March 2012 Archives

Tip-off in Denver is just about 24 hours away. Here are ten things to know before the big game:

Day/Time

Sunday, April 1. 4:30 pm MT (6:30 ET).

Tale of the Tape

#4 Notre Dame (#1 seed in Raleigh Region) - 34-3 overall, 15-1 BIG EAST
#3 Connecticut (#1 seed in Kingston Region) - 33-4 overall, 13-3 BIG EAST

Broadcast

TV - ESPN/ESPN3. Dave O'Brien (play-by-play), Doris Burke (color), Holly Rowe (sideline) and Rebecca Lobo (sideline).
Radio - Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) and UND.com. Bob Nagle (play-by-play).

Beyond the Broadcast

Twitter: @NotreDameWBB, @ndwbbSID (sports information director Chris Masters)
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/NDWBB

Series

UConn leads, 29-7. Irish have won three of the past four. Huskies won the last meeting, 63-54. This will be the teams' fourth head-to-head battle of the season, and eighth in the past two years.

What's at stake?

A spot in Tuesday night's title game against the winner of Stanford and Baylor.

NCAA History

Irish seeking their second straight appearance in the national championship game, and third victory semifinal victory over the Huskies (2001, 2011).

Opposing Players to Watch

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Fr., F (15.0 PPG), Stefanie Dolson, Soph., C (10.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG), Tiffany Hayes, Sr., G (14.8 PPG)

The Road to Denver

Connecticut: No. 16 seed Prairie View A&M (83-47), No. 8 see Kansas State (72-26), No. 4 seed Penn State (77-59), No. 2 seed Kentucky (80-65).

Notre Dame: No. 16 seed Liberty (74-43), No. 8 seed California (73-62), No. 5 seed St. Bonaventure (79-35), No. 2 seed Maryland (80-49).

For All The Marbles (Well, Almost)

It's the fourth meeting of the season, but it might as well be the first. Notre Dame's two regular season wins and Connecticut's BIG EAST championship game victory mean very little at this point. When people look back on the 2011-12 season, the only game between the Fighting Irish and Huskies that will matter is the one in Denver. Whichever squad steps on the big stage earns all the bragging rights, and more importantly, the chance to play for a national championship on Tuesday evening.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Rocky Mountain High - 3.30.12

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Our first full day in Denver began with what else, food. The great breakfast spread that was put on by our host hotel's staff was top notch, which led right into a 9:15 a.m. film session for the team.

After a quick session in the film room, the women's basketball team, coaches and support staff piled onto the bus to head over to their first practice in the 'Mile High City.'

As if the team needed reminding of the task at hand, while the bus was pulling into Metropolitan State University, the team's practice facility for the day, the Pepsi Center (the site of all three Final Four games) was clearly evident in the distance.

Once the girls stepped foot off the bus they quickly put on their game faces (Coach Knight eat your heart out) and were ready to turn their thoughts to their game plan.

Upon entering the arena at Metropolitan State, we were greeted by an NCAA host who was eager to get the team everything they needed, that included Baden brand basketballs...

We are going to take a quick sidebar from the daily events. As you may know, each school may decide which basketball they get to use at their home games, but once you get to NCAA Championship play every ball must be a Wilson. Some people may not agree, but the basketball player in me (2010 Indiana University Coed Intramural Final Four participant) truly believes that every brand of basketball has their own distinct feel and weight. Thanks to the tremendous manager squad for the women's team and their support staff, the team did not have to run Coach Arthur Chaney's no ball drill from the movie Air Bud as they packed a full bag of NCAA Championship Wilson basketballs for this exact reason.

Back to the action... As the girls started their stretching and warm-up routine you could tell that the team was lucky to have team nutritionist Kayla Matrunick rather than Eden Hall Academy's Greg Goldberg as their nutritionist as her preparation to ensure the proper diet for the team in the high-altitude of Denver was paying off. Throughout the practice you could feel that the entire team was 'locked in' and ready to compete.

When practice ended the bus headed over to the Pepsi Center to drop off select players (Diggins, McBride, Peters, Novosel, Mallory, Achonwa) for ESPN promotional activities while the rest of the team headed back to the hotel for some much deserved R & R.

Irish players were being herded from room to room fulfilling various interviews with ESPN talent to doing video shoots for the Pepsi Center's various videoboards. While the players were waiting to tape their intro video, they were asked to think up an interesting fact about themselves. Outside of the proverbial "I'm a shopaholic" and "I like shoes," there were also the pessimists that stated "I'm not interesting, I need one of your facts."

After completing all their responsibilities at the Pepsi Center, everyone reconvened back at the hotel to get ready for the 'Final Four Salute,' a red carpet affair at the local performing arts center.

Upon returning back to the hotel, players took care of their schoolwork and convened to their rooms for the night.

Keep up-to-date with your women's basketball team as they look to bring home their second NCAA Championship and first since 2001, by checking back with us at Irish Underground for daily recaps and following the minute-by-minute happenings via Twitter (@NotreDameWBB).

- Aaron Horvath

Rivalry Renewed

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At this time last year, you might not have found Notre Dame and Connecticut women's basketball included on many lists debating the best rivalries in college sports. After all, the Huskies held a 28-4 series advantage and had not lost to the Irish since Jan. 2005.

But as the BIG EAST foes prepare to meet for the fourth time in less than ninety days and eighth in the past two seasons, momentum has shifted and it's time to reconsider the rivalry's place among the greats.

Notre Dame has won three of the past four matchups, including an upset of the top-seeded Huskies in last year's national semifinals, a win that snapped a 12-game series losing streak.

This year, the Irish took both games, at home on Jan. 7 (a 74-67 overtime victory) and at the XL Center on Feb. 27 in the regular season finale (72-59).

Eight days later, the squads met in the same venue for the BIG EAST tournament championship game, with the Huskies prevailing, 63-54.

Here are a few other interesting facts (from Chris Masters' game notes) leading up to the big game.

  • - All seven of Notre Dame's wins have come since the start of the 2000-01 season.
  • - The Final Four matchup will be the 26th time in 37 games that both teams will be ranked.
  • - At least one team has been ranked in every game of the series.
  • - It will also be the 14th time both teams are ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll.
  • - Notre Dame's seven wins against Connecticut since 2000-01 are the most by any team in the past 12 seasons. Rutgers (5), Tennessee (4), North Carolina (3) and Stanford (3) are the only other teams with at least three victories against the Huskies.
  • - Sunday will be the third Final Four meeting between Notre Dame and UConn. The Irish have won both previous games, last season and during the 2001 national championship run in St. Louis.

Muffet McGraw and Geno Auriemma's teams have produced some memorable games in the past and the stage is set for what could be another great one on Sunday evening.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Rocky Mountain High - 3.29.12

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The women's basketball team headed to Denver Thursday afternoon in preparation for its showdown against Connecticut in the Final Four.

The Irish left the South Bend Regional Airport with a larger than normal traveling party, which included the Irish pep band, school administrators and people like myself who are part of the extended entourage. For you HBO fans, I am presently, 'Turtle' to the women's team's 'Vince'.

Upon arrival to the Denver International Airport, we were whisked away in three separate buses - the team bus, the band bus and the Magic School Bus (family bus).

If you've ever been to DIA, you are aware of the lack of elevation change in an area that is known for the Rocky Mountains; which led a sage thinker to repeatedly say, "I expected the Rocky Mountains to be a little rockier than this." I have prepared myself to hear the utterances of those words at least another 1,842 times during this trip.

Having graduated last May from a public university in the state of Indiana (the one with five men's basketball championships), my body is used to being filled with a combination of grease and Top Ramen. Needless to say, when I heard we would be eating at Elway's, a nationally-renowned steakhouse in the heart of downtown Denver, myself and every other member of the traveling party were salivating at the food we were about to devour.

Other than being thoroughly disappointed that the '5,280 Peanut Butter Cups' was the name of the dessert and not the quantity we would be receiving and the fact that there was no 'Tebow'n' steak on the menu, the spread surpassed the high expectations that were set prior to the meal.

After dinner, we set off for the hotel and were greeted by a collection of adoring fans (of the team, not myself), the University of Denver pep band and the step team from Truth University (one of these things actually didn't happen, I'll let you deduct which one).

The Denver Final Four committee presented head coach Muffet McGraw and the team with a ball with the Final Four logo emblazoned on it and welcomed the entire traveling party to the 'Centennial State' in the lobby of the team hotel.

As the team settled in for the night in preparation for the long week ahead, they most certainly had visions of their season-long moniker, "For Love and Glory," bouncing around in their heads.

Keep up-to-date with your women's basketball team as its looks to bring home a second NCAA Championship - and first since 2001 - by checking back with us at Irish UNDerground for daily recaps and following the minute-by-minute happenings via Twitter (@NotreDameWBB).

- Aaron Horvath

The Season So Far

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Notre Dame hit the road for Denver yesterday afternoon, in preparation for its Sunday evening Final Four matchup against Connecticut. After four rounds, eight days of competition and 60 games, only the four #1 seeds remaining standing in this year's tournament.

Before focusing on the game between the Fighting Irish and the Huskies, here's a look at some incredible statistics from the season so far, pulled from the game notes compiled by women's basketball sports information director Chris Masters.

  • - Notre Dame has reached the Final Four for the second consecutive season and fourth time overall. The other two appearances were 1997 and 2001.
  • - Posting a 15-1 conference record, Notre Dame earned its first outright BIG EAST regular season title and second overall.
  • - The Irish rank second in the nation in scoring offense (79.2 ppg) and scoring margin (+27.7 ppg).
  • - In 16 games against Top 25 opponents, Notre Dame has posted a 14-2 record, including a 10-2 mark away from home.
  • - Eleven of the 14 victories against Top 25 opponents have been by double digits. Six of those have been by at least 25 points.
  • - Notre Dame's 34 victories ties a school record (posted a 34-2 record in 2000-01 national championship season).
  • - Of those 34 wins, 23 have come by 20+ points and 14 have been by at least 30 points.
  • - The Irish have scored at least 100 points twice and have topped the 90-point mark nine times.
  • - Notre Dame has appeared in the media rankings for 96 straight weeks and is currently ranked fourth in the latest polls.
  • - Over the past 16 seasons (dating back to 1996-97), Notre Dame ranks fourth in the nation in victories, with 408.

And here's a quick look at a few of those standout victories against ranked opponents:
  • - Jan. 23: Defeated No. 7/9 Tennessee, 72-44 - fewest points allowed against a top-10 opponent and the Lady Vols' fewest points scored in the Pat Summitt era
  • - Jan. 31: Defeated No. 13/14 Rutgers, 71-41 - largest margin of victory ever on the road against a ranked opponent
  • - Mar. 25: Defeated No. 21/25 St. Bonaventure, 79-35 - largest margin of victory against a ranked opponent
  • - Mar. 27: Defeated No. 5 Maryland, 80-49 - largest margin of victory over a top-10 team

Stay tuned to UND.com for coverage of the Fighting Irish in Denver and more on Irish UNDerground regarding Notre Dame's upcoming Final Four game against UConn.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Chuck In the Armor - 3.29.12

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The voice of Notre Dame baseball is back with the latest installment of 'Chuck In the Armor'

Rain delays lead to interesting press box discussions. As the Eck Stadium sound system blared out "Blame it on the Rain", someone asked who sings this? When baseball media relations director Michael Bertsch informed the inquisitor it was the ill-fated band Milli Vanilli, the pups in the box turned with blank stares before one asked "who's Milli Vanilli"?

If they don't know Milli Vanilli, they probably won't know Gloria Estefan, and they certainly won't know Vickie Sue Robinson. In 1994, Estefan had a #1 dance song with a remake of Robinson's hit "Turn the Beat Around". Before you think I've suddenly turned into Kasey Kasem (that's a predecessor to Ryan Seacrest for the youngsters), that song could be the theme for the baseball teams from Notre Dame and South Florida this year.

Both the Irish and Bulls are enjoying baseball resurrections so far this year, bouncing back from rugged 2011 campaigns. Notre Dame is 15-8, South Florida stands 18-8, and both swept its season-opening Big East series.

And both teams face the recurring question from the fan base and media alike ... are they really this good?

For Irish fans, the question reared its ugly head after Tuesday night's 8-5 loss at UIC. It was a night where all facets of the Irish game fell short, but particularly the defense.

Here's something to keep in mind. In Notre Dame's eight losses, the Irish have committed 23 errors. In the 15 wins, they have combined for just 12. Ask anyone on the Irish and they feel they gave away games against Purdue, Michigan and UIC. Put those three in the win column, and suddenly the Irish would be 18-5...but they're not ... because they didn't focus on fundamentals and make plays.

Now you go to Tampa, Notre Dame baseball's version of Amityville. In 2008, the Irish season melted down there on the final weekend of the season. In 2010, Notre Dame was no-hit by Randy Fontanez Friday night, swept on Saturday and never recovered.

There's a determination among this Irish team that's different, though, particularly among the Florida contingent of Joe Hudson, Trey Mancini and A.C. Carter. I could see it in Hudson's eyes and hear it in his voice during Sunday's postgame interview. This series means a lot to him ... going back home, facing former mates, showing everyone the real Joe Hudson, not the kid who sat the bench for three games in his hometown in 2010. I'm sure the same is true for Mancini and Carter as they return to the Sunshine State.

It's a tough task. USF will be as formidable a road foe as the Irish will face in the Big East this year. Their Friday night starter, 6-8 lefty Andrew Barbosa, is coming off a 13-strikeout one-hit performance against Georgetown last week. Saturday starter Joey Lovecchio is 5-0 with a 2.63 ERA. The entire pitching staff has an ERA of 2.96.

Offensively, speedy James Ramsay swings the bat at .363 clip with eight stolen bases, with seven regulars hitting above .265. And defensively, the Bulls can pick it, with just 24 errors in 25 games.

But USF is not invincible. Here's a team that has played one...that's right...one road game. It was in Orlando. They played three at "neutral" sites in the Big East/Big Ten challenge, all within a half-hour drive of campus. That means teams like Eastern Illinois, Lafayette and Jacksonville have gone into USF and beaten the Bulls. Bethune-Cookman went in and took two out of three in February.

Can the Irish do the same? Pitching and defense will be key. Runs will be at a premium for both sides. The scores may look like hockey games.

The other factor, though, will be resiliency, and I've seen enough to tell you Notre Dame has it. The Irish fell down 4-0 to Pitt and didn't flinch. The same held true Tuesday night at UIC. A year ago, Mik Aoki made an impassioned Good Friday speech to his team to live up to the moniker Fighting Irish. This team is doing it.

They're not a bunch of lip syncers. Notre Dame is ready to turn the beat around.

- Chuck Freeby ('86)

Connaughton Stays True To His Two Sports

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Photo by Matt Cashore

Another Irish baseball player from the Boston area is in the news today. Lenny Megliola of The Boston Globe profiles two-sport freshman star Pat Connaughton. Here's an excerpt.

When Pat Connaughton was a junior at St. John's Prep in Danvers, Boston College baseball coach Mik Aoki offered the tall, fireballing righthander a scholarship.

But Aoki knew that there was more than baseball on Connaughton's mind.

"He was pretty much committed to playing basketball at BC,'' said Aoki. "I was trying to make the point that his future was in baseball.''

Connaughton however, wound up in Irish blue & gold, and not just a basketball uniform as it may have originally seemed. He pitched 2.2 innings in relief on Sunday, and picked up his first collegiate victory in Notre Dame's 7-5 win over Pittsburgh. Check out Megliola's full article on The Boston Globe website.

Chase A Leader On And Off The Diamond

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Notre Dame senior infielder Tommy Chase was recently featured in a story by John R. Johnson on Boston.com. Check out an excerpt below:

Tommy Chase is hitting a shade below .230 for the University of Notre Dame baseball team. And nagging injuries have limited the senior middle infielder to designated hitter duties for much of the season.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Chase would like to make more of an impact on the field for the Irish, and perhaps at the plate. But his mere presence is helping the Irish to turn a losing 2011 campaign (23-29-1) into a season of hope this spring.

A Cohasset native who played at Boston College High, Chase was named a cocaptain despite entering the season with 14 career at-bats. His leadership skills have brought a sense of focus to a Notre Dame squad that features 13 freshmen. The Irish (15-7) have won eight of their last 10 games and are 3-0 in the Big East after a three-game weekend sweep of Pittsburgh.

"He's just one of those kids that does a little bit of everything,'' said Notre Dame coach Mik Aoki, in his second season after four years at Boston College.

Visit Boston.com for Johnson's full story on Notre Dame's senior leader.

The Irish travel to South Florida this weekend for a series with the Bulls, before returning to Frank Eck Stadium on Tuesday, April 3 in a non-conference game against Toledo.

Four Down, Two To Go

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Well, add Tuesday night's 80-49 crushing of #2 seed Maryland to the growing list of impressive victories for the 2011-12 Notre Dame women's basketball team. By this time next week, the Fighting Irish hope to add another pair of big wins, and more importantly, a national championship to their stellar resume.

The game started out as expected - a back and forth contest between two of the best teams in women's college basketball. But midway through the first half, Notre Dame began a 14-0 run, and at that point, could have kept on running to Denver.

The Fighting Irish led, 40-21 at the break, and did not have a second half letdown against a team that erased an 18-point deficit in the Sweet Sixteen versus Texas A&M. Not one bit.

As they have done multiple times this season, Notre Dame flat-out dominated its opponent - and on Tuesday, it was not just any opponent. It was the 31-4, ACC Champion, expected-by-many-to-pull-off-the-upset Maryland Terrapins.

To say Skylar Diggins had a huge game might be an understatement. The junior guard scored 22 points, dished out 11 assists, pulled down 10 rebounds and grabbed five steals to record the first triple-double of her Notre Dame career, and the first for the program since Feb. 15, 1990 (more than five months before Skylar was born).

Natalie Achonwa had a stellar game with 18 points and seven rebounds off the bench, while Kayla McBride (16) and Natalie Novosel (14) also scored in double figures.

The Irish dominance was not just on the scoreboard, but also in the box score. They outrebounded the bigger Terrapins team, 40-26.

Notre Dame will join the other three #1 seeds (Baylor, Stanford and Connecticut) in the Final Four, where it will take on the Huskies for the fourth time this season, in Sunday's first semifinal. The Fighting Irish won both regular season match-ups, but fell to UConn in the BIG EAST championship game.

Sunday's game will air on ESPN at 6:30 pm ET. Stay right here at UND.com for more coverage from Raleigh, and soon, the Rocky Mountains, as the Fighting Irish chase a national championship.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Senior guard Fraderica Miller is not one of the stars of this year's Notre Dame women's basketball team. Her impact does not always show up in the box score, but as WNDU's Angelo Di Carlo explains, the Fighting Irish might not be where they are today - playing for a trip to the Final Four - if not for the future accountant and her scrappy defense. Check out Di Carlo's story below:

Fraderica Miller averages just two points and two and half rebounds a game for the Notre Dame women's basketball team.

She's not a starter and she's not even Muffet McGraw's 1st option off the bench.

But the top seeded Irish wouldn't be playing for a spot in the Final Four Tuesday night at 9pm against Maryland in Raleigh without the scrappy senior from Georgia.

Miller could probably start for 80 percent of the college basketball teams in the country. But she plays for one of the nation's elite programs and starting isn't an option. It doesn't bother her one bit.

"I love being a part of this team," Miller explains. "There's no other team I'd want to play for. No other coach I want to play for. No girls I want to be around all the time.

Make no mistake, she's a difference maker.

"When Fraderica comes in, the energy level changes," explains Irish coach Muffet McGraw. "She's really aggressive and so fast. I think they have a hard time believing she's still staying with them when they get by them."

Her teammates rave about the spark she brings.

"She's a burst of energy," fellow senior Brittany Mallory explains. "She comes in and she's running all over the place."

"She just is able to come in here and create havoc for us and it really turns over into offensive points," says senior Natalie Novosel.

Miller averages just 13 minutes a game but she's come up with 47 steals this season. That's a steal every 9.5 minutes, a better ratio than everyone on the team--including Skylar Diggins.

"She's a blue collar player," Diggins explains. "She does whatever we need her to do."

Fraderica doesn't care what it takes. She'll put her on body on the line every single play and she does---diving for loose balls, poking and prodding at her opponents.

"it's just how I play," Miller says with a smile. "I've always been like that. Every time you hit the court you play as hard as you can."

She's hit the court hard on occasion. She took a nasty spill against Providence earlier this season. Later in the night, she fainted and was rushed to the infirmary. Lucky everything was ok. She can joke about it now.

"I've had my fair share of bumps and bruises along the way," Miller says with a laugh. "It's always been like that. I'm accident prone. I go out there and I have some war wounds."

Deep down, Fraderica is a softy. On Senior Day, tears came out. Then after the victory over Cal in the NCAA Tourney last Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion, it happened again in the Irish locker room.

"It just hit me that that was my last time playing in the Joyce Center," Miller says. "With the win and moving on to the Sweet 16, I just got a little emotional."

That's how much Notre dame means to her. So you can understand why she's not ready to hand in that uniform. She wants to wear it for three more games.

"Since the moment we lost last year in the Championship its been on our minds to get back to this point and we're really excited and really grateful to make it to this point and we're not done, we're motivated and focused right now and we're ready to get back to the Championship," Miller says.

You know she'll give it her all to make that happen--even if it results in a few more war wounds.

- Angelo Di Carlo
And while we're on the subject, here's a great UND.com feature on Fraderica from earlier in the season:

Smith Looks To Fill NFL Need at Safety

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Former Notre Dame captain Harrison Smith participated in last month's NFL Combine, and is currently training for April's draft. He will be back on campus next Tuesday, April 3 for Notre Dame's Pro Day in Loftus Center.

Smith was recently featured in an article by Kevin Fishbain for Pro Football Weekly. Check it out below:
You need to watch only one highlight of Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski to realize how desperate some teams are for a versatile safety -- a player who can have the coverage skills to stick with the new breed of tight ends while also having the ability to be physical and stop the run in the box.

Harrison Smith thinks he can be that player.

The former Notre Dame safety is expected to be a late first- or early second-round pick in April's draft. He played some linebacker earlier in his college career and believes he can be the solution teams are looking for at the position.

"Safety's definitely where I've felt the most comfortable because you can see everything so well, " Smith told PFW. "You can see the whole formation and where everyone is on offense and defense. You can come down and play the run and also be involved in the pass game.

"It's an area where you can impact so much, even pre-snap, because you're the one making the calls and adjustments."

Smith first moved to safety in Pee Wee football around the age of 10 in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. He had been playing corner and running back, but wanted to play linebacker like University of Tennessee LB Raynoch Thompson of the hometown Volunteers. "I thought he was the best," Smith said. Instead, Smith's coach told him to watch another Volunteer -- Deon Grant.

"I started paying attention to (Grant). He made a lot of interceptions and plays. He was fun to watch," Smith said.

Chuck Martin will be the Fighting Irish's offensive coordinator in 2012, but he was the defensive backs coach the past two seasons, focusing on Smith and the safeties in 2011. Smith had bounced from safety to linebacker and was coming off a rough sophomore season when Martin joined the staff.

"He did not have a great sophomore year. I think that's an understatement," Martin said. "I don't think he was really ever comfortable at either spot, but he played a lot because he was a talented kid."

When Martin first saw Smith on the practice field, though, he knew there was plenty to work with.

"The first day in practice I saw the incredible things he could do on the field. His athleticism, length and toughness," Martin said. "Three practices into my first spring, I told him, 'If you're not a first-, second- or third-round draft choice, I know nothing about football.' His response was, 'did you watch any of my tape from last year, Coach?' I said, 'Yeah, I've watched your tape. I'm telling you that you have every tool and then some to be an incredible safety.' "

As a junior in 2010, Smith made 91 tackles and hauled in seven interceptions. He had 90 tackles and a forced fumble in his senior season in '11.

Playing for Notre Dame, Smith had the pleasure -- and challenge -- of going up against elite tight ends in practice. First, it was Kyle Rudolph, who just finished his rookie season with the Vikings. Last season, he had to try to man up against Tyler Eifert, who had 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns. Smith doesn't have to look far for experience in covering athletic tight ends, like the ones NFL teams are desperately trying to stop.

"That's something that when I started playing safety, I never thought about it. With all the tight ends that are just freaks, monsters -- they're fast and athletic with great hands -- there's really a need for safeties that can match up better with those guys than putting a smaller defensive back on him," Smith said.

Martin is confident that Smith has the skill set to run with and cover the Gronkowskis of the NFL.

"He's not as big as those tight ends but he's big for a safety. He's a long-limbed kid," Martin said. Smith measured 6-1 7/8, 213 pounds with a wingspan of more than 76 inches at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"He has long arms, long range and incredible running ability," Martin continued. "He can run with any of them. Some guys are straight-line fast, but Harrison has body control. He's going to be athletic enough to twist and torque and try to make some plays from positions where you're behind a guy or on his back shoulder. He's used to covering 6-foot-5 guys that can run."

When pressed on Smith's weaknesses, though, Martin didn't have a whole lot to offer, and neither did the scouts he has talked to.

"The feedback I'm getting from guys I've known a while that are high up on NFL brass as far as drafting say, 'we don't know what the kid doesn't have,' " Martin said. "Scouts are telling me, 'what are we missing?' I said, 'you're not missing anything.' And (Smith) has done nothing but help himself with the Combine and interviews."

In PFW's 2012 Draft Guide, Nolan Nawrocki wrote that Smith left his feet to make hits too often. Smith had an opportunity to respond to the report.

"Obviously, a competitor is going to disagree on the negatives. Early in my career, I left my feet to make a lot of tackles. If you watch this most recent season, my tackling and technique are much improved," he said. "I don't leave my feet unless I'm going to make the tackle. I didn't miss too many tackles this past year."

Smith then discussed another knock on him -- that he absorbs too much.

"When I watch a football game and a running back goes up the middle and the safety brings him down, but the safety gets knocked back, they say he got run over," Smith explained. "To me, that doesn't make sense (laughs). At the end of the day, he tackled him. I don't think I get overpowered on the field. Sometimes I need to give more to get the ballcarriers down instead of going in there recklessly and throwing your body around.

"There's always room to improve. I'm not going to say I'm flawless."

Smith, 23, was a vocal leader at Notre Dame and has the qualities to "wow" an NFL team with his personality.

"Once you meet him and interview him, you'll like him 10 times more," Martin said. "(Teams) will say 'holy cow, he's everything you said.' That's how God made him. Very gifted, very genuine."

Smith's time at Notre Dame was atypical. The Fighting Irish went through two head coaches in his time in South Bend and not as many wins as the program was used to. Smith discussed what he learned from the experience.

"No matter what, I control what I do. Maybe you don't win as many games as you want or things don't quite go your way, but at the end of the day you can only control yourself," he said. "I was ready to be a leader on the team, where guys looked to me for an example, a word of advice, anything really.

"That whole process, the ups and downs, made me really appreciate the ups and fight through the downs, which at the end of the day makes you a better player and a more confident player."

Smith already might speak like a veteran, or even a coach, and Martin told an anecdote where Smith shined in an opportunity to coach -- on the flag football field.

Martin asked Smith to coach his son's 11-year-old flag football team last winter. "I knew he'd do a great job and the kids would love him," Martin said. But the team's opponent that week had previously beaten Martin's team 66-0.

"I called him after the game and said, 'sorry, didn't mean to do that to you. I appreciate you helping me out when I'm on the road.' They lost 13-4," Martin said with a laugh. "I come home the next week, and they all wanted Harrison to coach them."

- Kevin Fishbain
The 2012 NFL Draft begins with the first round on Thursday, April 26. Rounds two and three will held on Friday, with rounds 4-7 on Saturday. The NFL Network's Charles Davis currently projects Smith as a late first-rounder, going 29th overall, to the Baltimore Ravens.

Video Blog: Balancing Act

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Life on the road is not all fun and games when you're a student-athlete. Skylar Diggins returns in her latest video blog for ESPNW with a look at her study habits during the NCAA tournament.

Skylar and the Fighting Irish take on Maryland tomorrow night at 9 pm ET on ESPN, with a spot in the Final Four on the line.

Sights And Sounds from Raleigh

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Photo courtesy of Michael & Susan Bennett/Lighthouse Imaging

The top-seeded Notre Dame women's basketball team was recently featured in an article from Yahoo! contributor Eric Holden. But the story wasn't about the keys to victory or the Irish's best players. Instead, it focused on who fans should follow on Twitter. Of course it did. This is 2012. Check out Holden's list below:

According to a Yahoo! Sports report, Skylar Diggins is part of a special club of lefty guards who have been instrumental in guiding their teams to the regional semifinals of the NCAA women's basketball tournament that continues this weekend.

"Lefties, they are hard to play against," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "It takes you a little bit of time to get used to them. It throws you all off what you're used to doing."

Diggins and the No. 1-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish will face the No. 5-seeded St. Bonaventure Bonnies on March 25 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC.

Here's a look at the top five Notre Dame Fighting Irish women's basketball players to follow on Twitter:

Skylar Diggins

Diggins, a junior guard, is the premier women's college basketball player in the county. Her 162,000 followers on Twitter is a true testament to just how popular she has become amongst Notre Dame fans and non-fans alike. Diggins' popularity reaches far beyond the ranks of just the Fighting Irish faithful.

On March 22, she tweeted "My coach @IrishCoachIvey is the best-dressed on the sidelines every game. Holla." Follow Diggins on Twitter @skydigg4.

Kayla McBride

McBride, a sophomore guard from Erie, PA, is a powerful wing player who found her range from beyond the arc this year. On March 22, she tweeted "All this basketball..I'm ready to get on the court!" Follow McBride on Twitter @kaymac_2123.

Niele Ivey

Ivey, a former WNBA player who is now an assistant coach for Notre Dame, was an All-American point guard during her college playing days with the Irish.

On March 23, she tweeted "Charter flight to Raleigh!!!! North Carolina stand up!!!!!! We in the houseeeeeeeee!!!!" Follow Ivey on Twitter @irishcoachivey.

Brittany Mallory

Mallory, a 5'10" guard from Baltimore, MD, is a smart leader on the floor due to her veteran presence. She has been a team co-captain each of the past two seasons.

Her Twitter account is protected, so only confirmed followers can access her page. However, she has over 1,700 followers, so she doesn't seem to mind allowing fans to follow her on the site. Her Twitter handle can be located @bmallory22. Fighting Irish Assistant Coach Carol Owens is also on Twitter @goirishcoachO.

Natalie Achonwa

Achonwa, a 6'3" sophomore from Ontario, is the first international player to suit up for Notre Dame in the program's 35-year history. She has become a fan favorite despite it being just her second year with the team.

On March 23, she tweeted "fading out watching these bball games.... #nightnight world. xo, dream big!" Follow Achonwa on Twitter @natachon.

Eric Holden is a big-time Skylar Diggins fan and will be cheering for Notre Dame to win big this year. Follow him on Twitter @ericholden.

With Sunday's 79-35 win against the Bonnies, the Irish advanced to the Elite Eight, where they will take on #2 seed Maryland on Tuesday at 9 pm ET on ESPN.

Prepped for Notre Dame

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Zach Auguste (left), seen in action for the New Hampton School, is heading to the University of Notre Dame in the fall. (New Hampton School)

Incoming Notre Dame men's basketball freshman Zach Auguste was recently profiled by Phil Perry in a Boston Globe feature on Boston.com. Check out the story below:

Zach Auguste watched the University of Notre Dame's NCAA tournament game against Xavier in his Marlborough living room with his mother, Lea Tzimoulis.

As time expired, he became so animated it was like he was courtside in Greensboro, N.C, cheering on the Irish from their bench.

It won't be long before the 6-foot-10, 228-pound Auguste dons a blue and gold uniform for Notre Dame, on full scholarship. He must first complete his senior year at the private New Hampton School in New Hampshire. But his focus is clearly on South Bend, Ind.

That is what made it so disappointing when a free-throw violation down the stretch stalled Notre Dame in its 67-63 second-round loss on March 16.

"It was tough,'' Auguste said. "It was crazy. I was upset. I jumped up and started screaming at the TV, but that wasn't going to change anything.''

He continues to put in the work, preparing for his freshman year. At home on spring break, he headed over to Ghiloni Park almost every day to hone his skills. Often, he met up with Fabrice Yoyo, a former teammate at Marlborough High. Other times, he joined a couple of other former Panthers, Canaan Severin and Carlos De La Cruz, for spirited pickup games.

De La Cruz just completed his freshman season on the basketball team at Suffolk University, while Severin, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior at Worcester Academy, has committed to the University of Virginia to play football. Understandably, the games became very competitive.

"It gets mean out there,'' Auguste said with a chuckle. "Everyone plays hard and aggressive, so it's good. It's a great way for us all to stay in shape.''

Auguste, Severin, and De La Cruz were all classmates at Marlborough and expected to do "big things'' as seniors.

But when Severin left after his sophomore year, the Panthers had lost their first star. Auguste departed after his junior year, leaving to attend New Hampton in order to prepare himself for college, on the court and in the classroom.

"There's no way Notre Dame would have been an option if not for New Hampton,'' said his mother, who praised the school's small class sizes and disciplined approach. "We're blessed.''

New Hampton coach Peter Hutchins has watched Auguste mature, on and off the court, over the last two seasons. On the court, the improvements really started late in his first season, when he headed to the gym at 6 a.m., before classes, for workouts with his roommate, Boston College recruit Olivier Hanlan, and the team's coach.

"He was in the gym a lot before that,'' Hutchins said. "But was he working on the right things? That's something kids need to take a hard look at.

"He bought into that. It's not even close to the transformation he made from one year to the next. It's hard to put into words how much he's improved.''

Auguste's game took off last summer while playing for the Mass. Rivals AAU team. Last fall, he committed to Notre Dame and coach Mike Brey on his first visit.

Since then, he has not stopped working. Time in the weight room, fueled by organic meals in the New Hampton cafeteria, helped Auguste put on 28 pounds over the last two years. Already athletic enough to run the floor and skilled enough to step out and shoot jump shots from the perimeter, he has added strong post moves to his repertoire.

He averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds a game, earning second-team all-Evergreen League honors, as well as New Hampton's Gnerre Basketball Award as the team's most valuable player.

Auguste doesn't know how exactly he'll fit next season in South Bend, whether he will play in the post or on the outside. But he has taken the Irish coaching staff's message to heart: Just be ready.

He plans to be. And a year from now, he plans on finding himself in the middle of March Madness.

"It's not gonna be the same next year,'' he said, thinking about Notre Dame's final tournament game. "I can't wait.''

- Phil Perry

Cameron Biedscheid (St. Louis, Mo./Cardinal Ritter College Prep) and Austin Burgett (Avon, Ind./Avon) will join Auguste this fall in the incoming Notre Dame class of 2016.

A Perfect Sunday Afternoon

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What a day to be a Notre Dame athletics fan.

It started at 1:00 pm with another great crowd on hand at Arlotta Stadium, as the #6 men's lacrosse team opened up BIG EAST play against Rutgers. The Fighting Irish got four goals from Sean Rogers, two from Jim Marlatt and one apiece from six other scorers to win their fifth game in a row and improve to 6-1 overall.

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At the same time the laxers were locked in a close one at Arlotta, the Irish squad on the diamond had a tough BIG EAST game at nearby Frank Eck Stadium. It took seven different pitchers, but the Notre Dame baseball team also won its fifth in a row, closing out a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh with a 7-5 win.

Notre Dame held a 4-3 lead going into the bottom of the eighth, but had managed just three hits through the first seven innings. Catcher Joe Hudson extended the lead to 7-3 with what turned out to be a crucial three-run double, as the Panthers were able to plate a pair of runs in the final frame.

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Freshman Pat Connaughton picked up his first career victory, pitching 2.2 innings in relief, while Dan Slania came on for the final out, striking out Casey Roche to record his sixth save of the season.

The NCAA women's basketball tournament continued at 2:30 pm in Raleigh, N.C., as head coach Muffet McGraw's team took on St. Bonaventure in the Sweet Sixteen. After a dominant 79-35 win against the Bonnies, it's now "3 down, 3 to go" in the quest for a national championship.

Natalie Novosel had 16 points, Kayla McBride scored 10, and Kaila Turner added 14 off the bench to lead a balanced offensive attack. The Irish take on Maryland on Tuesday as they seek to earn a spot in the Final Four for the second year in a row.

Perfect spring weather in South Bend and three big wins from Notre Dame lacrosse, baseball and women's basketball. All in all, a great Sunday afternoon for the Fighting Irish.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Blog: Men's Lacrosse vs. Rutgers

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Sixth-ranked Notre Dame returns to Arlotta Stadium today at 1:00 pm ET when it takes on Rutgers in the first BIG EAST conference game of the year.

The game will be broadcast on UND.com, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's game too. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation, as the Fighting Irish look to improve to 7-0 in the young season.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Live Blog: Baseball vs. Pittsburgh

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Notre Dame returns to the diamond this afternoon, going for the sweep in its weekend BIG EAST series against Pittsburgh.

UND.com will stream the game live at 1:00 pm ET, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's Irish baseball action. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Great Afternoon for the Irish

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A pair of Fighting Irish teams fell behind early, but both mounted comebacks and picked up BIG EAST conference victories to stay undefeated at home this season.

The women's lacrosse team struggled early in its matchup with Louisville, falling behind 5-1, before rattling off nine straight goals on its way to a 13-11 victory in the BIG EAST debut for first-year head coach Christine Halfpenny.

The Fighting Irish improved to 7-0 in their return to Arlotta Stadium, after nearly a month away from home. Lindsay Powell led the offensive attack with four goals, while Maggie Tamasitis added a hat trick.

Next door, the Notre Dame baseball team also fell into an early 2-0 hole, but plated three runs in the home half of the first inning. Joe Hudson knocked a two-run single, before Tommy Chase executed a squeeze play to provide what turned out to be the winning run in a Saturday afternoon pitchers' duel.

Adam Norton pitched 8.1 strong innings, allowing just five hits and two runs, while striking out four. Dan Slania came on for the final two outs and after yielding back-to-back singles, centerfielder Charlie Markson made a leaping catch for the final out. Slania picked up his fifth save of the season, and the Irish improved to 14-7 with the win.

Meanwhile, it was a big day for Notre Dame football too, as the team suited up in full pads for the first time this spring. The media got a chance to watch the last few minutes of practice, paying special attention to the four Irish quarterbacks battling for the starting job - Tommy Rees, Everett Golson, Andrew Hendrix, and Gunner Kiel.

Check back later for UND.com video coverage from today's action at the LaBar Practice Fields.

It's another busy afternoon tomorrow, when the men's lacrosse team takes on Rutgers and baseball goes for the sweep against Pittsburgh. Catch both games live at 1:00 pm ET, right here on UND.com.

And don't forget, the Notre Dame women's hoops team plays St. Bonaventure for a spot in the Elite Eight at 2:30 pm ET on ESPN2.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Blog: Baseball vs. Pittsburgh

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Notre Dame returns to the diamond this afternoon for the second game in its weekend BIG EAST series against Pittsburgh.

UND.com will stream the game live, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's Irish baseball action. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Live Blog: Women's Lacrosse vs. Louisville

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Seventh-ranked Notre Dame returns to the field today at 1:00 pm ET when it takes on Louisville in the first BIG EAST conference game of the year at Arlotta Stadium.

The game will be broadcast on UND.com, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's game too. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation, as the Fighting Irish look to improve to 7-0 in the young season.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Worth the Wait at Frank Eck Stadium

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What a game.

After a two-hour and one-minute rain delay at Frank Eck Stadium, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh took to the diamond for the BIG EAST opener, and it's safe to say, for a few dozen faithful fans, this one was worth sticking around for.

Irish starter Will Hudgins notched a career-high 12 strikeouts over 7.1 innings pitched, but it was rightfielder Ryan Bull who brought the late-inning drama. Leading off the bottom of the ninth, the freshman sent a Tanner Wilt pitch sailing over the right field fence to lift the Irish to a 6-5 victory over the Panthers.

It's baseball season, but basketball is still on the brain. Fortunately for us in the press box, we were able to catch some of tonight's hoops action, thanks to 'March Madness Live.'

Of course, we didn't know the Irish could provide an even more thrilling finish than the close one between Ohio and North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen.

This game was awfully reminiscent of a trip my family and I made to Fenway Park this past summer. Red Sox nation sat through a two-hour rain delay, but at the end of the night, not a single Sox fan left unhappy, as centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury won the game on a walk-off single.

What Frank Eck Stadium lacked in the attendance and national attention of The Fens, it equaled in excitement.

The highlights won't be on television, but Notre Dame's rain delay did cause a bit of a stir locally, keeping the start of the basketball game between Indiana and Kentucky off-the-air for much of the first half in the Michiana area.

In fact, radio announcer Chuck Freeby came into the press box before the Irish half of the ninth inning and said something along the lines of, "There won't be a postgame show, even when Bull hits a walk-off here."

Fortunately for IU fans (and the devoted Irish fans who stuck around), Freeby was dead-on about how the game would end. Bull came through, and crushed Wilt's second pitch of the inning over the "330" sign in right field.

In my time covering football, whether at Notre Dame or elsewhere, the media is often reminded, 'No cheering in the press box.'

Well if that etiquette exists in college baseball, it went out the window tonight. Take a look:

With the constant threat of lightning, UND.com was unable to stream the game, and unfortunately, that flip cam shot may be the only video highlight we have from tonight.

Notre Dame and Pittsburgh return to the diamond tomorrow at 2:05 pm and Sunday at 1:05 pm. As always, listen live, and weather permitting, watch the broadcast right here on UND.com.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Blog: Baseball vs. Pittsburgh

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Update: Due to the rain, today's game has been pushed back to 7:30 pm.

It's a baseball night in South Bend! Notre Dame returns to the diamond this evening to kick off a weekend BIG EAST series against Pittsburgh.

UND.com will stream the game live, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's Irish baseball action. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Irish By The Numbers

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Outside, it has felt like summer training camp for most of the week, but on the calendar, today was just the second practice of the spring season for the Notre Dame football team. The Fighting Irish will be back on the field tomorrow, four weeks away from the Blue-Gold game (April 21).

With the start of spring ball comes a few updates to the roster, and with that, a nice opportunity to take a by-the-numbers look at the Irish. Here are some interesting tidbits from the 2012 Notre Dame Spring Football Prospectus:

By Class

Graduates (7): C Braxston Cave, C/G Mike Golic Jr., WR John Goodman, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, OT Dennis Mahoney, S Dan McCarthy, S Jamoris Slaughter

Seniors (20): S Blake Breslau, ILB Carlo Calabrese, LS Jordan Cowart, TE Tyler Eifert, WR Nick Fitzpatrick, OLB Dan Fox, TE Jake Golic, OT Zack Martin, S Zeke Motta, RB Theo Riddick, S Chris Salvi, CB Will Salvi, NG Tyler Stockton, OL Matt Tansey, K Nick Tausch, ILB Manti Te'o, WR Robby Toma, P Ben Turk, OG Chris Watt, RB Cierre Wood

Juniors (23): S Austin Collinsworth, C Bruce Heggie, QB Andrew Hendrix, CB Bennett Jackson, WR TJ Jones, WR Ryan Liebscher, G/T Christian Lombard, TE Arturo Martinez, WR Luke Massa, ILB Kendall Moore, OT Tate Nichols, NG Louis Nix III, RB Tyler Plantz, QB Tommy Rees, RB Cameron Roberson, CB Joe Romano, DE Kona Schwenke, OLB Prince Shembo, WR Daniel Smith, OLB Danny Spond, ILB Justin Utupo, TE Alex Welch, CB Lo Wood

Sophomores (29): RB George Atkinson III, CB Josh Atkinson, K/P Kyle Brindza, CB Jalen Brown, RB Amir Carlisle, S Connor Cavalaris, OG Brad Carrico, OLB Ben Councell, WR DaVaris Daniels, S Matthias Farley, QB Everett Golson, ILB Jarrett Grace, C/G Conor Hanratty, S Eilar Hardy, C Matt Hegarty, DE Chase Hounshell, TE Ben Koyack, WR Eric Lee, OLB Connor Little, DE Aaron Lynch, G/T Nick Martin, RB Cam McDaniel, TE Troy Niklas, OT Jordan Prestwood, ILB Anthony Rabasa, ILB Joe Schmidt, NG Tony Springmann, DE Stephon Tuitt, OLB Ishaq Williams

Freshmen (2): DE Sheldon Day, QB Gunner Kiel

By State

  • California (9): Atkinson III, Atkinson, Breslau, Carlisle, Niklas, Roberson, Schmidt, Utupo, C. Wood
  • Colorado (2): Liebscher, Spond
  • Connecticut (3): Golic, Golic Jr., Hanratty
  • Florida (10): Cowart, Heggie, Lynch, Martinez, Motta, Nix III, Prestwood, Rabasa, Turk, L. Wood
  • Georgia (3): Jones, Slaugther, Tuitt
  • Hawaii (3): Schwenke, Te'o, Toma
  • Illinois (9): Cavalaris, Daniels, Lombard, Plantz, Rees, Romano, C. Salvi, W. Salvi, Watt
  • Indiana (10): Cave, Day, Eifert, Fitzpatrick, Goodman, Kiel, N. Martin, Z. Martin, Smith, Springmann
  • Iowa (1): Lee
  • Kentucky (2): Collinsworth, Nichols
  • Michigan (1): Brindza
  • Minnesota (1): Little
  • New Jersey (5): Calabrese, Jackson, Riddick, Stockton, Tansey
  • New Mexico (1): Hegarty
  • New York (1): Williams
  • North Carolina (4): Councell, Farley, Moore, Shembo
  • Ohio (9): Carrico, Fox, Grace, Hardy, Hendrix, Hounshell, Massa, McCarthy, Welch
  • Pennsylvania (1): Koyack
  • South Carolina (1): Golson
  • Texas (4): Brown, Lewis-Moore, McDaniel, Tausch

Returning in 2012

Offensive Lettermen (18): Atkinson III, Cave, Eifert, Golic Jr., Goodman, Hendrix, Jones, Koyack, Lombard, Mahoney, Z. Martin, Niklas (lettered at OLB), Rees, Riddick, Smith, Toma, Watt, C. Wood

Defensive Lettermen (20): Calabrese, Collinsworth, Fox, Hounshell, Jackson, Lewis-Moore, Lynch, McCarthy, Moore, Motta, Nix III, C. Salvi, Schwenke, Shembo, Slaughter, Spond, Te'o, Tuitt, Williams, L. Wood

Special Teams Lettermen (4): Brindza, Cowart, Tausch, Turk

Remember to visit UND.com often for video updates on the Irish throughout the spring.

Chuck In the Armor - 3.22.12

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One-third of the way through the 2012 season, Notre Dame's baseball team can look in the mirror and feel pretty good. As the Irish (12-7) get ready to begin the BIG EAST season, they can also look in the mirror and see a similar Pittsburgh Panthers (10-8) club.

Notre Dame's first opponent of the conference slate bears some striking similarities to the Irish. The Panthers bat .289 as a team. The Irish hit .287. Pittsburgh has 47 extra base hits. Notre Dame has 45. Both teams have four individuals with at least 10 RBI.

Defensively, it's pretty even, too. While both squads have people playing out of their natural position, they have been fairly steady with the glove. Pittsburgh has 26 errors and a .961 fielding percentage. The Irish have committed 27 miscues, but a .963 fielding percentage. Perhaps a little underappreciated is the play of Notre Dame's middle infielders, as junior 2B Frank DeSico (Cleveland, Ohio/St. Ignatius H.S.) and freshman SS Jason McMurray (West Des Moines, Iowa/Dowling Catholic H.S.) have helped the Irish turn 23 double plays, opposed to 10 by Pitt.

What may set the Irish apart in this series is pitching - and it's not necessarily starting pitching, because that too is fairly even. Notre Dame's senior RHP Will Hudgins (Richmond, Va./Douglass Freeman H.S.) leads the BIG EAST in ERA, but Pitt senior ace LHP Matt Ianazzo (who I swear is on the eight-year plan ... that kid has been there forever) is 4-0 this season. In fact, the Panther weekend starters are a combined 8-0 on the year.

So if they're 8-0, why is Pitt 10-8?  Welcome to the difference maker, known as the bullpen. Setup man Joe Harvey and closer Tanner Wilt have been the only reliable arms in Joe Jordano's pen - and even they have had their moments of getting roughed up. 

Meanwhile, the Irish bullpen has been steadily improving. Freshman RHP Matt Ternowchek (Glenmoore, Pa./Downington East H.S.) hasn't been scored on this year. Freshman RHP Cristian Torres (Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif./Palos Verdes Peninsula H.S.) has posted four straight scoreless appearances. Senior LHP Ryan Richter (South Bend, Ind./St. Joseph's H.S.) and senior LHP Joe Spano (Verona, N.J./Seton Hall Prep H.S.) offer two reliable lefties. Sophomore RHP Closer Dan Slania (Tucson, Ariz./Salpointe Catholic H.S.) is second in the BIG EAST with four saves. Now add in the wild card of flame-throwing freshman RHP Pat Connaughton (Arlington, Mass./St. John's Prep H.S.), and there's some depth there that wasn't apparent at the beginning of the season.

The season is one-third over and second-year head coach Mik Aoki likes where his team stands.  Not many Irish fans would have expected a team with 19 freshmen and sophomores to be 12-7 entering league play, especially with a pre-conference schedule that included Purdue (14-3), Texas State (14-6), LSU (17-4) and Indiana State (17-4) - all of whom are ranked in the top 25 of one of the four major polls.  The 2012 Irish appear to be a team in every sense of the word. They have good chemistry, focus and drive.

Can they drive towards a BIG EAST title? We'll see in the coming weeks, but the time to look in the mirror is over. It's time to look out the windshield at what can be accomplished.

-- Chuck Freeby ('86), Notre Dame baseball play-by-play man

With its win over California on Tuesday, the Notre Dame women's basketball team moved one step closer to its goal - a national championship. This weekend, the Fighting Irish will continue that pursuit when they travel to Raleigh, N.C. to take on fifth-seed St. Bonaventure in a Sweet Sixteen game.

Tip-off is set for approximately 2:32 pm ET, following the 12:04 pm ET matchup between #2 seed Maryland and #3 seed Texas A&M.

Before Notre Dame and St. Bonaventure contend for a berth in the Elite Eight, here's some more information on the Fighting Irish's opponent:

  • Record: 31-3 (at-large bid)
  • Coach: Jim Crowley (12th season)
  • Best wins: at Temple (74-65), at Dayton (56-55), vs. Marist (67-56)
  • Home arena: Reilly Center (capacity: 5,480)
  • Best players: Jessica Jenkins, Sr., G (14.3 PPG), Megan Van Tatenhove, Sr., F (13.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG)
  • Deepest tournament run: Sweet Sixteen (2012)
  • NCAA history: First tournament appearance
  • How it got here: First round - Defeated #12 seed Florida Gulf Coast University, 72-65 OT, Second round - Defeated #13 seed Marist, 66-63

And a few facts about the university:

  • Location: Allegany, New York (approximately 80 miles south of Buffalo)
  • Founded: 1858
  • Conference: Atlantic-10
  • Enrollment: 1,957 undergraduates, 505 graduates
  • Academics: More than 50 undergraduate majors and programs, 20 graduate programs from the schools of Arts & Sciences, Business, Education, Journalism/Mass Communication, and Franciscan Studies
  • Religious Affiliation: Catholic (Franciscan)
  • Mascot: Bonnies
  • Colors: Brown and white
  • Notable alum: Bob Lanier (basketball Hall of Famer, led St. Bonaventure to the 1970 Final Four)

There are certainly a few similarities between the Bonnies and the Irish. Both have just three losses, both won their conference's regular season championship, and both fell in the conference tournament title game (ND versus Connecticut, St. Bonaventure against Dayton). Not to mention, both universities are founded in the Catholic faith.

Tune in on Sunday afternoon as head coach Muffet McGraw's team looks to reach its second consecutive Elite Eight. The game will air on ESPN2 and we'll have pre- and post-game coverage right here on UND.com.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

DeSico Leads Irish to 8-1 Win

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Another day, another great night for baseball in South Bend.

Notre Dame returned to the diamond on Wednesday afternoon for its second home game of the season, welcoming Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne, better known as IPFW, to town.

It's hard to even describe how perfect the weather has been at this point in the spring, which really only started yesterday. After playing its first seventeen games in Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Louisiana, Notre Dame opened its home slate this week, greeted by back-to-back days of 80s and sunshine.

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The Mastodons took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but the Fighting Irish scored eight unanswered runs to roll to their 12th victory of the season.

Junior righty Patrick Veerkamp allowed five hits and one run, striking out four in five innings. Relievers Matt Ternowchek, Cristian Torres, Joe Spano and Dan Slania combined for four innings of two-hit ball to seal Veerkamp's second victory of the year.

2B Frank DeSico had a huge afternoon at the plate for Notre Dame, beginning in the second inning, when he tied the game on an RBI single.

Notre Dame got a one-out double from CF Charlie Markson in the bottom of the fourth and a walk from SS Jason McMurray, before DeSico connected on a big two-run double. 3B Eric Jagielo followed with another double for Notre Dame, making it 4-1.

The Irish plated another run in the bottom of the fifth, thanks to a throwing error on LF Connor Biggio's infield single, allowing C Alex Carter to score.

Biggio ripped his third hit of the game in the bottom of the seventh, knocking in Markson to provide some extra insurance. DeSico followed with a double, scoring two more and giving him his fourth and fifth RBI of the day.

Notre Dame improves to 12-7 with the win and will host Pittsburgh in the first BIG EAST series of the season this weekend. The games will be played at 5:35, 2:05 and 1:05 pm, Friday through Sunday, respectively. Catch all three live on UND.com. Check back later this evening for full stats and a recap of tonight's victory.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Chat - Baseball vs. IPFW

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It's a baseball night in South Bend!

Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's Irish baseball action in the game against Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Three-Point Play

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You may not find a more successful Indiana basketball family than the Zellers of nearby Plymouth. The eldest Zeller son, Luke, is a 2009 Notre Dame graduate. Luke and his brothers, Tyler and Cody, are the subject of a great feature in the March/April Evansville Living issue.

Here's a link to the profile from the Indianapolis Star's Michael Pointer: PDF version

And below, the full text version of the article:

Luke Zeller wasn't much different than any typical oldest brother. He liked to rag on younger siblings Tyler and Cody every chance he got. If he could show them up on the basketball court outside the family home in Washington, Ind., so much the better.

But he also had to live by the No. 1 canon from his father Steve, who learned it from his father while growing up in smalltown Iowa in the 1970s.

"Grandpa's rule was that you could pick on each other or mess with each other all you want," says Luke, the 2005 Indiana Mr. Basketball winner as a player at Washington High School. "It shows you guys are close to each other and comfortable with each other. But if I ever hear you didn't stick up for your brothers, you've got to answer to me when you get home."

The three Zeller boys got their share of blessings: all of them standing at least 6 feet 10 inches tall surely helped on the court. But something in addition to talent turned Steve and Lorri Zeller's home into one of the most significant in Indiana's rich basketball history. Maybe it simply was the fact that they had each other's backs, or that the oldest would provide the proper example for the next in line.

"They were always competitive growing up," Lorri says. "We might have pizza for supper, and they would turn it into a contest as to who could eat the most slices. And I definitely think they looked to Luke and what he did and fed off that."

Luke, Tyler, and Cody all won Mr. Basketball honors. They all led the hometown Hatchets to Class 3A state titles and were ranked in the top five of their respective classes as seniors. They all went on to excel at the highest levels of college basketball -- Luke, now 25, at the University of Notre Dame; Tyler, 22, at the University of North Carolina, where he is wrapping up his senior season; and Cody, 19, one of the nation's top freshmen this season playing at Indiana University.

"They've got great character about them," Washington coach Gene Miiller says. "They're humble. They just have great values and they're not ashamed to live those values."

None of the three Zeller sons are Hoosier natives. Steve and Lorri were high school sweethearts while growing up in Springville, Iowa (population: 1,074). He stood 6 foot 4 inches tall and played three sports on the prep level before graduating from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. She was a 6-foot basketball and softball player at NCAA Division III Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Al Eberhard, her older brother, was an all-Big Eight forward at Missouri in the 1970s who later played in the NBA.

The couple moved frequently when Steve began his career in the food processing industry: Luke was born in Iowa, Tyler in California, and Cody in Minnesota before they moved to Southwest Indiana in 1993 so Steve could take over as the manager of the Perdue Farms plant in Washington -- a job he holds to this day.

Lorri began teaching classes at the local YMCA and volunteered for everything she could at the boys' schools. They found a welcoming church in Good Shepherd Lutheran. For a young couple accustomed to smalltown life, it was pretty close to nirvana. Little did they realize at the time it would turn out to be the perfect climate for three star basketball players.

"We never considered leaving," says Lorri, who works as secretary at the Washington High School athletic office. "It's home for us. It was the perfect fit."

The tradeoff to living in a small town is the lack of privacy. There is little room to hide, especially when growing up in a family approaching the status of basketball royalty. Steve and Lorri were determined to use that to their advantage.

"I remember Luke, in his freshman year of high school, saying, 'Everyone in this town knows what I do,' she says. "'I go to McDonald's or the grocery store and everyone recognizes me.' I told him that if you think you live in a microscope now, just think about what you're doing wrong and think of all the attention you're going to get."

Message received. There are no rumors in Washington of the Zeller boys being late for class, much less causing trouble on a Friday night.

"You would look up in the stands and there would be 5,000 or 6,000 people there and I could probably tell you the stories of 80 percent of them," Luke says. "Basketball is a really special thing there, and the fans made it even more special. In a small town like Washington, they back you when you have a tough game. That's not always the case in some places."

Luke's place in Indiana basketball history was secure when he made a half-court shot to give Washington a 74-72 overtime victory over Plymouth High School in the '05 Class 3A title game. He was never a star or even a full-time starter at Notre Dame. His career highest scoring average was 4.9 points per game his senior season.

He graduated with a degree in management entrepreneurship and now plays for the Austin Toros of the NBA's Developmental League. He also is the founder and president of DistinXion, a nonprofit organization that uses sports to teach character and leadership development. (DistinXion will host a camp at the Downtown YMCA August 10-12.)

"He was the leader," says Lorri, noting he was the valedictorian of his senior class at Washington. "Luke is a real social person. If he walks into a room full of people, he will have shaken hands with everyone there and learned something about every one of them."

Tyler won the '08 Mr. Basketball award while leading the Hatchets to another state title. He was slowed by wrist and foot injuries during his first two years at North Carolina, but capped a superb junior season by averaging 25.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in four NCAA Tournament games and also earning first academic all-American honors last year.

Lorri calls Tyler the most focused of the three. Miiller, who took over at Washington in June 2005, before Tyler's sophomore season there, says his success was probably the least expected.

"He had a nice game against Barr-Reeve in our first game of his sophomore season, and some lady comes up to Lorri and says, 'I didn't know you had a middle son,'" Miiller says with a laugh.

"He didn't have all that publicity. Everyone talked about Luke in junior high. Everyone talked about Cody. No one talked about Tyler. That little chip on his shoulder made him work harder to be a better basketball player."

Finally, there's Cody, who quickly has become the most popular man on the Indiana campus after leading the Hoosiers' resurgence this season. That came after leading Washington to 3A state titles in 2010 and '11 and earning Mr. Basketball honors last year.

"Cody just went with the flow," Lorri says. "We dragged him around to all of their AAU games and all of their college recruiting. He just sat back and observed. He's seen so many different things, and he just kind of internalized that."

It can be exhausting to be the parents of the three Zeller boys. The drives to see their sons play are much longer now. Even when they visit Tyler in North Carolina, Steve and Lorri usually drive because they say it's easier than making a two-hour drive to the airport in Indianapolis or Louisville, Ky.

"Sometimes, we're just amazed by the blessings that we've received," Lorri says. "We're just trying to soak it all in right now. We're just trying to see as many games as we can and enjoy the moment. We know it won't last forever."

Irish On Their Way to Raleigh

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Notre Dame did exactly what it needed to do in the second half. The Fighting Irish jumped out to a quick six-point lead to force a Cal timeout, outscored the Golden Bears 23-6 over the first eight minutes of the half, and never looked back on the way to a 73-62 victory in an NCAA tournament second round matchup at Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish's ability to get to the free throw line was key, especially in a first half where they did not shoot the ball particularly well. They finished the game 26-for-33 from the charity stripe, while Cal managed just 7-for-14.

Seniors Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters came through with huge games for the Irish in their final appearance on the home court. Novosel had 28 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals, while Peters added 11 points, 14 rebounds and 7 blocks. Skylar Diggins had a big game as well, contributing 21 on 9-for-15 shooting.

The crowd was electric all evening and the close first half only made things louder, as Cal gave the Irish all they could handle before the break.

Measured on an iPhone app, the Purcell Pavilion volume reached 99 decibels late in the second half - above the "Level at which sustained exposure may result in hearing loss," according to Galen Carol Audio.

With the win, Notre Dame will head to Raleigh where it will meet #5 seed St. Bonaventure in a Sweet Sixteen matchup on Sunday.

(Raleigh always makes me think of "Wagon Wheel," so if you so choose, cue up the Old Crow Medicine Show hit on YouTube.)

It was win #32 on the season, and a great finale on the home floor. Hopefully the next time we see the Fighting Irish in this venue, they will be celebrating a national championship.

There's still quite a bit of work to be done, but Notre Dame moved one step closer with its hard-fought win tonight. Two down, four to go...

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Halftime: Notre Dame 31, California 31

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We've got a good one on our hands tonight.

The Notre Dame women's basketball team returned to the Purcell Pavilion court on Tuesday for a second round NCAA tournament contest against #8 seed California.

After leading the Fighting Irish with 15 points in Sunday's win against Liberty, Kayla McBride picked up where she left off, draining her first two jump shots to excite the crowd early.

Despite playing against a top-seeded Notre Dame squad on its home floor, from the opening tip-off, Cal was not intimidated. The Golden Bears jumped out to a 9-8 lead at the first media timeout, never trailed by more than six and hung with the Irish throughout the first half. Cal even took the lead with under a minute to play, before Notre Dame tied it after a quick timeout.

The half was a tale of two different stat lines. Cal made four shots behind the arc, while Notre Dame took advantage of 12 free throws, knocking down 11 of those shots. Unfortunately for the Irish, the free throw line was the only place the shots were falling. They were 0-for-6 from long range, and just 34.5% from the field.

Whether or not Notre Dame advances to Raleigh, tonight marks the end of a great era at the Purcell Pavilion for four Irish seniors who are playing in their final game in front of the home fans - Brittany Mallory, Devereaux Peters, Natalie Novosel and Fraderica Miller.

Offensively, it was Novosel who led Notre Dame with 17 points. Her huge and-1 layup with just over four minutes left in the half absolutely ignited the crowd and gave the Irish their largest lead (six) of the game so far.

From the looks of it, this one's going to come down to the wire. Whether or not that's a good thing, we'll find out in twenty minutes.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

A Great Day For Baseball

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If you look at the schedule, opening day was more than a month ago for Notre Dame baseball. But for a team and its fans, there's perhaps nothing better than the home opener.

An absolutely perfect day at Frank Eck Stadium, it was 83 degrees and sunny with a nice breeze at the time of first pitch. A great crowd was on hand, with freshman righthanded pitcher Pat Connaughton getting the start and making his first career appearance in an Irish baseball uniform.

At this point in his young career at Notre Dame, Connaughton is better known from his time on the hardwood, but judging from his debut this afternoon, he could have a bright future on the diamond too.

Connaughton struck out the side in his first inning of work and picked up where he left off in the top of the second. He K'ed two more batters, before leaving the game to a nice ovation from the crowd, which included his basketball teammates and coaches, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, former Notre Dame baseball coach Digger Phelps, and several Irish football players.

Head coach Mik Aoki had planned to keep the freshman's pitch count to roughly 30 pitches. He faced seven batters and threw 31 pitches on the afternoon, striking out five, walking one and allowing a single.

Frank DeSico sparked the Irish offense in the home half of the first, hitting an infield single and stealing second base. Clean-up hitter Trey Mancini plated the first run of the game, knocking in DeSico on a two-out single, before Joe Hudson followed with an RBI single of his own.

Notre Dame added two more runs in the bottom of the third, thanks to three straight doubles from DeSico, Eric Jagielo and Mancini.

One of life's simple joys, opening day is one of my favorite times of year. While I would have enjoyed all nine innings, I left in the bottom of the fourth inning to cover the women's basketball second round NCAA tournament game at Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish were leading, 4-3.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Chat - Baseball vs. Eastern Michigan

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It's a baseball night in South Bend!

Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's Irish baseball action in the home opener against Eastern Michigan. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

A Tradition Unlike Any Other

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Photo by Michael & Susan Bennett/Lighthouse Imaging

No, I'm not talking about The Masters.

But rather, the Notre Dame women's basketball and the post-season fashion of the Fighting Irish.

On St. Patrick's Day 1997, head coach Muffet McGraw's team took on Texas in a second round NCAA tournament contest. In the spirit of the holiday, the Fighting Irish painted their nails green before the game. Notre Dame defeated Texas, 86-83, and after advancing to their first Final Four with two more victories, the green polish became a tournament staple.

The male travel party members, such as associate head coach Jonathan Tsipis show their solidarity by painting their left pinky finger green. Coach Tsipis has also been known to shave his head for the tournament.

This year, the polish of choice for the Irish is Sally Hansen's "Going Green," according to the team's Facebook page.

The March Madness traditions however, do not stop with the nail polish. Though not exclusive to the tournament, Notre Dame's kelly green road uniforms most often appear during the postseason. The Fighting Irish sported the alternate unis in last year's Final Four in Indianapolis.

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Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

During Sunday's first round game against Liberty, Notre Dame broke out its alternate home white jerseys with green trim, as well as green shoes. The Irish are 6-1 in those uniforms, which they will presumably also wear tonight against California.

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Photo by Michael & Susan Bennett/Lighthouse Imaging

The Fighting Irish take on the eighth-seeded Golden Bears tonight in the Purcell Pavilion at 7:20 pm ET. Catch the game on ESPN2 or if you can, make the trip to campus as Notre Dame looks to punch a ticket to Raleigh.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Skylar Talks Nutrition

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It's different than her regular video blog, but Skylar Diggins returns on ESPNW, talking about how she and her Fighting Irish teammates stay healthy during the March Madness.

The Irish take on California in a second round matchup tonight at 7:20 pm ET at the Purcell Pavilion. Catch it live on ESPN2, as Notre Dame looks to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Believe it or not, it's already that time of year. Spring football.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly kicks off the spring season with a press conference on Tuesday at noon ET in the Isban Auditorium at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex. The Fighting Irish will have their first spring practice on Wednesday morning and UND.com will have plenty of coverage as the team gears up for the 2012 season and the Blue-Gold game on April 21.

Follow the live blog coverage right here on Irish UNDerground and check back to UND.com later in the afternoon for video of coach's presser.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Video Blog: Behind the Scenes With Skylar

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Skylar Diggins (@skydigg4) is back with episode 2 in her video blog for ESPNW. Check out the behind the scenes footage from Skylar and the Irish as they prepared for their first round NCAA tournament game against Liberty:

Video Blog: Diggins Hits the Long Ball

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Before taking on Liberty in Sunday's first round NCAA tournament action at Purcell Pavilion, Skylar Diggins and her teammates spent some time at the driving range and batting cage earlier in the week.

As the Notre Dame women's basketball team chases a national championship, Diggins is blogging for ESPNW for the second year. Here's her most recent post, a video blog of the trip. What do you think of Skylar's swing? Is the Irish point guard a better golfer or hitter?

Visit Skylar's ESPNW blog page to stay updated on the Fighting Irish in the NCAA tournament, and check out her first post from Selection Monday.

Notre Dame Cruises Past Liberty, 74-43

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One down. Five to go.

On Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion, the Notre Dame women's basketball team moved one step closer to its championship dream with a 74-43 victory over #16 seed Liberty in a first round NCAA tournament game.

The crowd was a bit smaller than at some regular season games, but the lime green faithful made up for it in volume, as head coach Muffet McGraw's team rolled to its 31st win of the season.

The Fighting Irish dominated the Lady Flames from the start, jumping out to a 20-8 lead at the first media timeout and forcing 17 turnovers in the first half.

Sophomore guard Kayla McBride led the Irish offense with 15 points, while senior Natalie Novosel added 12 and fifth-year forward Devereaux Peters scored 10. The Purcell Pavilion crowd erupted when 5-foot-4 freshman Whitney Holloway's layup with nine seconds left made her the tenth Notre Dame player to score in the game.

Liberty's +16.4 rebound margin ranks the Lady Flames first in the nation in that category, but Notre Dame controlled the game on the boards, 38-29, led by Skylar Diggins' nine rebounds. The Fighting Irish also dominated the game down low, scoring 44 points in the paint.

Notre Dame got win #31 with relative ease, but will not be satisfied until victory #36. The Irish will meet eighth-seeded California in second round action on Tuesday evening at 7 pm ET, after the Golden Bears defeated Iowa in an exciting first game of the afternoon, 84-74.

Catch the game on ESPN2 as Notre Dame looks to book its ticket to Raleigh and the Sweet 16.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Halftime: Notre Dame 44, Liberty 19

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With a 25-point halftime lead against #16 seed Liberty, perhaps Notre Dame can start looking ahead to a game with California on Tuesday.

Led by Kayla McBride's 13 points, six Irish players have scored and head coach Muffet McGraw's team has jumped out to a 44-19 advantage at the break. Notre Dame is also controlling the game on the glass (19-14 Irish), against a Liberty squad that is ranked first in the nation in rebound differential.

The "Nowhere Else But Notre Dame" video was absent. There was no special starting lineup introduction, chicken toss or section cheering signs, and the NCAA might call this a neutral site contest.

But make no mistake about this afternoon's game. The Fighting Irish are playing in front of a great home crowd. The lime green faithful have made every Notre Dame bucket feels like a last-second game-winner.

There are still 20 minutes left in this one, but barring a monumental collapse, Notre Dame looks well on its way to a second round game against the Golden Bears.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Irish Begin Road to Denver

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This afternoon is the start of a journey that hopefully ends with a Rocky Mountain celebration for the Notre Dame women's basketball team. The top-seeded Fighting Irish will take on #16 Liberty in a first round NCAA tournament matchup at Purcell Pavilion. That game should tip at approximately 2:40 pm ET on ESPN2, but it will depend on when the California - Iowa contest finishes. At the half, the Golden Bears lead the Hawkeyes, 42-33.

Notre Dame is one of sixteen host sites for the first two rounds of the tournament, so head coach Muffet McGraw's team will feel right at home this afternoon, as they take on a Liberty team that ranks first in the nation in rebounding differential.

This year marks the first time Notre Dame has been a #1 seed since the 2001 championship season and after coming up six points short in last year's title game against Texas A&M at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, the goal is clear for the Fighting Irish - anything short of a national title will be a disappointment.

An opportunity for a shot at a second championship banner is still five wins away, but in front of thousands of fans in their signature lime green, it couldn't possibly start in a better place for Notre Dame.

NCAA tournament rules prohibit live play-by-play blogging, but we'll have more updates coming throughout the afternoon right here on UNDerground, and also on Twitter at @theUNDblogger.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

There's really no other way to describe it. The calendar had flipped. It was officially St. Patrick's Day and it felt like the stars were aligning for Notre Dame to play on Sunday for a shot at next weekend's Sweet 16.

Instead, the Fighting Irish return to South Bend following a 67-63 second round loss to Xavier.

With just two seconds remaining, Eric Atkins looked to tie the game at the free throw line, but Jerian Grant was called for a lane violation on the front end of a one-and-one.

Possession to Xavier. Foul on Pat Connaughton. Two Musketeer free throws. Game over. Devastation for the Irish.

Notre Dame led by 10 with 12:22 to play. The Irish shot just 4-for-9 from the free throw line. Not to mention, even if the lane violation had not been called, Atkins would have had to hit his second free throw, just to tie the game and hopefully force overtime.

But if you're a fan of the blue & gold, there's no doubt the game left you shaking your head, asking yourself, "Why?" and "What if...?"

Watching Lehigh knock off Duke earlier in the night, you got the sense that if Notre Dame had won tonight, a Sweet 16 spot was there for the taking. Not that anyone should look past the Mountain Hawks, but a game against the Patriot League champion certainly seemed like a more favorable situation for Notre Dame than a battle with the Blue Devils, just 55 miles from their Durham campus.

This was going to be the year the Irish got past the postseason struggles.

Instead, it's a disheartening defeat that ends an otherwise memorable season on a sour note. Notre Dame won nine straight BIG EAST games. The Fighting Irish knocked off #1 Syracuse in an unforgettable night at Purcell Pavilion. They won important games at Seton Hall, Connecticut and West Virginia. They came back from a 20-point deficit to defeat Villanova in overtime, also on the road. These, just a few special moments from the 2011-12 season.

Picked to finish ninth in the BIG EAST, they did all of this without arguably their best player, Tim Abromaitis, who missed most of the year with a knee injury. The Irish overachieved for much of the season, and were one of the feel-good stories in college basketball.

Tonight in the second half, they looked poised to play on Sunday for a chance at their first Sweet 16 since 2003. Instead, that dream must wait, at least until next March.

The drama that makes March exciting is the same drama that makes it heartbreaking. It's not like college football. There are no bowl victories. While some mid-majors are happy just earning a tournament berth, at the end of March, 67 of 68 teams are left disappointed. 67 groups of seniors struggle to deal with the end of their college basketball career, 67 coaches ask themselves what went wrong and 67 fan bases hope, pray and dream, that their team will make it back next year for another trip to the Big Dance.

Notre Dame is one of those 67 programs, and with the way the season ended, I'm sure you'll be hard-pressed to find a team or coach more motivated to earn that coveted invitation again in 2013.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

At The Half: Notre Dame 33, Xavier 31

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There's a date with Lehigh (yes, Lehigh) on the line tonight. After the Mountain Hawks shocked the college basketball world by downing Duke in the Tar Heel State, Notre Dame and Xavier tipped off in the final game of the night at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The Irish got off to a slow start, but avoided falling into a big hole, thanks to back-to-back threes from Eric Atkins and Scott Martin.

After a Jack Cooley three-point play, Notre Dame took the lead briefly, but Xavier responded with an 8-0 run.

The Irish battled back and with under four minutes to play, used a 7-0 spurt to grab a five-point lead.

But as expected, the Musketeers responded and tied the score at 29.

Notre Dame took a four-point lead, but a late dunk from Kenny Frease cut it to 33-31 - where it stands at the break.

All seven players who've entered the game for the Irish have scored. Jack Cooley leads with 9 points, while Martin has added 8.

Tom Knight has four points off the bench for the Fighting Irish, but what stands out in his six minutes of play are the perfect pass he made to a cutting Pat Connaughton and the charge he took on the other end. At tournament time, it's always great to see the little things that may not show up in a box score.

It's a quiet crowd in the Coliseum, which I think is due in part to Blue Devils fans leaving in disbelief, but it can also probably be attributed to the late start. Even though it's a Friday night, 10:15 pm isn't exactly family friendly.

In the second half, the Irish will look to contain Frease and continue to shut down Mark Lyons. We've seen nine lead changes and three ties already, so don't expect either team to run away with it tonight. After all, this is the NCAA tournament.

More updates coming on Twitter at @theUNDblogger and after the game, right here on Irish UNDerground.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Almost Game Time...

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So, Norfolk State provided that bracket buster we had all been waiting for, and we've got another great game on our hands here in North Carolina.

In the first evening game at the Greensboro Coliseum, Duke and Lehigh are knotted in a close one, with the Blue Devils holding a one-point lead with just under 13 minutes remaining.

Notre Dame will take the court against Xavier about 30 minutes after the conclusion of this game. The Fighting Irish arrived shortly after 8 pm and are watching some of this game from the stands. If head coach Mike Brey's team wins tonight, they will meet the winner of this contest on Sunday.

There are a lot of empty seats, but it's a great atmosphere here. With their Durham campus less than 60 miles away, Duke obviously has a large contingent of fans on hand, but there is also a great group of Lehigh supporters. Not to mention, there are many donned in Carolina blue who are enthusiastically supporting the brown & white.

As per tournament rules, there will not be a CoverItLive blog on UNDerground, but we'll still have periodic updates coming. If you're on Twitter, be sure to check out @ndmbb and @theUNDblogger for more from Greensboro.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Game Day in Greensboro

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For eight teams in Greensboro, the NCAA tournament dream starts today. The action kicks off at 1:40 pm when Creighton takes on Alabama in the always interesting 8-vs.-9 game. Following the conclusion of that game, top-seeded North Carolina will play Vermont in a Midwest region second round contest.

This evening, it's the South bracket. Duke plays Lehigh at 7:15 pm, before Notre Dame tips against Xavier at approximately 9:45 pm.

The Fighting Irish departed the team hotel earlier this morning for a 20-minute shootaround at the Greensboro Coliseum. After arriving at the arena, the team waited in the lobby for a few minutes as Vermont finished up its time on the court. The Irish watched President Obama break down his women's bracket with ESPN's Doris Burke on Sportscenter.

It's kind of funny how the NCAA shootaround works. Teams are given 20 minutes from the time the cart of basketballs is rolled out. The Irish had a couple of extra minutes to warm up and stretch before really focusing on getting some work in before tonight's game.

The court for this weekend's games is branded like the rest of those for this year's tournament, but there's something about it that really makes me think of the ACC. As I mentioned yesterday, the Greensboro Coliseum frequently hosts the conference tournament, and growing up, I think I came to associate those teal seats with great games between Duke, North Carolina, Maryland, etc.

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After the shootaround, the Irish returned to the hotel for a meal, where they will relax before the big game. The Irish have looked good on the court so far, but I guess we'll find out more about ten hours from now.

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Notre Dame vs. Xavier. Live on CBS. 9:45 pm.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Almost Tournament Time for the Irish

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We're halfway through day one of March Madness and still have not seen an upset. Judging from Twitter, I missed a wild one in Pittsburgh, as UNC-Asheville nearly became the first #16 seed to knock off a #1 - a victory that also would've put the Bulldogs alongside Cincinnati and Notre Dame in an exclusive 2012 club.

Speaking of Notre Dame, the Irish arrived at Greensboro Coliseum at approximately 4:15 pm this afternoon for a media session and practice on the court where they will take on Xavier tomorrow night.

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Opened in 1959, the 23,500-seat arena is in the heart of ACC country. While some universities are hosting this year's second and third rounds, such as Duquesne in Pittsburgh and Ohio State in Columbus, the ACC is doing the honors for the Greensboro brackets, which explains why the conference logo is emblazoned on nearly every sign (including the chairs in the Irish locker room). The arena also frequently hosts the annual ACC tournament.

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After warm-ups and a few drills, head coach Mike Brey's team spent about ten minutes scrimmaging full speed. As Brey said in his interview with UND.com earlier today, he wanted his team to really get some good work in during its 40-minute open practice.

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There's no better way to get ready for a game in a new arena than to simulate one. Adjusting to the rims, lighting and feel of the court is something that we might take for granted, but it's certainly important when preparing to play in an unfamiliar setting.

Before Notre Dame took the floor, local favorite Duke practiced in front of several hundred Cameron Crazies. From the sounds of the fans cheering, most were there just to see freshman Austin Rivers, who is projected as an NBA draft lottery pick. The Celtics fan in me hopes he is someday playing for his father's team.

During Duke's shootaround, Coach Brey met with members of the media in a small auditorium. A former assistant with the Blue Devils, Brey joked when asked about his time with Coach Krzyzewski. The Irish head coach laughed, saying, "Other than drawing up the Laettner play for him, he did all the other ones."

A few Irish players, including Tim Abromaitis and Jack Cooley stuck around for a few minutes to sign autographs after practice.

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Coach Brey also caught up with Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg, CBS's broadcast team that will be calling all four games tomorrow.

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Afterwards, the Irish returned to the hotel for a team meal and some rest before a shootaround back at the arena tomorrow morning.

That's about it for Day 2 of the Irish in North Carolina. There is however, still a big night of hoops ahead, as we hopefully await a signature Thursday upset (The ball's in your court, South Dakota State).

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Irish Prep for Xavier in Greensboro

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Sure, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" was written about Christmas, but if you ask a sports fan, there's no better time than the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Over the course of 48 games on four networks in four days, 64 teams will be whittled down to 16 Final Four hopefuls. Heroes will be born and hearts will be broken.

Tipping off at approximately 9:45 pm ET tomorrow, the Notre Dame men's basketball team will be one of the last teams to begin its March Madness pursuit.

This afternoon, the Irish hit the court at Greensboro Day School for a short practice in preparation for Friday's matchup with the Xavier Musketeers.

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The Dillard Gymnasium is home to the GDS Bengals and their legendary coach Freddy Johnson, who earlier this season set a state record by notching his 819th victory.

Built in 1991, the gym was a really nice place for the Irish to get some work in before heading to the Greensboro Coliseum later today for a media session and 40-minute open practice.

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UND.com will have coverage from the Coliseum later this evening, so check back and stay tuned to YouTube.com/NotreDameAthletics, and right here on Irish UNDerground for more from Notre Dame's trip to the NCAA tournament.

Also, if you're on Twitter, check out the new account @theUNDblogger, where I'll be featuring more behind the scenes content on the Fighting Irish, beginning right here with men's basketball in the Tar Heel State.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Gone to Carolina

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Outside the team hotel

If last night's 'First Four' games are any indication, we're in for a wild three weeks. March truly is one of the most exciting times of the year for a sports fan.

The Notre Dame men's basketball team departed campus for the Piedmont Triad International Airport and Greensboro, N.C. this afternoon in preparation for its NCAA South Region second round matchup with #10 seed Xavier.

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In the charter terminal at South Bend Airport

Joining the team on the flight were the Band of the Fighting Irish and the Notre Dame cheerleading squad. While their friends might be spending spring break in Florida, Mexico or the Dominican Republic, a trip to North Carolina isn't too bad either.

In a shocking mid-March twist, the South Bend weather was nearly identical to the 79-degree sunshine that greeted the Irish upon their arrival in Greensboro.

The 7th-seeded Fighting Irish will meet with the media tomorrow at 4:30 pm, before taking the floor for an open practice from 5:10 pm to 5:50 pm at the Greensboro Coliseum. Head coach Mike Brey's team will also have a closed practice in the early afternoon.

UND.com will have practice reports, updates and plenty of coverage of the Irish in the Tar Heel State. Stay tuned to Irish UNDerground for more, and tune in to CBS on Friday night as the Notre Dame takes on Xavier at approximately 9:45 pm ET.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Student. Athlete. Irish.

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Catching Up With Ben Hansbrough

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Are the Irish a March Madness Sleeper?

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While your bracket probably already has the Fighting Irish making a run deep into March, if you're tirelessly reexamining your tournament picks, Seth Davis might be able to help. The college basketball reporter and analyst for Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports has Notre Dame among his five sleeper picks in this year's field.

"They have cruised through the BIG EAST largely because of their ability to take care of the basketball," Davis says. "They've committed fewer turnovers than any other team in the conference. That has made them a lot more efficient than other teams they play."

Speaking of Davis, Irish head coach Mike Brey was on his CBS Sports Network program "Courtside with Seth Davis" while in New York for the BIG EAST tournament last week.

Brey also had a chance to catch up with Davis afterwards for a feature with UND.com. Though he doesn't say specifically how far he thinks Notre Dame might go in this year's bracket, in picking the Irish as a sleeper team in his SI.com video, Davis may be putting aside confidence in his alma mater. He was a student at Duke (ND's potential third round opponent) during Brey's time as an assistant coach in Durham.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Broghammer Up For 'Coolest Name in NCAA Tourney'

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As March Madness kicks off this week, the men's and women's fields of 64 (or 68) are not the only brackets popping up across the Internet. The Weather Channel is selecting the all-time favorite weather song, Grantland.com is determining the best character from HBO's The Wire and ESPN.com's Page 2 is asking fans to vote upon the players in this year's men's tournament with the 'coolest names.' In fact, this bracket features one of Notre Dame's own - junior forward Mike Broghammer.

Here's a look at the quick writeup from Page 2's Thomas Neumann:

Page 2 is once again entrusting you, dear readers, to determine which player has the coolest name in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Our criteria for coolness are similar to how Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart described obscenity in 1964: You know it when you see it. A great basketball name should be fun to say, fun to spell, or funky and unusual.

We've selected our 64 favorite player names from this year's NCAA tournament field for your balloting entertainment -- feel free to blame the selection committee if your school got snubbed.

Last year, Purdue guard Bubba Day captured the crown, completing an unlikely run as a No. 15 seed. This year's tournament is wide open, especially because prohibitive favorite God'sgift Achiuwa missed out on participating when St. John's failed to qualify for the Big Dance.

Without further ado, Page 2 presents the Coolest Name in the 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket.

The field of 64 is broken up into four regions honoring former college players with unique names, including Uwe Blab, Dallas Comegys, God Shammgod, and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje.

Broghammer is the #11 seed in the Uwe Blab region, paired up with #6 seed Staats Battle from North Carolina State. Though his first name might suggestion otherwise, Battle unfortunately did not accumulate too many stats this season, as he only appeared in six games in his freshman season with the Wolfpack.

Broghammer and Battle are just two of the 64 players with interesting names selected for this year's bracket. A few of my personal favorites:
  • Peter Pappageorge (Long Beach St.): Peter Pettigrew of Harry Potter come to mind for anyone else?
  • Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse): Of course he wears #25.
  • Jordair Jett (St. Louis): With a first name like that, he was born to play hoops.
  • Festus Ezeli (Vanderbilt): Frank Costanza likes this one ... By the way, his full name is Ifeanyi Festus Ezeli-Ndelue.
  • Dakota Slaughter (Alabama): Not to be confused with Notre Dame football's Jamoris.

But anyway, remember to visit ESPN.com's Page 2 to vote for Broghammer. He might not have the wildest name in the field of 64, but with the support of loyal Irish fans, perhaps he could be a sleeper pick to make a deep run in one of March's wackiest brackets.

And who knows, by the time the Final Four comes around, mid-March heroics could transform a few of the not-so-easy to pronounce identities into household names among basketball fans (see Ali Farokhmanesh, circa 2010).

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Everything You Need To Know About Liberty

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On Monday night, the Notre Dame women's basketball team learned that it had earned the #1 seed in the Raleigh region of this year's NCAA tournament. Purcell Pavilion is a host site this year, meaning the Irish will not have to leave the friendly confines of their home arena until hopefully advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.

For Sunday's first round contest, the Irish will take on #16 seed Liberty University. With a win, head coach Muffet McGraw's squad would advance to take on the winner of #8 seed California and #9 seed Iowa. The Golden Bears and the Hawkeyes will tipoff at 12:10 pm ET, before Notre Dame and Liberty take the floor at approximately 2:40 pm ET. Both games will air on ESPN2 with the broadcast team of Dave O'Brien and Doris Burke.

As the Irish begin a run that hopefully ends with a national championship celebration in Denver, here's a look at their opponent for Sunday's matchup:

  • Record: 24-8 (automatic bid)
  • Coach: Carey Green (13th season)
  • Best wins: vs. Winthrop (74-49), at High Point (73-65)
  • Home arena: Vines Convocation Center (capacity: 8,085)
  • Best players: Avery Warley, RS-Sr., C (13.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG), Devon Brown, RS-Jr., G/F (16.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
  • NCAA history: fourth appearance in past five seasons, 14th in program history
  • Deepest tournament run: Sweet Sixteen (2005)

And a few facts about the university:

  • Location: Lynchburg, Virginia
  • Founded: 1971
  • Conference: Big South
  • Enrollment: 12,500 residential, 61,000+ online
  • Academics: 220 residential and online undergraduate programs, 87 residential and online graduate areas of study, 6 total online doctoral programs, Liberty University School of Law, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary
  • Religious Affiliation: Christian (Southern Baptist)
  • Mascot: Flames
  • Colors: Navy, white and red

Liberty has won 18 of its past 19 games, finishing conference play with a 16-2 record. On Sunday, the Flames earned their 14th NCAA tournament trip in the last 16 years, by downing High Point, 81-73 in the Big South title game.

Sunday will be the third meeting between Notre Dame and Liberty, with the Irish leading the series, 2-0. The teams last met on Dec. 5, 1999 at the Wachovia Women's Basketball lnvitational in Richmond, Va., a game Coach McGraw's team won, 85-68.

Also worth noting - Kelley Siemon ('01), a starter on Notre Dame's 2001 national championship team and a 1,000-point scorer during her Fighting Irish career, was an assistant coach at Liberty from 2003-07.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Selection Monday

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Before the Notre Dame women's basketball team begins its quest for a national championship, the Fighting Irish and their loyal fans gathered in Club Naimoli at the Purcell Pavilion on Monday evening for an NCAA tournament selection show party.

While the men's bracket was unveiled yesterday on CBS, the women's field of 64 was announced on ESPN. Yesterday, Coach Brey's team awaited the location, seeding and opponent of its NCAA matchup.

In the women's bracket, Notre Dame is a host site and the Fighting Irish's 30-3 record all but assured them a #1 seed. Coach McGraw's squad only had to await the announcement to see who it would play in its first round matchup on Sunday, and what the road might look like in the journey to the Final Four.

As the team awaited the announcement, Fighting Irish Digital Media sat down with a few of the fans, many of whom described the special relationship they have developed with the Notre Dame women's basketball program over the years.

Fans explained that, "it's like a family," saying they had formed friendships with the players and coaches over their years, or decades, cheering for the Irish.

"The really special part about this team is that the girls so genuinely care about each other...It's not just on the basketball court," said another fan.

From listening to the Irish fans, you really get the sense that those caring feelings are reciprocated. If you didn't know better, you might think the faithful in their lime green shirts were cheering on their own daughters, granddaughters, nieces or neighbors.

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Coach McGraw, spoke to the fans in attendance at the start of the program, expressing her gratitude for their support. "We wouldn't be here without you," she said.

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Everyone moved their attention to the Purcell Pavilion videoboard to see a 2011-12 highlight reel featuring Beyonce's "Love on Top," before gathering around the Club Naimoli TVs in preparation for the selection show broadcast.

Two of the four 16-team brackets were announced, as the Irish anticipated their tournament draw.

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Then at 7:20 pm, ESPN revealed the third bracket, announcing Notre Dame as the #1 seed in the Raleigh region, where the BIG EAST regular season champions will play #16 seed Liberty, out of the Big South conference in the first round.

This year marks the first time the Irish have earned a #1 seed since 2001, the year in which they won the national championship in St. Louis.

Notre Dame's first round game is scheduled for Sunday, Mar. 18 at 2:30 pm ET in the Purcell Pavilion and it will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Check back to UND.com for more coverage of the Irish as they begin the exciting time that is, March Madness.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Huge Win on the Diamond

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The Notre Dame baseball team notched its biggest win in quite some time, and certainly its most impressive victory of the young season on Sunday evening with a 7-1 upset of 11th-ranked LSU.

Sophomore righty Sean Fitzgerald pitched 8 innings, allowing six hits and just one run, while striking out four batters, as the Irish snapped the Tigers' eight-game winning streak in front of 10,347 in Baton Rouge.

Freshman LF Conor Biggio (son of future Baseball Hall of Famer Craig Biggio) was 2-for-5 with two runs scored and three RBI. Junior C Joe Hudson, junior RF Charlie Markson and senior CF Alex Robinson also had multi-hit games for the Irish, who collected 11 base knocks in the victory.

It was a milestone win for second-year head coach Mik Aoki's squad. The last time Notre Dame defeated an opponent ranked higher was on Mar. 4, 2007, when the Irish bested #7 Nebraska, 16-6 in a seven-inning shortened game.

Sunday's victory was also the program's best road win against a ranked opponent since knocking off #1 Florida State, 3-1 in 2002.

That season, Paul Mainieri led the Irish to Omaha and the College World Series. Mainieri, who is currently the head coach at LSU, spent 12 seasons in South Bend before taking over the Tigers' job after the 2006 season.

Notre Dame split the day, dropping a 6-5 decision to Michigan in the first game.

The Irish face the Tigers again tonight at 7:30 pm ET, before heading west for a matchup with UT-San Antonio and later in the week, the Irish Baseball Classic, both at Wolff Stadium in San Antonio. Catch all the action right here on UND.com or locally on 103.1 FM.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Everything You Need To Know About Xavier

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As the NCAA announced the field for this year's tournament last night, the #7 seed Notre Dame men's basketball team gears up for a South Region second round matchup with #10 seed Xavier University on Friday night in Greensboro, N.C. Tip-off is scheduled for approximately 9:45 pm ET and the game will air on CBS with the broadcast team of Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Tracy Wolfson.

For those unfamiliar with Xavier, here's some information about the Irish's upcoming opponent:

  • Record: 21-12 (at-large bid)
  • Coach: Chris Mack (3rd season)
  • Best wins: at Vanderbilt (82-70 OT), Cincinnati (76-53), Purdue (66-63)
  • Home arena: Cintas Center (capacity: 10,250)
  • Best players: Tu Holloway, Sr., G (17.0 PPG, 5.1 APG), Mark Lyons, Jr., G. (15.5 PPG)
  • NCAA history: Seventh straight appearance, 23rd in program history
  • Deepest tournament run: Elite Eight (2004 and 2008)

And a few facts about the university:

  • Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Founded: 1831
  • Conference: Atlantic-10
  • Enrollment: 4,368 undergraduates, 7,019 total students
  • Academics: 85 undergraduate majors, 54 minors and 11 graduate programs
  • Religious Affiliation: Catholic (Jesuit)
  • Mascot: Musketeers
  • Colors: Navy blue and white
  • Notable alumni: John Boehner (Speaker of the United States House of Representatives), David West (NBA all-star, Indiana Pacers forward), Jim Bunning (Baseball Hall of Famer, former U.S. Senator)

The Musketeers finished 10-6 in the conference and earned the #3 seed for this year's Atlantic-10 tournament. They fell to fourth-seeded St. Bonaventure in Sunday's conference championship game, 67-56.

Friday night's game will be the 19th all-time meeting between Notre Dame and Xavier, a series the Fighting Irish lead, 15-3. The teams last met in 2001, which also happened to be an NCAA tournament. The Irish won the first round contest in Kansas City, 83-71.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

'93 Alumna Wins BIG EAST Fan Contest

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The Notre Dame family is full of passionate sports fans, but you will be hard-pressed to find a bigger Irish basketball fanatic than Lisa Kelly ('93). Lisa recently won Volvo's "Biggest Fan of the BIG EAST" contest, and was featured on the Notre Dame Alumni Association website in a post from Josh Stowe ('01). Check it out below:

Lisa Kelly '93 has won Volvo's "Biggest Fan of the BIG EAST" contest after receiving an outpouring of votes from fellow alumni and Notre Dame fans.

Kelly, who competed on Notre Dame's behalf, won a flight to New York City last week courtesy of Volvo, allowing her to cheer on the Irish in this year's BIG EAST Tournament

"They had a video crew follow me around for a couple of hours Saturday afternoon and interview me about the competition," she said. "Then at halftime of the BIG EAST Championship game they brought me down to center court, where they presented me with the keys to the Volvo S60!"

Kelly edged her fellow competitors in part thanks to her strong online presence, which includes a Notre Dame fan blog as well as a Twitter account she used to update friends and fellow fans. She also got an assist from Fighting Irish Digital Media, which posted videos of her returning to campus to watch the Irish defeat No. 1 Syracuse -- an upset she predicted -- and to show off her favorite spots.

"I have always loved Notre Dame ever since I can remember," Kelly wrote on her contest profile page. "My Dad is a Notre Dame alum, and ever since I was a kid we made the trek back to Notre Dame for football games. Then I myself attended Notre Dame, and my love for Notre Dame grew even more. Today I am what I guess you would call a Notre Dame fanatic!"

On Friday, @und_video_crew caught up with Lisa outside the team's hotel in midtown Manhattan. Check out her interview with UND.com's Jack Nolan.

Don't forget, you can read Lisa's blog at http://www.bridgetmcguiresfillingstation.com/ and follow her on Twitter at @4LeafCloverGirl. Here are a couple photos from the halftime presentation, courtesy of her Twitter stream:

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Wolverines Sweep Irish in CCHA 2nd Round

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Entering game two of the second-round CCHA series, Notre Dame's main focus Saturday was to shake off the previous night's heartbreaking double-overtime loss and force a game three.

Instead, the Irish likely saw their season end with a 3-1 defeat at the hands of conference rival Michigan.

"Both teams were probably a little tired, but our emotions were probably a little bit more drained," head coach Jeff Jackson said. "Losing a game late like that is like giving up a goal in the last minute of play. It's just a challenging emotional situation."

By all early indications, game two looked like it might be another low-scoring affair in the mold of the 83-minute thriller of the first matchup. But this time four goals came in a span of 14 minutes, and the Wolverines took the series.

Michigan didn't record a shot on goal in the first five minutes, and Wolverine goalie Shawn Hunwick was his usual self, stuffing early shots from Anders Lee and Mike Voran, in addition to denying David Gerths' breakaway chance.

The first tally of the game didn't come until there was 1:07 left in the first, when Michigan forward David Wohlberg scored his first of two goals. It was also the beginning of a scoring outburst that surpassed the previous night's total in just 34 minutes.

After goals by Michigan's Di Giuseppe and Wohlberg, Michigan had a 3-0 lead 12:09 into the second period, but Irish freshman Peter Schneider answered with a goal of his own 19 seconds later.

"Jeff Costello had a great forecheck on the defenseman, and then Riley and I had a two-on-one," Schneider said. "Riley Sheahan made a great pass, and I just put it into the open net.

"Our season was on the line, so I think everybody was playing with energy tonight - it was all or nothing."

However, Michigan's cushion was enough in the end, despite a furious third-period rally. Notre Dame outshot its opponent 12-4 in the period, including seven tries from right next to the net. For the second consecutive night, Hunwick proved too good to solve.

Over the weekend, the fifth-year senior allowed two goals on 64 shots with nearly 143 minutes of ice time. Hunwick's .969 save percentage in the series well surpassed his season average of .934, which was good for fourth-best in the country.

"You've got to get traffic to the net. You've got to get people in front of him. He sees everything, but Michigan does a good job of blocking shots," Jackson said. "The goal that we did score - you can't stop that. If you move the puck and break people down defensively, then you get good goal-scoring opportunities and rebounds where he's out of position."

Ranked 18th in the PairWise Rankings before the weekend, the Irish will most likely not participate in the NCAA tournament. If so, this series was a tough ending to the collegiate careers of Notre Dame's seniors.

"It's a great group of kids," Jackson said. "They're quality kids - they're great representatives of our university. I'd be proud to call any of those kids my own sons because of the type of kids they are."

- Craig Chval ('15)

Irish Top Tigers

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Following an early March road sweep by national powerhouse Texas State, in which the Irish were outscored 17-0 in three games, prospects were not promising for facing No. 11 LSU the following weekend. Furthermore, the Irish were playing the Tigers in the second game of a doubleheader and had dropped a 6-5 late inning heart-breaker to Michigan earlier in the day.

Adding to the challenge was the atmosphere at Alex Box Stadium. LSU led college baseball in attendance in 2011 and drew 10,347 fans for Sunday night's game against the Irish.

"The atmosphere was phenomenal," Irish coach Mik Aoki said. "It's one of college baseball's best venues. It was exciting for our kids to play in that kind of facility and atmosphere."

Also, Tiger coach Paul Mainieri led the Irish program to eight straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 1999-2006, including a trip to the 2002 College World Series during his time in South Bend.

Yet, the young Irish team overcame the obstacles of defeating a ranked opponent on the road and offered a glimpse of what the program is capable of achieving.

The Irish dominated LSU in a 7-1 win, led by the pitching of sophomore starter Sean Fitzgerald and timely hitting.

"[The win over LSU] certainly gets us recognition of temporal fashion," Aoki said. "It builds confidence in our team, and our guys can understand what feats we're capable of."

Unfortunately, inclement weather prevented a rematch the following Monday night. However, the Irish had not defeated a higher-ranked opponent on the road since beating No. 1 Florida State to advance to the 2002 College World Series.

After struggling in his first few outings on the season, Sean Fitzgerald spearheaded the upset bid, limiting the Tigers to one run in eight innings. The sophomore allowed only six hits and one walk while striking out four and shut out LSU the first seven innings.

The only time he ran into trouble came in the eighth, when he allowed three straight hits with one out. However, Fitzgerald struckout the final two batters of the inning to quell any hopes of an LSU comeback.

"Everything was a little bit sharper than his first few outings, especially his fastball and change-up," Aoki said. "His command was good, and he fell into very few negative counts."

Freshman center fielder Conor Biggio led the Irish offense from the leadoff spot. In the third, his two-run double to right-center field gave the Irish a quick 2-0 lead. In the seventh, Biggio's infield single plated another run to put the Irish up 6-0.

"Conor gave us a little spark in the lead-off spot," Aoki said. "He put together quality at-bats against a quality LSU team."

Catcher Joe Hudson, and outfielders Charlie Markson and Alex Robinson added two-hit efforts to lead the Irish offense.

Following the LSU win, the Irish built a four-game winning streak with three straight wins in San Antonio at the Irish Baseball Classic before dropping the final two games of the trip to Indiana State on March 17 and 18.

- Matt Unger ('15)

Irish Drop Series Opener at Michigan

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Taking advantage of a Notre Dame turnover, Michigan forward Phil Di Giuseppe blasted a shot toward Irish goalie Steven Summerhays. The puck skipped past the sophomore, bounced off the post and was redirected by Wolverine captain Luke Glendening. And just like that - 1:08 into the game - Michigan had a 1-0 lead.

More than 82 minutes - and 39 saves - later, Summerhays finally surrendered another goal, and the Wolverines took the game 2-1 in double overtime off a Chris Brown one-timer. Michigan now leads the second round CCHA playoff series 1-0.

"I let in one that I probably want back," Summerhays said. "But the team came back and scored a goal for me, and I worked hard the rest of the game trying to fight to see pucks, and I thought we did a good job playing the puck in front of me."

In a matchup filled with hard hits, transition chances and iron-glancing shots, goaltending was the story as it appeared the battle between Summerhays and Shawn Hunwick would never end.

Hunwick went more than 48 minutes without giving up a goal, finally allowing the equalizer off the stick of Anders Lee. The goal was the highlight of a dominant third period, during which the Irish outshot Michigan 11-5. None of the Michigan shots on goal for the period was from within 30 feet of the net.

"He's a warrior, and he's done everything he can for this team and this program and there's another example tonight," Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. "We wouldn't have been in overtime if it weren't for Shawn Hunwick."

Despite the low score, both sides were not without opportunity. Twice - in the second period and first overtime - Michigan had pipe-hitting shots reviewed, but came away empty both times. In the closing seconds of the second period, Maday had an open shot hit a post as well. When skaters actually were hitting the net, they were almost always stuffed by Hunwick or Summerhays.

The lone Irish goal only came directly after Mike Voran had two breakaway chances saved by Hunwick. The Notre Dame attack continued for the rest of the period, but Hunwick stood on his head the rest of the way.

"It's frustrating we're not scoring on good chances, but Shawn made huge saves for us that kept us in the game," Glendening said. "He kind of stole that game for us, I guess - he played outstanding."

The hero of the first overtime period, Summerhays came up with one sensational save after another, fending off a Michigan attack that outshot the Irish 14-9 in the period.

"It's playoff hockey, and especially in college, you're goalie has to be your best player. I'm not saying I'm the best player, but I wanted to give my team a chance to win tonight," Summerhays said. "They had a lot of shots in that first power play in overtime. Guys were clearing bodies out and letting me see the puck and worry about tracking the rebound."

Although Michigan took game one of the 83-minute marathon, the Irish will look to come back and take the remaining two of the best-of-three series against the conference foe. It is likely the 18th-ranked Irish will need to win the series to make the 16-team NCAA tournament.

"The toughest thing in hockey, especially in college, is ending a team's season, so Michigan's got to come and end our season," Summerhays said. "We feel like we did a lot of good things tonight. We had a lot of momentum towards the end of that game. It was an even game both ways, so tomorrow's up for grabs."

- Craig Chval ('15)

Irish Fall in BIG EAST Semifinals

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It started out as a promising evening. Notre Dame and Louisville traded buckets for the first five minutes, and it looked like the start of another classic between the BIG EAST foes.

Then the Irish used a 7-0 run to take an early 15-9 lead.

Unfortunately, however that was the last bright spot of the night and it occurred less than eight minutes into the game.

The Cardinals responded with a 10-0 spurt, and held the Irish without a field goal for the remainder of the half to build a 16-point lead at the break.

In the second half, Notre Dame never managed to get closer than 12, on the way to a 64-50 loss in the BIG EAST tournament semifinals.

For the third straight year, the Irish fall short of Saturday night in the Garden, and for the second consecutive season, it's at the hands of the Louisville Cardinals.

The mystery remains. What is it about the Garden that causes the Irish to struggle so much offensively?

Last night, Notre Dame made just four field goals in the second half, but still found a way to pull out a 57-53 overtime victory against South Florida.

Tonight was a different story. The Irish struggled to put the ball in the basket, but also could not stop the Cardinals from scoring. Every time there was a glimmer of hope that Notre Dame might sneak back into the game, Louisville seemed to respond with a bucket, several of those scored by Gorgui Dieng who finished with 16 points on 8-for-8 from the field.

Notre Dame will head back to South Bend and await Selection Sunday, where they will find out the seeding and location of their sure-thing at-large trip (though truthfully, an at-large bid is not guaranteed) to the NCAA tournament.

In the fall, Coach Brey's BIG EAST colleagues predicted the Irish would finish ninth in the conference. On Black Friday, they lost co-captain and last season's second-leading scorer Tim Abromaitis to a season-ending knee injury.

Looking at the season as a whole, Notre Dame fans have to be happy with 22 wins and a 13-5 third-place conference finish.

Still, there is some disappointment. After finding a way to win last night, this felt like a team of destiny. It seemed this would be the year that Notre Dame finally got over that hump and played for a BIG EAST championship.

Instead, that dream must wait. The BIG EAST landscape is changing, and who knows what this tournament might look like next season.

Now, the Irish look to regroup for a possible NCAA tournament run, and if the majority of the season is any indication, we have not seen the last of the fight in this year's Fighting Irish.

- Josh Flynt ('11)
Last night, Notre Dame moved one step closer to Saturday with a 57-53 overtime win over South Florida. Tonight, the Irish continue BIG EAST tournament action when they take on Louisville at 9:00 p.m. (ET) in the second semifinal of the evening at Madison Square Garden.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN, and you can hear the radio call on UND.com, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

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For the third consecutive year, the Notre Dame men's basketball team is in the BIG EAST semifinals. Tonight, the Fighting Irish will look to win their first semifinal game, when they take on Louisville at 9 pm ET on ESPN at Madison Square Garden.

This afternoon, head coach Mike Brey and his team returned to the Garden for a stretch and shootaround, working to stay loose before the big game. The Irish spent about 45 minutes at the arena, before returning to the hotel to prepare for tonight.

It's strange to see the World's Most Famous Arena empty. In just a few hours, it will be packed with thousands of fans, rooting for one of tonight's four semifinal teams or just on hand for an exciting night of college basketball.

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Before the Irish took the floor, I got a chance to shoot with Father Pete McCormick, Keough Hall rector and Bookstore Basketball star. My performance was less than stellar, which adds another reason to the list of why I hope the Irish get a win tonight - the opportunity to take another crack at the Garden hoops on Saturday afternoon.

But more than that, a trip to tomorrow night's final would cap off what has been a magical season for the Fighting Irish. You really cannot say enough about this year's team, and the resolve it has demonstrated throughout the season.

For the Irish to make their first appearance on Saturday night at the Garden, well, that would just add to the memorable story that is the 2011-12 season.

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Tune in to ESPN tonight, catch the radio call on UND.com and follow along here on Irish UNDerground as the Irish meet the Cardinals in the second semifinal at MSG, set to begin around 9:30 pm.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Sport Science: Skylar Diggins

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Given New Life, Irish Advance at MSG

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With under a minute left in Thursday's quarterfinal against South Florida, it looked like Notre Dame might be heading back to South Bend early. The Irish trailed 45-42, and with just 14 points since the break, had been struggling to put the ball in the hoop for most of the second half.

But basketball, and the BIG EAST tournament in particular, reminds us frequently, that anything can happen.

With 39 seconds to play, Jerian Grant stole the ball from Victor Rudd, was immediately fouled, and hit a pair of free throws to make it a one-point game.

The sophomore guard's play suddenly awakened the Garden crowd and breathed new life into the Fighting Irish, who had been otherwise been left for dead.

But hey, this is not the first time this year's team has bounced back after being written off. How about the 20-point comeback last month at Villanova?

It's not the first time the Irish have defied expectations and found ways to win. Look no further than the ninth place BIG EAST preseason prediction that they turned into a 13-5 record and third seed in this week's tournament.

In the final minute, South Florida had a chance to seal the game with a late layup, but missed. Later, the Bulls were at the line to extend the lead, but missed the front end of a one-and-one. After that, they committed a foul that gave Pat Connaughton a chance to tie or take the lead.

The freshman hit one of two, knotting the game at 45. The Bulls could not score on the final possession and the game went to overtime.

With a second chance, the Irish made the most of their opportunity.

In the extra period, Eric Atkins, who had been scoreless for all of regulation, came through with six key points, including a big three-pointer, helping lift Notre Dame to a 57-53 victory.

Connaughton and Grant led Notre Dame with 12 points apiece, while Scott Martin added 10 to go along with 12 rebounds, for his third double-double of the season.

It was a strange game from the start. Thanks to 80% shooting and four 3-pointers, South Florida jumped out to a 20-8 lead, less than eight minutes into the first half. Some fans were already counting the Irish out.

But as it has all year, Coach Brey's squad was resilient, using an 18-0 run to take a 26-20 lead, holding the Bulls scoreless for more than nine minutes.

Despite the fast start, South Florida managed just 25 points over the final 32:42 of regulation.

In the second half, it was Notre Dame that went nearly 10 minutes without a field goal. Later, the Irish hit a pair of three pointers, before going without a basket for the final 6:43 of regulation. They shot just 20% and made only four shots from the field in the second half.

Not always pretty, but again, the Irish found a way to get the job done.

And it all started with Grant's steal, when an otherwise uneventful, and honestly, mediocre game quickly turned into a heart-stopping thriller. It certainly did not match the excitement of the afternoon's Cincinnati-Georgetown game, but as fans came to their feet, you got the sense, "Oh, so this is the BIG EAST tournament. This is what people mean when they talk about the allure of Madison Square Garden."

By no means was it a classic, but Notre Dame survived to play another day and in the end, that's reason enough to be happy with tonight's game (kind of like the ecstatic fan in this video).

The Irish are one step closer to reaching Saturday night in the Garden - a goal that Coach Brey and his team have mentioned often, as it is something the program has never accomplished.

Still, before Notre Dame thinks about the BIG EAST final, it will first have to get past Louisville tomorrow night (or, at this point, tonight) at 9 pm ET on ESPN.

And it only seems fitting that the path to Saturday must go through the Cardinals, who topped the Irish 83-77 in overtime of last year's semifinals.

These programs have a recent history of writing dramatic scripts. Just over two months ago, Notre Dame knocked off Louisville (then ranked eleventh in the country) in double overtime at the KFC Yum! Center, 67-65.

In total, the past four Notre Dame-Louisville games have been decided in overtime, five of the last six have needed more than 40 minutes, and six of the nine head-to-head contests since the Cardinals joined the BIG EAST in 2005, have been gone to an extra period.

Past series history and Friday night at the Garden. It's going to be an exciting night. Get ready.

And of course, stay tuned to UND.com and Irish UNDerground for more coverage of the Irish in the Big Apple.

- Josh Flynt ('11)
Notre Dame kicks off its BIG EAST tournament action this evening at Madison Square Garden when it takes on South Florida at 9:00 p.m. (ET) in the fourth quarterfinal matchup of the day.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN, and you can hear the radio call on UND.com, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

The Constant in Notre Dame Basketball

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Over the course of every summer and fall, I run into a handful of Notre Dame alumni, degenerate gamblers and degenerate Notre Dame alumni gamblers, and for the next 5 to 10 minutes we go through the dreaded Larry David small-talk wringer.

"What are you doing nowadays?"

I signed a confidentiality agreement at work so I'm not really at liberty to share that information, but I can say and do say, "Hi, my name is Waiter, I'll be your zach this evening."

But the only question they really care about is, "How are the Irish going to be this year?"

If I wasn't a first-born and therefore in possession of a crippling people pleaser component to my personality, I'd say, "Bro-ham, I don't know, how's the stock market going to be this year?" But instead I give them some half-baked analysis of personnel and chemistry.

So, what I usually do is start with the guys I know best, then factor in an off-season improvement variable and go from there.

The worst is when I try to describe the younger guys. Part of me just wants to call up the young'uns and say: "You don't know what it was like back in my day. You didn't have to do the Band of Brothers beat down with the Dog Faced Gremlin (our strength coach). You don't know what 50 Day was. When I was your age, we didn't even have Facebook. We had TheFacebook. You know how much time was wasted typing "the" all those times when I could have been on Twitter? I'll never know because we didn't have that either, you spoiled brat."

Oh, sorry what was your question? How's the new kid, Pat Connaughton? I, uh, you know, I know for a fact that he has two legs so he's probably pretty good. After that, they realize that I don't have an abundance of useful information, and we part ways.

But over the past couple of seasons, another question has surfaced toward the end of the season, and that's, "Why and how is Notre Dame as good as it is?"

In previous years the first thing I would do is go down the list of players and what they have done well and how they have complemented one another, giving the players nearly all of the credit. And I could certainly do the same this year.

But it would not be a complete analysis, or an honest one.

Here is a team that lost its best and most experienced player, Tim Abromaitis, early in the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. At that point, I think everyone wrote off the Irish, including me. I thought they were going to go 0-20 in the Big East in 18 games. Yes, some of them were going to feel like double losses.

But then they started winning. Again. And again. The nine-game Big East winning streak that started with Syracuse was nothing short of amazing. If Biff Tannen from "Back to the Future" could have taken a sports almanac back a couple of months, I don't even think he would have been able to pull the trigger on those bets. So what's the best explanation for all their success?

Was it because of the tremendous development and magnetic hands of Jack Cooley? Certainly. Was it because they have the best defensive backcourt in Coach Mike Brey's tenure? Yes. Was it because of the emergence of Scott Martin as glue guy, defensive stalwart and leader? All of these things are reasons they have been successful, but we are still missing the X-factor.

It has taken me seven years to see it, but the X-factor is Brey.

To begin to understand Brey as a coach, you first need to understand his personality, and as far as characters go, he is an all-time American original.

You know the line from "Tommy Boy": "he could sell a ketchup Popsicle to a woman in white gloves"? Brey could sell white gloves to a woman already covered in ketchup Popsicles. He is a conversational chess wizard, always three, four, five steps ahead of the curve. His delivery is equal parts high school coach, Southern gentleman and a Leisure Suit Larry version of Phil Jackson. He has had enough one-liners to be able to retire and live off bumper sticker sales, and I can't wait for the day when he is a broadcast analyst, as he is one of the funniest dudes you'll meet.

During film sessions, it is not uncommon for Brey, in the middle of a play, to start saying: "You know, fellas, I just knew that shot was going in. The ball movement, the unselfishness, the basketball gods were in our favor on that one."

Ditching X's and O's for a karmic motion offense did not always make sense to me when I was in school, and that's probably why I could not hit a free throw to save my life.

After I graduated, I tried to get a graduate assistant's position (something Notre Dame does not have) with the team, not because that was my dream, but because I was an 18-year-old trapped in a 22-year-old body, and I didn't know which way was up. I was in a dark place.

When I went into the meeting with Coach, he said: "You have the kind of personality that can either heat the building ... or burn it down." What went through my head was, Yeah, well, if I don't find some kind of life direction or employment, I won't be able to pay for heat, let alone rent, and I'll most likely end up burning the apartment complex down -- whoa. How did you do that? How did you know?"

It would have been an entirely wrong decision to prop me up at that point in my life. It would have been mutually destructive. And he knew that, and told me as smoothly and thoughtfully as possible.

One of the first things Coach ever said to me turned out to be one of the most significant. It was during my first year, one of the very first practices, and I had forced up a terrible attempt at a 3-point shot. He pulled me aside later and said, "You don't need to reinvent yourself."

It took me seven years to figure out that he was not talking about on-court skills. He was talking about personality. And therein lies the rub. Don't reinvent yourself. The guys who try to reinvent themselves falter. He is not saying, "Don't improve," he is saying, "Understand who you are, and translate that to the court."

Immature players do not thrive in his system. Make yourself a man and you will have an open seat at the table. And that is not saying you cannot be a kid or that you cannot make mistakes, but when you step on the court and put that jersey on, you better take accountability for yourself and you better at least resemble a grownup.

Looking at this year's team, I see nothing but guys who routinely step up and make the right play, from freshmen to fifth-year seniors, and they all do it with a confidence that they did not have at the start of the season. And for anyone who has watched this team's trajectory over the past couple of months, it has been a master class in personality management and confidence-building. Coach has an intuitive feel for what guys are thinking, what they are going through, and what they need to hear to make improvements and be successful, and he only gets better as he gets older.

Coach Brey is not going to beat you over the head with any of this because he knows those lessons never stick. He pushes the buttons he needs to, and you cannot argue with the results. So, while it took some time for me to figure it out, this might be the best coaching job that he has done, and he certainly deserves a great deal of credit. He does not have the most talented team. He does not have the most athletic team. But what he does have is a team that earned a double-bye in the Big East tournament. That's what happens when you have the basketball gods in your pocket.

- Zach Hillesland

Teen Sensation Weaver Shoots 59

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LadiesOnTour.com - Move over, Annika Sorenstam. Cave Creek's Lindsey Weaver wants a little piece of that "59'' fame!

That's right, Weaver, an 18-year-old senior who attends Cactus Shadows High School, recorded the coveted number during a recent PING Junior Interclub match on the Apache Course at Desert Mountain. And she did it with flair on that Sunday afternoon of Feb. 26, going 5-under par over the last four holes including a clutch eagle 3 on the 18th hole for the 59.

"It was so, so exciting,'' reported Weaver, who hit a rescue club from 183 yards up the hill to within 8 feet and then rolled in the putt with authority for the score of her life.

"I've made some big putts, and I try to be clutch. But that one was special.''

Weaver said none of the kids she was playing with in the Interclub matches seemed to realize what she had accomplished. After all, Sorenstam is the only female ever to shoot a 59, according to all available sources.

"But my parents knew, and some of the other parents knew,'' she said. "And I knew after the 14th hole that I needed four birdies and an eagle at 18 . . . and anything is possible if you believe.''

By comparison, Sorenstam shot her 59 in 2001 on the strength of 13 birdies at Moon Valley Country Club, which measured 6,459 yards at the time. The Swedish star was 12 under after 13 holes, with a birdie at the 17th and a par at the 18th closing out her second round of the LPGA event.

Weaver, who lives at Desert Mountain but has only played the Apache Course "a few times,'' got her 59 on a layout that measured "between 5,700 and 5,800 yards.'' She was 8 under through 13 holes on a day when she "made a lot of putts and hit it really close.'' And then came the fast-and-furious finish.

"I'd never really thought about it (shooting 59), but when I got the chance, I did it,'' noted Weaver, who will be heading off to South Bend, Ind., this fall to play college golf for Notre Dame.

Even though Weaver's 59 was posted on a course that essentially was about 750 yards shorter than the one Sorenstam conquered, it's still a 59, a number that most golfers only dream about. And it's not all about yardage; you still have to make the shots and hole putts.

For instance, Bubba Watson holds all the scoring records at the nearby Estancia Club with a 58 from the back tees (approximately 7,800 yards), a 59 from the middle tees (7,400 yards), and a 60 from the members' tees (7,000 yards). So shorter doesn't always mean easier. And for those who have ever played Apache, it's a rolling terrain that dishes up much tougher shots than those found at the flat-as-a-pancake Moon Valley, although both have challenging greens.

While Sorenstam is the only female pro to ever shoot 59, it has been done five times on the PGA Tour since Al Geiberger first pulled off the feat at the 1977 Memphis Classic. And it's been accomplished several times on the Nationwide Tour, too.

But in junior or high school golf, only Bobby Wyatt's 57 in the 2010 Alabama Boys State High School Golf Championship, where he made 12 birdies and an eagle on a par-71 layout, is better. What was amazing about Wyatt's feat at the Country Club of Mobile, was he hung another potential birdie on the lip at the 18th hole that would have been for a 56.

Weaver certainly is an up-and-comer in the junior and high school ranks. She is rated No. 21 in the country by the American Junior Golf Association, and has seven AJGA victories, including two this past summer. All totaled, she estimates her junior titles at "somewhere between 75 and 100'' since she began playing golf at age 2.

Plus, last summer after being picked to play in the Junior Solheim Cup in Ireland, Weaver made the winning putt from 6 feet on the last hole in the last match to help the USA Girls Team retain the cup over Europe, 12-12. Even though she's come up big several times now, Weaver, who moved from Ohio to Arizona when she was 11 to play more golf, is relatively under the radar in Arizona because she doesn't play high school golf for Cactus Shadows.

"I haven't played high school golf since I was a sophomore just because it's too time-consuming - you have to drive all over the Valley - and I need to focus on my academics,'' said Weaver, who is an honor student at Cactus Shadows with a 4.3 GPA.

Instead, she would sooner dedicate herself to practicing the game, which she does every day from 12:30 to 6 p.m. Asked if she had considered going to Arizona girls golf powerhouse Xavier College Preparatory, she shook her head: "It's just too far away from my home.''

Instead, she sticks close to home and does most of her practicing at Desert Mountain on the Renegade and Outlaw courses. Her father, Craig Weaver, serves as her instructor.

"Right now, I'm trying to get a little more distance off the tee with my driver by increasing my lag time. I hit it about 250 to 260 (yards off the tee), but I could use a little more (distance),'' said the 5-foot-2 Weaver, whose previous best was a 65 last summer in AJGA play.

"Putting is probably my strength, as I spend a lot of time with my own putting arc that my dad developed. It's helped me a lot, because you've got to be able to putt if you're going to score.''

So much so that she's become a "dream Weaver'' with the flat stick. And people are starting to notice, said John Souza, who heads up the PING Junior Interclub program, which features about 40 teams from various clubs and courses throughout the state that are made up from kids of all abilities in the 10- to 18-age range.

"That 59 was pretty special when you consider we have some talented kids that shoot, maybe 66 or 67, when they play their best,'' observed Souza, who founded the program in 2009.

"For instance, at that Desert Mountain tournament that Lindsey had the 59, the next-best score was 68, and the next-best score beyond that was a 73. So while we might have another girl who will shoot, say, 115, they have a tendency to look up to Lindsey and treat her like a role model, and deservedly so.''

The girl does have her head on straight it would seem. Like when you ask her about the future, Weaver readily admits that she wants to play the LPGA some day. But being a realist, she said she also wants to earn a business degree and get her Masters at Notre Dame "just in case.'' This from a brilliant kid who had other offers to go elsewhere, like big-time schools such as Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Virginia, USC and Arizona.

"ASU? They sent me a letter, but it's too close to home,'' she said, laughing as she reversed her stance on what kept her out of Xavier. "But, truthfully, once I saw the amazing campus at Notre Dame - the most beautiful I've ever seen - I knew it was right for me.''

Yes, Lindsey Weaver gets it, which is why she only giggles when an observer reminds her that she is the only other female besides Sorenstam to shoot the 59, something she can wear proudly as her claim to fame through college and even the LPGA, if she goes that way.

"Yes, it is pretty neat,'' she said of the feat. "I've had a lot of great moments, fun moments playing golf.

"But to do something that Annika did, well, you never really forget something like that."

Irish Ready for South Florida

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Eight hours before tip-off, the Notre Dame men's basketball team visited The Sports Club/LA for a final walkthrough and shootaround. The club, located in Manhattan's Upper East Side, has a pair of basketball courts on the seventh floor. The elevators open directly to the gym floor, where there is a rock-climbing wall in between the courts.

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The Irish ran through some stretches, before walking through a few of the situations they might face against South Florida's offensive and defensive sets. After the quick walkthrough, Coach Brey caught up with UND.com to preview tonight's matchup. The team grabbed some water and took a break in the club lobby to catch the end of the Syracuse-UConn quarterfinal game.

Afterwards, the Irish returned to the hotel, where they will have a team Mass and pregame meal before heading over to Madison Square Garden later this evening.

Coach Brey's squad tips off tonight at 9 pm (probably closer to 9:30, following the end of the Louisville-Marquette game) against South Florida. Watch the action on ESPN and follow the live blog right here on Irish UNDerground.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Game Day in NYC

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After two days in The City, it's almost game time. The Notre Dame men's basketball team took to Madison Square Garden this morning for a shootaround as they prepare for tonight's 9 pm quarterfinal against South Florida.

Upon arrival at the Garden, the Irish took the famous freight elevator up to the court. They don't call it the World's Most Famous Arena for nothing. It's pretty amazing to think about the celebrated coaches, athletes, musicians and performers who have taken that same ride up to the court, locker rooms or backstage area.

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Walking down the hallway towards the main floor, the walls are decorated with photos from some of the legendary games and performances that have passed through MSG over the years.

All-time greats such as The Rolling Stones, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, as well as some of this generation's most accomplished recording artists - Beyonce, Jay-Z and Coldplay, among others.

#2 seed Marquette was finishing up their walkthrough right before the Irish took the court, and as soon as they finished, Connecticut and Syracuse were arriving to get ready for their noon quarterfinal matchup.

The Irish returned to the hotel after the shootaround, but will head out to The Sports Club/LA later this afternoon for a final walkthrough.

Plenty more coming later today on Irish UNDerground. 9 hours until game time.

Sean McDonough, Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas will have the call (and the best view in the house) on ESPN.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Summerhays Shines In CCHA Playoffs

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In his first 22 career starts, Steven Summerhays had never recorded a shutout for Notre Dame.

But late in the season, the sophomore goalie has emerged as a force for the Irish, shutting out Michigan State (Feb. 24) and Ohio State (March 2) in back-to-back starts. Following his performance in game one of the best-of-three set with the Buckeyes, Summerhays earned first-star honors again in the 4-2 clincher last Saturday night.

Over those three games, his .978 save percentage far surpasses his .908 average. His two wins this weekend secured a victory in the first-round of the CCHA tournament.

"He's playing with confidence right now," head coach Jeff Jackson said. "The thing I've been clamoring for all year is consistency. I was curious to see when we gave up the early goal tonight how he'd respond, and he responded very well.

"He's had a good streak here the last couple times he's played. I thought he could have had a problem [Saturday], but I thought he responded, came back and made some huge saves for us at key points in the game."

Summerhays probably received a major confidence boost in the second period Friday, when Ohio State had two men close to the net. Despite the huge scoring chance, the Buckeyes were denied on a diving highlight-reel save that got the crowd roaring.

"When you make a big save, the whole entire crowd and the bench is going, and I think Johns and a couple other guys were yelling at me from the ice," Summerhays said. "It's a good feeling - it gives you more confidence for the rest of the game. It's just like anybody else making a big hit or scoring a goal."

Thanks in part to Summerhays, the Irish have won three of their last four in time for the postseason. Ranked 18th in the USCHO.com poll, Notre Dame sits on the bubble of the 16-team NCAA tournament.

"I think it's the way we start games and being able to sustain the same momentum for longer periods of time," said senior co-captain Billy Maday, who tallied three goals on the weekend. "Scoring the first goal is something I think our team needs and we've been able to do that recently.

"I think we've matured a little bit. And aside from that, I think we recognize that these games are really important, and our team responds to pressure pretty well."

This Irish squad knows a little about playing with pressure. As a three seed in the NCAA tournament last year, Notre Dame reached the Frozen Four before losing to eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth 4-3.

"I think this is the first time it really felt like last year," said sophomore Mike Voran, who scored the game-winning goal Saturday. "Obviously, it's a brand new year, and we kind of want to separate ourselves from last year, but you remember how fun it was to make a run.

"We're excited. I think we're coming together as a team at the perfect time. You know, you can feel it on the bench. Guys were up, guys were getting up for each other, whether it's a first-line guy, fourth-line guy - everyone was pulling their weight."

That's something the Irish have missed at times this season - secondary scoring. In the regular season, nearly 30 percent of the team's goals came from just two players: sophomores Anders Lee and T.J. Tynan.

But with goals from Maday, Voran, Lee and sophomore Jeff Costello, scoring came from three different lines over the two games. Four of the six goals came from the third line of Voran, Maday and sophomore David Gerths.

"I was playing them up against their top line at times tonight, so I don't really look at any of those three lines as being a third line. But it helps a lot when you get some depth in your scoring, and that's something we've lacked most of the year," said Jackson. "That's how you're going to win, because you're not going to see a lot of 3-, 4-goal games in the playoffs. It's tough."

After Notre Dame's first series sweep since November, the Irish will try to advance to the CCHA tournament semifinals in Detroit. Standing in their way is second-seeded foe Michigan, with whom the Irish split a series at home in January.

"I think the first 10 minutes of the first game are going to be huge," said Voran. "When you're on the road, you definitely want to pick up the first game. You go down one game on the road, and the fans get into it. Just being mentally prepared and the first 10 minutes are I think the biggest things we need to focus on."

Round two of the CCHA tournament will take place this Friday and Saturday at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich., with a game three on Sunday if necessary.

- Craig Chval ('15)

You Don't Want To Be ...

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... the man sitting across a chessboard from the three-time
BIG EAST Men's Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

BIG EAST Stage Is Set

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Get ready. Game time is less than 22 hours away.

After posting a 56-47 win over Villanova in the final second round BIG EAST game on Wednesday night, South Florida earned a quarterfinal berth and rematch with third-seeded Notre Dame. Anthony Collins scored 17 and Victor Rudd Jr. added 13 for the Bulls, who won their 20th game of the season.

The Bulls and Irish met on Jan. 10 in South Bend, a game that Notre Dame won, 60-49. As is often the case at Purcell Pavilion, the Irish used a big second half run to break the game open. With 9:17 to play, Notre Dame led 40-37, but over the next 5:07, the Irish reeled off 14 straight to build up a 17-point lead, on the way to their third victory of the young BIG EAST season.

Three Irish players scored in double figures, including Scott Martin who registered 15 points and 13 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double. Jack Cooley led all scorers with 16 points, and Jerian Grant added 14.

Forward Augustus Gilchrist led the Bulls with 13 points, while Jawanza Poland chipped in 12. Fittingly, Gilchrist and Poland finished the regular season as USF's leading scorers.

For more on that game from nearly two months ago, check out the highlights and Coach Brey's post game press conference.

Shifting attention to tomorrow night, it will be a matchup of overachievers. Notre Dame was picked to finish ninth in the BIG EAST this season, while USF was voted 14th. Instead, Coach Brey's Irish squad finished third in the conference (13-5) and Stan Heath's Bulls tied Cincinnati and Georgetown for fourth (12-6).

It will also be a battle of two strong defenses. Tonight's game marked the ninth straight contest in which the Bulls held their opponent under 60 points. Likewise, the Irish held opposing teams below that mark in nine of 18 conference games, including seven of those during the nine-game winning streak that began on Jan. 21 vs. top-ranked Syracuse.

On Tuesday, Heath was named the OppenheimerFunds BIG EAST Coach of the Year. The fifth-year USF head coach guided his team to a nine-game improvement over last year's 3-15 conference finish.

The tournament fun truly begins tomorrow, as the top-4 teams (Syracuse, Cincinnati, Marquette, and of course, Notre Dame) take the court for quarterfinal action. It all starts at noon as the top-seeded Orange face #9 seed Connecticut - a classic BIG EAST rivalry that has produced some memorable games over the years.

And in the evening, it will be your Fighting Irish in the spotlight - 9 pm on ESPN vs. South Florida. Check back to UND.com and Irish UNDerground tomorrow for more coverage of the Irish as they prepare for the big quarterfinal matchup in NYC.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Irish Connection - Episode 38

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How are Coach Kelly's Fighting Irish spending the off-season before spring practice begins? Check out the latest episode of Irish Connection.

Stay tuned into UND.com in the coming weeks for more football coverage. Spring practice begins March 21 and the Blue-Gold game will be a month later, on April 21 at 1:30 pm ET on the NBC Sports Network.

Courtside with Seth Davis

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BIG EAST Prep Continues for Irish in NYC

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It's day two for the Notre Dame men's basketball team in New York City. This morning, the Irish held their second practice at John Jay College, a criminal justice school in midtown Manhattan.

It was a busy day of classes and the elevators were jam packed, so the Irish elected for four flights of stairs, on their way to the Bloodhounds' gym. John Jay plays in the City University of New York (CUNY) Conference along with Brooklyn College, Hunter College, N.Y.C. Technical and the College of Staten Island, among others.

On each side, there are eight rows of wooden pullout bleachers, the kind you would see in your average high school gym. There's a second standing-room-only level overlooking the court, where a sign reads, "Occupancy by more than 179 persons is dangerous and unlawful." Not exactly on par with Madison Square Garden.

But that's beside the point. If Coach Brey were to pull a page out of Norman Dale's book in Hoosiers, the hoop still would have been ten feet - just as it is in the Purcell Pavilion, and just as it will be tomorrow night at the Garden.

The team ended practice with perhaps the best way to prepare for a game - situational drills. The clock was set to various situations, as the Irish simulated some of the potential scenarios they might face in the coming days.

Though Tuesday's slate of first round games was rather uneventful, if the past is any indication, the remainder of the BIG EAST tournament will be filled with late-game drama and last-second heroics.

Third-seeded Notre Dame will play in Thursday's fourth quarterfinal at 9 pm on ESPN against the winner of tonight's late matchup - #14 Villanova vs. #6 South Florida.

UND.com will have video coverage from today's practice later this afternoon, so stay tuned right here to Irish UNDerground.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Abromaitis Makes It Three Straight

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While he awaits an NCAA decision on whether or not he will get a sixth year in South Bend, Notre Dame forward Tim Abromaitis adds another incredible accomplishment to his already stellar resume. On Tuesday evening, Abromaitis was named the American Eagle Outfitters BIG EAST Men's Basketball Scholar-Athlete of The Year for an unprecedented third-straight season.

Last season, Abromaitis joined Arturas Karnishovas of Seton Hall (1993-94) and Emeka Okafor of Connecticut (2003-04) as just the third two-time winner. Today, he becomes the only three-time recipient since the award was first given in 1985. In 2010, he became the second Notre Dame player to receive the honor, joining forward Pat Garrity who earned the recognition in 1998.

As head coach Mike Brey said in an interview with UND.com, "I'm so proud of Tim. This will never happen again...He truly is a student-athlete. He's the poster boy for student-athletes."

Unfortunately for the Irish, Abromaitis suffered a season-ending knee injury in late November, and only appeared in two games during the 2011-12 campaign. Last year, he averaged 15.4 points per game and helped guide the Irish to a 27-7 record and #2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

The Unionville, Ct. native completed his undergraduate degree in just three years, graduating in May 2010, before enrolling in the accelerated one-year MBA program. When it comes to his future with the Fighting Irish, Abromaitis's string of academic excellence may actually hurt his chances for a sixth year.

When the NCAA make its final ruling, they will probably be asking the same question many of us are wondering, "Tim, what else can you accomplish academically?" Of course, there's always the opportunity to start a Ph.D. or J.D. program.

Only time will tell if Abromaitis gets another year with the blue & gold, but regardless of what happens, he has been an excellent representative of the university and will be successful, whether or not he continues playing basketball at the collegiate or professional level.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Fighting Irish Xtra: March 5

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Day One in New York

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The Notre Dame men's basketball team arrived in New York City last night in preparation for Thursday's quarterfinal BIG EAST tournament matchup with a to-be-determined opponent. At 9 pm tonight, Rutgers battles Villanova for the right to play South Florida on Wednesday. The Irish will take on the winner of Wednesday's game on Thursday at 9 pm on ESPN.

This morning, the Irish held their first practice at John Jay College, a criminal justice school located in midtown Manhattan. Earlier this evening, Tim Abromaitis won his third consecutive American Eagle Outfitters BIG EAST Men's Basketball Scholar-Athlete of The Year.

UND.com will have complete coverage of tonight's awards press conference, including interviews with both Abromaitis and head coach Mike Brey. Check back soon, and stay tuned to Irish UNDerground for more coverage of the Irish in the Big Apple throughout the week.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Following Flynt - Full of Memories

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On Christmas Day, the Notre Dame men's basketball team was 8-5 overall. When the spring semester began, the Irish were 11-8 and 3-3 in BIG EAST play.

Here we stand on the eve of the BIG EAST tournament, and head coach Mike Brey has his team in a position no one thought they would be, especially after co-captain Tim Abromaitis was lost to a season-ending knee injury in November.

After posting a 13-5 conference record, the Fighting Irish earned themselves a #3 seed and a double-bye, where they will take on #6 South Florida or the winner of #14 Villanova and #11 Rutgers on Thursday night at 9 pm on ESPN.

But before Notre Dame takes to the Big Apple, here's a look at some memorable moments from the season so far, saving some of the best for last:

December 27, 2011 vs. Pittsburgh: Notre Dame kicked off its BIG EAST schedule with a big win over the #22 Panthers. While many were focused on college football's bowl season, Alex Dragicevich hit four 3-pointers and netted a career-high 22 points to lead the Irish to a 72-59 win at Purcell Pavilion. In the end, Pittsburgh was one of the surprise disappointments of the conference this year, but the win set the tone for the Irish's BIG EAST slate. Highlights on UND.com.

January 29, 2012 at Connecticut: It was not the prettiest offensive performance, but Notre Dame escaped Hartford with a 50-48 win, its third straight victory and second consecutive away from home. Eric Atkins scored 13 points and Jerian Grant added 11, as the Irish defeated the #24 Huskies on their home floor.

February 8, 2012 at West Virginia: After falling behind by 10 at the half, the Mountaineers fought their way back and took the lead with under five minutes to play. It looked like Notre Dame's winning streak was destined to end in Morgantown, but Atkins, Grant and Scott Martin hit a trio of 3-pointers down the stretch to carry the Irish to 55-51 win, their fifth straight.

March 2, 2012 vs. Providence: It was a special evening at Purcell Pavilion, as Notre Dame honored Abromaitis and Martin for Senior Night and inducted Adrian Dantley into the Ring of Honor. In the end however, it was junior Jack Cooley who had the biggest night. Cooley posted a career-high 27 points to go along with 17 rebounds, as the Irish held off a furious Providence comeback to win, 75-69, their 21st victory of the season.

January 7, 2012 at Louisville: While the women's team was locked in a classic battle with Connecticut back in South Bend, down in Louisville, the men's team won its second impressive game of the young BIG EAST season, knocking off the #11 Cardinals in double overtime, 67-65. Atkins finished with 15 points, including six key ones in the final minute of the second overtime to lead Notre Dame to the upset.

February 4, 2012 vs. Marquette: After heading to the locker room with a four-point lead, Notre Dame dominated the second half to upset the #15 Golden Eagles, 76-59. Pat Connaughton had 23 points and 11 rebounds, and the Irish knocked down 11 3-pointers to win their fourth straight, and fifth of the season against a ranked opponent.

February 18, 2012 at Villanova: As the Wildcats had a down year, this game was not so much about whom the Irish beat, but rather, how they beat them. Notre Dame erased a 20-point deficit to win its eighth straight BIG EAST contest, 74-70 in overtime. The improbable win was sparked by Connaughton's seven 3-pointers and Cooley's 18-point, 13-rebound performance.

January 21, 2012 vs. Syracuse: Speechless. A Notre Dame moment. The game of the year.

For the eighth time in program history, and the sixth straight at Purcell Pavilion, the Fighting Irish defeated a #1 team, knocking off undefeated (20-0) Syracuse, 67-58. Students and fans rushed the court, joining the team in absolute jubilation. It was an incredible you-just-had-to-be-there night to be a Notre Dame fan. What's more, the victory was the start of a nine-game winning streak that helped the Irish climb the BIG EAST standings and national rankings, surely on their way to a NCAA tournament berth when the bracket is announced on Sunday.

Just for fun...

And finally, the Best of Jack Nolan - the voice of the Fighting Irish on the Notre Dame Basketball Radio Network.

It's been a season full of great memories, but before we close the book on 2012, let's hope we can add a few more examples of Jack's signature "Got It!" and "Yes!" to this exciting highlight reel.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Relive the Bouts

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If you weren't at Purcell Pavilion on Saturday, did not get a chance to watch the live broadcast on UND.com, or just feel like watching again, check out this YouTube playlist for all eleven championship fights from the 82nd annual Bengal Bouts finals.

Following Flynt - Wild Week at The Garden

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There's a reason they call it The City That Never Sleeps. Looking at the Madison Square Garden calendar of events, you've got to wonder if they ever even turn the lights out in the World's Most Famous Arena.

On Sunday afternoon, the Boston Bruins met the New York Rangers in an NHL matchup.

Tonight, MSG hosts four of the best tennis players in the world. The BNP Paribas Showdown features Maria Sharapova against Caroline Wozniacki and Roger Federer versus Andy Roddick, beginning at 7 pm.

Tomorrow at noon, the BIG EAST conference kicks off five straight days of men's basketball action with four first round games.

The tournament championship will be played on Saturday at 9 pm, before the New York Knicks return home on Sunday at noon to host the Philadelphia 76ers.

It's safe to say the people in charge of MSG's logistics, planning and arena changeover are earning their paychecks.

- Josh Flynt ('11)
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Conventional wisdom suggests a 16-team bracket plays out just like any of the four regions within the NCAA tournament - #1 plays #16, #2 plays #15, #3 plays #14, etc.

Such is not the case however, for the BIG EAST tournament, which started on Friday in Hartford for the women, and begins tomorrow in New York for the men.

Beginning in 2009, the conference started including all 16 conference teams in the postseason tournament, while prior to that, only the top 12 in the regular season standings qualified.

Often considered the toughest basketball conference in college basketball, the current tournament format rewards teams who make it through the 18-game regular season schedule with few battle scars.

The top four seeds, which include Syracuse, Marquette, Notre Dame and Cincinnati this season, receive a double-bye to the quarterfinals.

Teams #5 through #8 are awarded a bye to the second round, while the bottom half of the league, teams #9 through #16 must play on the opening day.

Last season, Connecticut (#9 seed) won an astonishing five games in five days to win the conference championship, before winning six straight in the NCAA tournament, on its way to a national title.

Given Notre Dame's position as a #3 seed in this year's tournament, the Fighting Irish will play Thursday at 9 pm ET on ESPN against #6 South Florida or the winner of #11 Rutgers and #14 Villanova.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Day In the Life

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Following Flynt - The Buck(eyes) Stop Here

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Way back in October, Ohio State spoiled the final hockey game in the Joyce Center, defeating Notre Dame, 4-3. But now, that game is a distant memory. Here we are in March, at the incredible Compton Family Ice Arena, and the Irish just took two straight from the Buckeyes to sweep the first round CCHA playoff series.

After a 2-0 victory on Friday night, Notre Dame posted a 4-2 win on Saturday in front of a crowd of 4,202.

Head coach Jeff Jackson's team will advance to next week's second round where they will take on a to-be-determined opponent.

Maybe it was just typical playoff hockey or maybe both teams forgot the boxing tournament was across the street. On the night Notre Dame held the 82nd annual Bengal Bouts finals, the Irish and Buckeyes played a very physical game, combining for 14 penalties, including 11 in the first two periods.

The Buckeyes struck twice in the first period, getting an early goal from Sean Duddy and a late score by Danny Dries. Notre Dame's Jeff Costello tied it at one midway through the period on an assist from Kevin Lind.

In the second, Anders Lee scored his first goal of the playoffs, assisted by T.J. Tynan and Bryan Rust. Lee's score knotted the game at two, and the Irish took the lead just under seven minutes later when Mike Voran found the back of the net.

The officials reviewed Voran's goal, but the call on the ice stood and Notre Dame pulled in front, 3-2. David Gerths and Bill Maday were credited with assists on Voran's second goal of the playoffs.

It was a frantic finish, as Notre Dame needed to come up with a pair of crucial penalty kills to hang onto a one-goal lead. Momentum shifted back in the Irish's favor when OSU's Travis Statchuk was whistled for a two-minute boarding penalty with just 2:38 to play.

Much to the delight of the home crowd, Maday, the senior captain sealed the victory on an empty-net power play goal with 50 seconds remaining.

A night after stopping 33 shots in a shutout win, Steven Summerhays registered 31 saves and was named the #1 star of the game (Voran and Maday were second and third, respectively).

After a few bumps in the road, Notre Dame closed out the inaugural season at CFIA on a high note, taking three out of its final four home games, and coming up with two big playoff wins to keep its season alive.

We'll have to wait and see how the other first round CCHA playoffs finish up, but either way, the Irish are moving on and have to excited about how they played this weekend.

Stay tuned to UND.com for more coverage from tonight's series clincher.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Blog: Hockey vs. Ohio State

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There's no season like the post-season. After a 2-0 victory last night, the Irish look to win the first round CCHA series tonight against Ohio State.

Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's Irish hockey contest. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Following Flynt - Victory on Senior Night

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Jack Cooley must have heard the criticism following his 2-point, 0-rebound night in Monday's loss to Georgetown. The junior forward responded in a big way, tallying 21 points and 10 boards in the first half alone, lifting Notre Dame to a 75-69 win over Providence in the regular season finale.

It was a special night at Purcell Pavilion, as Notre Dame honored seniors Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin. Abromaitis and Martin applied for sixth and fifth years, respectively, but it remains to be seen how that plays out with the NCAA.

Abromaitis, who suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier this past fall, did not play, but suited up for the first time since November.

The Irish struggled offensively early, but held a three-point lead at the break, thanks to Cooley's dominant first half performance.

At halftime, Irish great Adrian Dantley became the fourth inductee into the Notre Dame Basketball Ring of Honor. The 1976 national college basketball player of the year and a member of the Naismith National Basketball Hall of Fame joined Ruth Riley, Luke Harangody and Austin Carr being recognized with the program's highest honor.

Notre Dame opened the second on a 26-5 run to build a 24-point lead over the first 10:05 of the half. The huge run was incredibly similar to last Wednesday's home game against West Virginia, when the Irish used a 28-7 run over the first 9:59 of the second half to open up a 23-point lead.

Providence battled back, using a 12-0 run to cut the lead. For a while, it looked like the Friars would not get much closer, but a late 10-1 run cut the lead to just six with under a minute to play.

Cooley led five players in double figures, finishing the night with 27 and 17. Martin added 11, while Alex Dragicevich (12), Eric Atkins (10) and Jerian Grant (12) also paced the Irish offensively.

In the closing minutes, the student section chanted "One more year" as Martin checked out of the game, and "Thank you Abro" as Abromaitis watched from the bench. Throughout their careers, Abromaitis and Martin have not only led the Irish on the court, but have also been exceptional representatives of the university, away from the game of basketball. Let's hope they'll be back for one more season.

With the win, Notre Dame closes out the regular season 21-10 and 13-5 in conference play. Head coach Mike Brey's squad locks up the #3 seed in next week's BIG EAST Tournament at Madison Square Garden and the Irish get a double-bye to Thursday's quarterfinals, where they will play at 9 pm ET on ESPN, against a to-be-determined opponent.

Stay tuned to UND.com and Irish UNDerground for more coverage from the Senior Night win, and follow the Irish right here as they head to the Big Apple next week.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Chat - Hockey vs. Ohio State

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There's no season like the post-season.

Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's Irish hockey contest. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Live Blog: Men's Basketball vs. Providence

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Notre Dame concludes BIG EAST Conference action this evening at Purcell Pavilion when it takes on Providence at 7:00 p.m. (ET).

It's an extra special night, as the Irish honor seniors Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin, and also induct ND basketball great Adrian Dantley into the Ring of Honor. The game will be broadcast on the BIG EAST Network (WMYS Ch. 69 in the South Bend area), but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Following Flynt - 28 and Counting

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With 28 wins and a regular season BIG EAST title, the Notre Dame women's basketball team has had its share of great moments this season. But don't be fooled. For head coach Muffet McGraw, her staff and her players, it's championship or bust. After making it to the 2011 championship game in Indianapolis, anything short of a celebration in Denver at this year's Final Four will be considered a disappointment.

This weekend, they will head back to Hartford in search of a BIG EAST Tournament title and an automatic bid for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

There is hopefully a lot of basketball left to be played, but here's a look at some of the top moments from this season so far:

November 26, 2011 vs. Duke: One of the most exciting games of the season, and certainly the most memorable of Notre Dame's trip to the Bahamas, the Irish rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit against #7 Duke for a 56-54 win in the Junkanoo Jam final. Though she struggled offensively for much of the game, senior Natalie Novosel dribbled up courtfloor and banked a shot in from the foul line at the buzzer to seal the incredible comeback victory.

December 18, 2011 vs. Kentucky: Notre Dame hosted #8 Kentucky in a nationally-televised game on the Sunday before Christmas. Using an 11-0 run late in the second half, the Irish won 92-83 to hand the Wildcats their first loss of the season. Five players scored in double figures, led by Novosel's 23 points. Skylar Diggins (16 points, 11 assists) and Devereaux Peters (13 points, 13 rebounds) each registered double-doubles for the third-ranked Fighting Irish.

January 7, 2012 vs. Connecticut: On a big night for Notre Dame basketball, #3 Irish defeated #2 UConn, 74-67 in overtime at the Purcell Pavilion. Led by Diggins' 22 points, the win snapped the Huskies 57-game BIG EAST winning streak and marked the second straight time Notre Dame defeated Connecticut. At the same time the Irish were playing at home, the men's team edged 11th-ranked Louisville, 67-65 in double overtime.

January 17, 2012 vs. Pittsburgh: With eight players in double figures, Notre Dame turned in its most dominant performance of the season, crushing the Panthers, 120-44. Peters led all scorers with 20 points, while Natalie Achonwa added 19 off the bench. Kayla McBride (11), Brittany Mallory (11), Kaila Turner (14), Markisha Wright (11), Diggins (11) and Novosel (13) also sparked the impressive Irish offense.

January 23, 2012 vs. Tennessee: In a rare midseason non-league game, Notre Dame's strong defense held the #7 Lady Vols to just 44 points, their lowest total in head coach Pat Summitt's legendary career. Diggins scored 27 points, while Peters added 16, as well as a career-high, 16 rebounds.

February 25, 2012 vs. South Florida: The Bulls fought hard on Senior Night at the Purcell Pavilion, but Notre Dame refused to lose and closed out its home schedule with a 80-68 win. After the game, Natalie Novosel, Devereaux Peters, Fraderica Miller and Brittany Mallory were honored on the court. Novosel set a career-high with 32 points, as did Peters with 18 rebounds.

February 27, 2012 at Connecticut: Notre Dame defeated the #4 Huskies for the third-straight time, spoiling Senior Night at the XL Center with a 72-59 win. The Irish clinched their first outright BIG EAST title and handed Connecticut its second consecutive home loss. Before falling to St. John's earlier in the month, UConn had previously won 99 straight home games. Novosel scored 21 and Diggins added 20 as Notre Dame improved to 28-2 this season.

Notre Dame is the top seed for the BIG EAST tournament and secured a double bye to Sunday's quarterfinal round. The Irish will play at 2 pm ET on ESPNU against DePaul or South Florida, depending on who wins in tomorrow's second round tournament action.

Stay tuned to UND.com and Irish UNDerground for more coverage of the Irish as they continue the quest to add a second national championship banner to the Purcell Pavilion rafters.

- Josh Flynt ('11)
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Assumption.edu - Assumption College has announced that Brian Kelly ('83) will deliver the address at the College's 95th commencement exercises on Saturday, May 12, 2012. During the ceremony, Kelly will also receive an honorary degree.

"Brian has remained closely connected with Assumption and has proudly articulated how his Catholic liberal arts education and the strong sense of community at Assumption have served as a great foundation for his successful career," said Assumption College President Francesco Cesareo. "He is passionate about how Assumption College uniquely combines both intellectual and spiritual development that supports and encourages each student, and I expect that our graduating seniors and audience members will find inspiration from his life story and experiences."

A 1983 graduate of Assumption College, Kelly is a veteran of 21 seasons as a head football coach in the collegiate setting. He is heading into his third season as the head football coach at Notre Dame, the 29th in their storied history, and he has guided the Fighting Irish to 16 wins and two bowl games over the last two seasons. Kelly became the first Notre Dame head coach to win a bowl game in his first season with the Fighting Irish. Currently the fifth-winningest active coach in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), his 110 victories as head coach since 2001 are more than all but two active FBS head coaches - Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Mack Brown of Texas.

Born in Everett, Mass., and raised in Chelsea, Mass., Kelly attended St. John's Preparatory School in Danvers, Mass. A four-year star linebacker for the Assumption College club football team, and captain of the squad in 1981 and 1982, the Assumption teams in those years finished 8-3 and 7-1-1. After graduating from Assumption with a bachelor's degree in political science, he served the College as linebacker coach and defensive coordinator (as well as softball coach) from 1983 to 1986.

Kelly has long praised the value of an Assumption College education and its role in his spiritual and intellectual development, which "allowed me to grow as a human being," he said. "I am a proud graduate of Assumption College. I greatly value the education I received there as well as what the College taught me about commitment to service. I am delighted to return to my alma mater to address the graduating class of 2012."

He joined Michigan's Grand Valley State University staff in 1987 as a graduate assistant and defensive backs coach. There, Kelly became the defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator in 1989 and took over, at age 28, as head coach in 1991. Kelly compiled a 118-35-2 record (.767) in 13 seasons as head coach of the Lakers, highlighted by NCAA Division II national championships in 2002 and 2003. In 2009, he was inducted into the Grand Valley State Athletics Hall of Fame, and in 2011 Grand Valley State renamed its Laker Turf Building the Kelly Family Sports Center. The Kelly Family Sports Center is a 138,000-square-foot building that houses a regulation football field and a six-lane, 300-meter track.

After coaching three seasons at Central Michigan where Kelly helped the Chippewas win the Mid-American Conference title in 2006, Kelly spent three seasons at the University of Cincinnati from 2007 to 2009. Kelly led the Bearcats to a 34-6 record (.850) and two straight outright BIG EAST Conference titles that earned BCS appearances in 2008 (FedEx Orange Bowl) and 2009 (Allstate Sugar Bowl). He became the first BIG EAST football coach to win the conference's coach of the year honor three years in a row and Kelly's 12-0 squad in 2009 helped him earn ESPN/Home Depot National Coach of the Year Award. At the time he accepted the position at Notre Dame, he qualified as the winningest active BIG EAST football coach as well as the only league coach with more than 150 wins.



The parents of three children, Kelly and his wife Paqui host annual events to benefit the Kelly Cares Foundation, established to support organizations, initiatives and programs that align with the goals and values of their family. Paqui, a two-time breast cancer survivor, and Brian have their charity focus on three main areas: personal involvement, with emphasis on breast cancer research, prevention, education and awareness; education and institutional advancement; and community involvement in selected initiatives and projects.

In June 2010, Brian and Paqui made a $250,000 gift to the University of Notre Dame in support of endeavors in research, academics and community engagement. The gift directly supports three Notre Dame initiatives: cancer research, the Hesburgh Libraries and the Robinson Community Learning Center.
On Saturday night at 7 pm ET, UND.com will be streaming the 82nd annual Bengal Bouts finals. The bouts are a charity boxing tournament to benefit the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh. Catch all 12 championship bouts right here on UND.com, and if you're an Irish football fan, pay extra attention to the 188-lb weight class, as safety Chris Salvi goes for the title. Here's a quick preview of Saturday's fight night:

And to get you in the spirit...

Novosel Nominated for Senior CLASS Award

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Every year, 20 male and female senior student-athletes across 10 sports are honored via nominations for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. The Senior CLASS award, which stands for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, commends senior student-athletes for their four-year commitment to their respective college programs. In addition to staying in school for four years, candidates have displayed exemplary achievement in the areas of character, classroom, community, and competition. From the 20 candidates from each sport, 10 finalists are chosen, and the public votes to determine the ultimate winner in each category.

Because of her outstanding performance both on and off the court, it is no surprise that women's basketball player, Natalie Novosel, was nominated as a candidate and chosen as a finalist for the 2012 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award.

Novosel can remember the first time she ever played in a Notre Dame game. The arena felt smaller then, and she remembers there being far fewer fans than there are now. Though she saw playing time in all thirty-one games freshman year, Novosel describes herself as feeling like a "deer-in-the-headlights" on the court sometimes during her first season of play with the Irish.

"It's so amazing now being such a contributor, and thinking back to being a freshman, but it was fun, and I just remember wanting to get better after every single summer here," Novosel said.

In fact, it is her work ethic that has made Novosel stand out in the NCAA. Coming off of a difficult sophomore season during which she even considered transferring schools, Novosel was committed to working harder than ever, and her junior season was noticeably improved. Due to her tenacity and strong work ethic, Novosel was able to come back her junior season to more than triple her scoring average from the previous year. Novosel averaged four rebounds per game and contributed seventy-five steals on the season to help the Irish in their run for the national championship.

"I am most proud of how I have been able to grow as a player. It took a lot for me to get through sophomore year, and I stuck with it, and I couldn't be happier. It just fueled my fire to help with the championship run. I think that's what I am most proud of," Novosel said.

Novosel has proven herself both on and off of the court, earning a 3.889 GPA while pursuing a degree in Anthropology. She says that studying at Notre Dame has taught her a lot about hard work, time management, and self-discipline, and she feels that she will carry many of these lessons with her in the future. On campus, Novosel has been able to participate in freshman orientation in her dorm, Pangborn Hall, and attend many events with friends and teammates. Additionally, she has been instrumental in the team's community outreach projects, visiting local elementary schools, contributing to youth basketball clinics, and participating in other programs that support children and cancer patients.

"We're happy to go and serve because we have a lot of fans, and it's good to give back to them because they come and support us, so that's a great thing that we do," Novosel says of the team service projects.

Now in her senior season, Novosel serves as co-captain with Brittany Mallory and Devereaux Peters. She values all of the time that she has been able to spend getting to know her teammates on a personal basis and learning what makes the team tick. Though the captains have set high expectations for their team, she believes that they will continue to meet every goal and even go above and beyond their expectations. Novosel and her co-captains complement one another well, and she considers herself to be a "leader by example."

Not only has she set an excellent example for her team, but Novosel is also a standout in all of college basketball, and this is the reason why she has been nominated for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. Through her commitment to sportsmanship, athleticism, academics, and service, Novosel has created a lasting positive impact on Notre Dame, the South Bend community, and Women's College Basketball at large. Few players have demonstrated such great improvements on the court while maintaining such a positive attitude, academic achievement, and community involvement.

"It is very humbling to be nominated with the other candidates who are really great. It's really nice to be a part of this without even having to do anything. The fact that they saw something in me is very rewarding and humbling," Novosel said of her nomination for the award.

While Novosel says that she would be hugely honored to be the recipient of the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, she and the rest of the women's basketball team have their sights set on the ultimate prize. Coming up just short last year, the women were not able to clench the national championship against Texas A&M. This year, however, Novosel is even more determined to win the title.

"I haven't even thought about winning [The Lowe's Senior CLASS Award]. I'm just honored to be nominated. I think that winning a national championship would mean more to me than an individual award because it takes an entire team to work together," Novosel said.

Novosel says that the team's previous run for the national championship has been the highlight of her basketball career, and she is honored to have been a contributor on that team. Now looking to top last year's success, the team must work harder than ever. Luckily, Novosel knows from experience how to utilize hard work and discipline to get the best results, and she will do everything she can to get the team to the national championship game for the second year in a row.

"I want to win a national championship. Absolutely. I really feel like my life would be complete after that," Novosel said with conviction.

The remainder of the season will be monumental for Novosel's basketball career. She is up for the prestigious Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, is looking forward to another national championship run, and will be entering the WNBA draft shortly after the national championship game.

Ultimately, Novosel would like to play in the WNBA for a number of years and then go back to school to pursue a career as a physicians assistant. Regardless of where Novosel finds herself in the future, she will undoubtedly work as hard as possible to achieve greatness as she has done throughout her time at Notre Dame.

To vote for Novosel for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, visit www.seniorclassaward.com.

- Maura Jones ('14)

Student. Athlete. Tour Guide.

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Sean's Got CLASS

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6031387.jpeg 2011 was a big year for senior hockey player Sean Lorenz.

Following the 2010-11 season, Lorenz was named the CCHA's Defensive Defenseman of the Year and received Notre Dame's William Donald Nyrop Award as the team's top defensive player. In the fall of 2011, he received the ultimate honor of being named team captain alongside Billy Maday and Anders Lee in the hockey team's inaugural season in Notre Dame's new Compton Family Ice Arena.

"Being a captain my senior year has been a great honor," Lorenz says. "It's been a demanding duty with a lot of ups and downs throughout the season but it's been a great learning experience to understand exactly what it takes to be a good leader."

And a good leader he is. Sean's accomplishments on the ice are an equal match for his dedication in the classroom. As a finance major in the best undergraduate business school in the country, Lorenz was selected to the dean's list in the spring of 2011 for his impressive 3.8 grade-point average.

But it's Lorenz's contributions to the community that will ensure yet another exciting year for the Irish senior. "Being a student-athlete in college can be a demanding task and being able to balance the classroom and competition while finding time to reach out to the community is a remarkable accomplishment," Lorenz notes.

His accomplishments are so remarkable in fact that Lorenz is a finalist for the Lowe's Senior Class Award, a prestigious honor presented annually to an outstanding senior NCAA Division I Student-Athlete across ten different sports. "Being considered for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award is an honor in itself and being a finalist for the award is truly humbling," Lorenz says.

"Being named alongside guys like David Brown, Jordan Pearce, Erik Condra, Mark Van Guilder and Calle Ridderwall is something truly special to me because of the kind of people they were."

Lorenz's long list of community service projects includes the Junior Diabetes Walk, Lifeworks Dream Team, Habitat for Humanity, teaching kids at the local Robinson Center about hockey, Kids Fighting Obesity events, and helping out with local hockey teams. While he found each of these experiences rewarding, Lorenz found true inspiration in the Lifeworks Dream Team. The mission was fairly simple, Lorenz describes: "We would go into a third grade classroom and talk to the kids about the importance of setting goals and chasing their dreams."

And while the lone senior among Notre Dame's defensive line enters the last CCHA playoffs of his career this weekend March 2-4, he will never forget the teammates who got him there: "The thing I'm going to miss most about being a college athlete is being around the team all the time. Being a college athlete forces you to become a brother with the guy next to you and I think that's something truly special and certainly something I'm going to miss."

Lowe's will announce the winner of the Senior CLASS Award on April 7 at the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla. Voting ends March 18. Cast your vote for Notre Dame senior hockey defenseman Sean Lorenz by clicking here.

- Hilary Ferguson (Saint Mary's '12)

Following Flynt - DMR Madness

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Every sports fan knows that March is the month for college basketball. From championship week to Selection Sunday to the Big Dance, it's wall-to-wall hoops. The madness however, is not limited to just basketball.

This Friday evening, when the men's team is closing out its regular season against Providence at Purcell Pavilion, the Notre Dame track & field team will host the Alex Wilson Invitational. It's the squad's final home meet of the season, and a last opportunity for teams and individuals to qualify for next weekend's NCAA Indoor Championships in Boise, Id.

The meet begins on Friday at 6 pm, and flotrack.org will be streaming the running events beginning at 7 pm ET. The evening lineup includes four exciting races, the men's and women's 5,000m, as well as the men's and women's distance medley relay (DMR).

The Loftus Center track is one-fifth of a mile, making it as large as any other indoor track in the nation. Being bigger than most indoor facilities, Notre Dame's track provides teams with an excellent opportunity to run their best times of the season.

Among the programs running in the men's DMR this year are Ohio State, Penn State, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and Arkansas. Over the years, teams have used this race to make an incredible final push for the NCAA championships. In 2009, 15 of 18 teams met the automatic qualifier standard, and last year, six of 12 met this mark.

Notre Dame's DMR team will include senior Johnathan Shawel, freshman Chris Giesting, senior Randall Babb and junior Jeremy Rae.

Friday's 5,000m races with feature five Irish runners - junior Jessica Rydberg, senior Rachel Velarde and senior Molly Hirt on the women's side, along with freshman Jake Kildoo and sophomore Patrick Lesiewicz in the men's event.

The Alex Wilson Invitational will continue on Saturday and Notre Dame football players Josh Atkinson and Bennett Jackson are listed on the heat sheets. Jackson is scheduled to run in the 60m hurdles, which begin at 11:10 am. Atkinson is set for the 60m dash (11:25 am) and 200m dash (1:40 pm).

Read more on the Alex Wilson Invy on flotrack.org, and if you're not at the basketball game, tune in on Friday to see some exciting track action live from the Loftus Center.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Student. Athlete. Irish.

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Gaaaaught It! Yessss!

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Play on repeat. Very loudly.

Coaching Wisdom

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With a newborn daughter and a new job, Mike Harrity, the university's associate athletics director for student-athlete development and community programming, amazingly also found time to finish writing a book.

Coaching Wisdom: Champion Coaches and Their Players Share Successful Leadership Principles was published in late February and is available now.

Harrity, who joined the Notre Dame family in Dec. 2011 after spending six years at Kansas, spoke with 13 coaches who have combined to lead their teams to an unbelievable 103 national championships, Stanley Cups or Super Bowl titles.

Brad Stevens, who wrote the foreword for Harrity's book, is the only coach featured who has not won a title, but the 35-year-old is one of the most promising young coaches in college basketball, having led Butler to back-to-back Final Fours and championship game appearances.

Although "Coaching Wisdom" is based on firsthand interviews with coaches and their players, Harrity explained that it is about more than athletics. "This isn't a book about sports. It's a book for anyone who is a leader - of a family, a school, an organization, or a team," he says.

"I have a passion for exploring how leaders are able to create a culture that leads to achieving sustainable success. After spending time with the 13 coaches, from a broad range of sports, and their former players, I discovered common themes that emerged strongly. Each theme is represented by the chapters in the book."

These chapters include Creating a Caring Environment, Communicating Effectively, Keep it Simple, Building Team-First Unity, Motivating and Inspiring Your Team, and Finding Your X-Factor.

One of Harrity's remarkable discoveries in speaking with these coaches and their players was that in each case, the players' experience and what they valued had mirrored exactly what the coach had intended of his or her team.

The book began as an idea in spring 2004, when Harrity went out on a limb and wrote to basketball legend John Wooden. Originally, Harrity planned to focus the project on the former UCLA coach, but within the last couple years, it evolved to include other collegiate and professional coaches from across several sports.

Wooden responded to Harrity's letter, gave him his home phone number, and the two soon set up a meeting at Wooden's home in California. Harrity explains that he asked Coach Wooden for an hour and a half of his time, and ended up spending the entire day with the 93-year-old ten-time NCAA champion.

Like many, Harrity had heard stories and read books about Wooden's leadership and the many lives he had impacted off the court. Still, he was struck by just how welcoming, friendly and helpful the coaching legend was to him, a total stranger.

"He had more energy than me," Harrity says. "We developed a strong friendship. He really wanted to help me achieve my goals and dreams."

Among those that Harrity interviewed were nine-time Stanley Cup champion Scotty Bowman, two-time Super Bowl winner Don Shula, 21-time NCAA champion women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance, and Notre Dame football legend Lou Holtz, who wrote the book's preface.

It has been an incredibly rewarding process for Harrity. Of all the coaches he contacted hoping to interview, not a single one declined his request for a meeting.

"I have been continually amazed at how generous all of the coaches and their former players have been with sharing their time and wisdom. Many have become friends. But even if I only sell one copy to my wife and one copy to my parents, I'm a better man, husband and father having had the opportunity to learn from and spend time with some of the greatest leaders of our time."

You can purchase Harrity's book on Amazon.com and soon, at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Checking In With Randy Waldrum

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Women's soccer head coach Randy Waldrum, who is currently serving in a similar capacity with the United States Under-23 Women's National Team, checks in with Irish UNDerground from La Manga, Spain ... from Feb. 20-March 2 the team will compete in the Four Nations Tournament that also features the U-23 sides from Sweden, England and Norway ... Waldrum has named a team for his first international matches at the helm of the USA's oldest youth national team that features four players with experience playing in WPS and an additional five players who were high draft picks this past January ... the roster is rounded out with some of the top collegiate players in the country ... for more pictures of Waldrum's experience in La Manga, click here!

Thursday, March 1 - Four Nations Cup Champions! USA defeats Norway 5-0 in what proved to be the championship game to capture the title in La Manga. I'm so proud of the way this team responded to the loss to England on Tuesday. We came out today with intensity, focus, and the standard of excellence that is expected from our U.S. National Teams.

We couldn't ask for a better start with early goals coming from Sinead Farrelly and Amber Brooks. Then as halftime neared Sinead scored once again to give us a 3-0 lead at the half. The only thing to do then was to make sure we kept our intensity high, not turn the ball over in dangerous areas, and add to our lead if possible. It was a great exercise in learning how to manage the game at the international level when you have the lead. Morgan Marlborough scored a great goal to put us up by four in the second half, and then Taylor Lytle scored to put the game more than out of reach with our 5th goal of the day.

Interesting tournament as Norway opened the tournament up coming from behind to defeat England 2-1. We then knocked off Sweden 2-0. The next round saw Sweden defeating Norway 3-0, and England defeating the US 2-1. So going into today's final round every team had one loss and one win. The first game today pitted Sweden against England, and that game ended in a 2-2 tie. Therefore as long as there was a winner in our game, whomever won was going to be the Champion. Luckily for us our team came out to play right from the start, learning from the slow start of the England game.

Amber Brooks was named the tournament MVP and she is our captain. The funny thing is they called her up first to receive the tournament MVP trophy which was this nice glass trophy. She accepted the trophy and brought it back to where our team was. Then with all four teams and the fans around the center circle, she was asked to come up again as the captain and accept our championship trophy which she did. Then when she got back to the team, she bent over to set it on the ground and the top fell off of it and it landed on her MVP trophy breaking both of them ... the other three teams plus our own could not stop laughing ... it was hilarious! I teased her that she was Sergio Ramos the captain of Real Madrid who while celebrating a recent championship on top of a bus as it drove through the parade downtown, dropped the championship trophy and the bus ran over it!

Guess you would have had to been there, but trust me it was so funny! Hopefully U.S. Soccer is not mad!

La Manga and the resort was a great host, it was an incredible week for all of us, and I couldn't have asked for a better group to coach. They worked hard, played well for the most part, and represented the USA the way I want them to. Our staff was amazing and contributed greatly to our success. Special thanks to assistants Bryan Blitz of Missouri, and Phil Wheddon of Syracuse. Also to the support staff of Ryan, Phil, Doc, and Ryan for their work behind the scenes keeping us healthy, organized, and taken care of in every way.

It was a great experience too for both myself and Jazmin Hall who I hope now understands what it takes to continue to compete at the highest level possible. I think she will return to campus newly focused and pushing herself and her teammates to achieve even more. Thanks to all of you who have tweeted, emailed, and followed this journey of ours, and I'm so proud to represent Notre Dame with this USA team!

Until the next trip to Norway in June ...

Go Irish!

Following Flynt - BIG EAST Madness

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If Marquette had won last night, Notre Dame's Catholic neighbors to the northwest would have improved to 14-3 in the conference and wrapped up the #2 seed for next week's BIG EAST Tournament.

Had that happened, the Irish still would have been in control to earn a coveted double-bye, with the #4 seed being a likely option.

But this is BIG EAST basketball, and we would be foolish to expect anything less than a chaotic conclusion. After all, the calendar turned to March last night.

Instead, the Golden Eagles dropped to 13-4 with a 72-61 loss at Cincinnati. And perhaps more surprisingly, South Florida won at #18 Louisville, 58-51.

With one game to play, Notre Dame sits in a three-way tie with Georgetown and South Florida for third place, controlling its own destiny for the #3 seed.

Third place would be a great position for the Irish to be finish because it means they would not have to play top-seeded Syracuse, the nation's second-ranked team, until a potential BIG EAST championship matchup.

If the Irish beat Providence tomorrow on Senior Night at the Purcell Pavilion, it will not matter what happens when Marquette and Georgetown square off in Milwaukee on Saturday.

If the Golden Eagles win, they will be back where people thought they would be at the beginning of the week - second in the conference. In addition, if South Florida beats West Virginia, Georgetown will drop out of the top-4 and the Bulls will get a bye to Thursday's quarterfinals.

On the other hand, if the Hoyas win, we could be looking at a four-way tie for second place with Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame and South Florida all knotted at 13-5 in the conference.

Georgetown would get the #2 seed because the Hoyas have already beaten the Irish and Bulls once, and would also have a 2-0 record against the Golden Eagles.

Notre Dame has wins over both Marquette and South Florida and would secure the #3 spot, while the Golden Eagles would take the final spot due to their 67-47 victory in their only meeting with the Bulls.

If you're still reading, you're probably confused.

Put simply: With a win on Friday, Notre Dame will be the #3 seed in next week's BIG EAST Tournament, an achievement no one in America expected of a team picked to finish ninth in the league.

If the Irish do, in fact, lock up the #3 seed, they would play next Thursday, Mar. 8 at 9 pm ET on ESPN against the winner of Wednesday's 9 pm second round game.

Sit tight. It's only March 1st, but the madness has already begun.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

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