Feb. 19, 2000
By TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) – Not only is No. 5 Notre Dame for real, but the addition of soft-spoken freshman Alicia Ratay makes the Irish candidates to go a long way in the NCAA tournament.
Ratay forced overtime with two late 3-pointers and hit two free throws with 22.7 seconds left in the extra period as Notre Dame won its 19th straight game and posted its biggest win of the year, beating No. 8 Rutgers 78-74 on Saturday.
While the winning streak is the current longest in the country, many experts have had questions about Notre Dame (23-2, 14-0 Big East) because it hasn’t had the toughest schedule. Prior to this, its biggest win came earlier this month against No. 18 Boston College.
A road win at Rutgers (17-6, 9-4) is impressive, though, and it sets up a great matchup next week at No. 1 Connecticut that should decide the Big East regular season title.
“Having a top 10 team that you can beat on their own court in front of a great crowd, I felt that was something we needed to show the NCAA tournament selection committee, and hopefully they were watching,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
If the committee was watching, members had to enjoy the outside-inside combination of Ratay and junior center Ruth Riley. They scored 26 points apiece in the game in which Notre Dame blew an early 19-point lead, then rallied from a late seven-point deficit.
Shawnetta Stewart, who hit three straight 3-pointers during a 21-4 run that gave Rutgers a 61-54 lead with 3:57 to go, led the Scarlet Knights with 16 points. Davalyn Cunningham added 14 and Tammy Sutton-Brown had 13.
Rutgers never found a way to stop Ratay, who took seven shots in the game – all 3-pointers – and nailed every one, the last two in the final 17.3 seconds of regulation, tying the score at 65.
“I can’t say enough about Alicia, and her poise at the end of the game,” McGraw said. “To have a freshman come up big, time after time after time. Not just the 3-point shots but the offensive rebound late in the overtime was the difference in the game. I am just so pleased with her.”
The first 3-pointer got the Irish within 65-62 with 17.3 seconds left and the second came after Tasha Pointer missed the front end of a bonus with 16.1 seconds remaining.
Notre Dame worked the ball upcourt, and Ratay, who also had 10 rebounds, dribbled around a screen at the top of the circle and launched another 3-pointer while seemingly guarded by three players. It hit nothing but net.
McGraw said the Irish have practiced the play a lot but haven’t had a chance to run it in the game, at least not with everything on the line.
“She read the defense and what she did was she found the opening,” McGraw said of Ratay. “I think she had three people on her and still got the shot away. It was an amazing play, but she has made amazing plays all year. She’s been very steady for us and made a major impact, and I think she’s helped Ruth Riley’s game because they can’t leave Alicia.”
Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer could only shake her head about Ratay’s overtime-forcing shot.
“I swear we must have had fingertips on the leather,” Stringer said. “I don’t know if we could have been any closer without fouling.”
Even in the overtime the Irish had to battle back after Riley, who had 14 rebounds, converted a three-point play for a 68-65 lead.
Rutgers scored the next six points, with Cunningham hitting two free throws to give the Scarlet Knights a 71-68 lead. Riley scored four points during a 6-0 run that gave Notre Dame a 74-71 lead with 1:10 to go, but Stewart’s fourth 3-pointer tied it with 46.2 seconds to go.
Ratay got to the foul line after grabbing a weakside offensive rebound of a miss by Riley. She was fouled and sank both shots.
Ratay said little in the post-game news conference. Her answers were generally less than 10 words and none was said above a whisper.
“She does her talking on the court,” McGraw said.
Niele Ivey clinched the victory with two free throws with 6.3 seconds left, the shots coming after a baseline miss by Stewart.
Notre Dame hit six 3-pointers in a game-opening 29-10 run during which Rutgers missed 13 straight shots and went almost nine minutes without a field goal. The Scarlet Knights got back into the game by holding the Irish without a field goal for the final 5:19 of the first half, closing with a 12-3 run.