March 2, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - For the University of Notre Dame women's basketball team, Tuesday night's regular-season finale against Syracuse wasn't a black and white decision - it was all about shades of Gray.
Freshman guard Breona Gray (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman HS) came off the bench to score a career-high 11 points, hitting all four of her field goal attempts, as Notre Dame rolled to a 54-33 win over the Orangewomen at the Joyce Center. In the process, the Irish extended their home winning streak to 18 games and completed the regular season with a 13-0 mark at the Joyce Center, the third time in the last five years Notre Dame has posted a perfect record on its own floor.
In addition, the Irish (19-9, 12-4 BIG EAST) winds up the regular season tied for second place with Villanova in the final conference standings. Notre Dame earns the No. 2 seed for the upcoming BIG EAST Championship based upon its 38-36 win over the Wildcats back on Jan. 24 at the Joyce Center. Consequently, the Irish will play at 6 p.m. (ET) Sunday vs. the winner of the first-round matchup between No. 7 seed Rutgers and No. 10 seed Seton Hall. Ironically, Notre Dame lost to both of those teams in the regular season, falling to Rutgers (69-55) last weekend and losing at Seton Hall (51-45) back on Feb. 8.
Junior forward and Naismith Award finalist Jacqueline Batteast (South Bend, Ind./Washington HS) offered up her 10th double-double of the year for the Irish, posting game highs of 13 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Senior guard Le'Tania Severe (Pembroke Pines, Fla./Fort Lauderdale HS) added 12 points in her final regular season game at the Joyce Center.
Syracuse (6-20, 3-13) lost its 12th consecutive game, despite picking up team highs of 12 points and eight rebounds from Julie McBride. The current losing streak for the Orangewomen has seen a pair of defeats to Notre Dame serving as its bookends - the Irish downed Syracuse, 64-35 back on Jan. 21 in upstate New York.
In both of its matchups with the Orangewomen this year, Notre Dame rode its defense to victory. On Tuesday, Syracuse registered Irish opponent season lows with 33 points and a .224 field goal percentage (13 of 58), surpassing marks the Orangewomen set in their first meeting with Notre Dame last month (35 points, .231 field goal percentage). In fact, the 33 points are the fewest yielded by the Irish since Feb. 13, 2002, when Notre Dame toppled St. John's, 66-31 at the Joyce Center.
Tuesday's game was a defensive struggle on both sides of the ball, as the teams went scoreless for the first three minutes and failed to sink a field goal until the 15:08 mark. The first half crawled along at a snail's pace, thanks in part to the slow-down style of play employed by Syracuse, which burned nearly all 30 seconds of the shot clock on every possession. The strategy paid off for a time, as Notre Dame led by only a 15-10 score with 7:21 remaining in the period.
The Irish finally broke free, ending the first half on an 11-4 run that opened up a 12-point halftime lead. Syracuse shot just .167 (5 of 30) from the floor in the opening 20 minutes, its lowest first-half percentage of the year (topping the .204 mark it set in last month's loss to Notre Dame).
The second half began much like the first, with each team managing just one field goal over the first 5:38 of the frame. A quick 9-4 run by Notre Dame, sparked by seven points from Gray, gave the Irish their biggest lead to that point at 37-20 with 10:48 still to play. Syracuse clawed back to within 12 points twice in the period, the last coming on a layup by McBride with just under six minutes to go. However, the Irish ended the game on an 11-2 run, capped off by a layup from senior walk-on guard and fan favorite Anne Weese (Salina, Kan./Sacred Heart HS/Seward County CC) with 0.3 seconds to play.
With the victory, Notre Dame finishes in the top two of the BIG EAST standings for the seventh time in its nine-year affiliation with the conference. The Irish also completed the regular season in impressive fashion, winning 10 of their final 12 games and 16 of their last 21 contests against a schedule that was ranked among the top 20 in the nation all year long.