Feb. 12, 2001

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The top-ranked Notre Dame women’s basketball team returns to action after an off weekend when it travels to Syracuse for a 7:00 p.m. game at Manley Field House. The Irish enter the game with a 22-0 record and 11-0 mark in the BIG EAST and have won a school-record 11 consecutive road games. After holding its previous highest-ever ranking of third for six consecutive weeks, Notre Dame climbed to the top rankings on Jan. 22, as the last remaining unbeaten team in the country following wins over Connecticut and Seton Hall that week. The Irish enter the Syracuse game ranked No. 1 for the fourth consecutive week with a 22-0 record — their first 22-0 start in the history of the program, far surpassing the previous best start of 6-0 from the 1998-99 team. The 22-game winning streak currently stands as the longest active in the country and in school history.

Tonight’s game will mark the 13th meeting between the teams in a series that Notre Dame leads 11-1 and that began in 1988. Notre Dame has won all eight meetings since the Irish joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96. Tonight’s game marks the 100th regular-season BIG EAST game for the Irish, now in their sixth year in the conference. Notre Dame has an 85-14 (.859) record in its 99 BIG EAST regular-season games.

Four of Notre Dame’s five starters average double-figure scoring, and the Irish are led by three of the best players in the country at their respective positions. Senior All-America center and national player-of-the-year candidate Ruth Riley (18.7) leads the BIG EAST in scoring and was the only player in the top 20 of the NCAA statistical rankings for blocks (3rd at 3.1) and field-goal percentage (4th at .651) according to the most recent NCAA statistics. All-America candidate and fifth-year point guard Niele Ivey (13.0) stands 10th in the country in assists (7.18) and has scored or assisted on 42 percent of Notre Dame’s 621 field goals. Sophomore shooting guard Alicia Ratay (13.5) leads the nation in three-point shooting (49-88, .557).

A large part of Notre Dame’s success this season also is due to the play of its other two starters, junior Ericka Haney and senior Kelley Siemon, who returned to the lineup against Boston College after missing the three previous games. Haney (11.7) has scored 17 points in three of the last eight games (Va. Tech, Seton Hall and Providence). Siemon (9.9) stands second on the team in rebounding (6.9) and sixth in the BIG EAST in defensive rebounds. Playing with a broken left hand, Siemon scored 15 points and had eight rebounds vs. Connecticut.

With the top field-goal percentage defense (.338) and the fifth-best shooting team in the country (.498), Notre Dame has won its 22 games by an average of 22.4 points — second best in the country — and has outscored its opponents by an average of 16 points in the first half. The Irish have shot better than 50 percent from the field in 11 of 22 games, better than 46 percent in 18 of 22 games and better than 40 percent in all but one game. Notre Dame’s defense has held its opponents to under 40 percent in 18 of 22 games — including 14 games under 35 percent.

The hot shooting of Ratay, strong point guard play of Ivey (158 assists, 62 steals) and dominating defensive presence and shooting touch of Riley (69 blocks, 151-232 FG, .651) have led the Irish to big early leads. Forwards Siemon and Haney have given the Irish timely contributions. Notre Dame stands as the only team ranked among the top five NCAA leaders in both field-goal percentage and field-goal percentage defense according to the latest NCAA statistics.

Head coach Muffet McGraw is in her 14th year at Notre Dame with a 310-115 (.729) record and in her 19th as a collegiate coach with a 398-156 (.718) mark. She has led the Irish to the No. 1 ranking for the first time ever, to eight consecutive 20-win seasons and to five straight NCAA tournament appearances and seven overall. McGraw was named a finalist for the Naismith Women’s Basketball and AP coach-of-the-year awards last year.

Senior All-America center Ruth Riley posted her third consecutive double-double, matching a season-high 29 points with 12 rebounds, as the top-ranked Irish defeated Pittsburgh 72-58 on Feb. 7, in front of the 7,025 fans at the Joyce Center — the fifth largest crowd in Notre Dame history and third largest this season. After four early lead changes, the Irish built a 12-point lead with two minutes before halftime and went into the intermission with a 30-20 lead. The Panthers pulled within five points just 3:40 into the second half before Notre Dame built its advantage to 12 points once again. Pittsburgh fought back one last time and trailed just 47-41 with 9:30 left in the game. The Irish finished the game on a 25-17 run for the 72-58 final. Niele Ivey and Alicia Ratay each added 11 points for Notre Dame, which shot 47.2 percent from the field and held Pittsburgh to 19 FGs on 32.3 percent shooting.

Notre Dame’s game vs. Georgetown on Sat., Feb. 24 at the Joyce Center has sold out. The Georgetown sellout marks the second this season and second all-time for a women’s basketball game at the 11,418-seat Joyce Center. Notre Dame defeated top-ranked Connecticut in front of its first sellout crowd on Jan. 15, 2001. The Irish have drawn 59,534 fans to their 11 home games, an average of 5,412 that stands 12th best in the country. The Georgetown game is senior day as the final regular-season home game for the top-ranked Irish.

Notre Dame’s victory over Boston College marked its 21 straight win, breaking the school record for consecutive wins. The win over Providence on Jan. 31, matched the school-record 20-game winning streak set just last year — after the previous 15-game mark stood for nine years. The 1999-2000 Irish won 20 consecutive games from Dec. 11-Feb. 26.

  • The Boston College victory also marked Notre Dame’s 11th consecutive road win, breaking the previous school record of 10 straight wins away from the Joyce Center set during the 1993-94 season.
  • The Providence win marked Notre Dame’s third consecutive January (1999, 2000, 2001) without a loss — a streak that currently stands at 25 and dates back to Jan. 31, 1998.
  • Notre Dame has become the first team since both Stanford and Connecticut (1995-96 and 1996-97) and just the seventh in NCAA history to string together consecutive seasons with a pair of winning streaks of at least 20 games.

ESPN’s Nancy Lieberman-Cline has picked Ruth Riley as the national player of the year. A first-team Associated Press All-America pick last year, Riley leads the BIG EAST in scoring in all games (18.7) and conference games (22.0) and is fourth in country in field-goal percentage (.651) and third in blocks (3.1). ESPN.com’s Mechelle Voepel predicts Riley and Niele Ivey will be named to the Associated Press All-America first team. In addition the leadership she provides the team, Ivey ranks 10th in the country in assists (7.2), is shooting .500 from three-point range and also stands 15th in the BIG EAST in scoring (13.0).

One of 30 preseason candidates listed for the 2000-01 Atlanta Tipoff Club Naismith College Basketball Player-of-the-Year Award, senior All-American Ruth Riley has been named one of 15 finalists for the award. The Naismith Board of Selectors, which includes some of the country’s leading basketball coaches, journalists, administrators, began the selection process in the fall. The winners of the Naismith Awards, the most prestigious honor in college basketball, will be honored on April 7, in Atlanta.

  • With junior All-American Troy Murphy one of 15 men’s finalists, Notre Dame was one of two schools (Duke) to have both a female and male finalist.
  • Riley was joined on the final ballot by two other BIG EAST players — Connecticut’s Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph.

Irish fifth-year point guard Niele Ivey has been named one of 10 finalists for the Conseco Nancy Lieberman-Cline Step Up Award, which honors the nation’s top collegiate point guard in NCAA Division I women’s basketball. The award is a national project of the Rotary Club of Detroit and is presented to the player whose floor leadership, play-making and ball handling skills best personified Lieberman-Cline during her career. Associated Press sportswriters from across the country nominated the 10 finalists and will choose the eventual winner, who will be honored at a noon on April 7, in a luncheon at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center.

  • Ivey was joined on the list by two other BIG EAST players — Connecticut’s Sue Bird, the inaugural winner last year, and Rutgers’ Tasha Pointer.

Fifth-year point guard and All-America candidate Niele Ivey had four steals against Providence to bring her career total to 309, breaking current Irish assistant coach Coquese Washington’s Notre Dame career steals record of 307. She enters the Syracuse game with 316 career steals. Ivey (630) recently moved ahead of Washington (554) for fourth place on the Irish career assist list and moved into third place with seven assists vs. Rutgers.

Tonight’s game marks the 12th meeting between the teams with the Irish 11-1 edge in the series, including 10 consecutive wins and all eight during BIG EAST play. The teams met four times between 1988-91 with Notre Dame winning twice at home and the teams splitting a pair of games at Syracuse. The Irish have a 4-1 record in games played at Syracuse.

The 92-76 Irish win over previously top-ranked and undefeated Connecticut on Jan. 15, left Notre Dame as the only unbeaten team in the country — positioning the Irish for their ascension to the No. 1 ranking in the Jan. 22 polls for the first time in the 24-year history of Notre Dame women’s basketball. The Irish had been ranked third for six consecutive weeks, the highest-ever ranking for Notre Dame before taking over the top spot.

  • Notre Dame becomes the 19th school to hold the No. 1 ranking in the 25-year history of the AP poll. Connecticut fell one spot to second, marking the first time in seven seasons one conference held the top two spots.
  • The Irish women’s basketball team becomes the second Notre Dame team to hold the No. 1 ranking in 2000-01. The Irish women’s soccer squad took over the No. 1 ranking on Sept. 18, and held the top spot for 11 weeks, finishing the regular season unbeaten and ranked first with a 20-0-1 record.
  • The BIG EAST Conference became just the third conference — joining the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conferences — to boast a pair of No. 1 teams in the same season. Two top-ranked conference teams in the same year had happened in just four previous seasons with Auburn and Tennessee in both ’87-88 and ’88-89, Maryland and Virginia in ’91-92 and Tennessee and Vanderbilt in ’92-93. Tennessee and Vanderbilt were ranked first and second, respectively, on Nov. 16, 1993, the last time two conference teams were one-two in the AP poll.
  • In addition to the Irish and Huskies holding the top two spots in women’s basketball, Georgetown and St. John’s were the first BIG EAST men’s basketball teams to be ranked first and second. Fifteen years ago both were ranked first during the season and spent a large part of the 1984-85 season holding the top two spots in the polls.
  • As has been tradition at Notre Dame since 1974, an eight-foot lighted numeral #1 sign — designed to be lit anytime an Irish team is ranked first — has been illuminated atop Grace Hall, a former men’s residence hall.
  • While the “#1” on the roof of Grace Hall represents an established tradition at Notre Dame, a new one started at the Joyce Center on Jan. 24. A five-by-seven-foot blue flag with a gold number sign and numeral one went up the far south flagpole in front of the Joyce Center at noon on Jan. 24 — Notre Dame first game as the No. 1 women’s basketball team. It flies just below a similar blue flag with the interlocking gold ND on it. The “#1” flag will be flown any time a Notre Dame varsity athletic team is ranked number one in the country.

Senior All-America center Ruth Riley matched her season-high performance of 29 points vs. Connecticut when she also scored 29 points vs. Pittsburgh — the eighth 20-point performance in the last 12 games. She also had 24 points vs. Boston College, 28 points vs. West Virginia, 23 points vs. St. John’s, 22 points vs. Rutgers and 27 points at Virginia Tech (Jan. 3). The BIG EAST’s leading scorer has averaged 23 points in Notre Dame’s last 10 games and was selected as the BIG EAST player of the week for the fourth time this season on Feb. 12. Riley ranks among the BIG EAST top four in both conference scoring (first at 18.7) and rebounding (fourth at 7.6).

All-America candidate and fifth-year point guard Niele Ivey has had a hand in nearly half of Notre Dame’s 621 field goals this season. She stands tied for second on the team with 102 field goals and has assisted on 158 field goals (eighth in the NCAA at 7.18 assists/game) to account for 260 of the 621 Irish FGs (42 percent) this season. Of Ivey’s 102 FGs, 41 have been three-point FGs (41-82 for 50.0 percent). Also, the school recordholder for career steal, Ivey moved into Notre Dame’s top-10 career scoring list during the Seton Hall game and currently has 1,282 points. Ivey is the only Notre Dame player ever to score over 1,200 points and record over 600 assists. Ivey also has more than 300 steals and 400 rebounds in her Irish career.

When Providence build a seven-point lead in the first half and were winning for 16:34 of the first half, Notre Dame found itself trailing for more than five minutes in a game for just the fifth time this season and facing its largest opponent lead. The Irish had been behind in games for just a total of 22:59 entering the Providence contest, an average of just 1:13 per game. Overall in its 22 games this season, Notre Dame has led for 812 of 880 minutes (92 percent), has been behind for 42 minutes (5 percent) and has been tied for 26 minutes (3 percent).

The Irish extended their home winning streak to a school-record 34 straight wins at the Joyce Center with the victory over Pittsburgh. The streak currently is the second longest active streak in the country, behind Kent (41). The Irish have not lost at home in over two years since a loss to top-ranked Connecticut on Dec. 8, 1998. Notre Dame also has a 47-3 (.940) record in BIG EAST games at the Joyce Center, with Connecticut being the only BIG EAST team to beat the Irish at home.

Notre Dame’s win over Providence on Jan. 31, brought its record to 20-0 — marking the eighth consecutive year the Irish have had a 20-win season and the 12th in 14 seasons under head coach Muffet McGraw. The 2000-01 Irish have been the quickest to 20 wins in terms of both the number of games needed to reach 20 wins and the calendar date.

While Notre Dame has boasted one of the country’s most potent offensive attacks over the past few seasons, the Irish defense remains on pace to break modern school records for fewest points allowed per game and the lowest opponent field-goal and three-point field-goal percentages. Notre Dame’s defense has limited its opponents to 55.1 points per game on 33.8 FG percentage (tops in the country) and 26.9 3PT FG percentage, all currently better than the modern school records of 55.1 points per game in 1981-82, 35.5 FG percentage in 1999-2000 and 28.4 3PT FG percentage in 1996-97. Only four opponents have shot better than 40.0 percentage vs. the Irish in 22 games — Georgia (42.0), Purdue (46.2), Virginia Tech in the first meeting (41.0) and Boston College (44.6).

National player-of-the-year candidate Ruth Riley has been at her dominating best this season — making her presence felt on both ends of the court as the only player ranked among the top 20 NCAA leaders in both field-goal percentage and blocked shots. In addition to her offensive efficiency (151-232 FG, 65.1 percentage first in BIG EAST, third in NCAA), Riley leads the BIG EAST and is fourth in the country with 69 blocked shots (3.14/game), while committing just 57 personal fouls (2.59/game). The two-time BIG EAST defensive player of the year is averaging one blocked shot every nine minutes she plays and just one foul every 11 minutes of action. Riley had five blocks vs. St. John’s to become just the 19th player in NCAA Division I history to break the 300 blocked-shot milestone. She enters the Syracuse game with 326 blocked shots — currently tied for 12th best in NCAA history and four behind Virginia’s DeMya Walker for 11th.

Senior All-America center Ruth Riley looks to break the Notre Dame career free throw record tonight, while sophomore guard Alicia Ratay remains on pace to break another Notre Dame free throw record. Riley has made 446 free throws in her career on 589 attempts, just one short of matching the school record 447 free throws made by Beth Morgan from 1993-97 on 549 attempts. Ratay currently sports an 88.2 free-throw percentage (45-51), just slightly better than the single-season record 87.1 free-throw percentage set by Sheila McMillen in 1998-99.

Notre Dame raced through its first 12 games, beating opponents from seven major conferences. The Irish have posted wins vs. the ACC (North Carolina), Atlantic 10 (Fordham), Big 10 (Purdue, Wisconsin), Conference USA (Marquette), Pacific-10 (Arizona, USC), SEC (Ga.) and Western Athletic (Rice).

Life outside of the BIG EAST Conference has been good to Notre Dame over the past four years. The Irish sport a 45-9 (.833) overall record vs. non-conference teams in the last four-plus seasons and a 36-5 (.878) record in the regular season. The Irish finished the non-conference portion of their 2000-01 schedule with an 11-0 record — their second unbeaten record vs. their non-conference regular-season opponents in the last three years after an 8-0 mark vs. non-BIG EAST teams during the 1998-99 regular season.

Notre Dame also has a four-year old, 21-game non-conference winning streak at the Joyce Center — a streak that includes wins over Purdue in 1997 and 2000 and a pair of sixth-ranked teams (UCLA and Duke) and 25th-ranked Illinois in 1998-99. Notre Dame’s last non-conference loss at the Joyce Center came over four years ago when 19th-ranked Wisconsin beat the Irish on Dec. 9, 1996.