Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw has inked a two-year contract extension that will keep her on the Irish bench through the 2014-15 season.

Irish Tip Off NCAA Tournament Play Sunday Against California

March 14, 2007

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2007 NCAA Dallas Region – First Round
#9 seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish (19-11 / 10-6 BIG EAST) vs.
#8 seed California Golden Bears (23-8 / 12-6 Pac-10)

DATE: March 18, 2007
AT: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Petersen Events Center (12,508)
SERIES: First meeting
TICKETS: (800) 643-7488
RADIO: ESPN Radio 1490 AM
Sean Stires, p-b-p
TV: ESPN2 (live)
Linda Cohn, p-b-p
Fran Fraschilla, color
Wendi Nix, sideline


  • Notre Dame has advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 12th consecutive year and the 14th time in program history.
  • The Irish will be facing a brand-new opponent in the NCAA Tournament for the 13th time, having gone 10-2 in their previous 12 NCAA matchups with first-time foes.

Irish Tip Off NCAA Tournament Play Sunday Against California
Enjoying a season of great promise and potential, Notre Dame will look to continue its tradition of postseason success when it tips off its 12th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance Sunday at noon (ET) against California at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh. The Irish are seeded ninth in the Dallas Region, while the Golden Bears are the No. 8 seed for a game that will be televised nationally by ESPN2.

Notre Dame has not played since March 3, when the Irish dropped a hard-fought 76-71 decision to DePaul in the first round of the BIG EAST Championship at the Hartford Civic Center. Notre Dame rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit to tie the game with under four minutes left, but couldn’t quite complete the comeback.

Junior guard Charel Allen registered a team-high 18 points, as well as six rebounds and five assists for the Irish. Senior guard Breona Gray chipped in with 17 points, 13 in the first half.


  • Notre Dame is not ranked.
  • California is receiving votes in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.

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Setting The Standard
Under the guidance of 20th-year head coach Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame has evolved into one of the country’s leading women’s basketball powers. The Irish have appeared in 14 NCAA Tournaments (including a current streak of 12 in a row) and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 six times in the previous 10 years. Notre Dame also has reached the NCAA Women’s Final Four twice, winning college basketball’s ultimate prize with the 2001 national championship.

In its history, Notre Dame has developed eight All-Americans, nine WNBA players (including six draft picks in the past six years) and four USA Basketball veterans (eight medals won). Now in their 30th season in 2006-07, the Irish own an all-time record of 612-277 (.688).

Notre Dame Head Coach Muffet McGraw

Saint Joseph’s ’77

  • 20th season at Notre Dame
  • 448-178 (.716) at Notre Dame.
  • 536-219 (.710) in 25 years as head coach.


  • 2001 consensus National Coach of the Year
  • Four-time Naismith Coach of the Year finalist
  • Four-time conference Coach of the Year
  • BIG EAST Conference (2001)
  • Midwestern Collegiate Conference (1991)
  • North Star Conference (1988)
  • East Coast Conference (@ Lehigh) (1983)

A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Although the final weeks of the 2006-07 regular season may not have unfolded as Notre Dame hoped, it’s hard to deny the Irish have made significant progress this season, even in the face of numerous challenges.

With a young and inexperienced roster that has only two seniors, and subsequently losing its top returning scorer from a year ago due to a preseason knee injury, Notre Dame was not expected to do much in ’06-07. At least, that’s what the BIG EAST coaches thought, as they picked the Irish to finish 11th in their preseason poll (a survey taken before Lindsay Schrader had her season-ending ACL tear on Oct. 15).

However, the Notre Dame players and staff pulled together to prove the doubters wrong, and they have been largely successful at that goal, rising up to finish tied for fifth in the BIG EAST regular-season standings. The Irish also have collected two wins over Top 25 opponents (Purdue and Louisville) and three over conference champions (Purdue, Bowling Green and Prairie View A&M), while sporting a sleeker offensive style that has yielded 71.0 points per game. That’s a significant improvement over the previous five Notre Dame squads, none of which has averaged better than 66.3 points per night (including last year’s 64.5 ppg. mark).

The Irish also have employed an aggressive high-risk, high-reward defense that has rattled opponents to the tune of 20.7 turnovers per game (including a BIG EAST-best 10.7 steals per night). However, the flip side has seen the Irish allow opponents to shoot .427 from the floor (.366 from the three-point line).

Junior guard Charel Allen has been one of the main offensive catalysts for the Irish, averaging a team-high 17.0 ppg. (good for seventh in the league). A first-team all-BIG EAST selection and finalist for the Kodak/WBCA All-America Team, she also is logging a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game and 2.0 steals per night.

Allen’s classmate and backcourt running partner, Tulyah Gaines, was easily one of the conference’s most improved players this season. The speedy Gaines has stoked the Notre Dame offensive fire to an even hotter level, averaging 9.7 points and 3.9 assists per game. Gaines, who came into the season with a 3.7 ppg. career scoring average, has scored 20 points in a game three times this year, including a career-high 27 points on Jan. 10 in a win over Cincinnati.

The most pleasing contributions of the year for Notre Dame have come from its three BIG EAST All-Freshman Team picks, each of whom ranks among the top 10 rookie scorers in the league. Guard Ashley Barlow is second on the team in scoring (10.8 ppg.) and third in steals (1.9 spg.), and had a career-high 21 points twice (vs. Prairie View A&M and at DePaul). Guard Melissa Lechlitner (6.2 ppg., 2.9 apg.) was sharp down the stretch with a 1.55 assist/turnover ratio in league play. And, center Erica Williamson (6.1 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 1.3 bpg.) logged her first career double-double at South Florida with 11 points and 18 rebounds (an Irish freshman record).

Potent Notables About The Irish

  • Notre Dame is among the nation’s winningest programs during the past 11 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking seventh with 266 victories in that span.
  • Notre Dame’s incoming class of 2007 (announced Nov. 8) has been ranked 11th in the nation by Blue Star Basketball, marking the 11th consecutive season that the Irish have had a top-25 recruiting class. Notre Dame is one of only three schools (along with Connecticut and Tennessee) to have an active streak of that length. A thumbnail sketch of the newest Irish signees can be found on page 10 of these notes.
  • On Feb. 24, incoming freshman forward Devereaux Peters (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick) was named to the McDonald’s High School All-America Team and will play in the McDonald’s High School All-America Game March 28 at 5:30 p.m. (ET) inside Louisville’s Freedom Hall. Peters is the fourth future Notre Dame player in six years to be named a McDonald’s All-American, joining Courtney LaVere (2002), current Irish senior forward Crystal Erwin (2003) and current Irish sophomore guard Lindsay Schrader (2005).
  • Notre Dame currently is ranked 11th nationally in attendance (6,364 fans per game). Last season marked the sixth consecutive campaign the Irish were among the national top 20 in attendance (No. 11 ranking). Notre Dame also has attracted 5,000-or-more fans to 94 of its last 96 home games, including three Joyce Center sellouts of 11,418 (most recently on Dec. 31, 2005 vs. Tennessee).
  • For the sixth time in school history, Notre Dame has been selected to host NCAA Tournament action, as the Joyce Center will be the site of NCAA Tournament first- and second-round games in 2010. In four of the five previous instances, Notre Dame was involved in NCAA Tournament play, going 6-1 all-time and advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16 three times (2000, 2001, 2004), with only a first-round loss to Minnesota in 1994 blotting the resume. Notre Dame also hosted the 1983 NCAA Mideast Regional at the Joyce Center, with Georgia defeating Tennessee, 67-63 in the regional final.
  • The Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as six Notre Dame players have been selected in the past six seasons. All-America guard Megan Duffy was the most recent Irish player to be chosen, going to the Minnesota Lynx in the third round (31st overall pick) of the 2006 WNBA Draft. Other active Notre Dame players in the WNBA during the 2006 season included Ruth Riley and Jacqueline Batteast (league champion Detroit Shock), while Niele Ivey sat out the campaign as a free agent, rehabilitating an injury after previously playing with Indiana, Detroit and Phoenix. Riley’s WNBA title with Detroit was her second (she was the 2003 WNBA Finals MVP), while Batteast earned her first pro crown in ’06. In February 2007, Riley was traded to the San Antonio Silver Stars.
  • Notre Dame has been an elite program in the classroom as well. The Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October 2006. Notre Dame was one of 16 Division I-A programs to achieve this distinction, and one of only two BIG EAST programs (Syracuse was the other). Furthermore, since Muffet McGraw became the Irish head coach in 1987, every Notre Dame women’s basketball player that has completed her athletic and academic eligibility at the University has graduated (a perfect 51-for-51 success rate).

A Quick Look At California
Building upon an 18-12 record and its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993, California has continued its renaissance this season, soaring to a 23-8 mark and a third-place finish in the rugged Pac-10 Conference. The Golden Bears also have been regular fixtures in the national polls, rising as high as 15th in the AP poll and 16th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll after an 8-1 start.

Like Notre Dame, Cal will have gone two weeks since its last game, a 60-53 loss to No. 9/7 Arizona State in the Pac-10 Tournament semifinals on March 4. Sophomore forward/center Devanei Hampton, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, posted game highs of 21 points and eight rebounds, while classmate and frontcourt partner Ashley Walker added 13 points and seven rebounds. Both players were hampered by foul trouble throughout the contest.

Walker leads Cal in scoring (17.2 ppg.), rebounding (8.5 rpg.), field goal percentage (.536) and blocked shots (1.35 bpg.), while Hampton is hot on her heels in each category -she averages 16.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 0.71 blocks per game with a .531 field goal percentage.Freshman guard Lauren Grief provides solid support on the perimeter, collecting 8.1 ppg. with a team-best .351 three-point percentage.

Cal head coach Joanne Boyle is in her second season with the Golden Bears, and fifth as a collegiate head coach after three successful seasons at Richmond. The reigning Pac-10 Coach of the Year, Boyle is 41-20 (.672) in Berkeley, with an overall record of 108-49 (.688). Sunday will mark her first-ever matchup against Notre Dame.

The Notre Dame-California Series
Notre Dame and California will be playing for the first time in women’s basketball.

Other Notre Dame-California Series Tidbits

  • California will be the third first-time opponent for Notre Dame this season, and the 173rd different opponent in the 30-year history of Irish women’s basketball. On Dec. 16, Notre Dame defeated IUPUI, 75-65 at the Joyce Center. Then, on Dec. 28, the Irish downed Prairie View A&M, 94-55, also before the home folks in South Bend.
  • Notre Dame is 33-5 (.868) against first-time opponents since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96. That includes a 13-1 (.929) record since the start of the 2000-01 season and a current eight-game winning streak.
  • The Irish have faced 12 first-time opponents in the NCAA Tournament, going 10-2 (.833) in those games. Notre Dame also has won its last 10 NCAA Tournament games against first-time opposition, most recently defeating Middle Tennessee, 59-46 on March 23, 2004 in an NCAA East Region second-round game at the Joyce Center.
  • While this will be their first meeting in the sport of women’s basketball, Notre Dame and California have squared off before in other sports. Most notably, the Irish football team is 4-0 all-time against the Golden Bears (last winning by a 41-8 count on Sept. 23, 1967 at Notre Dame Stadium), while the Notre Dame men’s basketball team lost its lone matchup with Cal (69-63 on Dec. 27, 1966 at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu).
  • Notre Dame is 20-14 (.588) all-time against California schools, but an 11-11 (.500) record away from home (road/neutral sites combined). The Irish will be playing a Golden State institution for the second time this season, following a 69-58 loss at USC on Nov. 24.
  • Senior forward Crystal Erwin (Rancho Cucamonga/St. Paul) is the lone California native on this year’s Notre Dame roster. However, junior guard Tulyah Gaines spent much of her life in southern California, attending John Burroughs High School in Burbank through her junior year before moving to Las Vegas prior to her senior year.
  • Prior to her current appointment, California athletics director Sandy Barbour spent four years (2000-04) as an associate and deputy athletics director at Notre Dame, where one of her responsibilities was to assist athletics director Kevin White with the administration of women’s basketball. Barbour also served on White’s staff as an associate athletics director at Tulane from 1991-96, then succeeded him as the Green Wave athletics director from 1996-99 when White departed a similar post at Arizona State.

Notre Dame vs. The Pac-10 Conference
The Irish are 17-16 (.515) all-time against Pac-10 Conference teams, although they are 8-13 (.381) when facing that conference away from home (road/neutral combined). Notre Dame also has won 14 of its last 18 games against Pac-10 schools since a 93-72 loss to UCLA in the first round of the 1992 NCAA Tournament. However, the Irish dropped their last game vs. a Pac-10 opponent, falling 69-58 at USC on Nov. 24. Notre Dame has played a Pac-10 school twice before in NCAA Tournament action. In addition to the 1992 loss to UCLA, the Irish also bowed to Arizona State, 70-61 in 2005 at Fresno, Calif.

Other Tidbits From The Pittsburgh Site

  • Notre Dame is quite familiar with the University of Pittsburgh and the Petersen Events Center, with the host Panthers playing alongside the Irish in the BIG EAST Conference. Notre Dame is 8-1 all-time in the Steel City (7-1 vs. Pittsburgh, 1-0 vs. Duquesne), and 2-1 at the Petersen Events Center, but the Irish are coming off a 71-62 loss at Pittsburgh on Jan. 31. In that game, Notre Dame led by nine in the first half, then trailed by 10 with less than four minutes left, but rallied to within one possession in the final 30 seconds. However, the comeback died when the Irish misfired on a pair of potential game-tying three-point attempts, while the Panthers salted away the win with three free throws and a half-court shot at the horn.
  • Notre Dame junior guard Charel Allen is a native of Monessen, Pa., located approximately 30 miles south of Pittsburgh, and graduated from Monessen High School in 2004. Allen remains one of leading scorers in Pennsylvania high school history, having piled up 3,110 points during her storied prep career. In two prior games at the Petersen Events Center (both vs. Pittsburgh), Allen is averaging 16.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists with a .483 field goal percentage (14-of-29).
  • Second-year Notre Dame coordinator of basketball operations Stephanie Menio graduated from Pittsburgh in 2004 with a degree in business administration. During her time there, Menio spent two years as a marketing assistant with the Panther women’s basketball program, and in conjunction with the debut of the Petersen Events Center, she aided in the program’s 114-percent increase in attendance from 2002-04 and the first women’s basketball sellout in school history (12,632 vs. Connecticut on Jan. 25, 2003).
  • Three members of the Irish staff are natives of Pennsylvania – head coach Muffet McGraw (Pottsville), assistant coach Angie Potthoff (Erie) and coordinator of basketball operations Stephanie Menio (Wilkes-Barre).
  • Notre Dame assistant coach Angie Potthoff spent three seasons (2002-05) coaching the girls’ basketball team at Beaver (Pa.) Area High School, located about 45 minutes northwest of Pittsburgh. Potthoff was an assistant for two seasons before taking over as head coach for the 2004-05 campaign.
  • Potthoff also was a three-year college assistant from 1999-2002, spending the first of those seasons as a graduate assistant at Indiana (Pa.) University, located approximately 70 miles east of Pittsburgh, She then worked two years (2000-02) as an assistant at Robert Morris University in Moon Township, Pa. (located near Pittsburgh International Airport).
  • Notre Dame assistant coach Jonathan Tsipis is a 1996 graduate of North Carolina, having earned his bachelor of science degree in pharmacy while in Chapel Hill.
  • Notre Dame associate head coach Coquese Washington and Prairie View A&M head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke were teammates with the WNBA’s Houston Comets during the 2000 season, helping that franchise win its fourth consecutive league championship.
  • Notre Dame sophomore guard Lindsay Schrader (Bartlett, Ill./Bartlett) and Tennessee redshirt sophomore forward Candace Parker (Naperville, Ill./Naperville Central) have been friends for several years, dating back to their grade-school days, when the pair were teammates on an AAU team coached by Parker’s father, Larry. The two young stars still chat occasionally via e-mail and text messaging.
  • Notre Dame freshman guard Melissa Lechlitner is a 2006 graduate of South Bend St. Joseph’s High School and spent three seasons (2004-06) in the Indians’ backcourt with recent Tennessee signee Sydney Smallbone. Lechlitner and Smallbone led SBSJ to the 2005 Indiana Class 3A title, and state semifinal berths in ’04 and ’06.
  • Tennessee head strength and conditioning coach Heather Mason spent five years on the staff at Notre Dame from 1998-2003. In addition, two of Mason’s graduate assistants on the UT strength and conditioning staff are twins Jessica and Kristen Kinder, who were standout volleyball players for the Irish from 2000-03.
  • Drake is one of six teams ever to advance to the NCAA Tournament with a losing record. The first team to do that? Notre Dame, which entered the 1992 NCAA Tournament at 14-15 following a 59-54 upset win over top-seeded Xavier in the finals of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference Tournament. Making their NCAA Tournament debut, the Irish then lost at UCLA, 93-72.

Notre Dame In The NCAA Tournament
Notre Dame is set to make its 14th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and 12th in a row, when it takes the court Sunday afternoon against California. The Irish have a .647 winning percentage (22-12) in NCAA Tournament play, which ranks ninth all-time (minimum of 20 games played).

In addition, Notre Dame’s current streak of 12 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances ranks eighth in the record books.

Here are some other facts about the Irish in the “Big Dance” (see page 6 sidebar for Notre Dame’s year-by-year NCAA Tournament results and check pp. 156-173 in the Notre Dame media guide for box scores and recaps):

  • Each of Notre Dame’s 14 NCAA Tournament appearances have come during the tenure of 20th-year head coach Muffet McGraw.
  • The Irish have won their NCAA Tournament first-round game in 10 of the past 11 seasons, corresponding exactly with both their current NCAA Tournament appearance streak, as well as their membership in the BIG EAST Conference (1995-96 to present).
  • Notre Dame is one of 10 schools in the country to have appeared in the NCAA Sweet 16 six times in the past decade (1997-2006). The others are: Connecticut and Tennessee (10 times), Duke (nine times), Georgia, LSU, Louisiana Tech and North Carolina (seven times), and Purdue and Texas Tech (six times).
  • Notre Dame is one of 11 schools (three of which are playing in Pittsburgh this weekend) to make multiple appearances at the NCAA Final Four and win at least one national championship, going to the semifinals in 1997 and winning it all in 2001. The others in this elite club are: Connecticut (eight trips, five titles), Louisiana Tech (10 trips, two titles), Maryland (three trips, one title), North Carolina (two trips, one title), Old Dominion (three trips, one title), Purdue (three trips, one title), Stanford (six trips, two titles), Tennessee (16 trips, six titles), Texas (three trips, one title) and USC (three trips, two titles).

Sowing The Seeds
Notre Dame has been seeded ninth for the third time in 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, and the second consecutive year. The first time the Irish acquired a No. 9 seed was 1998, and they promptly defeated both eighth-seeded Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), 78-64, and No. 1 seed Texas Tech, 74-59, on the Lady Raiders’ home court at the Lubbock (Texas) Municipal Coliseum, to advance to the Sweet 16. Notre Dame then returned to Lubbock the following week and dropped a 70-65 decision to fourth-seeded Purdue in the Midwest Regional semifinals. Last season, the Irish were a No. 9 seed and fell to eighth-seeded Boston College, 78-61 in the first round of the Albuquerque Region in West Lafayette, Ind.

The Irish have played 17 NCAA Tournament games as a lower seed and have posted an 8-9 (.471) record. Notre Dame also has twice advanced to the Sweet 16 as a ninth seed or lower. In addition to the aforementioned 1998 run, the Irish pulled off that feat in 2003 as a No. 11 seed, ousting sixth-seeded Arizona (59-47) and No. 3 seed Kansas State (59-53) in Manhattan, Kan.

It Hinges On Defense
Notre Dame’s success in the NCAA Tournament can be directly traced to its performance at the defensive end of the floor. In their 13 previous NCAA postseason appearances, the Irish are 13-1 (.929) when holding the opposition to 60 points or less – the only foe to escape a low-scoring battle with Notre Dame was Penn State, which won 55-49 in the 2004 NCAA East Regional semifinals at the Hartford Civic Center.

Looking For Postseason Productivity
Come NCAA Tournament time, the Irish have preferred a low-scoring “grind-it-out” style of play. In fact, Notre Dame has not scored more than 61 points in a regulation NCAA Tournament game since it defeated Purdue, 68-66 to win the 2001 national championship. The lone exception was a 69-65 overtime win over Southwest Missouri State in 2004, a game that was tied at 59-all after regulation.

In an interesting twist, Notre Dame has scored exactly 61 points in its last three NCAA Tournament games, dating back to 2005.

Notre Dame Against The NCAA Field
Notre Dame has played 13 of its 30 games this season against teams that were invited to the 2007 NCAA Tournament, registering a 6-7 (.462) record vs. the rest of this year’s NCAA Tournament field.

2006 NCAA Tournament Rewind
Timing is everything in the postseason. There have been numerous tales of teams that have caught the proverbial “lightning in a bottle” and ridden that hot streak all the way to a national championship. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, the Irish picked the worst possible time to have one of their coldest shooting nights of the season, dousing their NCAA Tournament hopes in a flash.

No. 9 seed Notre Dame shot a frigid 34.3 percent (23-of-67) from the floor and missed 11 consecutive shots during one stretch, leading to a 78-61 loss at the hands of eighth-seeded Boston College in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 19, 2006 at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind. It marked the first time since 1994 (and just the third time in school history) the Irish did not win at least one game in the NCAA Tournament, snapping a string of 10 consecutive NCAA first-round wins.

Guard Lindsay Schrader proved to be one of the bright spots for Notre Dame, closing out her rookie campaign with a career-high 29 points on 12-of-23 shooting while tying for the third-highest single-game scoring output ever logged by an Irish player in the NCAA Tournament. All-America guard Megan Duffy ended her brilliant career with 15 points and five assists, with the latter total giving her an even 500 handouts at Notre Dame.

As one might expect from an 8-9 matchup in the NCAA Tournament, the first half was a tightly-played affair, although Boston College led the entire way and the Irish found themselves playing from behind. Still, Notre Dame stayed within striking distance for most of the period, getting within 18-17 on Courtney LaVere’s jumper at the 7:21 mark. BC tried to pull away, but Schrader got her side back within five points (27-22) with 3:50 left in the first half before the Irish shooting woes commenced.

Notre Dame made only one of 12 shots during the next 8:26, while Boston College went on a 19-4 run to blow the game open. The Irish doggedly tried to cut into the deficit, getting as close as 11 points on two occasions, the second with 9:06 to play on a layup by Tulyah Gaines. However, the Eagles kept Notre Dame at arm’s length the remainder of the contest, converting 22-of-29 foul shots in the second half alone (29-of-36 for the game) to end the season for the Irish.

Playoff Party On St. Patrick’s Weekend
The Notre Dame women’s basketball team is just one of three Irish squads that will be competing in high-level postseason action this weekend. The Irish men’s basketball team opens its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003 on Friday with a first-round matchup against Winthrop in Spokane, Wash. With a victory, No. 20/16 Notre Dame would face either Oregon or Miami (Ohio) on Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the top-ranked Notre Dame hockey team will be in Detroit this weekend for the semifinals and finals of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) Tournament at Joe Louis Arena. The Irish will skate with Lake Superior State Friday afternoon in a semifinal contest, with Michigan and Michigan State squaring off in the other semifinal. The third-place game will be held the following day and the Mason Cup championship game is scheduled for Saturday night.

A BIG EAST Bonanza
Notre Dame is one of eight BIG EAST Conference schools that earned invitations to the 2007 NCAA Tournament, joining a club that includes five-time national champion Connecticut, as well as West Virginia (making its second-ever appearance) and first-time participant Pittsburgh.

This year, the BIG EAST tied its own record for the highest number of teams from one conference invited to a single NCAA Tournament, a mark the BIG EAST reached in 2004. The Southeastern Conference first set that record in 1999, and duplicated it in 2002.

The BIG EAST also has two teams participating in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT), meaning 10 conference schools have advanced to postseason play this year. That’s one off last year’s record of 11, which included seven NCAA and four WNIT qualifiers.

Don’t Mess With Tradition
The Irish have developed two traditions that should be quite evident at this weekend’s NCAA Tournament.

  • Green nails – this tradition started for Notre Dame at the 1997 NCAA Tournament. The Irish chose to wear green nail polish on their fingers prior to their second-round St. Patrick’s Day game at Texas, which Notre Dame won, 86-83. The Irish ended up going all the way to the NCAA Final Four that season and the green nail polish was here to stay.
  • Irish jig – although not reserved simply for NCAA Tournament play, this unique pre-game ritual has become one of the widely-recognized traditions of Notre Dame women’s basketball. Just prior to the introduction of starting lineups, the Irish players will circle up in the lane with a basketball at their feet. As the Notre Dame pep band plays, the team will perform the Irish Jig (a popular step with Notre Dame fans, especially the student body) with the ball bouncing around in the midst of their dance. This tradition is believed to have started during the 1999-2000 season, but picked up steam during Notre Dame’s 2000-01 national championship run and has been part of the Irish pre-game ritual ever since.

Twenty Questions
Notre Dame is one victory shy of posting the 13th 20-win season in the past 14 years. The Irish have reached that milestone 20 times in the first 29 years of the program’s existence, including 16 times in the first 19 seasons of the Muffet McGraw era.

Allen Named Kodak/WBCA All-America Team Finalist
Junior guard Charel Allen has been chosen as one of 52 finalists for the Kodak/Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) All-America Team, it was announced March 8 by the WBCA and the Eastman Kodak Company. With Allen’s selection (the first of her career), Notre Dame now has had at least one Kodak/WBCA All-America Team finalist in 10 of the past 12 seasons, with Ruth Riley (2001) and Jacqueline Batteast (2005) earning a place on the prestigious 10-player Kodak/WBCA All-America Team.

Allen was a first-team all-BIG EAST honoree this season after doubling her scoring average to 17.0 points per game, good for seventh in the conference. She also ranked among the top 10 in the league in free throw percentage (third – .841) and steals (eighth – 2.0 spg.), while scoring in double figures 27 times in 30 games (including 10 20-point outings and a career-high 31 points vs. St. John’s on Jan. 16). Allen was even stronger during BIG EAST play, ranking second in the loop in scoring (19.3 ppg.), fourth in free throw percentage (.862), tying for 13th in steals (1.75 spg.) and tying for 14th in rebounding (7.0 rpg.). The 5-foot-11 wing also recently became Notre Dame’s 23rd 1,000-point scorer, eclipsing that mark in the regular-season finale at DePaul, and now standing 22nd in school history with 1,019 career points.

These Kids Can Play
The Notre Dame women’s basketball team was well represented when the awards were handed out at the BIG EAST Awards Banquet, held on March 2 in the Hartford Hilton Ballroom. Junior guard Charel Allen was a first-team all-conference selection (the 10th for Notre Dame in its 12-year league membership), while a trio of Irish freshmen – guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner, and center Erica Williamson – all were chosen for the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team, setting a conference record for rookie team selections in one year.

Barlow ranks second on the team in scoring (10.8 ppg.) and third in rebounding (5.3 rpg.), while also placing among the top 10 in the BIG EAST in free throw percentage (fifth – .833) and steals (10th – 1.93 spg.). Playing primarily as Notre Dame’s “sixth man,” Barlow has scored in double digits 15 times this season, including a career-high 21 points on two occasions (vs. Prairie View A&M on Dec. 28 and at DePaul on Feb. 26). In addition, she posted a double-double in her second career game, logging 19 points and 10 rebounds in an overtime win over Bowling Green.

Lechlitner has proven to be a solid backup at point guard for Notre Dame this season, averaging 6.2 points and 2.9 assists in 24 minutes per night as a reserve. She has seven double-figure scoring games to her credit and has dished out five-or-more assists in five games. What’s more, she recorded a 1.37 assist/turnover ratio this season, including a 1.55 ratio in conference games that was good for seventh in the BIG EAST. Lechlitner had a season-high 18 points vs. Syracuse on Jan. 20 and her nine assists vs. St. John’s four nights earlier were the most by an Irish freshman since 1995.

Williamson has been a highly-productive reserve in the post for Notre Dame this season, with 6.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game (the latter figure standing second on the team). She also is tied for eighth in the BIG EAST with 1.28 blocks per game, while her 1.13 bpg. in conference play put her 11th in the loop. The 6-4 center also found her way into the Irish record book, setting a new school standard for freshmen with 18 rebounds in an overtime loss at South Florida on Jan. 13.

Coming into this season, Notre Dame had five BIG EAST All-Freshman Team selections, with Allen the most recent honoree in 2005. The others were: Ruth Riley (1998), Alicia Ratay (2000), Jacqueline Batteast (2002) and Courtney LaVere (2003).

The Deuce Is Loose
Junior guard Charel Allen is playing some of the best basketball of her college career during the past six weeks. The Monessen, Pa., native is averaging 19.9 points in the past 13 games, cracking the 20-point mark eight times and scoring 25-or-more points on six occasions.

Allen also scored 25+ points in Notre Dame’s back-to-back-to-back wins over DePaul, Villanova and Providence. Previously, the last time an Irish player tallied at least 25 points in three consecutive games was from March 17-28, 1997, when Katryna Gaither closed her career with four straight 25-point outings in the NCAA Tournament as the Irish made their first trip to the Final Four – at Texas (29), vs. Alabama (26), vs. George Washington (25) and vs. Tennessee (28).

Having A Grand Time
On a runner in the lane with 4:19 to play at DePaul on Feb. 26, junior guard Charel Allen became the 23rd player in school history to score 1,000 career points. Allen is the 14th Irish women’s cager in the past 13 seasons to do so, with at least one Notre Dame player scoring her 1,000th career point in 10 of the past 13 seasons (1994-95 to present).

Pine Time Players
Part of the reason for Notre Dame’s success this season can be traced to the production the Irish have gotten from their bench (comprised almost entirely of their freshmen class). The Notre Dame reserves are averaging 23.1 points per game and are outscoring the opposition’s bench by 8.4 points per game.

For the year, the Irish second unit has outscored the opponent reserves in 23 of 30 games (16-7 record).

On The Learning Curve
While some would agree Notre Dame has performed above outside expectations this season, the youthful Irish have opened some eyes even in defeat. In fact, Notre Dame has been either leading or trailing by just one possession during the second half in eight of its last nine losses (three of those coming at the hands of Top 25 opponents). Here’s a rundown of those “educational” losses for the Irish this season:

  • Dec. 3 vs. Indiana (L, 54-51) – led 41-33 with 11:54 to play … had four possessions to tie or take lead in final 2:45 but didn’t score.
  • Dec. 30 at #4 Tennessee (L, 78-54) – trailed 31-29 one minute into second half before UT used 11-2 run to take control.
  • Jan. 13 at South Florida (L, 87-78 OT) – forced OT on three-pointer with 11 seconds left in regulation … scored first basket of OT, then remained within one possession for first half of OT period despite losing three players to fouls.
  • Jan. 23 at #17/18 Marquette (L, 71-62) – missed FT that would have tied game at 42-42 with 11:39 left.
  • Jan. 31 at Pittsburgh (L, 71-62) – led 28-26 at halftime … rallied from 10-point deficit in final three minutes and had two looks at tying 3FG in final 30 seconds, but neither shot connected.
  • Feb. 24 vs. #21/22 Rutgers (L, 76-60) – trailed 39-36 with 15:21 to play before RU pulled clear with an 11-4 run.
  • Feb. 26 at DePaul (L, 87-73) – led 39-38 with 19:17 left before DPU went on a 10-0 run to move ahead for good.
  • March 3 vs. DePaul (L, 76-71) – led 44-38 with 17:03 to play … tied game at 66-66 with 3:44 left, but missed second of two FT that would have put team ahead … after falling behind, had two other chances to tie, including 3FG attempt with nine seconds left, but it rattled out.

The Best Things In Life Are Free
Notre Dame ranks 13th in the nation in free throw percentage (.763), as of March 16. Should it hold up, that figure would shatter the school’s single-season record for foul shooting (.743), currently held by the 1996-97 Final Four squad.

Clutch When It Counts
Notre Dame is shooting 72.8 percent from the foul line (115-of-158) this season inside the final five minutes of regulation and overtime.

Upon closer inspection, the Irish have gotten some of their most critical free throw production from their freshmen – guards Melissa Lechlitner and Ashley Barlow are a combined 30-of-36 (.833) at the charity stripe down the stretch.

Poise Under Pressure
The Irish are 9-5 this season in games decided by 10 points or less, including a 4-2 record when the margin is five points or fewer. Going back the previous two seasons (2004-05 to present), Notre Dame is 12-6 in five-point games and 29-12 in 10-point contests – with four of those 12 losses coming in overtime.

In addition, four times this season, the Irish have sent a player to the free throw line with less than five seconds remaining in regulation or overtime and the game hanging in the balance. In those clutch situations, Notre Dame is 7-for-8 at the charity stripe, with the only miss being a semi-intentional one by senior guard Breona Gray on the second of two tries with 1.2 seconds to go in a 60-59 win at Valparaiso on Dec. 19.

Junior Achievement
The common basketball adage holds that college players make their biggest improvement between their freshman and sophomore seasons. However, for Notre Dame, it’s been the time between the sophomore and junior years that has been conducive to the most development.

Three of the top four Irish scorers this season are juniors and all three are posting the best scoring averages of their careers – guards Charel Allen (17.0 ppg.) and Tulyah Gaines (9.7 ppg.), and center Melissa D’Amico (8.1 ppg.). Allen came into the year with an 8.1 ppg. career average, while D’Amico had a two-year ratio of 4.0 ppg., and Gaines was averaging 3.7 ppg. Between them, the junior trio had a combined 37 double-figure scoring games in two seasons entering the 2006-07 campaign – so far this year alone, they have 53 double-digit efforts.

Spread The Wealth
The Irish have fielded at least three double-figure scorers in 19 games this season, going 15-4 in those contests (losses at Penn State, South Florida, No. 17/18 Marquette and DePaul). Notre Dame also has had four double-figure scorers on 11 occasions (9-2 record, losses at USF in overtime and at DePaul) and five double-digit scorers four times (3-1).

The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame’s aggressive defense has forced 20.7 turnovers per game this season, logging 20-or-more takeaways in 19 games. In addition, the Irish caused an opponent season-high 30 turnovers at Michigan on Dec. 1, the first 30-turnover outing by the Notre Dame defense since Feb. 25, 2004 (37 turnovers by Miami at the Joyce Center).

The Irish also lead the BIG EAST Conference with 10.63 steals per night. In fact, Notre Dame has posted double-digit steal totals in 18 games this season, with junior guard Tulyah Gaines committing the most larcenies to date (63, 2.1 per game, sixth in BIG EAST).

In addition, Notre Dame is poised to have three players (Gaines, junior guard Charel Allen and freshman guard Ashley Barlow) record 60 steals this season. That feat hasn’t been accomplished by the Irish since 1996-97, when Jeannine Augustin (92), Katryna Gaither (76) and Beth Morgan (66) all eclipsed the 60-steal mark in leading Notre Dame to the NCAA Final Four (the Irish finished with 394 thefts that year, the second-highest total in school history).

Game #30 Recap: DePaul
Notre Dame put together a stirring comeback from an 11-point second-half deficit to tie its BIG EAST Championship first-round game with DePaul, but the Irish couldn’t quite finish off matters, as the Blue Demons held off Notre Dame, 76-71 on March 3 at the Hartford Civic Center. Senior guard Breona Gray got a good look at a game-tying three-pointer from the right corner with nine seconds to play, but her attempt rattled out and DePaul iced the game with two foul shots.

Junior guard Charel Allen lived up to her billing as a first-team all-conference selection, tallying 18 points, six rebounds and five assists. Gray added 17 points, going 7-of-13 from the field for Notre Dame (19-11), which connected on 41.4 percent of its shots and held the Blue Demons to a .403 field goal percentage. DePaul (19-11) also went just 4-of-11 from three-point range, a far cry from its 11-for-22 effort against the Irish five days earlier.

The difference came at the foul line, where the Blue Demons were nearly flawless, making 22-of-23 free throws (95.7 percent). Notre Dame, which came into the contest as the BIG EAST’s top free throw shooting team at .763, was 76.9 percent (20-of-26) from the stripe.

In what was a recurring theme during each of their three games this season (all of which took place in a 20-day span at the end of the year), the Irish and DePaul played to a virtual stalemate in the first half. There were five ties and four lead changes in the period, with Notre Dame jumping out to a five-point lead on two occasions, the last on two free throws by freshman center Erica Williamson that made it 16-11 at the 13:40 mark. However, those foul shots came as the Irish were beginning a six-minute drought from the floor, while the Blue Demons went on a 15-4 run, ending with Jenna Rubino’s layup with nine minutes to go in the frame.

Gray halved the deficit on her third triple of the night a minute later, and Notre Dame basically kept it at a one-possession game through the final media timeout of the first half. Allen hit a pair of jumpers around two Sam Quigley free throws to tie the game twice and freshman guard Melissa Lechlitner then put the Irish back in front on a jumper with 2:49 remaining. China Threatt responded with a bucket for DePaul, but senior forward Crystal Erwin put Notre Dame on top, 36-34 at halftime on a layup off a Lechlitner assist with 33 seconds left in the period.

The Irish kept their momentum going with eight of the first 12 points in the second half, taking a 44-38 lead on two Allen free throws with three minutes gone. Notre Dame then endured another rough shooting spell, as DePaul went on a 19-2 run and held the Irish without a field goal for nearly seven minutes. Threatt scored seven points in the run, while Allie Quigley boosted the Blue Demon lead to 57-46 on two foul shots with 10:38 to play.

Allen ended the Notre Dame offensive drought with a long jumper 18 seconds later, but the Irish wound up trading baskets for the next four minutes and still faced a 66-56 deficit when Caprice Smith hit a jumper with 6:09 left. That’s when Notre Dame called upon the resiliency it has shown all season, ripping off 10 unanswered points in 2:25, with freshman guard Ashley Barlow (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike) accounting for seven points in the surge. Allen capped the rally by making the first of two free throws that tied the game at 66-66 with 3:44 remaining. Yet, she missed the second foul shots, and Rubino put DePaul back on top to stay with a baseline floater with the shot clock about to expire and 2:46 left. Allen was fouled again on the ensuing Irish possession, but again made one of two free throws, leaving her team down by one.

Allie Quigley then took over for the Blue Demons by scoring her team’s final eight points on a jumper in the lane and six free throws (part of a 16-for-16 second-half effort by DePaul). Notre Dame got back within a point twice more, the second coming on Gray’s putback with 45.9 seconds showing. Quigley then drew a foul with the shot clock again winding down and hit two free throws with 21.3 ticks to go, rebuilding a three-point lead. The Irish raced upcourt and found Gray open for her potential game-tying trey, but it wouldn’t fall and Quigley closed the scoring on two more free throws with 5.5 seconds left.

Noting The DePaul Game

  • The 71 Irish points are the most Notre Dame has scored in BIG EAST Championship play since a 73-65 first-round victory over Pittsburgh on March 8, 2003.
  • DePaul improves to 17-11 all-time against the Irish (2-0 on neutral floors) and is the first team in the series to win back-to-back games since Jan. 25, 1993, when the Blue Demons took their second in a row over Notre Dame, 71-55 in Chicago.
  • The Irish fall in the first round of the BIG EAST Championship for the first time in four career opening-round contests at the tournament.
  • Junior guard Charel Allen scored her 500th point of the season vs. DePaul – she now has 511 points this year, just shy of moving into the top 10 in that department (Shari Matvey had 529 in 1979-80) and good for fifth all-time by an Irish junior (one behind Jacqueline Batteast’s 2003-04 total); Allen also moved into 22nd place on the school’s career scoring list (1,019 points), passing Kelley Siemon (1,006 points from 1997-2001).
  • Erica Williamson recorded her 37th blocked shot of the season, third-most by an Irish freshman (breaking a tie with Jacqueline Batteast, who had 36 swats in 2001-02) – only Shari Matvey (94 in 1979-80) and Ruth Riley (71 in 1997-98) have registered more blocks than Williamson as a Notre Dame rookie.

2006-07: The Anniversary Season

  • 2006-07 marks the 30th season of Notre Dame women’s basketball, with the Irish having compiled an all-time record of 612-277 (.688) since making their varsity debut in 1977-78. Actually, Notre Dame spent its first three seasons at the Division III level, playing under the banner of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) before making the move to Division I status in 1980-81 (the NCAA began sponsoring a women’s basketball championship the following season). The Irish have an overall Division I record of 563-257 (.687).
  • This year also represents Muffet McGraw’s 20th season as the head women’s basketball coach at Notre Dame and her 25th campaign overall, including her five-year run at Lehigh (1982-87). McGraw’s record is a stellar one – she is 448-178 (.716) at the helm of the Irish and has a career record of 536-219 (.710) in her silver anniversary season on the sidelines.
  • In addition, Notre Dame is celebrating the 35th anniversary of women’s athletics at the University during the 2006-07 season. All Irish women’s sports teams will hold events to commemorate this milestone during their respective seasons. What’s more, all Notre Dame women’s teams are sporting 35th anniversary logo patches on their uniforms for the ’06-07 campaign.

Half And Half
During the past seven seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 123-12 (.911) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 51 of their last 57 such contests. Notre Dame has led at the break 16 times this year, winning on 14 occasions. The Jan. 31 loss at Pittsburgh was Notre Dame’s first setback when leading at the half since Jan. 7, 2006 (led Seton Hall 32-27, but ended up losing, 74-61 at the Joyce Center).

The Best Offense Is A Good Defense…
During the past 12 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 167-10 (.944) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game. Notre Dame has held nine foes to less than 60 points this season, and is 8-1 in those games (losing only to Indiana).

…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. During the past 12 seasons (1995-96 to present), the Irish are 100-3 (.971) 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 topped the 80-point mark nine times this season, winning on each occasion (Central Michigan, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Richmond, Prairie View A&M, Cincinnati, St. John’s, Syracuse and Providence). The nine 80-point games are the most for the Irish in a single season since 2000-01, when Notre Dame reached that level 15 times during its run to the national championship.

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 149 of their last 167 games (.892) at the 11,418-seat Joyce Center, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span. Notre Dame also has an 87-13 (.870) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the Joyce Center, sporting a 31-game league winning streak at home before it ended with a 48-45 loss to Villanova in the ’02 home finale.

The Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 64 of their last 69 non-BIG EAST contests (.928) at the Joyce Center, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Four of the losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents – Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT) and Indiana this year (54-51), with the fifth defeat coming to Tennessee last year (62-51). The Purdue loss also 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 299-79 (.791) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, setting a school record for home wins in a season. The 2006-07 campaign tied for the most regular-season home games (16) in school history, although in 2004-05, the Irish played host to all four rounds of the Preseason WNIT before its regular 12-game home slate began.

States of Grace
Notre Dame is one of 12 schools in the country to have more than one player on its roster who was named a high school Player of the Year in their home state. Irish junior guard Tulyah Gaines was tapped as the 2004 Gatorade Nevada Player of the Year, while sophomore guard Lindsay Schrader was chosen as the 2005 Illinois Miss Basketball and Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year.

Notre Dame On The Small Screen
Notre Dame has had 12 of its games televised during the 2006-07 season. Highlighting this year’s television docket were five nationally-televised Irish women’s basketball contests, including a pair of games on the ESPN family of networks a week apart in early February. In addition, all of Notre Dame’s games in the NCAA Tournament will be televised nationally.

This year’s TV slate continues a recent trend that has seen the Irish become a regular fixture on television. Beginning with the NCAA championship season of 2000-01 and continuing through this year, Notre Dame has played in 83 televised games, including 50 that were broadcast nationally.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Senior guard Breona Gray and junior guard Tulyah Gaines are team captains for the 2006-07 season. Both players are serving as captains for the first time in their careers, and each received the captain’s honor following a vote of their teammates prior to the season.

Joyce Center Arena Renovation On Tap
On Oct. 5, Notre Dame announced plans for a nearly $25 million renovation of the Joyce Center arena, including new chairback seating, a four-sided digital video scoreboard, and a club/hospitality area (as part of a new two-story addition to be built on the south side of the facility).

The $24.7 million renovation project has been underwritten with a $12.5 million leadership gift from Philip J. Purcell III, a Notre Dame alumnus and Trustee, and the retired chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley. Upon completion, the arena will be known as Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center. The Purcell gift, combined with other benefactions, including a $5 million gift from 1959 Notre Dame graduate and Tampa Bay Devil Rays owner Vince Naimoli, brings the total contributions to the project to $22 million.

In accordance with University policies for new construction, work on the renovation will begin after the project is fully funded and designed. The University is actively seeking additional contributions.

Next Game: NCAA Second Round
Should Notre Dame defeat California, the Irish would move on to face the winner of Sunday’s first-round game between top-seeded North Carolina and No. 16 Prairie View A&M. That second-round contest would take place Tuesday at 7 p.m. (ET) from the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, and would be televised live on ESPN2.

The Irish are 2-0 all-time vs. UNC, most recently winning 78-55 on Dec. 3, 2000 at the Honda Elite 4 Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Meanwhile, Notre Dame faced Prairie View A&M for the first time earlier this season, taking a 94-55 decision on Dec. 28 at the Joyce Center.