Dec. 28, 2007
2007-08 ND Women’s Basketball: Game 12
#16/16 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-1 / 0-0 BIG EAST) vs. Saint Francis (Pa.) Red Flash (3-7 / 0-1 Northeast)
DATE: December 29, 2007
TIME: 2:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. – Joyce Center (11,418)
SERIES: First meeting
RADIO: ESPN Radio 1490 AM / UND.com (Sean Stires, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (574) 631-7356
- Notre Dame returns from an eight-day Christmas holiday break to face its third first-time opponent of the season.
- The Irish have held nine of their 11 opponents this season to fewer than 60 points.
No. 16 Irish Back From Holiday Break To Face Saint Francis (Pa.)
Having played only once in the past 17 days due to final exams and the Christmas holiday, No. 16 Notre Dame should be well-rested when it returns to the court Saturday for a 2 p.m. (ET) matinee against Saint Francis (Pa.) at the Joyce Center. The Red Flash will be the third first-time opponent for the Irish this season, with Notre Dame already taking its inaugural meetings with Western Kentucky and Canisius last month.
Notre Dame (10-1) stretched its current winning streak to eight games with a 67-44 victory at IUPUI on Dec. 21. As has been the case in recent years, the Irish showed a bit of rust coming off the lengthy hiatus for final exams. However, a 17-0 run that crossed over halftime proved to be more than enough to give Notre Dame a comfortable advantage and the Irish defense took over from there, forcing 28 turnovers and parlaying those takeaways into 27 points.
Senior guard Charel Allen tossed in a team-high 12 points and added a career-high-tying five steals for the Irish, who had at least three double-figure scorers for the 10th time in 11 games this season.
- Notre Dame is ranked 16th in this week’s Associated Press poll and also is 16th in the latest ESPN/USA Today poll.
- Saint Francis (Pa.) is not ranked.
A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Even after a 20-12 record and a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2006-07, Notre Dame still continues to fly below the national radar. Head coach Muffet McGraw wouldn’t want it any other way.
Last year, the Irish learned quickly that respect is something that isn’t handed to you, but rather earned on the court. It’s also a quality that takes time to develop and doesn’t come from trophy cases or record books. So although Notre Dame was tabbed fifth in the preseason BIG EAST Conference balloting, it’s not a great concern to McGraw and her charges. Instead, they focus on the things they can control and prefer to let the outside world judge them when the season is over.
This year could prove to be unlike any in recent memory for Notre Dame. For one, the Irish will roll out some impressive depth, going virtually two-deep at every floor position. In addition, Notre Dame’s new offensive system (a Princeton-based set with four guards and a post) continues to evolve, building upon last year’s 70.1 point-per-game average that was its highest since the 2000-01 NCAA national championship season.
Senior guard Charel Allen is the top returning scorer and rebounder for the Irish, leading the team in both categories last year (17.0 ppg., 6.2 rpg.). She also was a first-team all-BIG EAST and WBCA honorable mention All-America selection, and was a finalist for the 2007 USA U21 World Championship Team that struck gold this past summer in Moscow.
Allen’s backcourt partner and classmate is point guard Tulyah Gaines. Now in her second full season at the helm of the Notre Dame offense, the speedy Gaines averaged 9.6 points per game along with team highs of 3.9 assists and 2.0 steals per contest. She also is a two-year team captain who commands instant respect from teammates, coaches and opponents.
The Irish will benefit from the return of junior guard Lindsay Schrader, who missed the entire 2006-07 season with a torn ACL in her right knee. Schrader, who retains three years of athletic eligibility, was Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer (10.5 ppg.) and top rebounder (5.4 rpg.) as a rookie in 2005-06 and will look to regain that form this season.
Last year saw Notre Dame break new ground by becoming the first school ever to put three players on the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team. Guards Ashley Barlow (10.3 ppg., 5.4 rpg.) and Melissa Lechlitner (6.3 ppg., 2.7 apg.) will provide a superb complement to the veteran Allen-Gaines tandem, while center Erica Williamson (6.1 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 1.3 bpg.) showed flashes of potential throughout her rookie season and is poised for increased development this year.
Headlining a three-player freshman class (ranked 11th nationally by Blue Star Basketball) is Devereaux Peters, a smooth 6-2 forward who was a consensus All-American as a senior last year at national powerhouse Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Ill. Fellow post Becca Bruszewski (Valparaiso, Ind.) finished third in last season’s Indiana Miss Basketball voting and was a perennial all-state pick. And, guard Brittany Mallory (Baltimore, Md.) offers a perimeter shooting threat, as well as a cerebral player who will mesh well in the Irish offensive system.
A Quick Look At Saint Francis
After struggling the past two seasons, Saint Francis has turned to a new face in order to return the program to the tradition of success it has experienced in previous seasons.
First-year head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl has taken over the reins in Loretto, Pa. (located approximately two hours east of Pittsburgh), aiming to steer the Red Flash back to the top of the Northeast Conference and into the NCAA Tournament, where SFU made nine appearances from 1996-2005.
The past two seasons have been difficult for Saint Francis, which went a combined 11-46 in that span, including matching records of 4-14 in NEC play. However, the Red Flash entered this year with 10 letterwinners and three starters back in the fold, offering a firm foundation upon which to start the program’s resurgence.
Saint Francis (3-7, 0-1 NEC) opened the season well, winning three of its first five games, with both losses coming at improving Southeastern Conference member South Carolina (93-33) and nationally-ranked West Virginia (81-29).
Once the calendar flipped to the month of December, fortunes changed for SFU, as the Red Flash have lost all five of their games played this month, three by single digits. Most recently, Saint Francis dropped a 62-53 decision at Morgan State on Dec. 21 in Baltimore, Md. Sophomore guard Britney Hodges dropped in a team-high 19 points, while junior guard Shawna Scott added 13 points and a game-high six assists for SFU, which couldn’t erase a nine-point halftime deficit.
The duo of Hodges and Scott has been the primary scoring option for Saint Francis this season, with Hodges averaging a team-high 14.1 points per game and Scott also in double digits at 10.4 points per night. Scott is chipping in 4.3 assists per game, while junior forward/center Whitney Robinson owns a team-high 7.0 rebounds per contest with a team-best .425 field goal percentage.
Fruchtl came to SFU after serving as an assistant coach at Penn State for eight seasons. She is 3-7 in her first year as a head coach and will be facing Notre Dame for the first time Saturday (although she helped PSU to a pair of wins over the Irish during her assistant coaching career, most recently a 75-49 decision on Nov. 16, 2006 in State College).
The Notre Dame-Saint Francis Series
Notre Dame will be facing Saint Francis for the first time on the hardwood when the Irish and Red Flash square off Saturday afternoon at the Joyce Center.
Other Notre Dame-Saint Francis Series Tidbits
- Saint Francis is the last of three first-time opponents on Notre Dame’s regular-season schedule this year. On Nov. 13, the Irish defeated visiting Western Kentucky, 78-59 in the first-ever matchup between those two programs. Then, Notre Dame ousted Canisius, 93-47 on Nov. 27 at the Joyce Center.
- Saint Francis will be the 176th different opponent in the 31-year history of Irish women’s basketball.
- Notre Dame is 36-5 (.878) against first-time opponents since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, including an active 15-game home win streak against new opposition. In addition, the Irish are 16-1 (.941) vs. new teams since the start of the 2000-01 season (9-0 at home) with a current 11-game overall winning streak.
- Notre Dame is 40-22 (.645) all-time against teams from the state of Pennsylvania, including an 18-5 (.783) record at home. The Irish will play host to two other Keystone State schools later this season — Villanova (Jan. 16) and Pittsburgh (Feb. 10).
- While Saturday will be their first meeting in the sport of women’s basketball, Notre Dame and Saint Francis have met often in men’s basketball, with the Irish owning a 10-0 series lead on the Red Flash, with all 10 games taking place at the Joyce Center. The most recent men’s basketball matchup between the schools occurred on Nov. 21, 1999, when Notre Dame downed SFU, 73-60 behind a then-career-high 35 points and 13 rebounds from All-America forward Troy Murphy (now playing for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers).
- First-year Saint Francis head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl was an assistant coach at Penn State on two occasions (1993-98 and 2004-07); in that first tenure at PSU, one of her proteges was current Notre Dame assistant coach Angie (Potthoff) Barber, who went on to earn All-America honors her final three seasons (1995-97), claim a share of the 1997 Big Ten Conference scoring title and garner MVP honors at the ’97 Big Ten Tournament, all under Fruchtl’s tutelage.
- Fruchtl and Barber reunited in 2002, when Barber served as an assistant coach on Fruchtl’s staff at Beaver (Pa.) Area High School, before Barber moved into the head coaching role in 2004-05 when Fruchtl returned to Penn State.
- The duo remain close friends, and Fruchtl even served as one of Barber’s bridesmaids during her August 2007 wedding.
- Barber has some exposure to Northeast Conference basketball, having spent two seasons (2000-02) as an assistant coach at Robert Morris University in Moon Township, Pa.
- SFU assistant coach Kristeena Alexander played her final three seasons of college ball at George Washington from 1997-2000. During that time, Alexander visited the Joyce Center on March 19, 2000, when Notre Dame defeated GW, 95-60 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Alexander played 24 minutes that day, scoring eight points while adding three assists and a team-high four steals for the Colonials.
- SFU assistant coach Ashli Schwab was a junior at Penn State in 2004 when the Lady Lions edged Notre Dame, 55-49 in the NCAA East Regional semifinals at the Hartford (Conn.) Civic Center — Schwab played two minutes in that contest.
- First-year Irish assistant track & field coach (throws) Adam Beltran spent the previous five seasons (2002-07) as an assistant at Saint Francis.
- Former Irish quarterback Paul Failla was the offensive coordinator at Saint Francis from 2002-05.
Notre Dame vs. The Northeast Conference
When the Irish play host to Saint Francis on Saturday afternoon, it will mark the first time Notre Dame has ever played a Northeast Conference school while it was a member of that league. In fact, the Irish have played only one current NEC school during their history, falling to Mount St. Mary’s, 57-44 on Dec. 19, 1981 at the Penn Holiday Tournament in Philadelphia. However, MSM didn’t join the Northeast Conference until 1989-90.
Before The Ball Drops
Notre Dame is 16-14 (.533) all-time in its final game before the start of the New Year. However, the Irish have dropped their last two December finales, both to Tennessee (62-51 at home in 2005, 78-54 at UT last year).
The Irish also are 6-3 (.667) when that last game in December occurs at the Joyce Center, with their most recent home victory to close out the calendar year coming on Dec. 31, 2001, when Notre Dame routed DePaul, 79-50.
The Perfect Month
With a victory over Saint Francis on Saturday, Notre Dame would finish the month of December with a perfect 6-0 record. The last time the Irish posted an unblemished mark for an entire month (minimum of three games) was November 2005, when Notre Dame opened the ’05-06 season with five consecutive wins.
Start Me Up
For only the third time in its 31-year history, Notre Dame has gotten off to a 10-1 start or better. In 2000-01, the Irish opened with 23 consecutive victories, en route to their first-ever No. 1 ranking and eventually, the program’s first national championship.
More recently, Notre Dame began the 2004-05 season with a 13-1 record, winning its first seven games (including the Preseason WNIT title) before a Dec. 2 overtime loss to 15th-ranked Michigan State. The Irish then reeled off six more wins and finished the year with a 27-6 record.
With its 67-44 victory at IUPUI on Dec. 21, Notre Dame picked up its 10th win of the season, matching the second-quickest run to double-digit wins in program history (2000-01 — 75-56 at Marquette). The 2004-05 club, bolstered by a four-game run to the Preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) title, earned its 10th win of the season on Dec. 19, 2004, with a 50-47 victory at Marquette.
Local Calls Only
The Dec. 21 game at IUPUI marked a rarity for Notre Dame, as neither the Irish nor the Jaguars made a single three-point basket. The last time Notre Dame participated in a game that didn’t feature at least one three-pointer was almost exactly 15 years earlier on Dec. 19, 1992, when the Irish posted a 55-48 win at Loyola (Md.). On that night, Notre Dame went 0-for-2 from long range, while the host Greyhounds were 0-for-10 from beyond the arc.
Six of Notre Dame’s 10 wins this season have come by at least 30 points, while the Irish held a 32-point lead midway through the second half vs. Western Kentucky (Nov. 13) and a 28-point edge down the stretch at IUPUI (Dec. 21). This marks the first time in school history that Notre Dame has fashioned six 30-point wins in its first 11 games.
It’s also the first time since the 2000-01 national championship season that the Irish have logged at least six 30-point wins in a single season. That year, Notre Dame collected a school-record 10 30-point victories, but only four of those came in the first 11 games.
What’s more, the Irish had a streak of four consecutive 30-point wins from Nov. 20-Dec. 2. The last time Notre Dame did that was Jan. 20-30, 1999, when the Irish had four straight 30-point victories, all during BIG EAST Conference play — at Seton Hall (87-47), home vs. St. John’s (99-60), at Syracuse (94-61) and at Providence (97-59).
Put A Tiger In Your Tank
Less than two seasons after posting the program’s lowest scoring output (64.5 ppg) since 1980-81 (its first as a Division I program), Notre Dame has reversed that trend in a big way.
The Irish currently rank third in the BIG EAST Conference in scoring (and fourth in the country as of Dec. 17) at 81.4 points per game, having tallied at least 77 points in eight of their 10 wins. What’s more, Notre Dame also has the second-highest scoring average after 11 games in program history, topped only by the 1995-96 squad (81.8 ppg.) and ahead of the 1998-99 team (79.8 ppg.) that went on to post a single-season school record with an 81.0-ppg. scoring average.
What’s more, Notre Dame has scored at least 90 points four times this season. That’s the most 90-point games for the Irish in one year since 2000-01, when they also had four such outings. In fact, during the six seasons between then and now (2001-02 through 2006-07), Notre Dame had a combined total of four 90-point games.
Notre Dame also ranks second in the conference (and sixth in the nation) in scoring margin, outpointing its opposition by 26.1 points per night.
Spreading The Wealth
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame’s squad this season is its balance and depth. That’s been particularly evident through the first 13 games of the season (counting the exhibitions), with six different players from all five floor positions and all four classes leading the team in scoring.
Another example of Notre Dame’s balance this season is seen in its point distribution. No fewer than nine of the 11 Irish players on this year’s roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, with only sophomore center Erica Williamson and senior guard Amanda Tsipis yet to crack the 10-point mark –and Williamson narrowly missed double digits at IUPUI with a season-high nine points.
Notre Dame also has had at least three double-figure scorers in all but one game (Purdue) this season. In addition, the Irish fielded five double-figure scorers in three consecutive games from Nov. 20-27. It’s believed to be the first time in school history (and certainly the first time in the Muffet McGraw era) the Irish have pulled off that feat of three straight games with five double-digit scorers, although records are incomplete prior to the 1983-84 season.
Protecting The Pill
Notre Dame has gotten off to a strong start this season, thanks in large part to its ability to take care of the basketball. The Irish are averaging just 12.9 turnovers per game (second-best in the nation as of Dec. 17) and have yet to commit more than 18 giveaways this year. On the flip side, Notre Dame is forcing 23.8 turnovers per night, resulting in a BIG EAST Conference-best +10.91 turnover margin (more than 3.5 takeaways better than second-place DePaul).
The Irish took ball protection to a new level in their loss at No. 3 Maryland on Nov. 16. Notre Dame set a school record with only three turnovers against the Terrapins, with two of those giveaways coming on offensive fouls. The previous school record for fewest turnovers was six, set on Feb. 12, 2006 at DePaul.
With only three turnovers, it probably comes as no surprise that Maryland did not register a steal against Notre Dame. However, what is surprising is that it was the first time in the 31-year history of the Irish program that an opponent did not record a steal against Notre Dame. Several opponents had only one steal vs. the Irish, with the most recent being Boston College on March 19, 2006 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (played at West Lafayette, Ind.).
Keeping It On The Plus Side
Notre Dame has registered a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in nine of its 11 games this season, only finding the red in its Nov. 13 win over Western Kentucky (12 assists, 15 turnovers) and Dec. 8 victory at Purdue (15/18).
For the year, the Irish rank second in the BIG EAST (and second nationally) with a 1.39 assist-to-turnover ratio, trailing only second-ranked Connecticut (1.53). Notre Dame also has assisted on 55.9 percent of its field goals this year (198 assists on 354 baskets), ranking fourth in the conference and 12th in the country with 18.0 assists per game.
Off And Running
Notre Dame has wasted little time in jumping ahead of its opponents this season. In six of their 10 wins, the Irish have opened up a double-digit lead less than 10 minutes into the game, while a 20-0 run late in the first half at Central Michigan aided that win, as did a 18-3 first-half surge at Bowling Green.
Even in its lone defeat at third-ranked Maryland, Notre Dame made a statement early with a 10-0 run in the first five minutes of action and led by as many as five points in the first half before the Terrapins rallied back for the win.
Going Into Lockdown
Notre Dame has held nine of its 11 opponents this season below 60 points. The Irish also currently rank seventh in the BIG EAST in scoring defense at 55.3 points per game.
That’s the fourth-lowest opponent scoring average through 11 games for Notre Dame, third-lowest since elevating to Division I in 1980-81, and second-lowest of the Muffet McGraw era. In fact, the only Irish squad in the past 26 seasons that has gotten off to a better defensive start was the 2000-01 national championship team (54.3 ppg.).
(Nearly) Crowded House
The season-best crowd of 10,825 that took in the Dec. 2 win over Michigan at the Joyce Center marked the fourth-largest crowd in school history and the fourth audience of 10,000 fans in the Notre Dame women’s basketball record books. A full rundown of the top crowds in Joyce Center history can be found in the sidebar on page 7 of this notes package.
Notre Dame is ranked 16th in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll, up one spot from the previous survey. The No. 16 ranking (also achieved on Dec. 3) matches the highest for the Irish in the media poll since the week of Jan. 2, 2006, when they were ranked 12th prior to losses at St. John’s (66-63) and home vs. Seton Hall (74-61).
Notre Dame now has been ranked in the AP poll for 147 weeks during the program’s history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era. McGraw now ranks 14th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also stands 25th all-time in that category.
The Irish also are appearing in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll for the seventh consecutive week, checking in at a season-high 16th. Notre Dame’s ranking of 16th is its highest since the week of Jan. 2, 2006, when the Irish were tabbed 12th by the coaches prior to losses at St. John’s (66-63) and home vs. Seton Hall (74-61).
No Easy Road
Notre Dame has always played a difficult schedule, using it as a means of preparation for future tests in both the BIG EAST Conference and the postseason. However, this year’s slate could be one of the more rugged ones in recent memory.
With the addition of Maryland to the docket in the Preseason WNIT semifinals, the Irish now will face four of the top six teams in the latest Associated Press poll. Still to come this season are No. 1 Connecticut (Jan. 27 at the Joyce Center), No. 3 Tennessee (Jan. 5 at the Joyce Center) and No. 6 Rutgers (Feb. 19 in Piscataway, N.J.). Three of the top five teams in the poll have combined to win three of the past four national championships, with Tennessee currently holding the hardware after defeating Rutgers in last year’s title game.
Allen Named To Preseason WNIT All-Tournament Team
Senior guard Charel Allen earned a spot on the Preseason WNIT All-Tournament Team after averaging 13.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in Notre Dame’s three tournament games. Allen is the fourth Irish player in history to be named to the squad, joining Katryna Gaither (1996), Megan Duffy (2004) and ’04 Most Valuable Player Jacqueline Batteast.
Guess Who’s Back … Back Again?
Junior guard Lindsay Schrader looked very sharp in her return to action on Nov. 9 vs. Miami (Ohio). In her first meaningful game in nearly 20 months, Schrader scored exactly one point for every month she was out, finishing with 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, converting her first six shots before the game was eight minutes old. The Bartlett, Ill., native wound up playing just 17 minutes against the RedHawks, resulting in the first “point-a-minute” game of her career.
Irish Fans Crave A Big Mac Attack
Notre Dame has introduced a new promotion this season, offering fans a coupon for a free Big Mac from South Bend-area McDonald’s restaurants if the Irish score at least 88 points in a game. The coupons are issued at the Joyce Center gates as fans leave the arena following the game.
This season’s burger watch already is at six, as the Irish have hit the 88-point mark in exhibition wins over Southern Indiana and Hillsdale, as well as regular-season victories over Miami (Ohio), Boston College, Canisius and Valparaiso.
It’s probably also not a surprise that the Notre Dame player with the most “Big Mac baskets” this season has the same initials as that of the tasty burger — freshman guard Brittany Mallory, who has sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) four times, including each of the past three games that the Irish have scored 88 points at home.
Here’s a rundown of some upcoming promotions and giveaways at future Notre Dame women’s basketball games this season. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Irish athletics ticket office (second floor of the Joyce Center through Gate 1; 574-631-7356), on game day at the Gate 10 ticket windows of the Joyce Center, or via the Internet at Notre Dame’s official athletics web site (UND.com). Please note — additional promotions and giveaways may be added at a later date, so consult the Notre Dame promotions web site (www.notredamepromotions.com) for the latest information:
- Dec. 29 vs. Saint Francis (Pa.) — South Bend Tribune Family Day (four tickets/hot dogs/sodas for $25) … Irish women’s basketball ice scrapers to first 1,000 fans, courtesy of Drive & Shine … post-game autograph session courtside with selected Notre Dame players.
- Jan. 5 vs. Tennessee — Big Time Basketball … Irish women’s basketball blinking shamrocks to early arriving fans, courtesy of Chase and Centennial Wireless … post-game autograph session courtside with selected Notre Dame players.
Next Game: Richmond
The Irish will open the New Year on Jan. 2 with a trip to Richmond for a 7 p.m. (ET) game against the Spiders. It will mark Notre Dame’s first-ever road game against UR, although the Irish did win the 1999 Wachovia Women’s Basketball Invitational at Richmond’s Robins Center.
The Spiders (7-5) have won four of their last five games, most recently taking a 64-51 win over Maryland-Baltimore County on Friday afternoon at the Terrapin Classic in College Park, Md. UR will play the tournament host, fifth-ranked Maryland, on Saturday before returning home to face Notre Dame.
— ND —