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No. 3 Notre Dame Faces Seton Hall Sunday

Jan. 19, 2001

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The third-ranked Notre Dame women’s basketball team returns to action following a five-day break as the Irish meet Seton Hall today at Walsh Gymnasium in a matchup of the first and second-place BIG EAST teams. The Irish look to continue their best start ever as they enter the contest with a 17-0 record and 6-0 mark in the BIG EAST. Notre Dame sports its highest-ever ranking at third for the sixth consecutive week and are coming off a 92-76 win over top-ranked Connecticut on Monday.

Today’s game will mark the 11th meeting between the teams and the first since Jan. 11, 2000. The Irish have won the last eight games vs. the Pirates after Seton Hall posted wins in 1993 and 1994 before Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST Conference.

All five of Notre Dame’s 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 national player-of-the-year candidate Ruth Riley (17.6) stands second in the BIG EAST in scoring and was the only player in the top 20 of the NCAA statistical rankings for blocks (3rd at 3.06) and field-goal percentage (4th at .659) according to the most recent NCAA statistics. All-America candidate and fifth-year point guard Niele Ivey (13.4) stands 10th in the country in assists (7.24) and has scored or assisted on 42.0 percent of Notre Dame’s 491 field goals. Sophomore shooting guard Alicia Ratay (13.8) leads the nation in three-point shooting (41-67, .612).

A large part of Notre Dame’s fast start this season also is due to the play of its other two starters, senior Kelley Siemon and junior Ericka Haney. Siemon (10.5) stands second on the team in rebounding (6.9) and third in the BIG EAST in defensive rebounds. Playing with a broken left hand, Siemon scored 15 points and had eight rebounds vs. Connecticut. Haney (11.7) had a career-high 21 points in the win over Marquette, making her first 10 field goals before finishing 10-12, and had a game-high 17 points vs. Va. Tech last Sunday.

The Irish enter the Seton Hall game with a 17-0 record — their first 17-0 start in the history of the program, far surpassing the previous best start of 6-0 from 1998-99 team. The 17-game winning streak currently stands as the longest in the country.

With the top field-goal percentage defense (.334) and the fourth-best shooting team in the country (.510), Notre Dame has won its first 17 games by an average of nearly 23 points and has outscored its 17 opponents by an average of 16 points in the first half. The Irish have shot better than 50 percent from the field in 10 of 17 games, better than 46 percent in 15 of 17 games and better than 40 percent in all 17 games. Notre Dame’s defense has held its opponents to under 40 percent in 14 of 17 games — including 11 games under 35 percent. The hot shooting of Ratay, strong point guard play of Ivey (123 assists, 49 steals) and dominating defensive presence and shooting touch of Riley (52 blocks, 112-170 FG, .659) have led the Irish to big early leads. Forwards Siemon and Haney have given the Irish timely contributions. Notre Dame stands as the only team ranked among the top 10 NCAA leaders in both field-goal percentage and field-goal percentage defense according to the latest NCAA statistics.

Head coach Muffet McGraw is in her 14th year at Notre Dame with a 305-115 (.726) record and in her 19th as a collegiate coach with a 393-156 (.716) mark. She has led the Irish 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.

Senior All-America center and national player-of-the-year candidate Ruth Riley (29 points, 12 rebounds) and fifth-year point guard and All-America candidate Niele Ivey (14 points, 10 assists) both turned in double-double performances to lead third-ranked Notre Dame to its first wins over Connecticut and a top-ranked team by a 92-76 score in front of the first sellout for a women’s basketball game at the 11,418-seat Joyce Center. The Irish built a seven-point lead five minutes into the game, led 40-31 at halftime and never trailed in the contest. The Huskies pulled within three points at 17:55 of the second half before Notre Dame went on a 28-13 run to build its largest lead of the game at 68-50 with 8:54 remaining. Riley scored 19 of her points in the second half as all five Irish starters scored in double figures. Notre Dame finished with its fifth straight game of 50 percent shooting (56.9) and put up its second-highest point total of the season.

Today’s game marks the 11th meeting between the teams since the first matchup on Dec. 11, 1993 when Seton Hall won 62-55 at the Joyce Center during its NCAA Sweet 16 season. The Pirates won an overtime game the following year on Nov. 26, 1994, by 60-55 over the visiting Irish. The next meeting between the teams the following season marked the first with Notre Dame as a member of the BIG EAST Conference. The Irish won 88-79 on Jan. 2, 1996, over the host Pirates in the first of eight straight wins over Seton Hall. The last meeting on Jan. 11, 2000, came at the Joyce Center in an 80-52 Notre Dame victory.

Notre Dame’s win over top-ranked Connecitcut on Jan. 15, marked a number milestones for the Irish:

  • The Irish posted their first win over Connecticut in 12 meetings.
  • Notre Dame defeated a top-ranked team for the first time in 10 games, including its first in four games at the Joyce Center.
  • The crowd of 11,418 marked the first Joyce Center sellout for a women’s basketball game and the largest crowd in school history, surpassing the 8,134 fans at the 1992 Tennessee game.
  • The victory extended Notre Dame’s winning streak to 17 games — the longest active streak in the country — and pushed the home winning streak at the Joyce Center to 32 games — the third longest active in the country.
  • Ruth Riley went 13-13 from the free throw line for the best single-game performance in Irish history and the fifth-best in the country this season.
  • The 46 free throws Notre Dame attemped tied the school record, while Connecticut’s 33 three-point attempts stand as the most ever by an Irish opponent.

Senior All-America center Ruth Riley turned in a season-high 29 points and had 12 rebounds to pace the Irish in their win over Connecticut — her fourth 20-point performance in the last five games. She also had 23 points against St. John’s, 22 points vs. Rutgers (Jan. 6) and 27 points at Virginia Tech (Jan. 3). The BIG EAST’s second leading scorer has averaged 23 points in Notre Dame’s last five victories and was selected as the BIG EAST player of the week for the second consecutive week on Jan. 8. She scored 41 points and had 13 rebounds in a pair of Irish wins over USC and Rice. Against Southern California in the 70-61 victory, Riley led all scorers with 23 points, shooting 7-9 from the field and 9-11 from the free-throw line. She scored a game-high 18 points, going 7-11 from the field and 4-4 in free throws in the 80-40 win against Rice. Riley and Pittsburgh’s Mandy Wittenmyer are the only BIG EAST players ranked among the top 10 both in conference scoring and rebounding.

All-America candidate and fifth-year point guard Niele Ivey has had a hand in nearly half of Notre Dame’s 491 field goals this season. She stands second on the team with 83 field goals (but fourth in attempts at 152) and has assisted on 123 field goals (10th in the NCAA at 7.2 assists/game) to account for 206 of the 491 Irish FGs (42.0 percent) this season. Of Ivey’s 83 FGs, 34 have been three-point FGs (34-61 for 55.7) as she trails only sophomore teammate Alicia Ratay for the best three-point field-goal percentage in the country. Among the teams in the top half of the conference in scoring offense, no other BIG EAST point guard has accounted for a greater percentage of her team’s offense.

While Notre Dame recently has boasted one of the country’s most potent offensive attacks, the Irish defense remains on pace to break modern school records for fewest points allowed per game and the lowest opponent field-goal and three-point field-goal percentages. Notre Dame’s defense has limited its opponents to 54.9 points per game on 33.7 FG percentage and 26.3 3PT FG percentage, currently better than the modern school records of 55.1 points per game in 1981-82, 35.5 FG percentage in 1999-2000 and 28.4 3PT FG percentage in 1996-97. Only three opponents have shot better than 40.0 percentage vs. the Irish — Georgia (42.0), Purdue (46.2) and Virginia Tech in the first meeting (41.0).

National player-of-the-year candidate Ruth Riley has been at her dominating best this season — making her presence felt on both ends of the court as the only player ranked among the top 20 NCAA leaders in both field-goal percentage and blocked shots. In addition to her offensive efficiency (112-170 FG, 65.9 percentage first in BIG EAST, fourth in NCAA), Riley leads the BIG EAST and is third in the country with 52 blocked shots (3.06/game), while committing just 41 personal fouls (2.41/game). The two-time BIG EAST defensive player of the year is averaging one blocked shot every 8.9 minutes she plays and just one foul every 11.3 minutes of action. Riley had five blocks vs. St. John’s to become just the 19th player in NCAA Division I history to break the 300 blocked-shot milestone. She enters the Seton Hall with 309 blocked shots — currently 15th best in NCAA history.

The Irish extended their home winning streak to a school-record 32 straight wins at the Joyce Center with the victory over Connecticut. The streak currently is the third longest active streak in the country, behind Texas Tech (38 wins, with the last loss coming to Notre Dame in the 1998 NCAA second round) and Kent (38). The Irish have not lost at home in over two years since a loss to top-ranked UConn on Dec. 8, 1998. Notre Dame also has a 45-3 record in BIG EAST games at the Joyce Center, with Connecticut being the only BIG EAST team to beat the Irish at home.

Notre Dame raced through its first 12 games, beating opponents from seven major conferences. The Irish have posted wins vs. the ACC (North Carolina), Atlantic 10 (Fordham), Big 10 (Purdue, Wisconsin), Conference USA (Marquette), Pacific-10 (Arizona, USC), SEC (Ga.) and Western Athletic (Rice).

Life outside of the BIG EAST Conference has been good to Notre Dame over the past four years. The Irish sport a 45-9 (.833) overall record vs. non-conference teams in the last four-plus seasons and a 36-5 (.878) record in the regular season. The Irish finished the non-conference portion of their 2000-01 schedule with an 11-0 record — their second unbeaten record vs. their non-conference regular-season opponents in the last three years after an 8-0 mark vs. non-BIG EAST teams during the 1998-99 regular season.

Notre Dame also has a four-year old, 21-game non-conference winning streak at the Joyce Center — a streak that includes wins over Purdue in 1997 and 2000 and a pair of sixth-ranked teams (UCLA and Duke) and 25th-ranked Illinois in 1998-99. Notre Dame’s last non-conference loss at the Joyce Center came over four years ago when 19th-ranked Wisconsin beat the Irish on Dec. 9, 1996.

Notre Dame’s win over Rice on Dec. 31, marked Muffet McGraw’s 300th win at Notre Dame in her 14th season as head coach of the Irish. She has a 305-115 (.726) record at Notre Dame and a 393-156 career record (.716). Her 305 wins at Notre Dame equal nearly 65 percent of the total wins in the 23-plus seasons of varsity Irish women’s basketball. McGraw also needs just seven victories to reach the 400-win plateau in her 19-plus seasons as a head coach — and to become the fourth BIG EAST coach and the third this season to reach 400 victories.

Fifth-year point guard and All-America candidate Niele Ivey has herself ready to break current Irish assistant coach Coquese Washington’s school record for career steals. Ivey enters the Seton Hall game with 303 steals in her career, just four from the record 307 steals by Washington from 1989-93. Ivey (603) recently moved ahead of Washington (554) for fourth place on the Irish career assist list and moved into third place with seven assists vs. Rutgers.

Captains Ruth Riley (29 points, 12 rebounds) and Niele Ivey (14 points, 10 assists) each registered double-doubles vs. Connecticut — the second game this season the two have had double-doubles in the same contest. Notre Dame has totalled 13 double-doubles in 17 games by six different players. Other double-double performances for the Irish this season include Ruth Riley (vs. Villanova, Marquette and St. John’s), Niele Ivey (vs. Valparaiso, Arizona and Villanova), Alicia Ratay (vs. Va. Tech) Ericka Haney (vs. North Carolina and Rice), Kelley Siemon (vs. Ga.) and Meaghan Leahy (vs. Fordham).

Fifth-year point guard and All-America candidate Niele Ivey entered the season with seven career double-doubles (four in ’99-’00 and three in ’98-’99) and has four in ’00-01. She had a pair of double-doubles in the first two games of the season and a third vs. Villanova. Ivey scored 12 points and had 10 assists and five steals vs. Valparaiso in the season opener and then recorded 11 assists against just one turnover to go along with 14 points against Arizona. She had 11 points, 10 assists, six steals and six rebounds vs. just four turnovers vs. Villanova. Ivey scored 14 points and had her fifth double-figure assist game vs. Connecticut against just five turnovers.

Sophomore Alicia Ratay has established herself as the best three-point shooter in the country with her 61.2 three-point shooting percentage — the highest percentage in the country with teammate Niele Ivey second in the country at 55.7 percent. Ratay has connected on 41 of her 67 attempts and her 61.2 percentage is higher than Irish opponents are hitting from the free-throw line (58.5), from the field (33.7) and from three-point range (26.3). Ratay had 11 three pointers in the first two games on just 15 attempts, a percentage of .733. In the season opener vs. Valparaiso, Ratay scored 20 points on 7-12 shooting (6-9 3PT) and nailed four three-pointers in a span of 3:47 late in the first half. She was a perfect 4-4 (3-3 3PT) in the first half of the Arizona game before finishing 8-10 FG, 5-6 3PT and 5-5 FT for 26 points. Ratay was 2-3 vs. Georgia, 3-3 vs. Fordham, 2-4 vs. North Carolina, 1-1 vs. Villanova, 5-8 vs. Purdue, 3-3 vs. Western Michigan, 2-3 vs. Marquette, 1-1 vs. USC, 1-3 vs. Virginia Tech, 2-3 vs. Rutgers, 3-7 vs. St. John’s, 3-4 vs. Virginia Tech and 2-4 vs. Connecticut.

Following the victory over top-ranked Connecticut, the Irish improved to 4-0 this season vs. top-10 opponents. Notre Dame has a 9-5 record vs. all top 10 teams (including 5-0 vs. non-conference opponents) since the start of the 1998-99 season. The Irish have won six straight games vs. top-10 non-conference opponents (#6 Purdue on Dec. 9, #6 Georgia on Nov. 24, #9 North Carolina in ’99-’00, #6 UCLA and #6 Duke in ’98-99, #6 Texas Tech in ’97-98) and nine of their last 11 (also beating #8 Alabama, #8 North Carolina State and #6 Iowa in ’96-97 and falling to Tennessee twice (ranked second and 10th in ’96-97).

In addition to its success vs. top-10 teams, Notre Dame has won 51 consecutive games vs. unranked opponents, including a 24-0 mark last year. The last unranked team to defeat the Irish was Boston College on Dec. 30, 1998 (Notre Dame beat a ranked Eagle team later in the season).

Playing with a broken left hand suffered two days earlier vs. Virginia Tech, senior Kelley Siemon sparked the Irish in their win over Connecticut by scoring 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds — her third-highest point total of the season. She had a season-high 21 points vs. Wisconsin — including 15 in the second half. She continued her strong play with a double-double in the championship game vs. Georgia (13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds). Siemon had her fourth consecutive double-figure scoring vs. Fordham with 14 points. She also had 10 rebounds to go along with seven points vs. Purdue and 16 points against Western Michigan. She sat out the Marquette game — the first game in her career in which she did not play — with a knee injury before returning to the starting lineup vs. USC. She currently is averaging 10.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game — the seventh-highest rebounding average in the BIG EAST.

While Notre Dame has been led by its three All-America caliber players in Ruth Riley, Niele Ivey and Alicia Ratay, junior forward Ericka Haney has proven to play a large role in Notre Dame’s successful start to the season. Among the team’s most athletic and best defensive players, she enters today’s game averaging 11.7 points — markedly higher than her 6.8 average as a sophomore and 6.0 as a freshman. With Notre Dame’s other starting forward Kelley Siemon out of the Marquette game lineup with an injury, Haney turned in the best offensive performance of her career. She made her first 10 field goals before missing her final two and made one of two free throws to finish with a career-high and game-high 21 points. Other strong offensive performances for Haney this season include double-doubles vs. Rice (18 points, 12 rebounds) and North Carolina (14 points, 13 rebounds) game-high 17 points vs. Virginia Tech, 16 points vs. sixth-ranked Purdue and 13 points and seven rebounds vs. Connecticut. She has scored in double figures in 12 of the last 15 games.

The week of Dec. 3 began with the University of Notre Dame as the only Division I-A institution ranked among the top 10 teams in Associated Press standings in the sports of football, men?s basketball and women?s basketball. Notre Dame stood 10th in the final regular-season football poll (9-2 record), the first time since 1995 the Irish have finished the regular season ranked in the top 10. The Irish men?s basketball team also broke into the top 10 that week for the first time since 1986. The Irish women’s basketball team had its highest-ever ranking at fourth in the AP before moving up to third following the win over Purdue. It marked the first time in Irish athletic history all three of those Notre Dame teams have been ranked in the top 10 in the same week.

Fifth-year point guard Niele Ivey was named the MVP of the Coaches Vs. Cancer Challenge as she helped the Irish win the event with her strong play. She totaled 41 points on 14-21 shooting (7-9 3PT, 6-6 FT) in 71 minutes of action along with 13 rebounds, 11 assists and eight steals vs. just 10 assists. Ivey recorded game-high scoring vs. both Wisconsin (22) and Georgia (19). She was named BIG EAST player of the week (Nov. 27) for her efforts for the fourth time in her career.

Fifth-year PG Niele Ivey scored five points in the first four minutes against Valparaiso to surpass the 1,000-point milestone in her career. She joined the list of 16 other Irish players (including Ruth Riley) who have scored at least 1,000 points. Ivey scored 15 points in five games as a freshman in 1996-97 before a knee injury ended her season. She then scored 254 points in ’97-98, 369 in ’98-99 and 358 in ’99-’00 to reach 996 points entering the season.

Muffet McGraw is in her 14th season with the Irish and 19th as a collegiate coach. She recently signed a five-year contract to continue as coach of the Fighting Irish women?s basketball program through the 2004-05 season. McGraw has guided Notre Dame to five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and seven of the last nine. The last four years have comprised the most successful period in the history of the program, thanks to a combined 106-26 record. The Irish followed up their 1997 NCAA Final Four appearance and 31-7 record with an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance in ’98. Then came 26-5 and 27-5 marks the last two years that represent the top two seasons ever at Notre Dame in terms of winning percentage. Prior to coming to Notre Dame, she spent five seasons at Lehigh where she compiled an 88-41 record for a .683 winning percentage. McGraw has been named a finalist for the Naismith Women’s Basketball coach-of-the-year award in each of the last two seasons.

Seniors Ruth Riley and Niele Ivey both scored a game-high 19 points and were named to the all-tournament team to the Irish to a 75-73 win over sixth-ranked Georgia in the championship game of the Coaches Vs. Cancer Challenge on Nov. 24. The Bulldogs erased an early 11-point deficit before taking their first lead four minutes into the second half. Georgia built a six-point lead with 9:29 before Ivey ignited a 11-0 run in a span of 2:21 for a 68-65 Irish lead. The Bulldogs scored six straight to lead 71-70 before Alicia Ratay gave Notre Dame a 72-70 lead. After a pair of Ivey free throws and a Georgia basket, Kelley Siemon made one of two free throws for the 75-73 final after the Bulldogs missed a desperation three pointer as time expired.

In the first game of the event vs. host Wisconsin, Ratay and Riley both were held to single-digit scoring in the same game for the first time, and Ivey and Siemon poured in a combined 43 points. Junior Ericka Haney added 14 points to lead fifth-ranked Notre Dame to an 83-56 win. The Irish built a 41-26 halftime lead on the strength of 17 first-half points from Ivey and pulled away from the Badgers with the help of 15 second-half points from Siemon.

Senior All-America center Ruth Riley and sophomore guard Alicia Ratay are among the 30 preseason candidates listed for the 2000-01 Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year Award presented by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. Riley was one of 15 finalists for the Naismith Award a year ago. The women’s Naismith Award was first presented in 1983 and honors the outstanding college basketball player in the United States. The award program was founded by the Atlanta Tipoff Club, an organization dedicated to recognizing the achievements of student-athletes in basketball. The candidates were selected by a vote of the Board of Selectors comprised of leading basketball coaches, journalists and basketball analysts.

In overall games, Ruth Riley’s 29 points vs. Connecticut stands as the second-highest point total in overall and BIG EAST games, while her 11 field goals vs. both Virginia Tech and St. John’s are tied for first in overall and BIG EAST games. Riley’s 13-13 free-throw performance vs. Connecticut is tops in overall and BIG EAST games and her 11-13 shooting effort (.846) vs. St. John’s marks the best in a BIG EAST game. Alicia Ratay?s six three pointers vs. Valparaiso in the season opener are tied for the most by a BIG EAST player in a single game this season. Ratay also has the second best three-point shooting game by a BIG EAST player with her 5-6 (.833) vs. Arizona. Meaghan Leahy’s 12 free throws vs. Fordham are tied for second most in the league. Niele Ivey’s six steals vs. both North Carolina and Villanova are tied for third most in a single game. Amanda Barksdale’s six blocks vs. Fordham and Riley’s six vs. Virginia Tech are the two best blocks games.

As a team, the Irish also shot 62.3 percent (38-61) vs. Arizona for the best shooting game of the season by a BIG EAST team. Their 38 field goals in that game are tied for third most of the season. The 27 free throws made vs. Wisconsin both are second most. The Irish shot .750 (6-8) from three-point range vs. Marquette for the best three-point shooting percentage in a game. Notre Dame’s 31 assists vs. Arizona are second most in a single game by a BIG EAST team, and its 13 blocks vs. St. John’s are the most in a game.

Senior center Ruth Riley became Notre Dame’s first AP first-team All-American in 2000 and is a preseason favorite to win All-America honors for the third time in her career (she also was second-team AP pick in 1999). She has been named to the preseason All-America teams in a variety of national publications.

In addition to Riley’s accolades, senior point guard Niele Ivey has been named by Beth Mowins of one of the top five point guards in the country, while Mowins also has rated the Irish backcourt as one of best in the country. Sophomore guard Alicia Ratay has been named preseason All-America by Women’s Basketball Journal as a sixth-team pick. She is one of only three sophomores on the six-team, 30-player list. Freshman Jeneka Joyce has been listed as one of the top freshmen according to Athlon Sports.

Season-ticket sales for the 2000-01 Irish home season have more than doubled from a year ago, going from 940 in 1999-2000 to more than 2,700 for the season. Notre Dame’s average home attendance has jumped from a per-game figure of 1,747 in 1996-97 (the year the Irish played in the NCAA Final Four in Cincinnati) to 1,914 in 1997-98, then 2,996 in 1998-99 and finally to a 3,392 total in 1999-2000 to rank 26th nationally. Notre Dame is averaging 4,155 fans through its seven home games this season. Irish women’s basketball season tickets remain on sale and can be purchased by contacting the Notre Dame ticket office at 219-631-7356. Fans are encourage to purchase single-game tickets in advance to avoid waiting in line on gameday.

Notre Dame improved to 16-8 in its 24 season-opening games and have won their last six openers after the Valparaiso victory. Notre Dame has an 11-3 record under Muffet McGraw in its first games of the season with the only losses coming to third-ranked Penn State in 1991, at Marquette in 1992 and the SHU loss in 1994.

Niele Ivey spent part of her summer with the BIG EAST Women’s Basketball All-Stars, averaging 11.8 points and 3.7 rebounds on the six-game competitive tour of Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. in June. The All-Stars, led by West Virginia head coach Alexis Basil, went 5-1 on the tour with wins over Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria. Ivey scored in double figures in four of the six contests and registered a personal tour-high 17 points in the squad’s first meeting with Simon Fraser. She scored a team-high 16 points in the All-Stars’ final game.

Following the win over Villanova, the Irish have a 4-2 record in BIG EAST season-opening games in their sixth season in the conference, including a 4-2 mark in conference home openers. Connecticut defeated the Irish in their conference home openers in 1997 and 1998, while a loss at Rutgers in 1997 marked the only time Notre Dame began BIG EAST play on the road.