March 12, 2012
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NOTRE DAME, Ind. — For the 17th consecutive season, and the 19th time in school history, Notre Dame has earned a berth in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship. The Fighting Irish are the No. 1 seed in the Raleigh Region — the second time in program history they have earned a top seed — and will play 16th-seeded Liberty (the Big South Conference champion) at approximately 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.
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 WatchESPN (formerly 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-Liberty 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 UND.com with veteran broadcaster Bob Nagle on the call.
Eighth-seeded California and No. 9 seed Iowa will square off in Sunday’s other first-round Raleigh Region game in South Bend (12:10 p.m. ET tipoff on ESPN2), with the two first-round winners advancing to a March 20 second-round contest at Purcell Pavilion — the start time for that game and the television coverage are still to be announced.
Single-game tickets for either of Sunday’s first-round matchups or Tuesday’s second-round game in South Bend ($16 adults/$11 youth college age and under) can be purchased immediately through the official Notre Dame athletics ticketing web site (www.UND.com/tickets). These single-game tickets also will go on sale at 8:30 a.m. (ET) Tuesday through the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office, either by visiting the ticket windows on the first floor of the Rosenthal Atrium at Purcell Pavilion (accessible via Gate 9 beginning at 9 a.m. ET) or by calling (574) 631-7356. In addition, ticket packages for all three games at Purcell Pavilion now are available ($32 adults/$22 youth college age and under) and can be purchased either on-line or through the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office — processing fees and service charges may apply.
“We did have a pretty impressive resume and I was pleased with the way we played all year,” Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “We challenged ourselves with a tough schedule and we were successful at it. You live for this time of the year. We’re so excited to be playing, getting everyone back together (after the BIG EAST Championship) and getting ready for that first game.”
Notre Dame (30-3, 15-1 BIG EAST Conference) was ranked No. 4 in Monday’s final Associated Press poll of the season and No. 4 in the latest ESPN/USA Today coaches poll (final poll to be released after the NCAA tournament). The Fighting Irish earned their first outright BIG EAST regular season title (and second in school history) by two games over second-place finishers St. John’s and Connecticut, and collected a school-record 12 victories over ranked opponents, including five against top-10 teams (No. 2/2 Connecticut, No. 4/4 Connecticut, No. 7/6 Duke, No. 7/9 Tennessee, No. 8/7 Kentucky, No. 12/14 Purdue, No. 13/14 Rutgers, No. 16/16 Louisville, No. 18/17 Georgetown, No. RV/23 DePaul – twice, and No. 25/RV West Virginia).
What’s more, Notre Dame registered nearly half of its wins (14) against teams that qualified for this year’s NCAA Championship — each of the aforementioned 10 ranked squads, plus fellow BIG EAST member St. John’s (unranked when it played the Fighting Irish, but now No. 21 in both polls), and non-conference foe Creighton. Notre Dame also defeated six programs that won either their conference regular season or tournament title — Connecticut (BIG EAST Championship), Creighton (Missouri Valley Championship), Duke (ACC regular season), Kentucky (SEC regular season), Purdue (Big Ten Championship) and Tennessee (SEC Championship).
For the second consecutive season, three Notre Dame players earned first-team all-conference recognition — junior guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) was the BIG EAST Player of the Year, as well as a unanimous first-team selection, garnering her second first-team all-BIG EAST citation (and third all-conference certificate) in as many years. Senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel (Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic) and fifth-year senior forward/tri-captain Devereaux Peters (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick) not only joined Diggins on the all-conference first team for the second year in a row, but Peters also was a repeat recipient as the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year, becoming just the fourth player in conference history to earn that award twice.
Notre Dame is 32-17 (.653) all-time in 18 previous NCAA Championship appearances (all under McGraw), having won 14 of its past 16 NCAA first-round games, and advancing to the Sweet 16 (regional semifinals) nine times in the past 15 seasons. In addition, Notre Dame’s current streak of 17 consecutive NCAA tournament berths is the sixth-longest in the nation (and tied for eighth all-time), while its .653 winning percentage is ninth-best in tournament history. The Fighting Irish also have made three NCAA Women’s Final Four appearances and won the national championship in 2001.
Notre Dame garnered a No. 1 seed for the second time in its NCAA Championship history, duplicating the feat it first achieved in 2001. That season, the Fighting Irish opened with victories over No. 16 seed Alcorn State (98-49) and No. 8 seed Michigan (88-54) at Purcell Pavilion to reach the NCAA Midwest Regional at Denver’s Pepsi Center (site of this year’s NCAA Women’s Final Four). There, Notre Dame downed fifth-seeded Utah (69-54) in the Sweet 16 and clinched its second trip to the Final Four with a 72-64 victory over third-seeded Vanderbilt.
Playing in the national semifinals at the Savvis (now Scottrade) Center in St. Louis, the Fighting Irish rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit to topple Connecticut, 90-75 and book their first appearance in the NCAA title game. Against in-state rival Purdue, Notre Dame once again battled from behind, eventually pulling out a thrilling 68-66 victory over the Boilermakers (and the program’s first national championship) on the strength of Ruth Riley’s two free throws with 5.8 seconds remaining.
Last year, Notre Dame made a similar run to the NCAA final as a No. 2 seed, beginning with a 67-54 win at 15th-seeded Utah. The Fighting Irish then defeated No. 10 seed Temple (77-64) and No. 6 seed Oklahoma (78-53), the latter avenging a 77-72 overtime loss to the Sooners in the Sweet 16 the year before. Playing for the Dayton Regional title, Notre Dame earned its first win over Tennessee in 21 tries, 73-59, to once again set up a battle with Connecticut in the national semifinals. After three losses to the Huskies during the season, the Fighting Irish got the victory that counted most, downing Connecticut, 72-63 at Conseco (now Bankers Life) Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to punch their ticket to the national championship game. However, Notre Dame’s title dreams died in the closing moments against Texas A&M, as the Aggies fought back from a seven-point second-half deficit to win 76-70.
The Fighting Irish will be playing host to NCAA Championship first- and second-round games for the seventh time, having posted an 8-2 (.800) record in its six prior tournament appearances at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame last played on its home court in the opening two rounds of the NCAA Championship in 2010, defeating Cleveland State (86-58) and Vermont (84-66) to reach the Kansas City Regional.
Based in Lynchburg, Va., Liberty (24-8, 16-2 Big South) is making its 14th NCAA Championship appearance, and fourth in the past five seasons. The Flames come into this weekend’s NCAA first-round contest at Notre Dame having won 18 of their last 19 games, with only a 71-69 loss at Winthrop on Feb. 18 marring their resume down the stretch. Liberty not only earned the Big South regular season title by three games over High Point, but went on to win the conference tournament championship with victories over UNC Asheville (71-50), Charleston Southern (72-52) and host High Point (81-73), erasing a five-point halftime deficit in the tournament final to earn their league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Championship.
The Flames, who come into Sunday’s game as the nation’s leader in rebounding margin (+16.4 rebounds per game), are led by a pair of first-team all-Big South selections — redshirt junior guard/forward Devon Brown (16.9 ppg., 7.1 rpg., 2.0 spg.) and redshirt senior center/Big South tournament MVP Avery Warley (13.1 ppg., 11.6 rpg., 1.6 bpg., .576 FG%). Freshman guard Reagan Miller (9.3 ppg., 4.0 apg., .366 FG%) was a member of the Big South All-Freshman Team this year and Brown joined Warley on the BSC all-tournament team.
The Fighting Irish will be facing Liberty for the third time on Sunday, and the first time in NCAA Championship play, with Notre Dame holding a 2-0 series lead on the Flames (both prior games were played at neutral sites). The teams last played on Dec. 5, 1999, at the Wachovia Women’s Basketball Invitational in Richmond, Va., with the Fighting Irish posting an 85-68 victory behind 32 points (on 12-of-14 shooting) from Riley. In their first-ever meeting, Notre Dame defeated Liberty, 113-35, at the UCF Rotary Classic on Nov. 24, 1989, in Orlando, Fla.
California (24-9, 13-5 Pac-12) finished second in the Pac-12 Conference this season and advanced to the conference tournament title game before falling to top-seeded Stanford, 77-62, this past Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Golden Bears will be making their eighth NCAA Championship appearance, and their first since 2009.
Notre Dame is 1-0 all-time against California, defeating the Golden Bears, 62-59 in a Dallas Region first-round game of the 2007 NCAA Championship on March 18, 2007, at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Iowa (19-11, 11-5 Big Ten) wound up in a four-way tie for second place in the Big Ten Conference this year on the strength of an eight-game winning streak that started at the end of January and continued all the way through the end of the regular season. The Hawkeyes then saw their winning streak end in the Big Ten Championship quarterfinals with an 80-68 loss to Nebraska in Indianapolis. Iowa will be making its fifth consecutive NCAA Championship appearance, and the 21st in program history.
Notre Dame and Iowa have met just once before on the hardwood, with the Fighting Irish earning a 61-50 victory over the sixth-ranked Hawkeyes on Nov. 17, 1996, in the quarterfinals of the Preseason WNIT in Iowa City.
For more information on the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women’s basketball Twitter pages (@ndwbbsid or @notredamewbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the “Fan Center” pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
— ND —