, with both dockets currently ranked among the Top 20 in the nation by CollegeRPI.com.

The Scarlet Knights (18-10, 10-6 BIG EAST) came into the BIG EAST Championship as the No. 7 seed, having won their last two regular season games. Most recently, Rutgers defeated Seton Hall, 55-44, on Tuesday night at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. Junior All-America guard Cappie Pondexter scored a game-high 18 points and dished out a game-best six assists for the Scarlet Knights, who led by only a point with five minutes remaining, but put the game away with a 12-2 run down the stretch.

Pondexter leads Rutgers and ranks second in the BIG EAST in scoring (17.5 ppg.), while also placing among the league’s best in assist/turnover ratio (4th – 1.84), assists (6th – 4.46 apg.), steals (12th – 1.75 spg.) and free throw percentage (11th – .756). In addition, Pondexter is third on the RU roster in rebounds (4.7 rpg.) and second in three-point percentage (.374). Backcourt mate Chelsea Newton also has been a key factor for Rutgers this year, ranking second on the team in scoring (10.7 ppg.) and field goal percentage (.474).

The Scarlet Knights are coached by 2001 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee C. Vivian Stringer, who has a 172-102 (.628) record in her ninth season at Rutgers. She has been a collegiate coach for the past 32 years and has an overall mark of 692-237 (.745) that includes stops at Cheyney and Iowa. She is the only coach (men’s or women’s) in NCAA history to have taken three different programs to the Final Four, most recently advancing to college basketball’s stage with Rutgers in 2000. Stringer has a 7-8 lifetime record against Notre Dame.

A QUICK LOOK AT SETON HALL
Strike up a conversation with almost any BIG EAST Conference women’s basketball observer about the more dangerous teams in the league and invariably, the talk will come around to Seton Hall. With 10 returning letterwinners from last year’s club that qualified for the WNIT, the Pirates have quietly put themselves in a position to challenge the best teams in the BIG EAST.

Seton Hall (14-13, 6-10 BIG EAST) cemented that reputation during the non-conference portion of its schedule with an eight-game winning streak, its longest in nine seasons. Included in that stretch were wins over Michigan and South Carolina at Walsh Gym, highlighting the source of the Pirates’ strength this season — they went 9-4 on their home floor in 2003-04.

Seton Hall hovered around the .500 mark for a good portion of conference play, picking up impressive wins over West Virginia and Notre Dame along the way. However, SHU’s fire was cooled a bit with a five-game losing streak to end the regular season. The Pirates last played on Tuesday when they visited Rutgers and came away on the short end of a 55-44 score. Senior guard Melissa Langelier scored a team-high 11 points and junior guard/forward Ashley Bush snared a game-high 12 rebounds (nine offensive) for Seton Hall, which outrebounded RU, 42-31, but shot only 31 percent in the loss.

The Pirates’ success is based on their defense, which is allowing just 57.9 points per game this season (fourth in the BIG EAST). They also crash the boards extremely well, owning a +8.7 rebounding edge on their opponents, which is second-best in the conference. However, this defensive mentality has been countered by a low-scoring offense which averages 58.3 points per game (11th in the loop). Bush is the only SHU player currently scoring in double figures this season, logging 10.4 ppg. (10.8 ppg. against conference foes). She also leads the team in rebounding (6.2 rpg.) and steals (2.03 spg.), and she is fourth in field goal percentage (.437).

Two other senior post players — Charlene Thomas and LaNedra Brown — complement Bush on the Seton Hall front line. Thomas is averaging 8.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game with a solid .444 field goal ratio, while Brown, a transfer from Duke, is carding 7.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per outing with a team-high .524 shooting percentage. In the backcourt, Langelier is the Pirates’ top gunner, canning a team-high 28 three-point field goals with a .255 three-point percentage while registering 7.0 points per game.

Seton Hall head coach Phyllis Mangina is in her 19th season piloting her alma mater. She owns a career record of 273-269 (.504) with the Pirates, including a 3-12 mark against Notre Dame.

THE NOTRE DAME-RUTGERS SERIES
Notre Dame and Rutgers could be meeting for the 19th time in what has been the most evenly-matched BIG EAST Conference series for the Irish. The Scarlet Knights own a slim 10-8 edge over Notre Dame, having won the last two games in the series, including a 69-55 victory back on Feb. 28 in Piscataway (see recap in next note). However, Notre Dame has won two of the three times the squads have faced off in the BIG EAST Championship.

Among current Irish players, junior forward Jacqueline Batteast is averaging a team-high 17.5 points per game with a .583 field goal percentage (14 of 24) in two games against Rutgers. Sophomore forward Courtney LaVere also has played well against the Scarlet Knights, averaging 14.5 points and 8.0 rebounds with a .478 field goal percentage in two series games. A complete rundown of the statistics active Notre Dame players have compiled against Rutgers can be found on page 22 of this notes package.

THE LAST TIME NOTRE DAME AND RUTGERS MET
Junior forward and Naismith Award finalist Jacqueline Batteast blistered the nets for a game-high 25 points on 10 of 17 shooting, but it was not enough as Notre Dame dropped a 69-55 decision to Rutgers on Feb. 28 at the Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J.

Sophomore guard Megan Duffy continued to state her case as the BIG EAST’s Most Improved Player, chalking up 14 points on five of nine shooting, including two of three from behind the three-point line. Duffy also dished out a game-high four assists and snared four rebounds. Sophomore forward Courtney LaVere returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 4 and plucked a team-high seven rebounds.

Cappie Pondexter scored 20 points to lead three Scarlet Knights in double figures. Michelle Campbell nearly posted a double-double with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Chelsea Newton made all five of her shots and wound up with 11 points. As a team, Rutgers posted a .580 field goal percentage (29 of 50), the highest by a Notre Dame opponent this year.

Notre Dame looked sharp early on, bolting to an 11-6 lead as Batteast scored her team’s first six points. However, the Scarlet Knights came back with eight of the next 10 points and took their first lead with 10:51 to go in the first half. The Irish tied the score twice in the ensuing three minutes, but Rutgers then fashioned a 7-0 run to take its largest lead of the period at 23-16 at the 5:41 mark. That margin quickly vanished in the face of eight straight Notre Dame points, the last coming on a Batteast jumper that resulted in a 24-23 edge with 3:39 remaining. Campbell and Newton responded with late jumpers and the hosts took a three-point lead to the locker room.

The score remained tight in the first five minutes of the second half, with Notre Dame closing the gap to 34-32 on another jumper by Batteast with 14:54 to play. That’s when Rutgers rocked the Irish with a game-turning 19-4 run that saw the Scarlet Knights knock down eight consecutive shots from the floor, while the visitors went one for seven in that span. When the dust settled, Rutgers led 53-36 with nine minutes to play and Notre Dame couldn’t get closer than 12 points the rest of the way. The Scarlet Knights wound up shooting 72.7 percent (16 of 22) from the field in the final 20 minutes to seize control of the contest.

THE NOTRE DAME-SETON HALL SERIES Sunday’s game could mark the 16th time Notre Dame and Seton Hall have met on the basketball court, with the Irish holding a 12-3 edge in the series (1-0 in BIG EAST Championship play). The teams began playing one another just over a decade ago, setting up a home-and-home series in the 1993-94 and ’94-95 seasons. The Pirates won both of those early matchups, the first at Notre Dame (62-55) and the second in overtime at Walsh Gym (65-60).

Since the Irish joined the BIG EAST Conference for the 1995-96 season, they have won 12 of 13 games against Seton Hall. The first conference contest went to overtime (88-79) before Notre Dame reeled off a series-long 11-game winning streak. That string was snapped on Feb. 8, when SHU edged the Irish, 51-45 in South Orange (see recap in next note).

Among current Irish players, sophomore forward Courtney LaVere has had the most individual success against Seton Hall, averaging 14.0 points oini two games with the Pirates. Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast is next on the list, averaging 11.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in four outings against the Pirates. A complete rundown of the statistics active Notre Dame players have compiled against Seton Hall also can be found on page 22 of this notes package.

THE LAST TIME NOTRE DAME AND SETON HALL MET
Seton Hall reserve center LaNedra Brown scored all 10 of her points in the final 9:21, leading the Pirates to a 51-45 victory over No. 23 Notre Dame on Feb. 8 at Walsh Gym in South Orange, N.J. Melissa Langelier scored 13 points and made four free throws in the final 25 seconds for Seton Hall, which won for the third time in four games. The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for Notre Dame, which did not have a player score in double figures for only the second time in school history (and first since Feb. 3, 1978 at Marquette).

Ashley Bush’s drive put Seton Hall ahead 43-41 with 3:21 left. Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast, who was in foul trouble all game and finished with nine points, six below her season average, made one free throw with 2:11 remaining to cut it to 43-42. With the shot clock winding down, Brown hit a 14-foot jumper with 43 seconds left. She added two free throws with 19 seconds remaining to seal the victory.

The teams took turns exchanging the lead in a tight second half. A layup by sophomore forward Courtney LaVere and a three-point play by senior guard Le’Tania Severe gave the Irish a 33-29 lead with 12:02 left, but Seton Hall regained the lead at 41-40 on two free throws by Langelier with 4:40 to go. Notre Dame tied it on a free throw by LaVere before Bush put Seton Hall back on top.

The Irish went on a 10-0 run in the first half, led by two power post moves from reserve freshman forward Crystal Erwin. Batteast and junior center Teresa Borton also added baskets inside during the spurt, helping Notre Dame take a 14-10 lead with 11:50 remaining in the first half. Notre Dame extended its lead to 21-13, the biggest by either team in the game, and was up 23-17 at halftime.

OTHER NOTRE DAME-RUTGERS SERIES TIDBITS

  • Nine of the 18 games in the series have been decided by single-digit margins, with two contests going into overtime. The series has been especially close of late, with seven of the last 10 games decided by nine points or less, including three of the last four (all by five or less). Overall, Rutgers holds a narrow victory margin in the series of 4.5 points per game.
  • With its win on Feb. 28, Rutgers became the first team to win back-to-back games in the series since Notre Dame defeated the Scarlet Knights in the 1999 BIG EAST Championship semifinals and took an overtime victory the following season (both games were played in Piscataway).
  • Two of the top women’s basketball coaches in the country could meet when Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw squares off with Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer. The two coaches have combined to post a staggering record of 1,162-425 (.732) in 54 seasons of coaching, averaging better than 21 wins per year. McGraw and Stringer also have guided 26 teams to the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Final Four on five occasions.

OTHER NOTRE DAME-SETON HALL SERIES TIDBITS

  • After winning two of its first three games against Notre Dame and averaging 67 points per game, Seton Hall has lost 11 of its last 12 contests with the Irish and has averaged only 51.0 points in those games.
  • The first three games in the series all were decided by nine points or less, with two contests going to overtime. The next nine matchups all were decided by at least 11 points, with Notre Dame winning each time by an average margin of 30.7 points per game. However, the three most recent games in the series have been nailbiters that have seen the Irish win twice and SHU win once, all by only 4.3 ppg., and all three games were still in doubt heading into the final minute of play.
  • In the 13 series games since Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, the Irish have scored less than 62 points in a game just once against Seton Hall (their last meeting on Feb. 8). Conversely, the Pirates have topped the mark just once, falling 88-79 in overtime to the Irish in their first conference matchup on Jan. 2, 1996 in South Orange, N.J. Seton Hall comes into the BIG EAST Championship averaging 58.3 ppg. (53.9 ppg. against conference opponents).

IRISH AT THE BIG EAST CHAMPIONSHIP
Notre Dame begins play in its ninth BIG EAST Championship this weekend and has compiled a 12-8 (.600) record in its eight previous appearances. The Irish have reached at least the semifinals in six of the last eight years and made the title game four times (1996, ’97, ’99 and 2001). In an interesting twist, three of Notre Dame’s four BIG EAST finals appearances came when the tournament was held in the state of Connecticut (1996, 1997 and 2001 — all on the UConn campus in Storrs).

Prior to joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96, Notre Dame won the Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournament championship five times in its seven years in that league, with the last Irish conference tourney title coming in 1994. A complete listing of Notre Dame’s appearances in the BIG EAST Championship may be found in the sidebar on page 8 of this notes package.

THE BEASTS OF THE BIG EAST
Notre Dame is 124-28 (.816) in regular-season competition against the rest of BIG EAST Conference, owning the best conference winning percentage of any current member of the BIG EAST since joining the circuit for the 1995-96 campaign. The Irish also have won 80 of their last 98 regular-season conference games (.816), and claimed a share of their first-ever BIG EAST regular-season championship in 2001. When including postseason competition (BIG EAST and NCAA tournaments), Notre Dame is 137-36 (.792) against league opponents — when factoring in these 21 postseason tilts, the Irish are 69-7 (.908) at home, 55-24 (.696) on the road and 13-5 (.722) at neutral sites all-time vs. BIG EAST foes.

ON THIS DATE…
The Irish have played just three times on March 7 in their history, going 1-2 on this date, including an 0-1 record in the Muffet McGraw era and an 0-1 mark at neutral sites. Notre Dame has not played on March 7 since 1992, when the Irish dropped an 86-75 decision at Old Dominion.

IF NOTRE DAME WINS …

  • Notre Dame will advance to the BIG EAST Championship semifinals for the seventh time in its nine-year conference affiliation.
  • The Irish will record their 20th victory of the 2003–04 campaign, marking their 11th consecutive 20-win season. Notre Dame will join Tennessee (28), Texas Tech (15), Louisiana Tech (13), Old Dominion (13) and Connecticut (11) as the only six schools in the country with an active streak of that length.
  • The Irish will improve to 13-8 (.619) all-time in BIG EAST Championship play.
  • Notre Dame will pick up its 11th win in the last 13 games and its 17th victory in 22 games since opening the year with a 3-4 record.
  • The Irish will improve to 138-36 (.793) all-time against the BIG EAST Conference, including a 14-5 (.737) mark at neutral sites.
  • Head coach Muffet McGraw will see her record at Notre Dame rise to 383-147 (.723) in 17 seasons under the Golden Dome. She also will watch her career ledger improve to 471-188 (.715) in 22 years at the college level.
  • The Irish will raise their all-time record to 547-246 (.690) in 27 seasons of varsity competition.

RECAPPING THE SYRACUSE GAME
Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast notched her 10th double-double of the year and freshman guard Breona Gray came off the bench to score a career-high 11 points, hitting all four of her shots, as Notre Dame rolled to a 54-33 win over Syracuse on March 2 at the Joyce Center. In the process, the Irish extended their home winning streak to 18 games and completed the regular season with a 13-0 mark at the Joyce Center, the third time in five years Notre Dame has posted a perfect record on its own floor.

Batteast posted game highs of 13 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, registering her seventh double-double against BIG EAST opposition this season. Senior guard Le’Tania Severe added 12 points in her final regular season game at the Joyce Center. Syracuse lost its 12th consecutive game, despite picking up team highs of 12 points and eight rebounds from Julie McBride. The current losing streak for the Orangewomen has seen a pair of defeats to Notre Dame serving as its bookends — the Irish downed Syracuse, 64-35 back on Jan. 21 in upstate New York.

In both of its matchups with the Orangewomen this year, Notre Dame rode its defense to victory. On Tuesday, Syracuse registered Irish opponent season lows with 33 points and a .224 field goal percentage (13 of 58), surpassing marks the Orangewomen set in their first meeting with Notre Dame last month (35 points, .231 field goal percentage). In fact, the 33 points are the fewest yielded by the Irish since Feb. 13, 2002, when Notre Dame toppled St. John’s, 66-31 at the Joyce Center.

Tuesday’s game was a defensive struggle on both sides of the ball, as the teams went scoreless for the first three minutes and failed to sink a field goal until the 15:08 mark. The first half crawled along at a snail’s pace, thanks in part to the slow-down style of play employed by Syracuse, which burned nearly all 30 seconds of the shot clock on every possession. The strategy paid off for a time, as Notre Dame led by only a 15-10 score with 7:21 remaining in the period.

The Irish finally broke free, ending the first half on an 11-4 run that opened up a 12-point halftime lead. Syracuse shot just .167 (5 of 30) from the floor in the opening 20 minutes, its lowest first-half percentage of the year (topping the .204 mark it set in last month’s loss to Notre Dame).

The second half began much like the first, with each team managing just one field goal over the first 5:38 of the frame. A quick 9-4 run by Notre Dame, sparked by seven points from Gray, gave the Irish their biggest lead to that point at 37-20 with 10:48 still to play. Syracuse clawed back to within 12 points twice in the period, the last coming on a layup by McBride with just under six minutes to go. However, the Irish ended the game on an 11-2 run, capped off by a layup from senior walk-on guard and fan favorite Anne Weese with 0.3 seconds to play.

TURNING POINT
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw has referred to the aftermath of her team’s 76-73 loss at Georgetown in its BIG EAST Conference opener on Jan. 7 as the turning point of the season for the Irish. Upon returning to campus the day after the disheartening setback, the Irish coaches began preparing for practice in their office and then headed for the gym floor, only to find the team already working out on its own.

Since that time, Notre Dame has won 12 of 15 games, including six against Top 25 opponents. One of the key reasons for that run of success has been an increased focus on defense — the Irish are giving up just 50.9 points per game and holding opponents to a .356 field goal percentage (.227 three-point ratio) over that stretch.

IT STARTS WITH DEFENSE
Notre Dame has stepped up its play in the second half of the season, thanks in large measure to the added pressure applied by its defense. During BIG EAST games, the Irish ranked among the top three in the conference in several major defensive categories, including scoring defense (2nd – 52.5 ppg.), scoring margin (2nd – +9.4 ppg.), field goal percentage defense (2nd – .361), three-point field goal percentage defense (1st – .230), rebounding margin (3rd – +4.6 rpg.), blocked shots (3rd – 4.56 bpg.) and steals (3rd – 8.38 spg.).

However, that’s just the start when it comes to noting Notre Dame’s defense. Here are some other tidbits about the Irish defensive lockdown in the last two months:

  • During an eight-game stretch from Jan. 21-Feb. 17, Notre Dame gave up an average of just 47.6 ppg. In fact, the 381 points allowed by the Irish in that stretch represented the best eight-game defensive run in school history. The previous record was 393 points (49.1 ppg.) from Jan. 21-Feb. 10, 1982, in wins over Valparaiso, Michigan, Ball State, Marquette, Mount St. Joseph, Taylor and Cincinnati, as well as a loss to Miami (Ohio).
  • Notre Dame set a new school record by limiting seven consecutive opponents to 52 points or less from Jan. 21-Feb. 14. The old record stood from Dec. 13, 1997 to Jan. 8, 1998, when Notre Dame had a streak of five consecutive games allowing 52 points or less.
  • The Irish held back-to-back opponents (Syracuse and Villanova) to less than 40 points for only the second time in school history (and first in the program’s Division I era, which began in 1980-81). The first time came on Jan. 24 & 31, 1978, when the Irish defeated IPFW (68-39) and Grace College (68-25).
  • In 32 halves of BIG EAST action (16 games), Irish opponents scored 30-or-more points just eight times, with Georgetown and Pittsburgh accounting for four of those in games on Jan. 7 and Feb. 21, respectively.
  • Notre Dame has limited 10 of its last 15 opponents to field goal percentages of less than .400, going 8-2 in those contests. In addition, Syracuse (twice), Villanova and Georgetown (second game) all shot less than 30 percent from the floor. For the season, the Irish are 13-3 when they hold their opponents to less than 40 percent shooting from the field.
  • Notre Dame held Syracuse to 35 points on Jan. 21, setting a school record for the fewest points ever allowed in a BIG EAST road game and the second-fewest yielded in any road game (84-27 at Valparaiso on Jan. 21, 1982).
  • In their return encounter on March 2, Notre Dame limited Syracuse to opponent season lows of 33 points and a .224 field goal percentage. It was the fewest points the Irish have given up in a game since Feb. 13, 2002, when they defeated St. John’s, 66-31 at the Joyce Center.

PIPING HOT TURNOVERS
Miami came into its Feb. 25 game at Notre Dame forcing an average of 22.5 turnovers per game. However, the Irish defense turned the tables on the Hurricanes, forcing them into a season-high 37 turnovers, highlighted by 18 steals. Those 37 turnovers are tied for the third-most takeaways in Notre Dame history (record is 48 vs. Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Jan. 11, 1980), and they are the most the Irish have ever caused against a BIG EAST Conference opponent. The last time Notre Dame forced that many turnovers in a game was Feb. 19, 1991, when Saint Louis also coughed up the orange 37 times in an 87-47 Irish win at the Joyce Center.

NO CUPCAKES FOR THE IRISH
Notre Dame has fought through a brutal schedule that has included playing 10 games against Top 25 opponents. The Irish have handled the challenge very well, going 7-3 in those contests with victories over No. 22/25 Auburn (77-64), No. 16/15 Virginia Tech (53-40), No. 4/4 Connecticut (66-51), No. 23/25 Villanova (38-36), No. 17/16 Miami (59-50), No. NR/23 Boston College (52-50) and a second win over No. 21/19 Miami (93-58). Notre Dame narrowly missed an eighth win over a Top 25 foe, as No. 20/20 Colorado rallied to defeat the Irish, 67-63 in overtime in the championship game of the season-opening WBCA Classic back on Nov. 15 in Boulder, Colo. Nevertheless, Notre Dame has set a school record with seven regular-season wins over ranked opponents this season, topping the old mark of five by the 2000-01 national championship squad (that team had nine total Top 25 wins, but four came in the NCAA Tournament).

By comparison, in the previous two seasons combined (2001-02 and 2002-03), Notre Dame had a total of five wins over ranked opponents, with three of those coming in the regular season (Virginia Tech and Boston College in ’01-02, and Villanova in ’02-03).

The rugged Irish schedule has not gone unnoticed by the national media. Three major outlets — Sagarin/Collegiate Basketball News (8th), Massey (10th) and CollegeRPI.com (15th) — all have pegged the Notre Dame docket among the Top 15 hardest schedules in the nation this season.

BATTEAST SELECTED AS NAISMITH AWARD FINALIST
Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast has been chosen as one of 20 finalists for the 2004 Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year Award, it was announced Feb. 17 by Jackie Bradford, President of the Atlanta Tipoff Club. With her selection, Batteast remains poised to become the second Irish player in four years to win college basketball’s most coveted award, following in the footsteps of All-America center Ruth Riley, who claimed the honor in 2001.

Batteast is averaging 15.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game with 10 double-doubles this season, while leading Notre Dame to a 19-9 record and a second-place finish in the BIG EAST Conference with a 12-4 mark. The talented Irish wing has been at her best against top competition this year, averaging 15.7 points and 8.7 rebounds with four double-doubles and three near double-doubles against 10 ranked opponents. Batteast’s best effort against a Top 25 team came on Jan. 13 when she piled up 23 points and 11 rebounds to help Notre Dame knock off No. 4 Connecticut, 66-51 at the Joyce Center.

Batteast currently ranks among the Top 10 in the BIG EAST in scoring (ninth), rebounding (fourth), field goal percentage (ninth), blocked shots (fifth) and double-doubles (second). She also was a preseason all-BIG EAST First Team selection and was named to the WBCA Classic All-Tournament Team on Nov. 15 after averaging 20.0 points and 7.5 rebounds with a .529 field goal percentage against nationally-ranked Auburn and Colorado.

For her career, Batteast ranks 13th in school history in scoring (1,227 points), fifth in scoring average (14.3 ppg.), 10th in rebounding (704) and second in rebounding average (8.2 rpg.). She also owns an active streak of 60 consecutive games started, dating back to the beginning of last year, and she has started 82 of a possible 86 games in her college career.

The Naismith Award winner will be honored in Atlanta on April 9. The Naismith Awards program was founded by the Atlanta Tipoff Club and is in its 36th year of recognizing top college basketball players in the United States.

BATTEAST STRONG IN BIG EAST PLAY
Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast took her game to another level against BIG EAST Conference opponents this year. In 16 conference games this year, Batteast carded 15.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game with seven double-doubles. She wound up third in the conference in rebounding and seventh in scoring during league play. In addition, she had the fifth-best field goal percentage in the BIG EAST against conference opponents (.470) and just missed double-doubles in four other conference outings (14 points and nine rebounds vs. Villanova; nine points and 10 rebounds at Miami; 20 points and nine rebounds vs. Georgetown; 17 points and eight rebounds at Pittsburgh).

BATTEAST AT HER BEST AGAINST THE BEST
Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast has played very well in Notre Dame’s 10 games against Top 25 opponents this year. She is averaging 15.7 points and 8.7 rebounds with four double-doubles (and three near double-doubles) in those matchups against ranked opponents in 2003-04.

WE DIDN’T STAY AT A HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS
Maybe it’s the long plane rides, or the lumpy mattresses in the hotel, or even the quality of the pre-game meal. Whatever the reason, Notre Dame has struggled at times on the road this season, going 6-9 away from the Joyce Center (5-9 in true road games), although they have won four of their last six on the road. Still, that’s a far cry from the success the Irish have experienced at home, where they are a perfect 13-0 and own an active 18-game winning streak.

PINE TIME PLAYERS
Some of Notre Dame’s success this season can be traced to the contribution provided by the Irish bench. Notre Dame’s reserves are averaging 19.9 points per game (557 total) this season, compared to 13.9 ppg. (389) by the opposition, an average margin of 6.0 points per game.

During the BIG EAST Conference season, Notre Dame has received critical support from its reserves. The Irish bench scored 337 points (21.1 ppg.) in 16 conference games this year, compared to its opponent’s reserves who logged 171 points (10.7 ppg.) over that same time, good for a +10.4 ppg. scoring margin.

In addition, the Notre Dame second unit has rung up at least 30 points on five occasions this season, including four against BIG EAST opponents (season-high 46 points vs. Dayton, 40 points in the second game with Miami, 38 points vs. Providence, 35 points at Syracuse, 33 points in the first Miami game).

TAKING THAT FIRST STEP
With its win at St. John’s on Feb. 17, Notre Dame clinched a winning record for the 2003-04 season, marking the 23rd time in the 27-year history of the program (and the 12th consecutive season) that the Irish have finished above .500. The success has been even more impressive under current head coach Muffet McGraw — Notre Dame has had just one losing season during her 17-year tenure (14-17 in 1991-92), and still advanced to the NCAA Tournament that year after winning the Midwestern Collegiate Conference Tournament.

START ME UP
Senior guard Le’Tania Severe and junior forward Jacqueline Batteast have the longest active streaks of consecutive games started among Irish players. Severe has earned 71 consecutive starting assignments, a streak which began on Feb. 5, 2002 at Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Batteast has been in the starting lineup for 60 straight games, beginning with the first game of the 2002-03 campaign (Nov. 26, 2002 vs. Cleveland State). The South Bend native actually started the first 22 games of her Irish career before suffering a knee injury that relegated her to a supporting role for the remainder of the 2001-02 season. The school record for consecutive games started is 95, which Katryna Gaither established from 1994-97.

BATTEAST REACHES 1,000-POINT MARK AGAINST VIRGINIA TECH
Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast scored a game-high 14 points on Jan. 10 against No. 16/15 Virginia Tech, becoming the 20th player in school history to score 1,000 career points. She also was the fourth-fastest Irish player ever to reach that milestone, doing so in her 72nd career game.

Batteast also is one of only five Irish players to score 800 points in her first two seasons at Notre Dame, joining Morgan, Matvey, Riley and Ratay. For her career, the South Bend native ranks fifth in school history with a 14.3 ppg. scoring average, and 13th in total points (1,227), needing seven points to pass Mary Beth Schueth (1,233 from 1981-85) for 12th place all-time.

NOTING THE WIN OVER #4 CONNECTICUT
Notre Dame’s 66-51 victory over No. 4/4 Connecticut on Jan. 13 at the Joyce Center was historic for a number of reasons. Here are just a few of them:

  • Notre Dame’s win over Connecticut snapped the Huskies’ 121-game winning streak against unranked opponents, a string that dated back to Jan. 23, 1999 (a 78-66 loss at Boston College).
  • Since the start of the 1998-99 season, Connecticut has lost by 15-plus points only three times and each time, those losses have come to Notre Dame (twice in 2000-01, once in 2003-04).
  • Notre Dame is one of only three teams in the nation (and was the first BIG EAST squad) to defeat Connecticut more than once in the past 11 seasons (1993-94 to present). During that 11-year stretch, Tennessee and Villanova are the only other programs with multiple wins over the Huskies.
  • In the past four seasons (2000-01 to present), nearly half of Connecticut’s seven losses have come at the hands of Notre Dame.
  • Over the past five seasons (1999-2000 to present), the Joyce Center is the only arena to see multiple losses by Connecticut.

DETHRONING THE CHAMPS
Notre Dame has pulled off a rare feat this season, becoming just the fourth school since the inception of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament in 1982 to have both its men’s and women’s basketball teams defeat the defending national champions in the same season. The Irish women did their part by ousting Connecticut (66-51) on Jan. 13, while the Notre Dame men completed the double with an 84-72 win at Syracuse on Feb. 16.

The only other schools who can lay claim to this accomplishment are Duke (1998-99), Tennessee (1999-2000) and Michigan State (1999-2000), with Notre Dame and Michigan State being the only institutions to turn the trick in the regular season (Duke’s women beat Tennessee in the ’99 NCAAs, while Tennessee’s men downed Connecticut in the ’00 NCAAs).

A MONTH TO REMEMBER
Saying January was a crazy month for Notre Dame would probably be a bit of an understatement. To begin with, the Irish had 10 games on the schedule last month, its fullest slate since January 1997, when Notre Dame also played 10 times, posting a 9-1 record en route to its first NCAA Final Four appearance. However, that 1997 docket saw the Irish go the entire month without facing a ranked opponent. This year’s Notre Dame squad didn’t have that luck, facing six Top 25 foes in the month.

This January didn’t start out well for Notre Dame, as the Irish lost two of their first three games, including a heartbreaking 76-73 setback at Georgetown in which the Hoyas scored seven points in the final 14 seconds to steal the victory. Unfazed, Notre Dame bounced back with wins in six of its last seven games, highlighted by victories over No. 4/4 Connecticut (66-51), No. 16/15 Virginia Tech (53-40), No. 17/16 Miami (59-50), No. 23/25 Villanova (38-36) and No. NR/23 Boston College (52-50).

A HALF TO REMEMBER
Notre Dame put together one of the best defensive performances in school history on Dec. 13 vs. Dayton, rolling over the Flyers, 78-41 at the Joyce Center. In that game, the Irish held UD to just 11 first-half points, which matches the third-lowest mark in school history and equals the lowest opponent total ever at the Joyce Center (11 in the second half by Grace College on Jan. 31, 1978 — pre-NCAA era). The fewest points Notre Dame has ever allowed in one half is seven (first half) at Maryland on Jan. 9, 1985. The Irish also gave up just 10 first-half points to Georgetown on March 4, 2001, in a BIG EAST Conference Championship quarterfinal game at Storrs, Conn.

In addition, Notre Dame limited Dayton to an opponent record-low .050 field goal percentage (one for 20) in the first half, breaking the old Irish opponent record of .115 (three for 26), which had been set twice — in the first half of the aforementioned Maryland game, and by DePaul in the first half on Dec. 31, 2001 at the Joyce Center.

RUNAWAY TRAIN
The Irish have often opened games in strong fashion, but nothing like what they turned out on Dec. 13 vs. Dayton. Notre Dame began the game on a 26-0 run, the largest game-opening surge in 27 seasons of Irish basketball. The previous record for the best start to a game was 17-0 vs. Texas Tech in the 2000 NCAA Mideast Regional Semifinal in Memphis.

The 26 unanswered points also tied for the second-longest run of consecutive markers by Notre Dame. The school record is 31 straight points, which the Irish achieved on Jan. 18, 1997 vs. Pittsburgh — Notre Dame trailed 14-2, but went on a 31-0 run over the next 13:14 to seize control of the game. The Irish also had a 26-point spree on Jan. 31, 1998 against Seton Hall, turning a 56-29 score into an 82-29 margin over a 9:44 span in the second half.

BIG THINGS COME IN SMALL PACKAGES
Based on her play this season, sophomore point guard Megan Duffy has made a strong case as one of the BIG EAST Conference’s most improved players. Last year, the Dayton native averaged 3.0 points and 2.3 assists per game while still shaking off the rust caused by off-season knee surgery. She also struggled to find her shooting touch, hitting at a .242 clip from the floor and making only seven of 35 three-point attempts (.200).

Fast forward to this season, where Duffy has been an impact player from the outset. She is second on the team in scoring at 10.6 ppg., which more than triples her production from last year. However, her biggest improvement has come in her shooting numbers, where she’s connecting at a team-high .436 percentage (44-101) from the three-point line and would be leading the BIG EAST if she had made enough treys to qualify (min. 2.0 per game). She’s also has more than six times as many treys as she sank all of last year and after cracking double digits just twice in 2002-03 (career high was 12 points), she has 16 double-figure games this season, with two topping the 20-point mark. Her best outing to date was a 25-point outburst on Dec. 4 vs. Wisconsin, where she shattered her career standard from beyond the arc, going six for 10 from downtown.

But lest we forget her primary duties at the point, Duffy is leading the Irish and ranks ninth in the BIG EAST with 4.25 assists per game, nearly doubling last year’s output. She also has just 82 turnovers, giving her a healthy 1.45 assist/turnover ratio (sixth in the BIG EAST). She has dished out at least five assists 14 times this year, including a career-high nine dimes on Dec. 7 at Washington.

DISTANCE LEARNING
One of the supposed question marks surrounding this year’s Notre Dame squad was its perimeter shooting, especially with the departure of the NCAA’s career three-point percentage record holder, Alicia Ratay. Entering postseason play, the Irish have had an emphatic response to that question. Notre Dame is third in the BIG EAST (and ninth in the nation, as of March 1) with a .375 three-point percentage, hitting 110 of 293 shots from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Megan Duffy has been a major contributor from deep, connecting at a team-best .436 clip (44-101), which also would lead the BIG EAST, but she has not made enough field goals to qualify for statistical ranking (minimum of 2.0 per game). Nevertheless, she does stand 15th in the BIG EAST with 1.57 three-pointers made per game.

Another long distance specialist for Notre Dame has been senior guard Jeneka Joyce, which is a pleasant surprise when you consider the Topeka, Kan., native has spent the better part of the past two seasons trying to recover from leg injuries. Joyce has knocked down 39 of 93 treys for a .419 three-point percentage, but she also has not yet made enough field goals to qualify for the rankings (she would be second in the league behind Duffy). Still, Joyce is 12th in the BIG EAST with 1.70 triples per game, and ended up eighth with 1.85 three-pointers per night in conference play.

The veteran sharpshooter was at her best in a three-game stretch vs. Providence, St. John’s and Pittsburgh last month. Against the Friars, she tied her (then) career high with 14 points and four treys, scoring all of her points in the final 6:25 of the first half. Three days later against the Red Storm, Joyce outdid herself, ringing up a career-best 15 points while making a career-high five three-point field goals (on 10 tries), including the last with the shot clock expiring and 4:40 remaining to help seal an Irish victory. Then, at Pittsburgh, the Kansas gunner did it again, rolling up a career-high 16 points, hitting five of eight three-point attempts.

HARDWARE HAUL
Although they didn’t come away with the trophy they wanted at the WBCA Classic, junior forward Jacqueline Batteast and senior guard Le’Tania Severe did receive individual honors as members of the WBCA Classic All-Tournament Team. Batteast averaged 20 points and 7.5 rebounds in the two-game tournament, while shooting .529 from the field. Severe carded 11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game in the tournament and posted a stellar .857 free throw percentage (12 of 14). It was the first career all-tournament team selection for both players.

IRISH APPEARING IN BOTH MAJOR NATIONAL POLLS
Notre Dame is receiving 40 votes in the latest Associated Press poll after spending four weeks in the Top 25 earlier this season. The Irish were ranked 15th in the preseason AP poll, marking the seventh time in the last eight seasons that the Irish were tapped in the initial AP survey of the year.

Notre Dame also is earning 13 votes in this week’s ESPN/USA Today coaches poll after appearing in the Top 25 for the first three weeks of 2003-04. The Irish were pegged No. 16 in the preseason coaches poll, also the seventh time in eight years that they had shown up in the first ESPN/USA Today poll of the year.

This season, Notre Dame has faced or will face no less than seven teams that are ranked in both major polls this week (No. 1/1 Tennessee, No. 4/3 Connecticut, No. 6/7 Purdue, No. 13/13 Colorado, No. 19/22 Auburn, No. 23/23 Villanova and No. 25/24 Michigan State). In addition, Miami is ranked 21st and Boston College is 25th in this week’s ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll. Also, four other Irish opponents — Marquette, Rutgers, Virginia Tech and West Virginia — were receiving votes in one or both of the polls.

HALF AND HALF
Over the last four seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 75-6 (.926) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including a 13-2 mark this year. The two rare losses this season came on Nov. 15 at Colorado (led 37-33 at half; lost 67-63 in overtime) and at Seton Hall (led 23-17; lost 51-45).

THE BEST OFFENSE IS A GOOD DEFENSE …
Over the last nine seasons, 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 128-5 (.962) record when they hold their opponents to less than 60 points in a game. Notre Dame has added 14 more wins to that ledger this season by holding down Valparaiso (74-57), Dayton (78-41), Colorado State (63-59), Virginia Tech (53-40), Connecticut (66-51), Syracuse (64-35), Villanova (38-36), Miami (59-50), Boston College (52-50), Georgetown (66-52), Providence (81-51), St. John’s (69-56), Miami again (93-58) and Syracuse again (54-33).

… 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. Over the last nine seasons (1995-96 to present), the Irish are 88-3 (.967) 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 and a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998. Notre Dame has tacked on three more wins to that tally this year with high-scoring victories over Wisconsin (82-64), Providence (81-51) and Miami (93-58).

SWEET SUCCESS
Notre Dame is one of only eight schools in the country to have appeared in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen five times in the past seven seasons (1997-2003). The others are Connecticut (seven times), Tennessee (seven times), Duke (six times), Louisiana Tech (six times), North Carolina (five times), Old Dominion (five times) and Texas Tech (five times).

THE GOLD STANDARD
The Irish are one of just six teams nationwide to have an active streak of 10 consecutive 20-win seasons. The others in these elite club are Tennessee (27), Texas Tech (14), Louisiana Tech (12), Old Dominion (12) and Connecticut (10).

NOTRE DAME AMONG RECENT WINS LEADERS
Notre Dame has won 200 games over the last eight seasons (25.0 victories per year), which stands as the ninth-most wins of any school in the country during that time.

CHECK OUT THE THREADS
For the first time since the 1998-99 season, the Irish are wearing white uniforms at home this season, eschewing the golden togs they sported for the past four seasons. Notre Dame has worn white uniforms on numerous occasions on the past, dating as far back as the school’s first varsity women’s basketball squad, which took the floor in 1977-78. Blue continues to be the primary color for the Irish road uniforms.

A BANNER DAY
In January, Notre Dame unveiled new championship banners which now hang in the Joyce Center. The NCAA title flag won by the Irish women in 2001 and the Helms Foundation national championship banners won by the Notre Dame men in 1927 and 1936 now have been converted to gold with blue lettering, reversing the look of the other banners currently on display. In addition, the Irish basketball and volleyball teams have added blue flags for Sweet Sixteen appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

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 111 of their last 120 games (.925) at the 11,418-seat Joyce Center, including a current 18-game winning streak, the second-longest in school history. Notre Dame also has a 69-7 (.908) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the Joyce Center, sporting a 31-game league winning streak at home before it was snapped with a 48-45 loss to Villanova in the 2002 home finale.

The Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 45 of their last 47 non-BIG EAST contests (.957) at the Joyce Center, dating back to the 1994-95 season. The only two losses in that span came to Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69) and Purdue in 2003 (71-54). The Purdue loss 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 261-70 (.789) record at the venerable facility. In both the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons, the Irish were a perfect 15-0 at home, setting a school record for home wins in a season. In 2003-04, Notre Dame is bidding to make it three unbeaten seasons in the last five years, going 13-0 at the Joyce Center in the regular season (the Irish will host NCAA first- and second-round games on March 21 and 23).

JAMMIN’ THE JOYCE
Beginning with its national championship season of 2000-01, Notre Dame has ranked in the Top 10 in the nation in attendance each of the past three years. The Irish are looking to extend that streak to a fourth straight season, averaging 6,699 fans for their 13 home games, including a season-high 8,760 fans on Feb. 14 vs. Providence, the seventh-largest crowd in school history. According to the latest unofficial national attendance rankings compiled by the Wisconsin Sports Information Office (as of March 1), Notre Dame ranks 12th in the country in attendance.

The Irish averaged 7,132 fans for their 13 home games last season, good for their second consecutive eighth-place finish in the final NCAA attendance rankings. Last year also saw Notre Dame register two of the top 10 crowds in school history, including a season-high gathering of 9,483 fans, the fifth-largest in school history for the nationally-televised matchup with Purdue on Jan. 4, 2003.

All of the top 20 crowds in the Irish record book have occurred during the 17-year tenure of head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-present). And, as more evidence of Notre Dame’s rapid elevation to “hot ticket” status in South Bend, 19 of the top 20 crowds in school history have been recorded in the last five seasons.

NOTRE DAME ON THE SMALL SCREEN
Based on its success in recent years, Notre Dame continues to be a favorable television draw and the 2003-04 season was no exception. The Irish played on the small screen no less than 11 times during the regular season, including four appearances on national television.

Notre Dame made its ’03-04 television debut on Dec. 7 at Washington in a matchup that was shown to a national cable audience on Fox Sports Net. The Irish returned to coast-to-coast television on Jan. 4 when they visited Purdue for the inaugural BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge on ESPN2.

In addition, Notre Dame was selected to appear on the BIG EAST Conference television package four times this season, including three home games. The Irish earned wins over Virginia Tech (Jan. 10), Villanova (Jan. 24) and Boston College (Jan. 31) at home, before falling at Rutgers (Feb. 28) in front of the BIG EAST TV cameras. Those games were seen on a regional basis in several major East Coast markets, including New York, Boston, Miami, Philadelphia and Washington, as well as South Bend, where WHME-TV (Channel 46) showed the Virginia Tech, Villanova and Rutgers games on a same-day, tape-delayed basis at 7 p.m. (ET).

Furthermore, the Jan. 13 BIG EAST matchup between Notre Dame and two-time defending national champion Connecticut was televised by Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) with College Sports Television (CSTV) picking up the broadcast and airing it nationally.

Both Notre Dame-Miami games also were televised this season. The Jan. 28 matchup in Coral Gables, Fla., was picked up by the Sunshine Network on a tape-delayed basis. Meanwhile, the Feb. 25 rematch at the Joyce Center was broadcast live to a nationwide audience on CSTV. The fledgling network has been particularly kind to the Irish this season — Notre Dame is 2-0 when appearing on the CSTV airwaves.

Two other Irish road games (at West Virginia and Syracuse) were broadcast locally on a delayed basis in those markets.

In addition, the semifinals of this year’s BIG EAST Championship presented by State Farm will be broadcast on the BIG EAST television package Monday, March 8 at 6 and 8 p.m. (ET) from the Hartford (Conn.) Civic Center. Clearances for those semifinal games have yet to be announced. The championship game will air live on ESPN2 on Tuesday, March 9 at 7 p.m. (ET).

NOTRE DAME TO PLAY HOST TO NCAA TOURNAMENT ACTION IN 2004
After a two-year absence, the Joyce Center once again will be home to NCAA Tournament competition as Notre Dame was selected to be one of 16 sites for first- and second-round games in the 2004 NCAA Tournament. Action at the South Bend subregional will take place Sunday, March 21 and Tuesday, March 23, with exact tipoff times and potential television broadcasts to be determined by the NCAA during the week leading up to the competition.

Should Notre Dame qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the 11th time in school history (and the ninth consecutive season), the Irish are guaranteed to play at home. Notre Dame has played five NCAA tourney games at the Joyce Center in its history, going 4-1 and and advancing to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen in 2000 and 2001 (the Irish went on to win the national championship in the latter season).

Full-session ticket books for NCAA Tournament games at the Joyce Center currently are available to the general public (one ticket for both Sunday games, one ticket for Tuesday’s only game). Single-game tickets will not be made available until after the field of 64 is announced on March 14. For more information on how to purchase tickets for the 2004 NCAA Notre Dame subregional, contact the Irish athletics ticket office at (574) 631-7356 or visit the ticket windows located on the second floor of the Joyce Center at Gate 1.

NOTRE DAME ON THE AIRWAVES
Once again this season, every Irish women’s basketball game (home and away) will air on the flagship stations of the Artistic Media Partners (AMP) Network — WDND-AM (ESPN Radio 1580) and WNDV-AM (1490) in South Bend. Veteran broadcaster and AMP sports director Sean Stires is now in his fourth season handling the play-by-play for Notre Dame. The Irish also can be heard on the Internet at Notre Dame’s official athletics website (www.und.com) by subscribing to College Sports Pass, which gives listeners full multimedia access to a variety of Irish athletics events for only $6.95 per month.

THE Muffet McGraw SHOW
Muffet McGraw’s half-hour, weekly television show is produced by LeSea Broadcasting and hosted by Bob Nagle. The show, now in its seventh season, is carried by WHME-TV (Channel 46) in South Bend and airs at 6:30 p.m. (ET) Saturdays through the end of the 2003-04 season. The show also is available via satellite (Galaxy 6, Transponder 15) each Saturday at 10:30 a.m. (ET), and may be seen on LeSea Broadcasting stations in Denver, Honolulu, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Tulsa (check local listings).

BATTEAST NAMED JOHN R. WOODEN WOMEN’S AWARD PRESEASON ALL-AMERICAN
Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast (South Bend, Ind.) is one of 30 players who were named to the 2003-04 John R. Wooden Women’s Award Preseason All-America Team on Aug. 13. Based on a vote of the Wooden Women’s Award National Advisory Board, these 30 players are considered the top candidates for the inaugural Wooden Women’s Award, which will be presented to the most outstanding female collegiate basketball player at the conclusion of the ’03-04 season.

Batteast is a two-time all-BIG EAST Conference selection who started every game for the Irish last season, leading the team in scoring (13.9 ppg.), rebounding (8.3 rpg.) and blocked shots (1.56 bpg.). She also ranked among the top 15 in the BIG EAST in those categories, as well as steals (1.97 spg.) and double-doubles (8). In addition, the 6-2 wing scored in double figures 26 times, topped the 20-point mark five times, and earned game-high rebounding honors of 14 occasions. She ranks among Notre Dame’s career leaders in scoring average (6th – 13.8 ppg.) and rebounding average (tie-2nd – 8.1 rpg.), and she is one of only five players in school history to amass at least 800 points in her first two seasons under the Golden Dome.

Batteast is one of five BIG EAST players named to the Wooden Preseason All-America Team, joining Rebekkah Brunson of Georgetown, Cappie Pondexter of Rutgers, and the Connecticut duo of Ann Strother and Diana Taurasi.

In mid-January, the Wooden Women’s Award Committee will release its Midseason Top 20 List, followed in March by the official voting ballot which will consist of the top 10-15 players who have proven their success in the classroom (minimum 2.0 grade-point average) as well as on the court. More than 250 voters, comprised of sports media members and women’s college basketball experts around the country, will cast their votes for the five-member Wooden All-America Team and Wooden Award winner.

Although the 2003-04 season marks the debut of the Wooden Women’s Award, the honor initially was created in 1976 to recognize the top male collegiate basketball player in the nation. Past winners include Larry Bird (’79), Michael Jordan (’84) and Tim Duncan (’97).

BATTEAST CHOSEN FOR STATE FARM/WBCA WADE TROPHY PRESEASON WATCH LIST
Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast is one of 35 players who were selected to the 2003-04 State Farm Wade Trophy Preseason Watch List on Aug. 20 by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). Based on a vote of committee members which include leading coaches, journalists and basketball administrators, these 35 players are considered the top candidates for the State Farm Wade Trophy, which will be presented to the most outstanding female collegiate basketball player at the conclusion of the ’03-04 season.

Batteast is a two-time all-BIG EAST Conference selection who started every game for the Irish last season, leading the team in scoring (13.9 ppg.), rebounding (8.3 rpg.) and blocked shots (1.56 bpg.). She also ranked among the top 15 in the BIG EAST in those categories, as well as steals (1.97 spg.) and double-doubles (8). In addition, the 6-2 wing scored in double figures 26 times, topped the 20-point mark five times, and earned game-high rebounding honors of 14 occasions. She ranks among Notre Dame’s career leaders in scoring average (6th – 13.8 ppg.) and rebounding average (tie-2nd – 8.1 rpg.), and she is one of only five players in school history to amass at least 800 points in her first two seasons under the Golden Dome.

Batteast was one of five BIG EAST players named to the ’03-04 Wade Trophy Preseason Watch List, joining Rebekkah Brunson of Georgetown, Ieva Kublina of Virginia Tech, Cappie Pondexter of Rutgers and last year’s Wade Trophy recipient, Diana Taurasi of Connecticut.

The State Farm Wade Trophy, now in its 27th year, is named after Margaret Wade, the late Delta State University coach who won three national championship in the mid-1970s. The Wade Trophy is considered the one of the most prestigious individual awards in women’s college basketball and is organized by the WBCA and the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS).

STREET & SMITH’S TAPS BATTEAST AS PRESEASON ALL-AMERICAN
Adding to her armload of preseason hardware, junior forward Jacqueline Batteast (South Bend, Ind.) was named a preseason honorable mention All-American by Street & Smith’s in the magazine’s annual basketball preview issue. It’s the third preseason honor for the talented 6-2 wing, who is a two-time all-BIG EAST Conference selection. She also was the 2001-02 United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) National Freshman of the Year and a WBCA/Kodak honorable mention All-American that season, as well as the unanimous choice for BIG EAST Rookie of the Year.

BATTEAST, ERWIN EARN PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE AWARDS
Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast and freshman forward Crystal Erwin both received preseason recognition in a vote of the BIG EAST Conference coaches that was released at the league’s annual Media Day on Oct. 30 at the Newark (N.J.) Liberty Airport Hilton. Batteast was a preseason first-team all-BIG EAST selection, while Erwin was named the Preseason BIG EAST Co-Freshman of the Year, sharing the honor with Connecticut’s Liz Sherwood.

Batteast led the Irish in scoring (13.9 ppg.), rebounding (8.3 rpg.), blocked shots (1.56 bpg.) and double-doubles (8), ranking among the BIG EAST leaders in all four categories. She is a two-time second-team all-conference selection and is one of only five players in school history to score 800 points in her first two seasons at Notre Dame.

As a senior last year at St. Paul High School in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., Erwin earned All-America honors from Parade, Street & Smith’s and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), and also was selected to play in the McDonald’s All-America Game in Atlanta. She averaged 22.3 points, 13.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game during her storied prep career, averaging double-doubles during both her junior (24.9 ppg., 14.9 rpg.) and senior seasons (21.2 ppg., 10.2 rpg.). She holds career records at St. Paul for points (2,720), rebounds (1,630) and blocks (380), as well as the school single-season scoring mark (869 in 2001-02). She follows Batteast as the second Irish rookie in three years to be chosen the BIG EAST Preseason Freshman of the Year.

IRISH INK THREE STUDENT-ATHLETES IN EARLY SIGNING PERIOD
Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw announced Nov. 18 that three of the nation’s top high school student-athletes have chosen to continue their careers with the Irish, signing national letters of intent to attend Notre Dame beginning in the fall of 2004. Charel Allen, a 5-10 guard from Monessen, Pa., Melissa D’Amico, a 6-5 forward/center from Manorville, N.Y., and Tulyah Gaines (pronounced too-LIE-uh), a 5-8 guard from North Las Vegas, Nev., all committed to the Irish during the early signing period, which lasted from Nov. 12-19.

Allen will arrive at Notre Dame next fall as one of the top college prospects from western Pennsylvania. She is a three-time Street & Smith’s honorable mention All-American who averaged 29.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, 7.2 steals and 4.8 assists per game last season at Monessen High School. She also is a two-time Associated Press first-team all-state pick and was named the 2003 AP Class A Player of the Year. In addition, she is a two-time all-Pittsburgh metro area selection and a ’03 AAU 16-and-under All-American. As a freshman in 2001, she was a fifth-team AP all-state choice when she averaged 23.6 points per game. In her first three seasons at MHS, Allen has piled up 2,302 points (26.2 ppg.), 995 rebounds (11.3 rpg.), 600 steals (6.8 spg.), 426 assists (4.8 apg.) and 102 blocks (1.2 bpg.). She was ranked 27th in the nation by Blue Star Index and she will be the fourth Pennsylvania native to play for the Irish (the first in 13 seasons).

At 6-5, D’Amico will be the tallest player on the Irish roster when she sets foot on the Notre Dame campus in the fall of 2004. A versatile post player, she averaged 16.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game last season for William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach, N.Y. (located on Long Island). She burst onto the national scene this past summer at the adidas Top Ten Camp in Suwanee, Ga., and is considered by most recruiting services to be one of the top players on the rise in this year’s class. She currently is ranked 47th in the country by All-Star Girls Report and 91st by Blue Star Index , and she follows in the footsteps of another talented New Yorker who came to Notre Dame — two-time honorable mention All-American and Mount Vernon, N.Y., product, Katryna Gaither (1993-97).

Gaines is a playmaking guard who will give the Irish solid depth in the backcourt. Last summer, she moved to North Las Vegas and is attending Cheyenne High School, where she will play for the Desert Shields this year. Gaines previously lived in Burbank, Calif., where she was a three-year starter at John Burroughs High School. She averaged 18.9 points and 5.1 assists per game last season and was a first-team all-CIF SS (Southern California) Division 2A First Team selection. In addition, she is a two-time Street & Smith’s honorable mention All-American and won a bronze medal with the West Team at the 2003 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs. Gaines averaged 6.0 points per game during the five-game tournament, which featured the top prep players from around the country. She is ranked 25th nationally by All-Game Sports, 52nd by Blue Star Index and 61st by All-Star Girls Report , and she is the second Las Vegas area resident in as many years to sign with Notre Dame — current Irish freshman guard Breona Gray graduated from Bishop Gorman High School last May.

With the addition of Allen, D’Amico and Gaines, Notre Dame has assembled the nation’s 14th-ranked recruiting class according to Blue Star Index. This marks the eighth consecutive year in which the Irish have attracted a Top 20 class, making Notre Dame one of only three schools (along with Connecticut and Tennessee) to have such a consistent run of recruiting success.

NEW BOOK BY McGRAW NOW ON SALE
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw tried her hand at writing during the past year and has co-authored a book with Bradley University professor Paul Gullifor entitled “Courting Success: Muffet McGraw’s Formula For Winning In Sports And In Life.” The book, which currently is in bookstores nationwide and may be purchased through on-line booksellers such as Amazon.com, touches on how, in the shadows of the nation’s most storied football program, McGraw has quietly built the women’s basketball program into a national power.

Women’s basketball has been one of the University’s most consistently successful varsity sport during the past 16 years, qualifying for the postseason 13 times, including 10 trips to the NCAA Tournament, five NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances and two Final Fours berths. The team’s rise to national prominence was then cemented with a national championship in 2001. In short, the Notre Dame women’s basketball program has been steadily built into a perennial national championship contender, and its architect for those 16 years has been McGraw. Entering the 2003-04 season, the Pottsville, Pa., native had won 363 games at Notre Dame, had a stellar .725 winning percentage and was the consensus 2001 national Coach of the Year.

Personal accolades aside, McGraw has always been more concerned with off-court success than the progress of her teams. Accordingly, this book is a motivational and inspirational book in which she shares her ingredients for success — on and off the court. It provides lessons for those aspiring toward success in basketball, and in life, while illustrating why Muffet McGraw is one of college basketball’s most accomplished coaches.

NEXT GAME: BIG EAST CHAMPIONSHIP – SEMIFINAL
With a victory over Rutgers or Seton Hall on Sunday night, Notre Dame will advance to the BIG EAST Championship semifinals Monday at 8 p.m. (ET) at the Hartford Civic Center. Both semifinal games will be broadcast live through the BIG EAST television package, with exact clearances still to be announced.

Among the potential opponents for the Irish in the semifinals are No. 3 seed Villanova, No. 6 seed West Virginia and No. 11 seed St. John’s. Notre Dame ousted VU, 38-36 on Jan. 24 at the Joyce Center, and went on the road to down St. John’s, 69-56 on Feb. 17. At the same time, the Irish fell to West Virginia, 64-51, on Jan. 17 in Morgantown.