June 21, 2006
posted by Chris Masters, Assistant Sports Information Director
A big hello to all of our Notre Dame basketball fans and welcome to our first foray into one of the latest fads in cyberspace -- the blog. Of course, there are a lot of eyes on the upcoming Irish football season (and deservedly so), but there's also a lot to be excited about when it comes to the Notre Dame men's and women's basketball teams, and that's why we're here to provide some regular summer reading on the Irish hoopsters in what we're calling our BasketBlog.
For me, the tipoff to the upcoming season actually started this past weekend, when I had the chance to travel down to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and watch three of our future Notre Dame standouts compete as members of the Indiana boys' and girls' All-Star Teams against their counterparts from Kentucky. Those of us in the sports information business often don't get to see the incoming freshmen in action until they arrive on campus (and sometimes not until practice gets going in the fall), so this was a great opportunity for me to get a sneak peek at these players and get to match up some faces with the names and stats on paper.
The girls' game was the first to tip off, which meant I would get to see incoming Irish guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner first. If the Barlow name sounds a bit familiar, it should -- Ashley's cousin is Ken Barlow, who starred for the Notre Dame men's team from 1983-86, serving as a captain his final two seasons and helping to lead the Irish to four postseason appearances (two NCAA, two NIT), including the NIT finals in 1984. Ashley's appearance with the Indiana All-Stars also is notable because of her decision to remain loyal to the squad by declining an invitation to try out for the USA Basketball Under-18 Team this past weekend in Colorado Springs. Meanwhile, "Lech" is well-known to many in the South Bend community, having led St. Joseph's High School to a Class 3A state title last year as well as a runner-up finish in 2003 and two other berths in the semifinals.
Lechlitner and Barlow finished second and third, respectively, in the voting for Indiana Miss Basketball, and thus were awarded the corresponding No. 2 and No. 3 jerseys for the Indiana All-Star Team. Ashley was in the starting lineup for Saturday night's game against Kentucky, while Lech came off the bench a little over two minutes into the contest. It didn't take long for Lech and Ashley to starting warming up, as the pair helped Indiana rally after falling behind by 10, getting back with a point twice in the first half. In fact, when the halftime buzzer sounded, Indiana was down 37-33, but the Notre Dame duo had accounted for 24 of their team's 33 points (Barlow with 15 points, eight rebounds/Lechlitner with nine points).
Both players turned out to be pivotal contributors in Indiana's second-half comeback, with Lech scoring the first points of the period on a steal and breakaway layup two minutes in. Ashley was aggressive at both ends, most notably coming up with a big offensive rebound and two free throws with 2:31 left and Indiana leading by a point. She added two more charities in the final seconds as the Hoosiers walked away with a 71-64 victory. Ashley led all players with a double-double (23 points, 12 rebounds, four steals), while Lechlitner was a calm, steady presence at the point all game long, finishing in double figures with 11 points, to go along with four rebounds and three assists.
The boys' game immediately followed, which meant Notre Dame signee Luke Harangody would suit up for the Indiana side. Luke actually had quite a bit of attention on him, as he earned a spot in the starting lineup in place of Greg Oden, the injured Indiana Mr. Basketball. Luke is every bit of the 6-8, 255-pound measure he's listed at, and he did a solid job of filling the paint with a physical brand of basketball that so many Irish fans have become familiar with during Notre Dame's affiliation with the BIG EAST Conference. Luke fired the first shot of the night for Indiana with a jumper 90 seconds into the contest and added a pair of buckets later in the period -- one while he was hammered inside -- to help the Hoosiers surge to a 47-32 halftime lead.
However, Luke's biggest contributions came down the stretch in the second half, after Kentucky had trimmed the margin to nine points with seven minutes to go. He was very cool in the clutch, picking up two big baskets -- one on a putback -- and snaring six rebounds as Indiana wore down the Kentuckians inside and eventually logged a 90-74 win. Luke finished with team highs of 16 points and 14 rebounds, as well as a much-deserved ovation from the Indiana faithful that made the trip down I-65 for the contest.
So for at least one night, the city of Bowling Green -- home to Western Kentucky University and its inimitable mascot, Big Red -- was painted gold and blue with the play of Notre Dame's three Indiana All-Stars. The trio don't have a whole lot of down time this week, as they swing by South Bend this week to get started with summer classes and move into their dorms before they look for a sweep of the Indiana/Kentucky All-Star Series this coming Saturday (June 24) when the second leg comes to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.