Dec. 20, 2008
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw couldn't have asked for a much better performance by the 13th-ranked Fighting Irish.
Coming off a week of exams with just one mandatory practice, the Fighting Irish showed no signs of rust, taking control early en route to an 89-45 victory over Loyola of Chicago on Saturday. Melissa Lechlitner, Lindsay Schrader and Natalie Novosel scored 13 points each and the Irish forced 31 turnovers.
McGraw said it was the perfect example of how well balanced the Irish can be.
"I envisioned we would have four or five people in double figures as a rule, and that's about where we are," she said.
Notre Dame (9-1) was in control from the start, using an early 29-7 run to pull away. The Irish forced 12 turnovers during the stretch, including seven turnovers on eight Loyola possessions. On the other possession, Maggie McCloskey threw up a desperation shot just before the shot clock buzzer.
The Irish led 47-21 at halftime, then opened the second half with a 15-0 run. Notre Dame led 86-36 when Novosel drove for a layup with 4:25 left.
Keisha Collins led Loyola (5-4) with 11 points. McCloskey, Loyola's leading scorer at 15.6 points a game, was 1-of-6 shooting, finishing with three points.
McGraw said stopping McCloskey was the defensive key.
"We were able to find her all the time," she said.
Becca Bruszewski added 10 points and all 10 Irish players scored, including walk-on Alena Christiansen, who was officially added to the team Friday. McGraw initially didn't think the Irish needed a walk-on with 11 players on the roster. But with Brittany Mallory and Devereux Peters out for the season with knee injuries, McGaw called Christiansen, a junior, who had practiced against the Irish as a freshman and sophomore, and asked her to join the team.
The crowd of 6,323 began chanting for Christiansen with seven minutes to go, and McGraw put her in with 4:37 left. Christiansen missed her first two free throws, but later made a free throw and the crowd erupted.
"I'm just like, 'When am I going to wake up from this dream? It's crazy," Christiansen said. "I'm so excited."
Loyola coach Shannon Reidy, who saw her team fall to 0-19 all-time against ranked opponents, was disappointed the Ramblers didn't play better, particularly because they had played well in a 68-64 loss to Big East member DePaul two weeks earlier.
"It was an off night for a lot of our kids," she said. "We lost confidence after the first five minutes of the game, which is unusual for our team."
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame is off to a 9-1 start for the fourth time in the past five seasons and the sixth time in school history (others were 1998-99, 2000-01, 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2007-08) ... the Irish also now have won 10 consecutive home games, claiming their last five Joyce Center contests last season and the first five this year ... Notre Dame is 76-6 (.927) in its last 82 non-conference home games, dating back to the 1994-95 season ... Notre Dame posts its fourth win by 35+ points this season, extending its own school record ... the Irish tied season highs by forcing 31 turnovers (also vs. Evansville on Nov. 19 at the Joyce Center), logging 17 steals (twice before, most recently at Boston College on Nov. 23) and hitting 25 free throws (also at Eastern Michigan on Dec. 2) ... for the sixth time this season, Notre Dame held its opponent to fewer than 60 points, improving to 6-0 this year and 190-12 (.941) in the past 14 seasons (1995-96 to present, the length of their BIG EAST Conference membership) when pulling off that feat ... Notre Dame also tops the 80-point mark for the fifth time this year, rising to 5-0 this season and 119-4 (.967) in the past 14 years when reaching that point total ... the Irish had at least four players score in double figures for the fifth time this year, moving to 5-0 in those games ... Notre Dame's 26-point halftime lead was its largest at the break this season; the Irish have led at the intermission in the past nine games (8-1 record, lost in OT at Michigan after leading by one at halftime); Notre Dame is 154-15 (.911) since the start of the 2000-01 season when it's ahead at the half ... the Irish win their 13th consecutive game heading into the Christmas break and are 23-9 (.719) all-time in their final pre-Yuletide contest ... Notre Dame also has won 21 consecutive games coming off the final exam break (no games held between exams and Christmas in 1994 and 1997), with the last loss coming on Dec. 21, 1985, when Mary DiStanislao's Irish dropped a 73-67 decision to UCLA at the Joyce Center ... Notre Dame improves to 21-3 all-time against Loyola and picks up its 14th consecutive win over the Ramblers, as well as its 20th in the past 21 series meetings (11-1 all-time at the Joyce Center; Muffet McGraw now 15-1 vs. Loyola); the 21 series victories tie for the sixth-most against one opponent in Notre Dame women's basketball history, exceeded only by series with Marquette (28 wins), Dayton/Detroit/Georgetown/Valparaiso (22 wins each) and equalling Syracuse ... the 44-point margin of victory was the largest for either team in the series, surpassing the Ramblers' 108-77 win on Feb. 18, 1989 (their most recent victory in the series) ... Loyola also was held to a series-low 45 points, five fewer than the old mark set on Jan. 16, 1993 at the Joyce Center (a 76-50 Irish win that had been their largest in the series prior to Saturday) ... Notre Dame moves to 103-14 (.880) all-time against the current Horizon League membership and has won 28 consecutive games against that league's present alignment (13 in a row at the Joyce Center) ... senior guard Lindsay Schrader became the seventh different Irish player to own at least a share of the team lead in scoring in a game this season ... junior guard Melissa Lechlitner's perfect 6-for-6 shooting night was the best by a Notre Dame player since Schrader went 6-for-6 at Wisconsin on Dec. 4, 2005; it's also the best shooting day by an Irish player at the Joyce Center since Dec. 11, 2004 against Washington, when Crystal Erwin registered an arena-record 9-for-9 performance en route to a career-high 24 points ... two other Irish players tallied season highs against Loyola -- junior center Erica Williamson pulled down eight rebounds, while freshman guard Fraderica Miller had seven points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists in 17 minutes ... junior guard Ashley Barlow had her 12-game double-figure scoring streak snapped with eight points vs. Loyola, albeit in a season-low 23 minutes; it was her first single-digit scoring game since March 1, 2008, against Seton Hall at the Joyce Center (six points) ... junior walk-on guard Alena Christiansen made her collegiate debut on Saturday, logging one point, one rebound and one steal in five minutes; Christiansen was added to the Irish roster Friday evening ... for the third time this season, Notre Dame earned free McDonald's Big Macs for the crowd by scoring at least 88 points -- freshman guard Natalie Novosel hit the "Big Mac Basket" for the second time this year on a driving layup with 3:05 remaining (Novosel finished with a game-high-tying 13 points, her second career double-digit game).