Dec. 29, 2009
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| Game Highlights
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -Notre Dame had plenty of excuses for a slow start.
The Fighting Irish hadn't played in nine days. They spent time at a theme park during their trip to Florida and with family over the holiday break.
Took a little time, but they shook off the rust.
Brittany Mallory had 16 points, Ashley Barlow scored 15 and No. 3 Notre Dame overcame a slow start to beat Central Florida 85-52 on Tuesday.
Barlow's layup as time expired in the first half highlighted a 13-0 run by the Fighting Irish that turned a tight game into a blowout, smothering the Knights with a full-court press that forced 36 turnovers. Notre Dame (11-0) extended the second-best start in the program's 33-year history.
"I guess I was in the right place at the right time," Barlow said. "I think it was our defense that changed things. We stepped it up, we got some steals and we got easy layups."
Marshay White had 12 points, and D'Nay Daniels added 10 points for the Knights (3-6), who were going for one of the biggest wins in school history. Instead, they lost for the third time this season to a ranked opponent.
The sparse black and gold crowd were treated to a fast start by the Knights, with the home team trading baskets for most of the first half. White's 3-pointer cut Notre Dame's lead to 31-29. But the celebration was short-lived.
The relentless full-court pressure by the Fighting Irish overwhelmed the Knights. Notre Dame's backcourt caused errant passes, quick shots and turnovers.
"It was almost fool's gold in the beginning," UCF coach Joi Williams said, "because they didn't capitalize on our turnovers."
Skylar Diggins had five points as the Fighting Irish scored 13 straight before intermission, including Barlow's layup that came at the buzzer.
"I thought it was a huge momentum boost for us going into halftime," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
Her team scored the next two baskets of the second half, going ahead 48-29 as some of the fans who traveled with Notre Dame for the holiday break cheered "Let's Go Irish."
"I knew we were capable of playing with them," said Knights forward Emma Cannon, who surpassed 1,000 points for her career. "But we just made too many mistakes."
Notre Dame also got a boost with the return of forward Devereaux Peters, who hadn't played since tearing a ligament in her left knee on Nov. 23, 2008. She scored two points in 10 minutes.
Only the 2000-01 Notre Dame team got off to a better start, beginning the season with 23 wins en route to a 34-2 record and the program's first national championship.
The Fighting Irish remained at No. 3 in the AP Poll this week even after second-ranked Stanford lost to top-ranked Connecticut last week. Stanford fell from being a unanimous No. 2, but still remained 19 points ahead of Notre Dame.
"Frankly, I don't really care where we're ranked," McGraw said. "We are a team that's in control of our own destiny. We're the masters of our fate."
-- ND --
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame's 11-game winning streak ties for the fifth-longest in school history, and longest since the 2000-01 Fighting Irish opened with their 23-game winning streak en route to the national championship ... since returning from the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Notre Dame has held its last five opponents to 60 points or fewer, including 52 or fewer in the past three outings (43.3 ppg. allowed in that span) ... Notre Dame is 22-9 (.710) in true road games since the start of the 2007-08 season, including a 2-0 mark this season ... the Fighting Irish improve to 2-0 all-time against UCF, having faced the Knights for the first time since Nov. 25, 1989 (an 81-61 Notre Dame win in Orlando) ... the Fighting Irish are 22-5 (.815) all-time against Florida schools, with a 12-2 (.857) record on the road and a 15-3 (.833) record all-time when playing in the Sunshine State, regardless of the opponent ... Notre Dame moves to 22-11 (.667) all-time in its first game after the Christmas holiday with a 10-5 (.667) record on the road and 16-7 (.696) mark in the 23-year Muffet McGraw era; the Fighting Irish also now have won their last seven games coming off the Christmas break ... Notre Dame forced at least 30 opponent turnovers for the fifth time in 11 games this season, including the third time in four games ... in the past two games, the Fighting Irish have registered two of their highest opponent turnover marks in the past decade (43 vs. Charlotte on Dec. 20, 36 on Tuesday at UCF) ... Notre Dame came into Tuesday's game leading the nation with 15.6 steals per game, and boosted that total with 21 thefts at UCF (the Fighting Irish now are averaging 16.1 steals per game) ... the Fighting Irish logged at least 20 steals for the fifth time this season, and third in four games ... Notre Dame shot better than 50 percent from the floor for the fourth time this year ... all 13 Fighting Irish players in uniform cracked the scoring column ... junior guard Brittany Mallory chalked up her fifth double-figure scoring game of the season (she had nine in the first two years of her career combined), not bad considering Mallory has come off the bench in all 11 games to date ... senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner tied her career high with four steals (achieved twice before, most recently vs. Western Kentucky on Nov. 13, 2007) and matched her season high with six assists ... senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow moved into 15th place on Notre Dame's career scoring list with 1,243 points, passing Mary Beth Schueth (1,233 from 1981-85) ... Barlow also rose into fourth place on the Fighting Irish career steals list with 229 thefts, passing Karen Robinson (228 from 1987-91) ... fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader made her 102nd career start on Tuesday, tying for ninth place on the program's all-time list with Letitia Bowen (1991-95) ... senior walk-on guard (and Fort Lauderdale native) Alena Christiansen tied her career highs with two steals and six minutes played -- she had two thefts in Notre Dame's last outing vs. Charlotte (Dec. 20) and six minutes of action in the game prior to that (Dec. 12 vs. Valparaiso).