Jan. 12, 2010
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -For a while Tuesday night it appeared as if No. 3 Notre Dame might not go into its big game against top-ranked Connecticut on Saturday undefeated.
The Fighting Irish couldn't shake South Florida until blowing the game open with a 19-3 run in the final seven minutes to win 81-64 behind Lindsay Schrader's 18 points and 13 rebounds.
"I thought that was going to be a difficult game with the Connecticut game kind of looming in the background a little bit and the media so nicely continuing to talk about it and having us read about it," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I thought overall a veteran team at the end of the game found a way to win."
South Florida (9-7, 0-3 BIG EAST) stayed in the game by shooting 50 percent until going cold with 7:30 left, when it went just 1-of-7 from the floor. Natalie Novosel ignited the decisive 19-3 run for the Irish (15-0, 2-0) with a 3-pointer with 6:02 left and later added a driving layup, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
"We knew we were going to win the game," she said. "That comes from experience, definitely."
South Florida coach Jose Fernandez agreed.
"When it came down to it at the end of the game, our inexperience showed," he said. "Schrader and Lechlitner were not going to let Notre Dame lose."
Sequoyah Griffin led the Bulls with 16 points and Leondra Doomes-Stephens added 12. Skylar Diggins scored 14 points, Novosel had 12, Lechlitner scored 11 and Barlow had nine points and 11 rebounds. Diggins also played tough defense in a game where the Irish didn't play as well defensively as they normally do.
"Diggins did a great job on Jasmine Wynne," Fernandez said. "We could not get into our offense. We were getting into our offense with 17, 16 seconds left on the shot clock."
Schrader said it's been hard to avoid talk about the UConn game, which will be featured on ESPN's "GameDay."
"When people come up to you, 'Oh my God, 'GameDay,' UConn,"' Schrader said. "I think we're finally ready for a really, really good test, and this is going to be it. This is a great opportunity."
McGraw said she didn't say anything to her players before the game about the possibility they might be looking ahead to UConn.
"No. I didn't want to mention the word," she said. "If you turn on ESPN you're going to hear about it. If you walk through the building you're going to hear about it. So it was hard to keep that a secret."
McGraw announced after the game that 6-foot-2 sophomore forward Erica Solomon will miss the rest of the season to focus on academics. Solomon was averaging 3.4 points a game. The Irish also were without 5-10 guard Fraderica Miller who missed the game with a knee injury.
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame extends its winning streak to 15 games, tying for the third-longest run in school history (also in 1990-91) and trailing only streaks of 20 games (1999-2000) and 23 games (2000-01) in the program's record books ... the Fighting Irish improve to 6-2 all-time against South Florida (3-2 in BIG EAST regular-season play) and earn their third consecutive series win over the Bulls ... Tuesday's game was only the second in six series matchups under the BIG EAST banner (including a 2006 conference tournament quarterfinal game) that was decided by double digits (Notre Dame won 92-49 on USF's last visit to Purcell Pavilion on Feb. 27, 2008) ... the Fighting Irish are 23-5 (.821) all-time against Florida schools (9-3 at home), including a 2-0 record this season (also won 85-52 at UCF on Dec. 29) ... Notre Dame has forced 20+ turnovers in 13 of 15 games this season ... the Fighting Irish have led at halftime in all but one game (Purdue on Jan. 4) and are 177-17 (.912) since the start of the 2000-01 season when they're up at the break ... Notre Dame's 25 assists tied its second-highest mark of the season (Dec. 8 vs. IPFW), exceeded only by a 31-assist performance in the season opener vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Nov. 15 ... the Fighting Irish grabbed 20+ offensive rebounds for the third time this season, having also done so against UAPB (25) and on Dec. 31 vs. Vanderbilt (26) ... for just the second time in nine home games this year, a Notre Dame opponent scored more than 60 points at Purcell Pavilion (Vanderbilt scored 69) ... the Fighting Irish notch the 675th win in the program's 33-year history, now sporting a 675-296 (.695) all-time record ... Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw earned her 599th career win, improving to 599-238 (.716) in 28 seasons as a collegiate coach, the past 23 at Notre Dame following a five-year stint at Lehigh (1982-87) ... fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader collected her third double-double of the season and the 14th of her career, tying her season-high point total set in the Vanderbilt win ... Schrader also moved into 10th place on Notre Dame's career rebounds list with 711 boards, passing Kelley Siemon (707 from 1997-2001) ... in addition, Schrader climbed into 17th place on the Fighting Irish all-time scoring chart with 1,230 points, supplanting Letitia Bowen (1,129 from 1991-95) on that list ... Schrader broke out of a tie for eighth place on Notre Dame's career starts list with her 106th assignment, easing by Mary Gavin (1984-88) in that category ... senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow snared a season-high 11 rebounds and delivered a season-best five assists, both totals being one away from her career high in each category ... Barlow also picked up her second "5-5-5" game of the season and ninth of her career ... sophomore guard Natalie Novosel came off the bench to tie her season high with 12 points, matching her output vs. Valparaiso on Dec. 12 ... senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner scored in double figures for the fourth consecutive game, matching the longest double-digit scoring streak of her career (also Dec. 13-30, 2008) ... Lechlitner also dished out four assists, giving her 326 career helpers and moving her into a tie for 10th place on the Notre Dame all-time assist chart (with Laura Dougherty, who had 326 assists from 1981-85).