March 12, 2007
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — For the 12th consecutive season, and the 14th time in school history, Notre Dame has earned a berth in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship. The Irish are the No. 9 seed in the Dallas Region and will play eighth-seeded California Sunday at noon (ET) at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2 as part of that network’s “whiparound coverage,” with the South Bend market expected to see the game in its entirety, while the majority of the country will be shuttled around between four games in that time slot. Top-seeded North Carolina and No. 16 seed Prairie View A&M will square off in the other first-round Dallas Region game at Pittsburgh, with the two first-round winners advancing to a Tuesday night contest at a time to be determined. Ticket information for all games in Pittsburgh will be announced shortly.
“Even though this is our 12th selection in a row, it definitely never gets old seeing your name come up on the TV screen on Selection Night,” 20th-year Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “This year’s selection may be even more special because of the number of hurdles and challenges we had to overcome during the season. Everyone in this program, from the players to the coaches and support staff, took it upon themselves to work a little harder and dig a little deeper because that’s what Notre Dame women’s basketball is all about. Our first-round matchup with Cal is going to be a great one and we’re so excited to get started preparing for this weekend’s game.”
Notre Dame (19-11, 10-6 BIG EAST Conference) finished tied for fifth in the BIG EAST this season after being picked to finish 11th in a preseason poll of the league’s head coaches. The Irish also were dealt a tough blow four days into preseason practice when sophomore guard Lindsay Schrader (Bartlett, Ill./Bartlett), the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder, tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee and was lost for the season. What’s more, Notre Dame faced the prospect of fielding a very young team, with nearly half (four) of its 10-player roster comprised of freshmen. However, the Irish showed tremendous resiliency, led by first-team all-BIG EAST guard and Kodak/WBCA All-America Team finalist Charel Allen (Monessen, Pa./Monessen), and three BIG EAST All-Freshman Team selections — guards Ashley Barlow (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike) and Melissa Lechlitner (Mishawaka, Ind./South Bend St. Joseph’s) and center Erica Williamson (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg). Notre Dame posted a pair of wins over Top 25 opponents (No. 10/9 Purdue and No. 17/16 Louisville), and defeated three conference champions (Purdue, Bowling Green and Prairie View A&M), while using a six-game winning streak late in the regular season to secure its NCAA bid.
Notre Dame is 22-12 (.647) all-time in 13 previous NCAA Tournament appearances (all under McGraw), having won 10 of its past 11 NCAA first-round games, and advancing to the Sweet 16 (regional semifinals) six times in the past decade. In addition, Notre Dame’s current streak of 12 consecutive NCAA Tournament berths is the eighth-longest in the nation, while its .647 winning percentage is ninth-best in tournament history. The Irish also have made two NCAA Final Four appearances and won the national championship in 2001. Notre Dame has been a No. 9 seed on two other occasions — in 1998, the Irish defeated eighth-seeded Southwest Missouri State, 78-64 and No. 1 seed Texas Tech, 74-59, both in Lubbock, Texas, en route to a berth in the Sweet 16. Last season, Notre Dame also was a No. 9 seed, dropping a 78-61 first-round game to Boston College in West Lafayette, Ind.
California (23-8, 12-6 Pac-10 Conference) is making its second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance after a third-place finish in the Pac-10 this season. The Golden Bears opened up with wins in eight of their first nine games before enduring their own injury challenge, losing the 2005-06 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Alexis Gray-Lawson for the year with a torn ACL in her right knee. Like Notre Dame, Cal bounced back well in conference play behind Pac-10 Player of the Year Devanei Hampton (a sophomore forward/center) and Pac-10 Coach of the Year Joanne Boyle, picking up a road win at archrival (and eighth-ranked) Stanford, as well as a season sweep of USC, which defeated the Irish, 69-58 back on Nov. 24 in Los Angeles. The Bears then reached the Pac-10 Tournament semifinals before bowing to No. 7 Arizona State, 60-53.
Notre Dame will be facing California for the first time ever on Sunday afternoon. The Irish are 17-16 (.515) all-time against Pac-10 teams, but have won 14 of their last 18 games against teams from that conference. However, Notre Dame is 0-2 against Pac-10 teams in the NCAA Tournament, losing at UCLA, 93-72 in 1992, and falling to Arizona State, 70-61 in 2005 at Fresno, Calif.
— ND —