March 21, 2003

From the Associated Press

GAME: No. 11 Notre Dame (19-10) vs. No. 6 Arizona (22-8).
REGIONAL: East, first round.
TIME: Sunday, 7:06 p.m. EST.
SITE: Bramlage Coliseum; Manhattan, Kan.

Led by freshman sensation Shawntinice Polk, Arizona looks to get past Notre Dame in a first-round matchup from the NCAA tournament’s East Regional.

The Wildcats finished their regular season in a tie for second place in the Pac-10, and made it to the conference tournament title game before losing 59-49 to ninth-ranked Stanford.

Much of Arizona’s success this year is due to the emergence of Polk, the Pac-10 Rookie of the Year.

She led the league in rebounding, pulling down 10.0 boards per contest, while also topping the Pac-10 in field-goal percentage (62.2) and blocked shots (2.57 per game).

Her 17.5 points per game led the Wildcats – placing her third in the league – and she presents matchup problems for the smaller Irish. The 6-foot-5 Polk will by countered by center Teresa Borton, who at 6-3 is Notre Dame’s tallest player.

“No Arizona player has had quite the impact of Polk,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “With her in the middle, the Wildcats are eight wins better than last year.”

Sophomore guard Dee Dee Wheeler gives the Wildcats a solid inside-outside tandem. She is the team’s second-leading scorer at 16.5 points per game and ranks sixth in the Pac-10 with 2.1 steals a contest.

Notre Dame, which fell to eventual champion Villanova 50-39 in the Big East tournament, is paced by sophomore forward Jacqueline Batteast.

Batteast averages team highs of 14.9 points and 8.3 rebounds, and was named to the All-Big East second team.

Despite an unspectacular 19-10 record, the Irish had a strong finish, winning eight of its final 11 games. They posted a solid 9-4 road record.

Her team isn’t nearly as strong as in past seasons, so McGraw has lowered expectations entering the NCAAs.

“Getting a No. 11 seed surprised us a little, but it gives us some confidence,” McGraw said. “We played without confidence a large part of the season. We’re not supposed to win a game in the NCAA, so if we win one, we’ve overachieved.”

PROBABLE STARTERS: Notre Dame – F Batteast, F Katy Flecky, C Borton, G LeTania Severe, G Alicia Ratay. Arizona – F Krista Warren, C Polk, G Wheeler, G Aimee Grzyb, G Julie Brase.

TEAM LEADERS: Notre Dame – Batteast, 14.9 ppg and 8.3 rpg; Severe, 3.9 apg. Arizona – Polk, 17.5 ppg and 10.6 rpg; Julie Brase, 4.2 apg.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Notre Dame – At-large bid, Big East. Arizona – At-large bid, Pac-10.

ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Notre Dame – 17-8, 9 years. Arizona – 5-4, 4 years.