March 8, 2003
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Freshman forward Courtney LaVere tallied a team-high 18 points to lead four players in double figures as Notre Dame defeated Pittsburgh, 73-65 on Saturday night in the first round of the BIG EAST Conference Championship at the Louis Brown Athletic Center on the campus of Rutgers University. With the victory, the Irish advance into the quarterfinals, where they will face No. 20/18 Villanova Sunday at 8 p.m. (EST).
LaVere connected on 8-of-10 shots, highlighting a 51-percent shooting night for Notre Dame (19-9). Senior guard Alicia Ratay scored 16 points and canned a season-high 10-of-11 free throws. She also notched the 1,700th point of her career on a first-half foul shot and added nine rebounds. Sophomore forward Jacqueline Batteast charted her eighth double-double of the season, and second in as many games with 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Sophomore forward Katy Flecky rounded out the double-digit scoring effort with 14 points and a career-high four blocked shots.
Mandy Wittenmyer led Pittsburgh with 19 points, while Laine Selwyn carded 17 points and Brooke Stewart chipped in with 10 points for the Panthers. Pittsburgh was making its first BIG EAST Championship appearance in three years, and its first-ever postseason matchup against Notre Dame. Still, the Irish improved to 13-0 all-time against the Panthers, and stretched their current winning streak to a season-best four games.
Saturday night’s game was a rugged one, with the teams combining for 42 fouls and 56 free throws. Both squads shot well from the foul line, with Pittsburgh connecting at an 81.5-percent rate (22-27), while Notre Dame made 75.9 percent (22-29) of its charity tosses. The Irish also owned a sizeable advantage in the post, outscoring the Panthers, 44-20 on the blocks and claiming the rebounding battle by a 40-25 count. Notre Dame now is 15-2 this season when tallying more rebounds than its opponent.
The first half was a tightly-played affair, with seven ties and seven lead changes in the opening 20 minutes. Neither side led by more than five points, as Pittsburgh took advantage of 11 Notre Dame turnovers, and the Irish countered by shooting 51.9 percent from the floor in the first half. A Flecky free throw gave Notre Dame the largest lead by either side at 27-22 with 5:47 remaining in the period. A 7-0 Panther run wiped out the Irish lead before Ratay’s putback at the halftime horn gave her team a 35-33 lead.
Pittsburgh (12-16) took its only lead of the second half when Wittenmyer made one of two free throws with 17:23 to play, forging a 39-38 edge for the Panthers. The lead was surprising considering Pittsburgh logged just one field goal over a 16-minute span crossing between halves (4:20, 1st half to 8:19, 2nd half).
Batteast answered with a layup on the next Notre Dame possession, putting her side ahead to stay with just under 17 minutes remaining. That ignited a 13-4 run that boosted the Irish lead into double figures at 53-43 at the 11:19 mark. A free throw by freshman Megan Duffy gave Notre Dame its largest advantage of the night at 62-48 with 7:17 to play. Pittsburgh made one final charge, going on an 11-3 run to get within six points with five and a half minutes to go. But, the Panthers would manage only two baskets the rest of the way as the Irish improved to 11-3 this season in games decided by 10 points or less (including each of their last four victories).
Notre Dame’s Sunday night quarterfinal contest with Villanova will be the second meeting between those clubs this season. The Irish edged the 20th-ranked Wildcats, 58-56, in Villanova, Pa., back on Jan. 25. In that game, LaVere came off the bench to card her fifth double-double of the year with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
— ND —