Jan. 4, 2008
#14/14 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-1 / 0-0 BIG EAST) vs. #3/3 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (11-1 / 0-0 Southeastern)
DATE: January 5, 2008
TIME: 2:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Joyce Center (11,418)
SERIES: UT leads 18-0
1ST MTG: 11/25/83 (UT 71-56)
LAST MTG: 12/30/06 (UT 78-54)
RADIO: ESPN Radio 1490 AM (Sean Stires, p-b-p)
TV: CBS (live) (Don Criqui, p-b-p / Rebecca Lobo, color)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: None - game is a sellout
No. 14 Irish Set To Host No. 3 Tennessee Saturday At Sold-Out Joyce Center
With the start of the BIG EAST Conference season looming on the horizon, No. 14 Notre Dame will face perhaps its biggest test of the season to date when it plays host to third-ranked Tennessee Saturday at 2 p.m. (ET) inside a sold-out Joyce Center. The Lady Vols will be the second top-five opponent for the Irish this season, following a 75-59 loss at then-No. 3 Maryland on Nov. 16 in the Preseason WNIT semifinals.
Notre Dame (12-1) has rebounded well from that loss to the Terrapins, reeling off 10 consecutive victories, the most recent of which was an 84-59 win at Richmond on Wednesday night. The Irish used a 7-1 run late in the first half and a 14-5 charge coming out of halftime to take command and win going away.
Senior guard Charel Allen led four Notre Dame players in double figures with a game-high 18 points. Sophomore guard Ashley Barlow added 16 points and a career-high-tying six steals for the Irish, who collected 18 steals and forced 28 Richmond turnovers on the night.
A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Even after a 20-12 record and a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2006-07, Notre Dame still continues to fly below the national radar. Head coach Muffet McGraw wouldn't want it any other way.
Last year, the Irish learned quickly that respect is something that isn't handed to you, but rather earned on the court. It's also a quality that takes time to develop and doesn't come from trophy cases or record books. So although Notre Dame was tabbed fifth in the preseason BIG EAST Conference balloting, it's not a great concern to McGraw and her charges. Instead, they focus on the things they can control and prefer to let the outside world judge them when the season is over.
This year could prove to be unlike any in recent memory for Notre Dame. For one, the Irish will roll out some impressive depth, going virtually two-deep at every floor position. In addition, Notre Dame's new offensive system (a Princeton-based set with four guards and a post) continues to evolve, building upon last year's 70.1 point-per-game average that was its highest since the 2000-01 NCAA national championship season.
Senior guard Charel Allen is the top returning scorer and rebounder for the Irish, leading the team in both categories last year (17.0 ppg., 6.2 rpg.). She also was a first-team all-BIG EAST and WBCA honorable mention All-America selection, and was a finalist for the 2007 USA U21 World Championship Team that struck gold this past summer in Moscow.
Allen's backcourt partner and classmate is point guard Tulyah Gaines. Now in her second full season at the helm of the Notre Dame offense, the speedy Gaines averaged 9.6 points per game along with team highs of 3.9 assists and 2.0 steals per contest. She also is a two-year team captain who commands instant respect from teammates, coaches and opponents.
The Irish will benefit from the return of junior guard Lindsay Schrader, who missed the entire 2006-07 season with a torn ACL in her right knee. Schrader, who retains three years of athletic eligibility, was Notre Dame's second-leading scorer (10.5 ppg.) and top rebounder (5.4 rpg.) as a rookie in 2005-06 and will look to regain that form this season.
Last year saw Notre Dame break new ground by becoming the first school ever to put three players on the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team. Guards Ashley Barlow (10.3 ppg., 5.4 rpg.) and Melissa Lechlitner (6.3 ppg., 2.7 apg.) will provide a superb complement to the veteran Allen-Gaines tandem, while center Erica Williamson (6.1 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 1.3 bpg.) showed flashes of potential throughout her rookie season and is poised for increased development this year.
Headlining a three-player freshman class (ranked 11th nationally by Blue Star Basketball) is Devereaux Peters, a smooth 6-2 forward who was a consensus All-American as a senior last year at national powerhouse Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Ill. Fellow post Becca Bruszewski (Valparaiso, Ind.) finished third in last season's Indiana Miss Basketball voting and was a perennial all-state pick. And, guard Brittany Mallory (Baltimore, Md.) offers a perimeter shooting threat, as well as a cerebral player who will mesh well in the Irish offensive system.
Potent Notables About The Irish
A Quick Look At Tennessee
Defending national champion Tennessee has picked up right where it left off last season, winning 11 of its first 12 games. The Lady Vols held the top spot in both major national polls for the first seven weeks of the season before a 73-69 overtime loss at then-No. 5/4 Stanford on Dec. 22 dropped UT to its current No. 3 ranking.
Tennessee bounced back from its only loss of the season with a convincing 102-68 win at DePaul on Wednesday night. Despite missing the reigning national player of the year Candace Parker in the first half (curfew violation), UT didn't miss a beat, jumping out to a 19-point lead and cruising from there. The Lady Vols shot a blistering 60.3 percent from the field, including 56.3 percent from three-point range and had four double-figure scorers, led by junior forward/center Alex Fuller with 19 points.
Parker leads UT in most categories, including scoring (21.7 ppg), rebounding (8.6 rpg), blocks (2.3 bpg) and steals (2.5 spg). Senior guard Alexis Hornbuckle is second in scoring (12.4 ppg) and assists (4.0 apg), along with a gaudy .516 three-point percentage.
Head coach Pat Summitt is in her 34th season at Tennessee with a 958-181 (.841) record. She is 18-0 in her career against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Tennessee Series
Notre Dame and Tennessee will square off for the 19th time in their series on Saturday, with the Lady Vols having won each of the first 18 games played between the teams. UT has outscored the Irish by an average of more than 21 points per game during the series, and while two of the first three matchups were decided by single digits, Notre Dame has gotten within 10 points of Tennessee only once since then (an 85-82 Lady Vol win on Jan. 12, 1992 at the Joyce Center). Last season, UT earned a 78-54 victory in Knoxville.
Tennessee also has won each of the seven series games played in South Bend, most recently taking a 62-51 decision on Dec. 31, 2005.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Tennessee Met
Candace Parker had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Shannon Bobbitt had a season-high 17 points to lead No. 4 Tennessee to a 78-54 victory over Notre Dame on Dec. 30, 2006 at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.
Sidney Spencer added 17 points for the Lady Vols, while Notre Dame (9-4) was led by Charel Allen with 16 points. Bobbitt was 5-of-7 from 3-point range, and the Lady Vols had 12 blocks, including five by Parker.
Tennessee (12-1) led the entire first half but never by more than eight points. Alexis Hornbuckle hit a 15-footer in transition with 4:11 left to give the Lady Vols a 27-19 lead, but Notre Dame finished the half with an 8-2 run, closing to within 29-27.
The Lady Vols shot just 34.5 percent from the field in the first half and Notre Dame shot 46.2 percent. Tennessee had 11 points off turnovers in the first half.
The Lady Vols opened the second half with an 11-2 run, taking a 40-29 lead on Spencer's two free throws with 16:25 left.
Bobbitt, who hit four three-pointers in the first 10 minutes of the second half, scored eight straight points in a span of 26 seconds to extend the lead to 26 points. She hit a three-pointer with 10:38 left, made two foul shots and then hit another three-pointer with 10:12 to play for a 64-38 lead with 10:12 left.
That came during a 22-2 run by the Lady Vols, who rolled to the victory in the last 10 minutes. The Irish finished with 29 turnovers and the Lady Vols with 15.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Tennessee Met At The Joyce Center
Alexis Hornbuckle had 15 points and eight rebounds to help top-ranked Tennessee hold off No. 12 Notre Dame 62-51 on Dec. 31, 2005 at the Joyce Center. Megan Duffy led Notre Dame with 19 points, including eight points in the last four minutes.
Tennessee (12-0) led 47-25 with 13:09 left, but Notre Dame went on a 16-4 run to cut the lead to 51-41 with 6:16 remaining. Duffy's basket trimmed the deficit to 57-51 with two minutes left, but Tennessee made 5-of-8 free throws to end the game.
Nicky Anosike added nine points and Candace Parker had eight points and 11 rebounds for the Lady Vols.
Notre Dame, playing before its third sellout in history, outscored Tennessee 37-33 in the second half and held the Lady Vols to 28 percent shooting after the break. Tennessee held Notre Dame to 31 percent overall and outrebounded the Irish 35-21.
The Lady Vols forced 15 first-half turnovers to take a 29-14 lead. The Irish (9-2) barely avoided one of their lowest-scoring halves ever, thanks to Courtney LaVere's three-pointer with 1:09 left before the break. LaVere had 10 points before fouling out.
Other Notre Dame-Tennessee Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Southeastern Conference
The Irish are 6-28 (.176) all-time against the Southeastern Conference, although they are 3-5 in their last eight meetings with SEC schools. The most recent Irish win over an SEC opponent was Nov. 14, 2003 at the WBCA Classic in Boulder, Colo., when Notre Dame defeated No. 22/25 Auburn, 77-64.
The Irish also are 2-10 (.167) against SEC schools at the Joyce Center, with wins over Vanderbilt (77-63 on Jan. 4, 1990) and LSU (82-80 on Dec. 19, 1993).
Start Me Up
For only the third time in its 31-year history, Notre Dame has gotten off to an 12-1 start or better. In 2000-01, the Irish opened with 23 consecutive victories, en route to their first-ever No. 1 ranking and eventually, the program's first national championship.
More recently, Notre Dame began the 2004-05 season with a 13-1 record, winning its first seven games (including the Preseason WNIT title) before a Dec. 2 overtime loss to 15th-ranked Michigan State. The Irish then reeled off six more wins and finished the year with a 27-6 record.
We're Going Streaking!
Notre Dame's current 10-game win streak is its longest since a similar 10-game run from Jan. 16-Feb. 15, 2005. The Irish now have amassed 10 double-digit win streaks in program history (eight in the Muffet McGraw era), led by the school-record 23-game success string to open the 2000-01 national championship season.
Perhaps hidden within the current win streak is the fact that Notre Dame has won five consecutive road games. That's the longest run for the Irish away from the Joyce Center since they won five in a row on the road from Jan. 19-Feb. 15, 2005 (part of the program's last 10-game winning streak prior to this season).
With its 67-44 victory at IUPUI on Dec. 21, Notre Dame picked up its 10th win of the season, matching the second-quickest run to double-digit wins in program history (2000-01 -- 75-56 at Marquette). The 2004-05 club, bolstered by a four-game run to the Preseason Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) title, earned its 10th win of the season on Dec. 19, 2004, with a 50-47 victory at Marquette.
Notre Dame is peppered throughout the latest NCAA statistical rankings (as of Friday). The Irish among the top 15 in the nation in eight categories, led by a No. 2 ranking for assist/turnover ratio (1.37) and No. 3 ranking for fewest turnovers per game (12.92). Notre Dame also is fifth in scoring margin (+27.3), sixth in scoring offense (81.6), tied-seventh in won-loss percentage (.923), tied-11th in steals (12.92), 12th in field goal percentage (.477) and 14th in assists (17.69).
A full recap of Notre Dame's positions on the NCAA statistics charts (and its relation to the national leaders) can be found on page 10 of this notes package.
Seven of Notre Dame's 12 wins this season have come by at least 30 points, while the Irish have held 30-point leads late in the second half against Western Kentucky and Richmond. This marks the first time in school history that Notre Dame has fashioned seven 30-point wins in its first 13 games.
It's also the first time since the 2000-01 national championship season that the Irish have logged at least seven 30-point wins in a single season. That year, Notre Dame collected a school-record 10 30-point victories, but only five of those came in the first 13 games.
What's more, the Irish had a streak of four consecutive 30-point wins from Nov. 20-Dec. 2. The last time Notre Dame did that was Jan. 20-30, 1999, when the Irish had four straight 30-point victories, all during BIG EAST Conference play -- at Seton Hall (87-47), home vs. St. John's (99-60), at Syracuse (94-61) and at Providence (97-59).
Put A Tiger In Your Tank
Less than two seasons after posting the program's lowest scoring output (64.5 ppg) since 1980-81 (its first as a Division I program), Notre Dame has reversed that trend in a big way.
The Irish currently rank third in the BIG EAST Conference in scoring (and sixth in the nation) at 81.6 points per game, having tallied at least 77 points in 10 of their 12 wins. What's more, Notre Dame also has the third-highest scoring average after 13 games in program history, topped only by the squads in 1995-96 (83.2 ppg.) and 1998-99 (82.4 ppg.), with the latter team going on to post a single-season school record with an 81.0-ppg. scoring average.
What's more, Notre Dame has scored at least 90 points four times this season. That's the most 90-point games for the Irish in one year since 2000-01, when they also had four such outings. In fact, during the six seasons between then and now (2001-02 through 2006-07), Notre Dame had a combined total of four 90-point games.
Notre Dame also ranks second in the conference (and fifth in the nation) in scoring margin, outpointing its opposition by 27.3 points per night.
Spreading The Wealth
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame's squad this season is its balance and depth. That's been particularly evident through the first 15 games of the season (counting the exhibitions), with six different players from all five floor positions and all four classes leading the team in scoring.
Another example of Notre Dame's balance this season is seen in its point distribution. No fewer than 10 of the 11 Irish players on this year's roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, with only senior walk-on guard Amanda Tsipis yet to crack the 10-point mark.
Notre Dame also has had at least three double-figure scorers in all but one game (Purdue) this season. What's more, the Irish fielded five double-figure scorers in three consecutive games from Nov. 20-27. It's believed to be the first time in school history (and certainly the first time in the Muffet McGraw era) the Irish have pulled off that feat of three straight games with five double-digit scorers, although records are incomplete prior to the 1983-84 season.
Protecting The Pill
Notre Dame has gotten off to a strong start this season, thanks in large part to its ability to take care of the basketball. The Irish are averaging just 12.9 turnovers per game (third-best in the nation) and have yet to commit more than 18 giveaways this year. On the flip side, Notre Dame is forcing 24.2 turnovers per night, resulting in a BIG EAST Conference-best +11.23 turnover margin (more than four takeaways better than second-place Connecticut).
The Irish took ball protection to a new level in their loss at No. 3 Maryland on Nov. 16. Notre Dame set a school record with only three turnovers against the Terrapins, with two of those giveaways coming on offensive fouls. The previous school record for fewest turnovers was six, set on Feb. 12, 2006 at DePaul.
With only three turnovers, it probably comes as no surprise that Maryland did not register a steal against Notre Dame. However, what is surprising is that it was the first time in the 31-year history of the Irish program that an opponent did not record a steal against Notre Dame. Several opponents had only one steal vs. the Irish, with the most recent being Boston College on March 19, 2006 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (played at West Lafayette, Ind.).
Keeping It On The Plus Side
Notre Dame has registered a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in 10 of its 13 games this season, only finding the red in wins over Western Kentucky (12 assists, 15 turnovers), Purdue (15/18) and Richmond (9/13).
For the year, the Irish rank second in the BIG EAST (and second nationally) with a 1.37 assist-to-turnover ratio, trailing only top-ranked Connecticut (1.52). Notre Dame also has assisted on 55 percent of its field goals this year (230 assists on 418 baskets), ranking fourth in the conference and 14th in the country with 17.69 assists per game.
Off And Running
Notre Dame has wasted little time in jumping ahead of its opponents this season. In seven of their 12 wins, the Irish have opened up a double-digit lead less than 10 minutes into the game, while a 20-0 run late in the first half at Central Michigan aided that win, as did a 18-3 first-half surge at Bowling Green.
Even in its lone defeat at third-ranked Maryland, Notre Dame made a statement early with a 10-0 run in the first five minutes of action and led by as many as five points in the first half before the Terrapins rallied back for the win.
Going Into Lockdown
Notre Dame has held 11 of its 13 opponents this season to fewer than 60 points. The Irish also currently rank sixth in the BIG EAST (and 23rd in the nation) in scoring defense at 54.3 points per game. That's the third-lowest opponent scoring average through 13 games for Notre Dame, second-lowest since elevating to Division I in 1980-81, and lowest of the Muffet McGraw era. In fact, the only Irish squad in the past 26 seasons that has even gotten off to a similar defensive start was the 2000-01 national championship team (54.5 ppg.).
Allen Climbing Irish Points Ladder
Senior guard Charel Allen continues to make her way up Notre Dame's all-time scoring list, currently standing 15th with 1,229 points. Next up for Allen is Mary Beth Schueth, who is in 14th place with 1,233 points from 1981-85.
What's more, Allen is 201 points away from moving into the top 10 on the Irish career scoring charts. The person currently holding down that position? First-year assistant coach Niele Ivey, who tallied 1,430 points from 1996-2001.
Clutch When It Counts
Notre Dame is 24-32 (.750) from the free throw line in the final two minutes (plus overtime) this season. Leading the way is sophomore guard Ashley Barlow, who is 4-4 this year and 14-16 (.875) in her career when toeing the line down the stretch. Fellow sophomore guard Melissa Lechlitner also has been solid from the stripe in crunch time during her career, going 12-15 (.800), including 3-4 this season.
Saturday's game vs. Tennessee will be the fourth women's basketball sellout (11,418) in school history and first since UT's last visit to the Joyce Center on Dec. 31, 2005. It also will mark just the second time the Irish have attracted multiple crowds of 10,000 fans in the same season, as 10,825 fans took in the Dec. 2 win over Michigan. A full rundown of the top crowds in Joyce Center history can be found in the sidebar on page 7 of this notes package.
Notre Dame is ranked a season-high 14th in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll, rising two spots from the previous survey. The No. 14 ranking is the highest for the Irish in the media poll since the week of Jan. 2, 2006, when they were ranked 12th prior to losses at St. John's (66-63) and home vs. Seton Hall (74-61).
Notre Dame now has been ranked in the AP poll for 148 weeks during the program's history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era. McGraw currently ranks 14th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also stands 25th all-time in that category.
The Irish also are appearing in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll for the eighth consecutive week, checking in at a season-high 14th. It's the highest poll position for Notre Dame since the week of Jan. 2, 2006, when the Irish were tabbed 12th by the coaches prior to the aforementioned losses to St. John's and Seton Hall.
No Easy Road
Notre Dame has always played a difficult schedule, using it as a means of preparation for future tests in both the BIG EAST Conference and the postseason. However, this year's slate could be one of the more rugged ones in recent memory.
With the addition of Maryland to the docket in the Preseason WNIT semifinals, the Irish now will face four of the top six teams in the latest Associated Press poll. Still to come this season are No. 1 Connecticut (Jan. 27 at the Joyce Center), No. 3 Tennessee (Saturday at the Joyce Center) and No. 6 Rutgers (Feb. 19 in Piscataway, N.J.). Three of the top five teams in the poll have combined to win three of the past four national championships, with Tennessee currently holding the hardware after defeating Rutgers in last year's title game.
Irish Debut Dish For The Holidays Food Drive
The Notre Dame women's basketball team took time to give back to the northern Indiana community with its first-ever "Dish For The Holidays" food drive on Dec. 20. All of the Irish players and coaches manned various entrances to the Notre Dame campus that morning, collecting non-perishable food items and monetary donations that were presented to the Food Bank of Northern Indiana later in the day. In addition to eight full cartons of food (close to 4,000 pounds), the Irish also collected $646 to help others in need around Michiana during the holidays.
Irish Fans Crave A Big Mac Attack
Notre Dame has introduced a new promotion this season, offering fans a coupon for a free Big Mac from South Bend-area McDonald's restaurants if the Irish score at least 88 points in a game. The coupons are issued at the Joyce Center gates as fans leave the arena following the game.
This season's burger watch already is at six, as the Irish have hit the 88-point mark in exhibition wins over Southern Indiana and Hillsdale, as well as regular-season victories over Miami (Ohio), Boston College, Canisius and Valparaiso.
It's probably also not a surprise that the Notre Dame player with the most "Big Mac baskets" this season has the same initials as that of the tasty burger -- freshman guard Brittany Mallory, who has sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) four times, including each of the past three games that the Irish have scored 88 points at home.
Here's a rundown of some upcoming promotions and giveaways at future Notre Dame women's basketball games this season. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Irish athletics ticket office (second floor of the Joyce Center through Gate 1; 574-631-7356), on game day at the Gate 10 ticket windows of the Joyce Center, or via the Internet at Notre Dame's official athletics web site (UND.com). Please note -- additional promotions and giveaways may be added at a later date, so consult the Notre Dame promotions web site (www.notredamepromotions.com) for the latest information:
Next Game: Louisville
The Irish will tip off BIG EAST Conference play Tuesday at 7 p.m. (ET) when they head to Louisville for a matchup with the Cardinals at Freedom Hall. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience by CSTV, the first of nine television appearances for Notre Dame during the 16-game BIG EAST slate.
Under first-year head coach Jeff Walz, Louisville has raced to an 11-2 record and is receiving votes in both major polls this week. The Cardinals have won 10 consecutive games heading into their BIG EAST opener Saturday night at Syracuse.