May 11, 2016
By Chris Masters
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The first pieces of the 2016-17 University of Notre Dame women’s basketball schedule emerged Wednesday, as the Fighting Irish will be part of the 16-team field for the 23rd annual Preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT), according to an announcement from the event’s organizer, Triple Crown Sports.
Notre Dame will play at least three games, and as many as four contests, in the tournament, which will be played at campus sites around the country in mid-November. First-round pairings, as well as game locations, dates and times will be released in the coming weeks.
Led by two-time All-America forward and reigning ACC Player of the Year Brianna Turner, Notre Dame will make its fifth appearance in the Preseason WNIT to tip off the 2016-17 season.
The Fighting Irish are among 11 teams in this year’s Preseason WNIT that advanced to postseason play in 2015-16, led by NCAA Final Four participant Washington, second-round qualifier (and Southeastern Conference member) Missouri, the reigning Mountain West Conference champion Colorado State and perennial Horizon League power Green Bay. All four squads also joined Notre Dame in both major national polls at some point last season.
Rounding out the 2016 Preseason WNIT field are: Abilene Christian, Central Michigan, Eastern Washington, Elon, Fordham, Furman, Little Rock, Nebraska, North Texas, Omaha and UT-Rio Grande Valley.
No more than one team per conference is invited to the tournament each year, and half of this fall’s invitees will be playing in the event for the first time: Abilene Christian, Central Michigan, Elon, Fordham, Green Bay, Missouri, Omaha and UT-Rio Grande Valley. Invitations are issued to schools based upon expected strength for the 2016-17 season, as well as past team history, while other factors such as conference results, fan base and geographical location also are taken into consideration.
Notre Dame will be making its fifth appearance in the Preseason WNIT, having won the tournament title in 2004 with four consecutive wins at Purcell Pavilion, including the last two against top-10 opponents Duke (76-65) and Ohio State (66-62). The Fighting Irish are one of three returning Preseason WNIT champions in the 2016 field, along with Washington (1994) and Colorado State (1998).
Notre Dame last competed in the Preseason WNIT in 2011, when the Fighting Irish advanced to the tournament championship game on the strength of victories over Akron (81-61), Indiana State (99-34) and Hartford (98-43), all at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame then traveled to Waco, Texas, for a “1-vs.-2” matchup against top-ranked Baylor, coming up on the short end of a 94-81 decision in a high-octane, entertaining nationally-televised title clash against the Lady Bears (a team the Fighting Irish would face again less than five months later in the NCAA championship game at Denver’s Pepsi Center).
Notre Dame also advanced to the Preseason WNIT semifinals in 1997 (wins over Kent State at home and on the road at Iowa, loss to Tennessee, win over N.C. State in now-defunct consolation game, with the latter two games in Ruston, Louisiana) and 2007 (home wins over Miami-Ohio and Western Kentucky before a semifinal loss at Maryland).
Of the other 15 teams in the 2016 Preseason WNIT field, Notre Dame has played seven during the program’s 39-year history and has a winning or .500 series record against all of them – Central Michigan (4-1), Colorado State (3-1), Fordham (1-0), Green Bay (1-1), Missouri (1-0), Nebraska (1-1) and Washington (2-1). In fact, the last time Notre Dame and Nebraska met, it was during the 2004 Preseason WNIT quarterfinals, with the Fighting Irish winning 73-57 at Purcell Pavilion.
The Atlantic Coast Conference has seen three teams win the Preseason WNIT since tournament debuted in 1994. Maryland (now a member of the Big Ten) claimed the 2007 crown, while North Carolina took the title in 2008 and 2012. In addition, current ACC member Louisville won the Preseason WNIT while it was still part of the American Athletic Conference in 2013 (one year before joining the ACC).
Next year, Notre Dame is expected to return three starters and eight monogram recipients, led by a pair of two-time All-Americans in senior guard Lindsay Allen (Mitchellville, Md./St. John’s College) and junior forward Brianna Turner (Pearland, Texas/Manvel). The Fighting Irish also will be welcoming back sophomore guard Ali Patberg (Columbus, Ind./Columbus North), the 2015 MaxPreps National High School Player of the Year and Indiana Miss Basketball, who missed her freshman year with a knee injury.
In addition, Notre Dame will add one of the nation’s top five incoming freshman classes for 2016-17, featuring a pair of national high school players of the year in Gatorade Award recipient Erin Boley (Hodgenville, Ky./Elizabethtown) and Naismith Award honoree Jackie Young (Princeton, Ind./Princeton Community).
For more information on the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, visit the main women’s basketball page on the University’s official athletics web site (UND.com/ndwbb), sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women’s basketball Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat accounts (@ndwbb), like the program on Facebook, or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the “Fan Center” pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
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Chris Masters, associate athletics communications director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2001 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women’s basketball and women’s golf programs. A native of San Francisco, California, Masters is a 1996 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, earned his master’s degree from Kansas State University in 1998, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).