Nov. 10, 2006
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - For the 12th consecutive season and the 17th time in the 20-year Muffet McGraw era, the Notre Dame women's basketball team tipped off its season with a victory, defeating Central Michigan, 88-66 on Friday afternoon at the Joyce Center. The Irish never trailed in the contest and led by double digits for all but the first 3:59 in their first meeting with the Chippewas in more than 22 years.
Four Notre Dame players scored in double figures on the afternoon, led by junior center Melissa D'Amico (Manorville, N.Y./William Floyd), who tossed in 16 points despite playing only 15 minutes due to foul trouble. Junior guard Charel Allen (Monessen, Pa./Monessen) tallied 15 points, including 11 in the first half, while senior guard and co-captain Breona Gray (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman) chipped in with 13 points. Sophomore forward Chandrica Smith (Stone Mountain, Ga./Oak Hill Academy (Va.)) offered good support off the bench with a career-high 11 points in nine minutes (also limited by foul problems).
The Irish (1-0) shot the ball well on Opening Night, connecting at a 48.3 percent clip (29-of-60) from the field and a sharp 83.9 percent (26-of-31) at the free throw line. Notre Dame also enjoyed a +10 edge on the glass, with freshman center Erica Williamson (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg) collecting a game-high eight rebounds, not to mention a game-best five blocked shots.
Central Michigan's Candace Wilson led all scorers in the game with 17 points, with 12 of those coming in the second half on 4-of-4 three-pointers. Sharonda Hurd added 15 points and a team-best seven rebounds for the Chippewas (0-1), who bounced back from a .280 first-half field goal percentage with a .517 mark after the break.
The season-opening crowd of 6,702 fans were still settling into their seats as Notre Dame stormed from the gate, nailing eight of their first 11 shots from the floor and taking a 17-3 lead on two free throws by Allen with 14:55 left in the first half. The Irish kept their offensive flow going, as freshman guard Ashley Barlow (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike), Gray and Allen drilled three-pointers in succession to push the hosts' lead as high as 31-9 with only 9:54 gone in the season.
CMU made a late run in the first half, scoring six of the final eight points to trim the margin to 39-22 by the intermission. The Chippewas kept battling back in the opening moments of the second half, getting as close as 13 points on a couple of occasions, the last when Britni Houghton sank two foul shots with 14:50 remaining. However, Notre Dame doused any hopes for a record-setting comeback, using a 12-1 run just past the midway point of the second half to vault its lead back over 20 points and CMU would get no closer the rest of the way.
The Irish will return to the Joyce Center hardwood Monday for a 7 p.m. (ET) contest with two-time defending Mid-American Conference champion Bowling Green. The Falcons also opened their season Friday night, claiming a 68-37 win at Detroit.
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame now is 22-8 (.733) all-time in season openers, including a 12-game winning streak that corresponds exactly with the program's membership in the BIG EAST Conference ... the Irish are 28-14 (.667) against Mid-American Conference schools, with a 17-4 (.810) mark at home; Notre Dame also has won its last 11 games against current MAC members ... the 88 points scored by the Irish are their highest point total since Nov. 12, 2004, when they defeated Illinois State, 92-73 in the opening round of the Preseason WNIT at the Joyce Center; coincidentally, that also was the earliest season opener in program history prior to this evening ... Notre Dame's .839 free throw percentage was its best with a minimum of 10 attempts since Feb. 19, 2005, when the Irish connected at an .857 rate (18-of-21) in a loss at Rutgers ... Notre Dame improves to 110-10 (.917) when leading at the half since the start of the 2000-01 season ... the Irish also are now 92-3 (.968) when scoring at least 80 points during the past 11-plus seasons (1995-96 to present) ... Notre Dame's crowd of 6,702 was the second-largest season-opening audience in program history, topped only by a gathering of 7,960 on Nov. 18, 2001 vs. Valparaiso (the day the Irish raised their 2001 NCAA championship banner to the rafters) ... Notre Dame is 58-4 (.935) against non-conference opponents at the Joyce Center, dating back to the 1994-95 season ... junior center Melissa D'Amico registered the second "point-a-minute" game of her career -- she had a career-high 20 points in 18 minutes vs. Arkansas State on Dec. 17, 2005 at the Duel in the Desert in Las Vegas; sophomore forward Chandrica Smith was just as efficient with a career-high 11 points, but her nine minutes played just missed the minimum threshold of 10 minutes to qualify for record-keeping ... Smith's previous scoring high was nine points at Rutgers on Jan. 24, 2006.