March 4, 2001

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2001 BIG EAST Championship Semifinals
No. 1 Notre Dame (27-1, 15-1) vs.
No. 4 Virginia Tech (21-7, 11-5)

The second-ranked Notre Dame women’s basketball team meets fourth-seeded Virginia Tech for the third time this season in Monday’s semifinals of the BIG EAST women’s basketball championships. The top-seeded Irish advanced to the semifinals with a BIG EAST record 89-33 win over eighth-seeded Georgetown on Sunday. Notre Dame won both of its two games vs. the Hokies this season in the only games ever played between the teams, winning 75-64 in Blacksburg on Jan. 3, and 75-55 at the Joyce Center on Jan. 13.

The Irish enter the BIG EAST championship semifinals with a 27-1 record and claimed a share of their first BIG EAST regular-season title following their 82-63 win at Pittsburgh on Feb. 27 for a 15-1 league record. Notre Dame received the top seed at the cham.pi.on.ship on the basis of its 92-76 win over co-champion Connecticut on Jan. 15.

The 26-1 regular-season record marked the best in Notre Dame history and has guaranteed the Irish of finishing the 2000-01 season with their best record in the 24-year history of the program. The fewest losses in a season came in the first year (13-4 in 1977-78), while last year’s team sported the best season winning percentage (27-5 for .843). Notre Dame entered the tournament ranked second in both polls for the second consecutive week after the holding the top spot for four weeks prior to its first loss of the season on Feb. 17.

Notre Dame’s five starters average double-figure scoring, and the Irish are led by three of the best players in the country at their respective positions. Senior All-America center and BIG EAST player-of-the-year Ruth Riley (18.1) leads the BIG EAST in scoring and was the only player in the top 20 of the NCAA statistical rankings for blocks (2nd at 3.1) and field-goal percentage (4th at .636) according to the most recent NCAA statistics. All-America candidate and fifth-year point guard Niele Ivey (12.4) stands 11th in the country in assists (7.1) and has scored or assisted on 41 percent. of Notre Dame’s 785 field goals. Sophomore shooting guard Alicia Ratay (13.0) leads the nation in three-point (60-114, .526).

A large part of Notre Dame’s success this season also is due to the play of its other two starters, junior Ericka Haney and senior Kelley Siemon, who returned to the lineup against Boston College after missing the three previous games. Haney (11.5) has scored in double figures in 17 games this season. Siemon (10.8) stands second on the team and sixth in the BIG EAST in rebounding (7.1). Playing with a broken left hand, Siemon scored 15 points and had eight rebounds vs. Connecticut. She had a career-high 15 rebounds to go along with 19 points vs. Rutgers.

Ranked among the top five both in field-goal percentage (fifth at .499) and field-goal percentage defense (third at .336) according to the latest NCAA statistics, Notre Dame has a scoring margin of 23 points — third best in the country — and has outscored its opponents by an average of 15 points in the first half. The Irish have shot better than 50 percent from the field in 13 of 28 games (including a season-best 63.5 percent at Pittsburgh), better than 46 percent in 22 of 28 games and at least 40 percent in all but one game. Notre Dame’s defense has held its opponents to under 40 percent in 23 of 28 games — including 18 games under 35 percent.

The hot shooting of Ratay, strong point guard play of Ivey (198 assists, 74 steals) and dominating defensive presence and shooting touch of Riley (86 blocks, 189-297 FG, .636) have led the Irish to early leads. Forwards Siemon and Haney have given the Irish timely contributions. Notre Dame stands as one of two teams ranked among the top five NCAA leaders in both field-goal percentage and FG percentage defense according to the latest NCAA statistics

The 2001 BIG EAST coach of the year, head coach Muffet McGraw is in her 14th year at Notre Dame with a 315-116 (.731) record and in her 19th as a collegiate coach with a 403-157 (.720) mark. She led the Irish to the No. 1 ranking for the first time ever earlier this season, to eight consecutive 20-win seasons and to five straight NCAA tournament appearances and seven overall. McGraw was named a finalist for the Naismith Women’s Basketball and AP coach-of-the-year awards last year and a Naismith finalist this year.

After building a 9-4 lead 13:37 into the game, Notre Dame used a 26-0 run — aided by five three-point field goals — to take a 35-4 lead with less than four minutes before halftime. The Irish defense limited the Hoyas to 16 percent shooting in the first half as Notre Dame built a 44-10 lead. The Irish strung together a 23-5 run to start the second half as Notre Dame led by as many as 62 points in the 89-33 final — the largest margin of victory in a BIG EAST championship game, surpassing the 44-point win by Connecticut over St. John’s last year. Sophomore Amanda Barksdale had a career-high nine rebounds and blocked six shots in 22 minutes of action, while senior Imani Dunbar scored a career-high seven points. Four of Notre Dame’s five starters scored in double figures, with fifth-year Niele Ivey leading the way with 16 points.

The win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 27 clinched a share of a first BIG EAST regular-season title for the Irish, who finished the 16-game conference schedule with a 15-1 record for the second con.sec.u.tive year. Connecticut also shares the title with a 15-1 record. BIG EAST finishes for the Irish are: 15-3 in 1995-96 (second in BIG EAST 6 division), 17-1 in 1996-97 (second in BIG EAST 6 division), 12-6 in 1997-98 (tied for second in BIG EAST 6 division), 15-3 in 1998-99 (third) and 15-1 in 1999-2000 (second). Notre Dame won or shared five Midwestern Collegiate Conference regular-season crowns in its seven season in the MCC from 1988-1995.

Senior All-American Ruth Riley became the first player in league history to win BIG EAST player-of-the-year and defensive player-of-the-year honors and also to win the BIG EAST/Aeropostale female scholar athlete-of-the-year and women’s basketball scholar athlete-of-the-year awards. Riley was a unanimous selection for player of the year — the first for the Irish since joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96 and the first conference player of the year since Karen Robinson won Midwestern Collegiate Conference player-of-the-year honors in 1990 and 1991.

Riley also was named to the all-BIG EAST first team for the consecutive year, while fifth-year Niele Ivey was voted to the first team for the first time after earning third-team honors in 1999 and second team in 2000. Senior Kelley Siemon was voted the BIG EAST most improved player and was an honorable mention all-BIG EAST pick. Sophomore Alicia Ratay, the 2000 BIG EAST rookie of the year, was named to the third team — the only sophomore voted to the first, second or third all-BIG EAST teams.

For the third time in her 14 seasons at Notre Dame, head coach Muffet McGraw has been voted conference coach of the year — her third coaching honor by three different conferences. She was named the North Star Conference coach of the year in 1988 in her first year at Notre Dame and was MCC coach of the year in 1991. Her BIG EAST coach-of-the-year award marks her first since Notre Dame joined the conference in 1995-96.

Notre Dame’s senior class of Imani Dunbar, Niele Ivey, Meaghan Leahy, Ruth Riley and Kelley Siemon wrapped up the first back-to-back regular seasons at the Joyce Center on Feb. 24, vs. Georgetown. The Irish are 13-0 at the Joyce Center this year and were 15-0 last year — including a pair of wins in the NCAA tournament. The only other undefeated season at the Joyce Center came in 1978-79 (5-0). This group of seniors will leave Notre Dame with the best four-year winning percentage in school history with a current record of 102-21 (.829), topping the .797 winning percentage (106-27) of the class of 2000.

Among the other accomplishments of this group are:

  • A first-ever share of the BIG EAST regular-season title
  • A first-ever win over a top-ranked team
  • The first No. 1 and No. 2 rankings in the program’s history this season
  • A school-record 23-game winning streak
  • A school-record 36-game active home winning streak
  • A record of 52-2 (.963) at the Joyce Center with the only losses coming to Connecticut
  • A 20-0 Joyce Center record vs. non-conference opponents
  • A school-record 12-game road winning streak

Notre Dame seniors Ruth Riley and Niele Ivey closed their BIG EAST regular-season careers with their names well-represented in the conference record book. Riley played in all 68 BIG EAST games her four years (18 in ’97-98 and ’98-99 and 16 in ’99-’00 and ’00-01), while Ivey missed just one game.

  • Riley finished in the top 10 in the record book in six categories. She owns the best field-goal percentage in conference history with a 64.6 percentage (419-649), and her 419 field goals are tied for 13th best. Riley finished second to Connecticut’s Rebecca Lobo (227 from 1991-95) in blocked shots with 193 and ranks fourth in free throws attempted (397) and made (297). Her 1,135 points are the eighth most, while her 544 rebounds place her 10th in BIG EAST history.
  • Ivey recorded 394 assists in her 67 BIG EAST games — fourth best in the 19 seasons of BIG EAST women’s basketball. Her 167 steals also stand as eighth best in league history.

ESPN’s Nancy Lieberman-Cline has picked Ruth Riley as the national player of the year. A first-team Associated Press All-America pick last year, Riley leads the BIG EAST in scoring in all games (18.1) and conference games (20.6) and is fourth in the country in field-goal per.cent.age (.636) and second in blocks (3.1).’s Mechelle Voepel predicts Riley and Niele Ivey will be named to the Associated Press All-America first team. In addition to the leadership she provides the team, Ivey ranks 11th in the country in assists (7.1) and is shooting .466 from three-point range.

One of 30 preseason candidates listed for the 2000-01 Atlanta Tipoff Club Naismith College Basketball Player-of-the-Year Award, senior All-American Ruth Riley has been named one of 15 finalists for the award. The Naismith Board of Selectors, which includes some of the country?s leading basketball coaches, journalists, administrators, began the selection process in the fall. Head coach Muffet McGraw has been named one of 20 finalists for the Naismith College Basketball Coach of the Year Award for the second consecutive year. The winners of the Naismith Awards, the most prestigious honor in college basketball, will be honored on April 7, in Atlanta.

  • With junior All-American Troy Murphy one of 15 men’s finalists, Notre Dame was one of two schools (Duke) to have both a female and male finalist.
  • Riley was joined on the final ballot by three other BIG EAST players – Connecticut’s Svetlana Abrosimova, Sue Bird and Shea Ralph.

The March/April edition of Sports Illustrated For Women has honored senior All-America center Ruth Riley and head coach Muffet McGraw as its player of the year and coach of the year. The magazine also named Riley to its All-America first team.

Senior All-America center Ruth Riley has been voted Verizon First Team Academic All-District, while sophomore Alicia Ratay has been named a second-team selection. Riley, enrolled in the College of Arts and Letters with a major in psychology, advances to the national All-America ballot where she is eligible to receive Academic All-America honors for the second consecutive year. The Macy, Ind., native became the first Irish women’s basketball player to earn first-team Academic All-America honors last year. Ratay was voted the all-district team on her first opportunity as freshmen are not eligible for the award.

The Georgetown sellout marked the second this season and second all-time for a women’s basketball game at the 11,418-seat Joyce Center. Notre Dame defeated top-ranked Connecticut in front of its first sellout crowd on Jan. 15, 2001. The Irish have drawn 77,485 fans to their 13 home games, an of 5,960 that stands 12th best in the country. Eight of the top 15 and five of the top eight crowds in Irish women’s basketball history have flocked to the Joyce Center this season.