Jan. 7, 2008
#14/14 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-2 / 0-0 BIG EAST) vs. Louisville Cardinals (11-3 / 0-0 BIG EAST)
DATE: January 8, 2008
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Louisville, Ky. - Freedom Hall (18,865)
SERIES: UL leads 3-2
1ST MTG: 3/22/91 (UL 80-75)
LAST MTG: 2/7/07 (ND 64-55)
RADIO: ESPN Radio 1490 AM (Sean Stires, p-b-p)
TV: CSTV (live) (Greg Amsinger, p-b-p / Debbie Antonelli, color)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (800) 633-7105
Irish Open BIG EAST Play At Louisville Tuesday Night
After a largely-successful trip navigating through a demanding non-conference schedule, the waters get even more treacherous for Notre Dame, as the Irish open the 16-game BIG EAST Conference schedule Tuesday at 7 p.m. (ET) against Louisville at Freedom Hall. Both the Irish and Cardinals are coming off tough losses last Saturday and will be seeking to bounce back before a national cable TV audience on CSTV.
Notre Dame (12-2) had its 10-game winning streak snapped over the weekend with an 87-63 loss to third-ranked Tennessee at the Joyce Center. The Irish fell behind by 20 points in the first half, rallied back to within 32-20, but could get no closer as the defending national champions flexed their muscle from the three-point line by hitting 11-of-20 shots from distance.
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.
A Quick Look At Louisville
Even with a new head coach, the results have been the same for Louisville, as the Cardinals have followed up last year's 27-8 record and NCAA second-round berth by winning 11 of their first 14 games and earning votes in both polls.
UofL is coming off a 79-56 loss at Syracuse in its BIG EAST opener last Saturday night. Junior forward Candyce Bingham had a team-high 19 points for the Cardinals, who struggled to find their shooting touch inside the Carrier Dome (.333 FG%). Senior All-America forward and BIG EAST Player of the Year Angel McCoughtry scored only 10 points (3-15 FG).
Despite her off night last weekend, McCoughtry leads the conference (and ranks among the top five nationally) in scoring at 23.3 points per game, while also setting the NCAA pace with 4.93 steals per game and chipping in a team-high 8.2 rebounds per game. Bingham averages 13.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game with a .588 field goal percentage.
Jeff Walz is in his first season as a collegiate head coach after a successful run as an assistant at Maryland, where he helped the Terrapins to the 2006 national title. He is 11-3 in his first season at Louisville and will face Notre Dame for the first time Tuesday night.
The Notre Dame-Louisville Series
Tuesday night's game will be just the sixth in the series between Notre Dame and Louisville, with the Cardinals holding a 3-2 edge on the Irish. The teams met three times from 1991-94, with UofL winning twice before Notre Dame got its initial win in the series (69-54 on Feb. 21, 1994 at Freedom Hall).
With Louisville's arrival in the BIG EAST Conference two seasons ago, the rivalry resumed with each side successfully defending its home court in a pair of conference encounters. The Cardinals won the first BIG EAST contest, 61-51 at Freedom Hall on Jan. 14, 2006, before the Irish responded with a 64-55 victory on Feb. 7, 2007 at the Joyce Center.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Louisville Met
For a while, it looked as though Angel McCoughtry might outscore Notre Dame by herself.
She couldn't, though. Not even with the help of her Louisville teammates. After making her first seven shots -- including five three-pointers -- the Irish switched from a zone defense in the first half to a box-and-one and McCoughtry went 3-of-8 the rest of the way. The Irish then used a 16-0 run late to beat the No. 17/16 Cardinals, 64-55 on Feb. 7, 2007 at the Joyce Center.
Notre Dame (15-8, 6-4 BIG EAST), which trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half, was down 48-43 after Chauntise Wright scored inside with 9:30 left. But Charel Allen, who led the Irish with 21 points and seven rebounds, hit a shot from 17 feet, then found Tulyah Gaines to trigger a decisive 16-0 run. Allen scored eight points during the burst.
McCoughtry scored 19 points in the first half to lead Louisville (21-3, 7-3), but was held to just 10 points in the second half (six from the field) by Breona Gray. Ashley Barlow added 15 points for the Irish, Gaines had 13 and Gray tossed in 12. Patrika Barlow scored 10 points for Louisville.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Louisville Met At Freedom Hall
Jazz Covington had 21 points and 10 rebounds to lead Louisville to a 61-51 upset of No. 20/19 Notre Dame on Jan. 14, 2006 at Freedom Hall.
Angel McCoughtry added 10 points, 14 rebounds and seven steals for the Cardinals (12-3, 3-1 BIG EAST), who handed the Irish (10-5, 1-3) their fourth loss in five games.
Louisville took control with a 15-0 run midway through the first half, holding Notre Dame scoreless for almost 10 minutes. The Cardinals held the Irish to just 21 percent shooting in the half while building a 30-15 lead.
UL outrebounded the Irish, 55-29 and overcame 22 turnovers to win its first game over a Top 25 opponent in nearly two years.
Other Notre Dame-Louisville Series Tidbits
Blowing The Lid Off The BIG EAST
Notre Dame is 8-4 (.667) in BIG EAST Conference openers since it joined the league for the 1995-96 season. The Irish have won six of their last eight BIG EAST lidlifters, including a 64-61 victory at Seton Hall last season.
Tuesday's game will mark the seventh time Notre Dame has opened BIG EAST play on the road, having gone 3-3 its previous six outings. Last year's win at SHU snapped a two-game losing streak for the Irish when they tipped off conference action on the road.
Start Me Up
Notre Dame completed the non-conference portion of its regular season schedule with a 12-2 record, matching the third-best 14-game start in the program's 31-year history. 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 (who rose as high as third in the national polls that season) then reeled off six more wins and finished the year with a 27-6 record and a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Besides this season, Notre Dame has posted a 12-2 start on three other occasions, most recently in the 1999-2000 season en route to a 27-5 record, top-five national ranking and NCAA Sweet 16 berth.
We're Going Streaking!
Notre Dame's recent 10-game win streak was 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.
Despite last Saturday's loss to No. 3 Tennessee, Notre Dame still has won five consecutive road games since a 75-59 loss at third-ranked Maryland on Nov. 16. 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 a victory at Louisville on Tuesday, Notre Dame would fashion its longest road winning streak since a 10-game run from Nov. 17, 2000 to Feb. 14, 2001, a streak that ended with a 54-53 loss at No. 11/14 Rutgers (one of only two defeats for the Irish on their run to the NCAA title).
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 Jan. 4). The Irish among the top 15 in the nation in eight categories, led by a No. 2 ranking for assist/turnover ratio (currently 1.33) and No. 3 ranking for fewest turnovers per game (13.14). Notre Dame also is fifth in scoring margin (+23.7), sixth in scoring offense (80.3), tied-seventh in won-loss percentage (.857), tied-11th in steals (12.71), 12th in field goal percentage (.473) and 14th in assists (17.5).
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 14 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 14 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 as of Jan. 4) at 80.3 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 and 1998-99 (both at 82.9 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 23.7 points per night.
McGraw's Shock Troops
During his coaching tenure with the Notre Dame football team in the 1920s, Knute Rockne was at the forefront of the two-platoon system, using his "shock troops" -- a full team of second stringers -- at the start of most games.
While Irish women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw may not quite be following Rockne's philosophy to the letter, she could easily rotate in much of her second unit and not see much decline in productivity. In fact, Notre Dame's bench is averaging 33.0 points per game (compared to 47.3 ppg. by the starters) and has outscored all 14 opponent benches this season by an average of +18.6 points per night.
Leading the way for this year's Irish "shock troops" is freshman forward Devereaux Peters, who is averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game with a .525 field goal percentage.
Last year's Irish rookie class (aka the "BMW" trio of guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner and center Erica Williamson) became the first threesome from one school ever to be named to the BIG EAST Conference All-Freshman Team in the same season. Following on the heels of that success, Notre Dame has a new freshman trio that is aiming to make an early splash at the college level -- the "BBD" lineup of guards Brittany Mallory and forwards Becca Bruszewski and Devereaux Peters.
All three Irish rookies have done their part to help Notre Dame to its 12-2 record, with each one averaging at least 12 minutes and having scored in double figures at least once. Peters is fourth on the team in scoring (8.9 ppg.) and has scored in double digits in eight of the past nine games, while also leading the BIG EAST Conference in blocked shots (2.29 bpg.). Mallory is averaging 6.8 points per game, is second on the squad with 12 three-pointers and is one of six Notre Dame players with at least 20 steals this season. Bruszewski is logging 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game, with impressive outings in the two Irish matchups against top-five opponents, grabbing a season-high seven rebounds vs. Maryland and Tennessee.
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 two games (Purdue and Tennessee) 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 13.1 turnovers per game (third-best in the nation as of Jan. 4) and have yet to commit more than 18 giveaways this year. On the flip side, Notre Dame is forcing 23.4 turnovers per night, resulting in a BIG EAST Conference-best +10.29 turnover margin (more than three 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 14 games this season, only finding the red in wins over Western Kentucky (12 assists, 15 turnovers), Purdue (15/18), Richmond (9/13) and Tennessee (15/16).
For the year, the Irish rank third in the BIG EAST (and third nationally) with a 1.33 assist-to-turnover ratio, trailing only top-ranked Connecticut (1.52) and Villanova (1.35). Notre Dame also has assisted on 55.1 percent of its field goals this year (245 assists on 445 baskets), ranking fourth in the conference and 14th in the country with 17.5 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 the first of its two defeats this season (at third-ranked Maryland on Nov. 16), 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 14 opponents this season to fewer than 60 points. The Irish also currently rank seventh in the BIG EAST (and 23rd in the nation) in scoring defense at 56.6 points per game.
That's the fourth-lowest opponent scoring average through 14 games for Notre Dame, third-lowest since elevating to Division I in 1980-81, and second-lowest of the Muffet McGraw era. The only Irish squad in the past 26 seasons that has even gotten off to a better defensive start than this year's club was the 2000-01 national championship team (53.9 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 14th with 1,246 points. Next up for Allen is her former teammate Megan Duffy, who is in 13th place with 1,290 points from 2002-06.
What's more, Allen is 184 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.
The Jan. 5 game vs. Tennessee was 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 marks 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 was ranked a season-high 14th in last week's Associated Press Top 25 poll, rising two spots from the previous survey. The No. 14 ranking was 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).
As of last week's poll, 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 appeared in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll for the eighth consecutive week, checking in at a season-high 14th in the Jan. 2 balloting. It's the highest poll position for Notre Dame in exactly two years, when the Irish were tabbed 12th by the coaches prior to the aforementioned losses to St. John's and Seton Hall.
This week's editions of the national polls will be released on Monday (AP) and Tuesday (ESPN/USA Today) afternoons.
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 (as of Dec. 31). Also scheduled for Notre Dame this season are No. 1 Connecticut (Jan. 27 at the Joyce Center), No. 3 Tennessee (lost 87-63 on Jan. 5 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: West Virginia
Notre Dame will complete its two-game BIG EAST road trip on Sunday with a noon (ET) game at No. 17/16 West Virginia. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience on ESPNU, marking the third consecutive national TV broadcast for the Irish.
WVU (11-2, 1-0) has been a fixture in both major national polls this season, peaking at 13th back in December. The high-powered Mountaineers are slated to visit top-ranked Connecticut Wednesday night before returning home to face Notre Dame this weekend.