March 14, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — For the 16th consecutive season, and the 18th time in school history, Notre Dame has earned a berth in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship. The Fighting Irish are the No. 2 seed in the Dayton Region and will play 15th-seeded Utah (the Mountain West Conference tournament champion) at approximately 6:30 p.m. ET (4:30 p.m. MT) Saturday at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The game will be televised by ESPN2 as part of that network’s “whiparound coverage,” while viewers in the South Bend market, as well as those watching on the Internet at ESPN3.com, will see the game in its entirety. However, the majority of ESPN2 viewers nationwide will be shuttled between all four games in that time slot, including the Notre Dame-Utah contest. All Fighting Irish games also can be heard live on the radio in the Michiana area on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), as well as worldwide on the Internet at www.UND.com with veteran broadcaster Bob Nagle on the call.
Seventh-seeded Arizona State and No. 10 seed Temple will square off in Saturday’s other first-round Dayton Region game in Salt Lake City (4:05 p.m. ET/2:05 p.m. MT tipoff on ESPN2), with the two first-round winners advancing to a March 21 second-round contest at 9:30 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. MT), with that game to be televised on either ESPN or ESPN2.
“We’re thrilled to be a two seed,” Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think we earned it. It was a great season for us. We were hoping for a two, but you never know where they’ll put you in the bracket. Salt Lake City is a place we’ve never been (before), so it will be a great experience for us.
“This week, our focus is all about Utah,” she added. “They’re a very good team. I happened to watch their game the other night in their conference tournament. It’s going to be a really good game.”
Notre Dame (26-7, 13-3 BIG EAST Conference) was ranked ninth in the final Associated Press poll of the season and seventh in the latest ESPN/USA Today coaches poll (final poll to be released after the NCAA tournament). The Fighting Irish tied for second in the BIG EAST this season and picked up five victories over Top 25 opponents (No. 9/13 DePaul, No. 16/17 Georgetown, No. 19/18 West Virginia, No. RV/23 St. John’s and No. RV/25 Syracuse). What’s more, Notre Dame collected 10 wins over teams that qualified for this year’s NCAA Championship — four of the aforementioned five ranked squads (all but Syracuse), plus fellow BIG EAST members Louisville (twice), Marquette and Rutgers, and non-conference foes Gonzaga and Purdue.
Three Notre Dame players also earned first-team all-conference recognition this season — sophomore guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) was a unanimous selection, garnering her second all-BIG EAST citation in as many years. Junior guard Natalie Novosel (Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic) and senior forward Devereaux Peters (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick) not only joined Diggins on the all-conference first team (the first career honor for each player), but both players also took home specialty awards — Novosel was the BIG EAST Most Improved Player, while Peters was the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year. In addition, forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary’s Catholic) was a unanimous choice for the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team this year, giving Notre Dame nine all-rookie team choices in the past five seasons (more than any other school in the BIG EAST).
Notre Dame is 27-16 (.628) all-time in 17 previous NCAA Championship appearances (all under McGraw), having won 13 of its past 15 NCAA first-round games, and advancing to the Sweet 16 (regional semifinals) eight times in the past 14 seasons. In addition, Notre Dame’s current streak of 16 consecutive NCAA tournament berths is the sixth-longest in the nation, while its .628 winning percentage is 12th-best in tournament history. The Fighting Irish also have made two NCAA Final Four appearances and won the national championship in 2001.
Notre Dame is seeded second for the third time in its NCAA Championship history, and the second consecutive season. In 2000, the Fighting Irish were the No. 2 seed in the Mideast Region, defeating 15th-seeded San Diego, 87-61, and seventh-seeded George Washington, 95-60, at Purcell Pavilion, before being eliminated in the regional semifinals by third-seeded Texas Tech, 69-65, in Memphis. Last year, Notre Dame downed 15th-seeded Cleveland State, 86-58, and No. 10 seed Vermont, 84-66, at Purcell Pavilion, before bowing out of the tournament in the regional semifinals to Oklahoma, 77-72 in overtime in Kansas City.
The Fighting Irish will be playing a true road game in the NCAA Championship for the eighth time in program history, but the first since March 25, 2003, when Notre Dame upended Kansas State, 59-53 in an East Region second-round game at Manhattan, Kan. The Fighting Irish are 3-4 (.429) all-time when playing on the road in the NCAA Championship.
Utah (18-16, 7-9 MWC) is making its 17th NCAA Championship appearance, and first since 2009. After tying for fourth in the Mountain West Conference standings this season, the Utes reeled off four wins in five days at the conference tournament in Las Vegas, winning at UNLV (55-44), then defeating Air Force (70-55), top-seeded BYU (50-49) and No. 2 seed TCU (52-47 in overtime) to claim the MWC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
Utah is led by a pair of second-team all-Mountain West selections — redshirt sophomore guard Iwalani Rodrigues (14.7 ppg., 2.9 rpg., .444 3FG%) and the MWC Freshman of the Year, forward Michelle Plouffe (13.9 ppg., 7.3 rpg., 1.2 bpg.). Junior guard Janita Badon (12.6 ppg., 6.4 rpg., 5.6 apg., 2.4 spg.) was an honorable mention all-league choice this year and made the conference’s All-Defensive Team before being named the Most Outstanding Player of the MWC Tournament (Rodrigues and Plouffe were all-tournament team picks).
The Fighting Irish will be facing Utah for the third time on Saturday, and the second time in NCAA Championship play, with Notre Dame holding a 2-0 series lead on the Utes (both prior games were played at neutral sites). The teams last played on Dec. 18, 2005, at the Duel in the Desert tournament in Las Vegas, with the Fighting Irish posting a 68-55 victory to win the Gray Division tournament title. In their first-ever meeting, Notre Dame defeated Utah, 69-54, in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinals at Denver’s Pepsi Center on March 24, 2001.
Arizona State (20-10, 11-7 Pac-10) finished third in the Pac-10 Conference this season and advanced to the conference tournament quarterfinals before falling to California, 48-43, in Los Angeles. The Sun Devils will be making their 11th NCAA Championship appearance, and like Utah, ASU is returning to the tournament after a one-year hiatus.
Notre Dame is 1-2 all-time against Arizona State, most recently falling to the Sun Devils, 70-61, on March 21, 2005, in an NCAA Tempe Region second round game at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif.
Temple (23-8, 13-1 Atlantic-10) placed second in the Atlantic-10 Conference this year on the strength of a 15-game winning streak during the critical months of January and February before a 73-66 loss at home to sixth-ranked Xavier in the regular-season finale. The Owls then advanced to the A-10 Tournament semifinals before falling to Dayton, 75-67, in Lowell, Mass. Temple will be making its eighth consecutive NCAA Championship appearance, and the 10th in program history.
Notre Dame and Temple have split the four matchups between the schools, with each team winning twice on their respective campuses. The Fighting Irish won the most recent meeting in the series, 84-61 on Dec. 14, 2002, at Purcell Pavilion.
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— ND —