July 15, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – For the first time since 1996, and only the second time in school history, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team will take part in the Preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). The Irish have been selected to play host to Illinois State on Friday, Nov. 12 at the Joyce Center in the opening round of the 16-team event – the exact tip-off time will be announced at a later date.
“We are very excited to be selected for this year’s Preseason WNIT and even more thrilled to be awarded a home game in the first round,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us to open the season in front of our great fans against a high quality opponent in Illinois State.”
Notre Dame will enter the 2004-05 campaign with a 20-game home winning streak, the eighth-longest active run in the nation and the second-longest in school history. This year’s season opener also will have two added twists – it will be the earliest debut for the Irish since the program’s second season (an 81-51 win over Clark College on Nov. 1, 1978), and it will follow the traditional Friday night football pep rally at the Joyce Center that precedes the Notre Dame-Pittsburgh football game the next afternoon.
The winner of the Notre Dame/Illinois State first-round matchup will move on to meet the winner of the Western Illinois/Nebraska contest on Sunday, Nov. 14. The semifinals are scheduled for Nov. 17 with the championship game slated for Nov. 20 or 21. All WNIT games are played at campus sites, which are determined upon the conclusion of the previous round.
Led by senior All-America forward Jacqueline Batteast, Notre Dame has four starters and eight monogram winners returning from last year’s squad that posted a 21-11 record and advanced to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen for the second consecutive year (and sixth time in the past eight seasons). The Irish are one of nine teams in this year’s Preseason WNIT field that qualified for postseason play last season, joining Arizona, Duke, Middle Tennessee, Nebraska, Ohio State, Rice, Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) and South Florida.
Illinois State has three starters and 10 letterwinners returning after posting a 16-13 record last year, including a 9-9 mark in the Missouri Valley Conference. Under first-year head coach Robin Pingeton, the Redbirds logged a nine-game improvement from the 2002-03 season and reached the semifinals of the MVC Tournament before being ousted by eventual conference champion Southwest Missouri State. Ironically, Notre Dame defeat SMS, 69-65 in overtime at the Joyce Center in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament.
The Irish have met Illinois State twice before, with each side winning on the other’s home floor. Notre Dame defeated the Redbirds, 48-47, on Feb. 19, 1983, in Normal, Ill., before ISU returned the favor with a 61-59 win on Feb. 8, 1984, at the Joyce Center. The Irish are 23-2 (.920) all-time against MVC teams, including a 14-1 (.933) record in McGraw’s 17-year tenure, and they have a lifetime mark of 10-1 (.909) against the MVC at the Joyce Center (7-0 under McGraw).
Notre Dame last played in the Preseason WNIT eight years ago, advancing to the semifinals with wins over Kent State (66-41) and No. 6 Iowa (61-50). Following a 72-59 loss to third-ranked Tennessee in the semifinals, the Irish rebounded to defeat No. 8 North Carolina State 64-53 in the consolation game. Katryna Gaither earned a spot on the Preseason WNIT all-tournament team after making a tournament-record 42 field goals in the four-game set (a record that still stands). Notre Dame went on to log a 31-7 record in 1996-97, advancing to its first NCAA Final Four.
The Irish will be looking to continue the BIG EAST Conference’s run of success in the Preseason WNIT. BIG EAST teams have reached the semifinals six times in the 10-year history of the tournament, with Connecticut winning titles in 1997 and 2001. Last season, Rutgers made its second trip to the Preseason WNIT finals, bowing to Texas Tech, 73-45.
Tickets for Notre Dame’s first-round game with Illinois State in the Preseason WNIT, as well as season tickets for the 2004-05 Irish women’s basketball campaign, may be purchased by contacting the Notre Dame Athletics Ticket Office at (574) 631-7356. Fans also may buy tickets in person at the ticket windows located on the second floor of the Joyce Center.
— ND —