March 3, 2007
HARTFORD, Conn. - Notre Dame put together a stirring comeback from an 11-point second-half deficit to tie its BIG EAST Conference Championship first-round game with DePaul, but the Irish couldn't quite finish off matters, as the Blue Demons held off Notre Dame, 76-71 on Saturday night at the Hartford Civic Center. Senior guard Breona Gray (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman) got a good look at a game-tying three-pointer from the right corner with nine seconds to play, but her attempt rattled out and DePaul iced the game with two foul shots.
Junior guard Charel Allen (Monessen, Pa./Monessen) lived up to her billing as a first-team all-conference selection, tallying 18 points, six rebounds and five assists. Gray added 17 points, going 7-of-13 from the field for Notre Dame (19-11), which connected on 41.4 percent of its shots and held the Blue Demons to a .403 field goal percentage. DePaul (19-11) also went just 4-of-11 from three-point range, a far cry from its 11-for-22 effort against the Irish five days earlier.
The difference came at the foul line, where the Blue Demons were nearly flawless, making 22-of-23 free throws (95.7 percent). Notre Dame, which came into the contest as the BIG EAST's top free throw shooting team at .763, was 76.9 percent (20-of-26) from the stripe.
In what was a recurring theme during each of their three games this season (all of which took place in a 20-day span at the end of the year), the Irish and DePaul played to a virtual stalemate in the first half. There were five ties and four lead changes in the period, with Notre Dame jumping out to a five-point lead on two occasions, the last on two free throws by freshman center Erica Williamson (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg) that made it 16-11 at the 13:40 mark. However, those foul shots came as the Irish were beginning a six-minute drought from the floor, while the Blue Demons went on a 15-4 run, ending with Jenna Rubino's layup with nine minutes to go in the frame.
Gray halved the deficit on her third triple of the night a minute later, and Notre Dame basically kept it at a one-possession game through the final media timeout of the first half. Allen hit a pair of jumpers around two Sam Quigley free throws to tie the game twice and freshman guard Melissa Lechlitner (Mishawaka, Ind./South Bend St. Joseph's) then put the Irish back in front on a jumper with 2:49 remaining. China Threatt responded with a bucket for DePaul, but senior forward Crystal Erwin (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./St. Paul) put Notre Dame on top, 36-34 at halftime on a layup off a Lechlitner assist with 33 seconds left in the period.
The Irish kept their momentum going with eight of the first 12 points in the second half, taking a 44-38 lead on two Allen free throws with three minutes gone. Notre Dame then endured another rough shooting spell, as DePaul went on a 19-2 run and held the Irish without a field goal for nearly seven minutes. Threatt scored seven points in the run, while Allie Quigley boosted the Blue Demon lead to 57-46 on two foul shots with 10:38 to play.
Allen ended the Notre Dame offensive drought with a long jumper 18 seconds later, but the Irish wound up trading baskets for the next four minutes and still faced a 66-56 deficit when Caprice Smith hit a jumper with 6:09 left. That's when Notre Dame called upon the resiliency it has shown all season, ripping off 10 unanswered points in 2:25, with freshman guard Ashley Barlow (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike) accounting for the final seven points in the surge. Allen capped the rally by making the first of two free throws that tied the game at 66-66 with 3:44 remaining. Yet, she missed the second foul shots, and Rubino put DePaul back on top to stay with a baseline floater with the shot clock about to expire and 2:46 left. Allen was fouled again on the ensuing Irish possession, but again made one of two free throws, leaving her team down by one.
Allie Quigley then took over for the Blue Demons by scoring her team's final eight points on a jumper in the lane and six free throws (part of a 16-for-16 second-half effort by DePaul). Notre Dame got back within a point twice more, the second coming on Gray's putback with 45.9 seconds showing. Quigley then drew a foul with the shot clock again winding down and hit two free throws with 21.3 ticks to go, rebuilding a three-point lead. The Irish raced upcourt and found Gray open for her potential game-tying trey, but it wouldn't fall and Quigley closed the scoring on two more free throws with 5.5 seconds left.
Notre Dame now will have nine days to wait before learning its postseason destination on Monday, March 12 when the 64-team field for the NCAA Championship is unveiled live at 8 p.m. (ET) on ESPN. The Irish have made 11 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and 13 overall, including six trips to the NCAA Sweet 16 and two Final Four showings (1997 and 2001), as well as winning the '01 national championship.
POST GAME NOTES: In each of its last three games, Notre Dame either led or was within a single point in the second half before coming up short ... the 71 Irish points are the most Notre Dame has scored in BIG EAST Championship play since a 73-65 first-round victory over Pittsburgh on March 8, 2003 ... DePaul improves to 17-11 all-time against the Irish (2-0 on neutral floors) and is the first team in the series to win back-to-back games since Jan. 25, 1993, when the Blue Demons took their second in a row over Notre Dame, 71-55 in Chicago ... the Irish fall in the first round of the BIG EAST Championship for the first time in four career opening-round contests at the tournament ... the loss to DePaul was just the second in 16 games this season when Notre Dame led at halftime (also at Pittsburgh on Jan. 31) ... it also was only the second time in six games this year that the Irish lost a game decided by five points or less ... Charel Allen scored her 500th point of the season on Saturday night -- she now has 511 points this year, just shy of moving into the top 10 in that department (Shari Matvey had 529 in 1979-80) and good for fifth all-time by an Irish junior (one behind Jacqueline Batteast's 2003-04 total) ... Allen also moved into 22nd place on the school's career scoring list (1,019 points), passing Kelley Siemon (1,006 points from 1997-2001) ... Erica Williamson recorded her 37th blocked shot of the season, third-most by an Irish freshman (breaking a tie with Batteast, who had 36 swats in 2001-02) -- only Matvey (94 in 1979-80) and Ruth Riley (71 in 1997-98) have registered more blocks than Williamson as a Notre Dame rookie ... the Irish appear to have a solid NCAA Tournament resume, owning a top-30 RPI, 10 wins in one of the nation's five toughest conferences and three wins over nationally-ranked opponents (Bowling Green, Purdue and Louisville), not to mention no losses to any team ranked outside the top 70 in the RPI.