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No. 4 Women's Basketball Hosts Villanova

Dec. 6, 2000

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The fourth-ranked Notre Dame women’s basketball team returns to the Joyce Center tonight to begin a three-game homestand vs. Villanova in the BIG EAST Conference opener for both schools. The Irish enter the game at their highest-ever ranking at fourth for the second consecutive week and have matched their best start in school history at 6-0. Notre Dame defeated North Carolina 78-55 on Sunday on ESPN2 in the first game of the Honda Elite 4 Classic at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Fieldhouse. Tonight’s game marks the 14th meeting between the teams, with Notre Dame having won 10 of the previous 13 meetings.

Four of Notre Dame’s five starters average double-figure scoring, while the Irish have outscored their six opponents by an average of 20 points in the first half. Among the best players in the country at their three respective positions, sophomore shooting guard Alicia Ratay (16.5) leads the team in scoring and leads the BIG EAST three-point shooting (18-27, .667), while senior point guard Niele Ivey (16.5) trails only Ratay among BIG EAST three-point shooters (17-28, .607) and leads the conference in assists (7.67/game) and steals (4.00/game). Senior All-America center Ruth Riley (13.5) both poured in a game-high 19 points in the victory over Georgia and averages a BIG EAST leading 3.00 blocks/game. Senior Kelley Siemon (11.3) had her first double-double of the season vs. Georgia (13 pts., 11 rebounds).

The Irish enter the Villanova game with a 6-0 record and look for their first 7-0 start in the history of the program. The 1998-99 Notre Dame team won its first six games before losing to top-ranked Connecticut — the best start in Irish history.

Notre Dame has won its first six games by an average of 25.3 points and has shot better than 50.0 percent from the field in three of six games. The Irish defense has held its opponents to under 40.0 in five of six games — including three games under 35.0 percent. The hot shooting of Ratay, strong point guard play of Ivey (46 assists, 24 steals, 24 turnovers) and dominating presence and shooting touch of All-America center Ruth Riley (18 blocks, 32-52 FG, .615) have led the Irish to big early leads. Forwards Kelley Siemon (27-51 FG) and Ericka Haney (double-double vs. North Carolina with 14 points and 13 rebounds) have given the Irish timely contributions.

Head coach Muffet McGraw is in her 14th year at Notre Dame with a 294-115 (.719) record and her 19th as a collegiate coach with a 382-156 (.710) 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.

Junior Ericka Haney recorded her first double-double of the season as she hauled down 13 rebounds and scored 14 points to help the Irish beat North Carolina for the second consecutive year. Notre Dame continued its season trend of building big early leads as they led 28-8 just nine minutes into the game and took a 42-19 lead at halftime. Senior point guard Niele Ivey scored 16 points in 16 minutes of action in the first half on 6-6 shooting (4-4 3PT), while sophomore Alicia Ratay added 12 points in the first half. Nine points in 11 minutes by senior All-America center Ruth Riley to start the second half squelched any North Carolina attempt at a rally. The Irish had a 30-point lead for most of the second half until the Tar Heels scored 15 points in the final five minutes. Despite having its worst shooting game of the season at 43.3 percent, Notre Dame connected on seven of 11 three-pointers and had a season-high 48 rebounds in the win.

The Irish and Wildcats meet for the 14th time tonight but for just the fifth time at the Joyce Center. Notre Dame has won five straight vs. Villanova and leads the all-time series 10-3 — including a 4-0 mark at home. The teams split four meetings in the 1980s and did not play again until Notre Dame entered the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, and the Irish have won eight of nine matchups since then. Villanova last win came on Jan. 28, 1998, in a 70-54 victory at Villanova. The Wildcats last trip to the Joyce Center on Dec. 12, 1998, saw the teams play just the second one-point game in the series, as Notre Dame edged Villanova 63-62.

Notre Dame has raced through its first six games, beating opponents from five major conferences. The Irish have posted wins vs. the ACC (North Carolina), Atlantic 10 (Fordham), Big 10 (Wisconsin), Pacific-10 (Arizona) and SEC (Georgia). Notre Dame has non-conference games remaining vs. Purdue, Western Michigan, Marquette, USC and Rice.

Ericka Haney’s 14 points and 13 rebounds vs. North Carolina marked the fifth time in six game an Irish player has recorded a double-double. Haney also became the fourth Notre Dame player to have a double-double in ’00-01. The other Irish players with double-doubles this season are Niele Ivey (vs. Valparasio and Arizona), Kelley Siemon (vs. Georgia) and Meaghan Leahy (vs. Fordham).

Fifth-year point guard Niele Ivey entered the season with seven career double-doubles (four in ’99-’00 and three in ’98-’99) and had a pair of double-doubles in the first two games season. She scored 12 points and had 10 assists and five steals vs. Valparaiso in the season opener. Ivey then recorded 11 assists against just one turnover to go along with 14 points against Arizona. She was one rebound short of her third double-double vs. Wisconsin.

Notre Dame extended its school-record home winning streak to 25 wins with its victory over Fordham. The streak was the sixth longest active streak in the country entering the season, behind Grambling (66), Kent (31), Texas Tech (30), Louisiana Tech (27) and Old Dominion (24).

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. She currently leads the team in scoring (16.5 with Alicia Ratay), assists (46), steals (24) and field goal percentage (37-59 for .627).

National player-of-the-year candidate Ruth Riley has been at her dominating best in the lane this season. In addition to her offensive efficiency (32-52 FG, .615), Riley leads the BIG EAST with 18 blocked shots (3.00/game), while committing just 10 personal fouls. The two-time BIG EAST defensive player of the year is averaging one block shot every eight-plus minutes she plays and just one foul every 14.7 minutes of action.

Sophomore Alicia Ratay has begun the year shooting better from three-point range (18 of 27 for .667) in terms of percentage than Notre Dame’s opponents have from the free throw line (53 of 85 for .624). 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 and 2-4 vs. North Carolina.

Senior Kelley Siemon sparked the Irish with 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

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 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. 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.

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 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.

The Irish have compiled a 3-2 record in BIG EAST season-opening games in their five previous season in the conference, including a 3-2 mark in conference home openers. Connecticut defeated the Irish 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.

The Irish have won five straight (#6 Georgia last week, # 9 North Carolina in ’99-’00, #6 UCLA and #6 Duke in ’98-99, #6 Texas Tech in ’97-98) and eight of their last 10 games vs. top-10 non-conference opponents (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). Notre Dame has a 6-5 record vs. all top 10 teams (including 4-0 vs. non-conference opponents) since the start of the 1998-99 season.

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.

Alicia Ratay’s six three pointers vs. Valparaiso in the season opener is tied for the most by a BIG EAST player in a single game this season. Ratay also has the two best three-point shooting games by a BIG EAST player with her 5-6 (.833) vs. Arizona and 6-9 (.667) vs. Valparaiso. Meaghan Leahy’s 12 free throws vs. Fordham are the most in the league, while her 14 attempts are tied for second most. Niele Ivey’s six steals vs. North Carolina are tied for second most in a single game. Amanda Barksdale’s six blocks vs. Fordham are the most, while Ruth Riley’s five vs. Valpariaso are second.

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 the most of the season. The 11 three-point shots made vs. Valparaiso and the 27 free throws made vs. Wisconsin both are second most. Notre Dame’s 31 assists vs. Arizona are the most in a single game by a BIG EAST team, while its 10 blocks vs. both Arizona and Fordham are the top two games.

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 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 2,600 for the upcoming 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. Irish women’s basketball season tickets remain on sale and can be purchased by contacting the Notre Dame ticket office at 219-631-7356.

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.