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    Fighting Irish
    #3 Irish Open BIG EAST Play Saturday Against Villanova

    FIGHTING IRISH Senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow is averaging 6.4 rebounds in her last five games, including a season-high eight rebounds three times in that span.
    FIGHTING IRISH
    Senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow is averaging 6.4 rebounds in her last five games, including a season-high eight rebounds three times in that span.
    FIGHTING IRISH

    Jan. 8, 2010

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    2009-10 ND Women's Basketball: Game 14
    #3/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (13-0 / 0-0 BIG EAST) vs. Villanova Wildcats (10-3 / 0-1 BIG EAST)

    DATE: January 9, 2010
    TIME: 2:00 p.m. ET
    AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
    SERIES: ND leads 15-10
    1ST MTG: VU 70-57 (1/6/81)
    LAST MTG: VU 58-47 (3/8/09)
    TV: BIG EAST TV (live) (Justin Kutcher, p-b-p / Brooke Weisbrod, color)
    RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
    TWITTER: @ndwbbsid
    TICKETS: (574) 631-7356

    Storylines

  • Notre Dame is the last BIG EAST Conference team to open its league schedule, with the Irish tipping off BIG EAST play at home for just the second time in nine seasons.
  • Eight of the past 10 games in the series with Villanova have been decided by an average of only 4.4 points per game.
  • No. 3 Irish Open BIG EAST Play Saturday Against Villanova
    After finishing its non-conference schedule with an unblemished record for the third time in school history, No. 3 Notre Dame looks to carry that momentum over to conference play as the Irish begin the always-tough 16-game BIG EAST docket Saturday with a 2 p.m. (ET) matchup against Villanova at Purcell Pavilion. The contest will be shown live as the BIG EAST TV Game of the Week, with a full list of broadcast outlets shown on page 10 of this notes package.

    Notre Dame (13-0) ended its non-conference slate with hard-fought 79-75 win at in-state rival Purdue on Monday night. The Irish battled back from an early 10-point deficit with a sharp second half, coming up with timely rebounds and free throws in the final seconds to seal the win.

    Senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner led four Notre Dame players in double figures with a career-high 20 points, hitting on a career-high 4-of-7 three-pointers.

    Rankings

  • Notre Dame is third in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls this week.
  • Villanova is not ranked.
  • Quick Hitters

  • The Irish have appeared in the top five of the AP poll all nine weeks this season (through Jan. 4), marking the second-longest string of consecutive AP Top 5 rankings in program history behind only the final 17 weeks in 2000-01.
  • Notre Dame's current 13-game winning streak is the fourth-longest in school history, and is its longest since a school-record 23-game run from Nov. 17, 2000-Feb. 14, 2001.
  • The Irish are in the midst of the second-best start in program history, topped only by a 23-0 debut in 2000-01 (the season in which Notre Dame won its first NCAA title).
  • Notre Dame has defeated four ranked opponents (Michigan State, San Diego State, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt) in as many tries this season, including three away from home.
  • The Irish won the 2009 Paradise Jam Island Division title (their first regular-season tourney crown since the 2005 Duel in the Desert in Las Vegas), with freshman guard Skylar Diggins capturing MVP honors and senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner making the all-tournament team.
  • Six different players have led the Irish in scoring, rebounding and assists this season. In the past six games alone, Notre Dame has had a different player lead them in scoring and assists five times each.
  • In Thursday's updated NCAA statistical rankings, Notre Dame appears among the top 25 in eight categories, including six top-10 rankings. Besides sharing top honors in won-loss percentage, the Irish are third in assists (19.1 apg.) and steals (14.9 spg.), sixth in turnover margin (+7.8), and eighth in both scoring offense (82.6 ppg.) and scoring margin (+23.6 ppg.).
  • Conversely, Notre Dame has only one player ranking among the top 100 in any NCAA statistical category -- and she's right at the century mark. Senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow stands 100th in the land in steals (2.4 per game).
  • Notre Dame is forcing 26.0 turnovers per game this season, including 29.1 at home. The Irish also have registered at least 20 takeaways in 11 of 13 games to date, with no fewer than 29 opponent turnovers in five of seven home games this year.
  • Notre Dame is averaging 8,527 fans per game this season, unofficially ranking fifth in the nation and showing a 19-percent increase from last year (7,168). The Irish also are the only school from the top 25 of the final 2008-09 NCAA attendance rankings to see an increase in attendance this year.
  • Other Notre Dame Notables

  • Notre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past 14 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking seventh with 327 victories.
  • Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in attendance each of the past nine seasons. Last year, the program finished ninth in the country for the second year in a row with an average of 7,168 fans for its 13 home games (the second-highest single-season attendance average in school history). The Irish also have drawn 5,000-or-more fans to 131 of their last 133 home games, including seven Purcell Pavilion sellouts (most recently on Dec. 31, 2009 vs. Vanderbilt).
  • The Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as seven Notre Dame players have been selected in the past nine seasons. Charel Allen was the most recent Irish player to be chosen, going to the Sacramento Monarchs in the third round (43rd overall pick) of the 2008 WNBA Draft. Ruth Riley (San Antonio) was active in the league during the '09 season, helping the Silver Stars return to the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Three of Notre Dame's eight WNBA alums have won a total of four league championships -- Riley won a pair of crowns with the Detroit Shock (2003 Finals MVP, 2006), Coquese Washington toiled for the 2000 Houston Comets, while Jacqueline Batteast was Riley's teammate on the '06 title-winning squad in Detroit.
  • For the fourth year in a row, the Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October 2009. What's more, since Muffet McGraw became the Irish head coach in 1987, every Notre Dame women's basketball player that has completed her athletic and academic eligibility at the University has graduated (a 58-for-58 success rate), with all five members of this year's senior class on target to graduate by May 2010 (Erica Williamson earned her undergraduate degree one semester early in January 2010).
  • A Quick Look At Villanova
    With a crew of three starters and seven letterwinners back in the fold, Villanova (10-3, 0-1 BIG EAST) rolled to its first outright Big Five title (winner of the Philadelphia intra-city series) since 2004 as it aims to return to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year.

    However, the Wildcats opened their BIG EAST slate on a down note, dropping a 52-38 decision at Providence on Wednesday night. Redshirt freshman forward Laura Sweeney came off the bench to score a game-high 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting for Villanova.

    Despite not starting a game all season, Sweeney leads the Wildcats in scoring (11.8 ppg.), rebounding (5.5 rpg.) and field goal percentage (.615). Senior guard Maria Getty is second in scoring (10.2 ppg.) and tops in assists (3.3 apg.) and steals (1.5 spg.).

    Head coach Harry Perretta is in his 32nd season at Villanova with a 582-346 (.627) record. He is 10-15 all-time against Notre Dame.

    The Notre Dame-Villanova Series
    Notre Dame and Villanova will meet for the 26th time on Saturday, with the Irish holding a 15-10 edge in the series with the Wildcats (13-8 since Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96). The Irish also are 7-2 against Villanova at Purcell Pavilion.

    The Wildcats have won the past two series games and seven of 11 against Notre Dame since the Irish fashioned a series-long six-game winning streak from 1998-2000.

    The Last Time Notre Dame and Villanova Met
    Laura Kurz had 21 points and 11 rebounds and Villanova beat No. 20/17 Notre Dame 58-47 on March 8, 2009, in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

    Lisa Karcic added 11 points for the Wildcats (19-12), while Melissa Lechlitner and Ashley Barlow each had 10 for Notre Dame (22-8).

    Villanova hit just two of its first 14 shots and trailed by four at halftime, but opened the second half with an 18-8 run.

    Consecutive three-pointers from Heather Scanlon gave Villanova a 39-33 lead with 13 minutes left, and Kurz's first three put her team up 50-41 with just over three minutes left.

    The Wildcats were 10 of 25 from three-point range. Notre Dame attempted just five three-pointers and made one.

    The Irish jumped out to an 15-5 lead, but the Wildcats kept in close by going inside to Kurz, who had eight first-half points. Her kickout to Siobhan O'Connor for a three-pointer cut the lead to 23-21 with 16 seconds left in the first half. But Lechlitner hit an 18-foot jump shot at the halftime buzzer to give the Irish a 25-21 lead.

    The Last Time Notre Dame and Villanova Met At Purcell Pavilion
    Devereaux Peters finished with a season-high 15 points, seven steals and three blocked shots, and No. 17/15 Notre Dame forced Villanova into a season-high 24 turnovers en route to a 69-58 victory on Jan. 16, 2008, at Purcell Pavilion.

    Peters entered the game at 15:47 of the first half, grabbed her first steal 20 seconds later and scored her first basket 29 seconds after that.

    The Irish (14-3, 2-1 BIG EAST) went ahead 43-34 when Peters caught a pass inside from Tulyah Gaines and banked it in with 15:52 left. The Wildcats (11-6, 1-3) twice cut the lead to five points and had chances both times to cut it to three, but couldn't do it.

    The Irish extended the lead to 62-52 when Ashley Barlow, who led the Irish with 16 points, converted on a three-point play with 4:20 left, and went ahead 68-55 when Peters made a pair of free throws with 67 seconds left.

    Charel Allen added 13 points for the Irish and Lindsay Schrader finished with 12 and a game-high eight rebounds. The Irish shot 54 percent for the game and were 17-of-18 from the free throw line.

    Laura Kurz led the Wildcats with 20 points. Stacie Witman had 14 points for Villanova, Lisa Karcic had 11 and Siobhan O'Connor added 10. The Wildcats hit five three-pointers in a row in the first half to keep the game close.

    Other Notre Dame-Villanova Series Tidbits

  • Nearly half (12) of the 25 games in the series have been decided by eight points or fewer, with Notre Dame winning the teams splitting those 12 close contests.
  • Since 2002, eight of the past 10 series games have been decided by a grand total of 35 points (4.4 ppg.) and seven of the eight were in doubt inside the final minute of play.
  • Notre Dame's 75-58 win at Villanova in 2007 marked the first time either team had scored 70 points in the series since Feb. 16, 2000 (a 70-52 Irish win, also at The Pavilion). In addition, it was the largest margin of victory in the series since Dec. 6, 2000 (a 64-33 Notre Dame win at the Joyce Center).
  • The Irish have forced 72 VU turnovers in the past four series games (18.0 per game) after the Wildcats came into each game ranked among the top five in the nation for fewest turnovers. In the 2008 win at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame caused 24 Wildcat turnovers, Villanova's highest giveaway total since Dec. 1, 2001 (26 in a loss at Temple).
  • Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is a native of West Chester, Pa., is a 1977 graduate of Saint Joseph's University, before spending two years as head coach at Archbishop Carroll High School in Radnor, Pa. (50-3 record), and two years as an assistant coach at SJU under Jim Foster (now the head coach at Ohio State) from 1980-82. She also is a member of three halls of fame in the Philadelphia area -- the SJU Women's Basketball Hall of Fame (inducted 1986), the Philadelphia Big Five Hall of Fame (inducted 1990) and the SJU Athletics Hall of Fame (inducted 2002).
  • Third-year Villanova strength and conditioning coach Lon Record spent six years on the staff at Notre Dame from 2000-01 through 2005-06.
  • Blowing The Lid Off The BIG EAST
    Notre Dame is 10-4 (.714) in BIG EAST Conference opens since it joined the league for the 1995-96 season. The Irish also have won eight of their last 10 BIG EAST lidlifters, including an 66-60 win at Seton Hall last season.

    Saturday's game will mark only the second time in nine seasons Notre Dame will open BIG EAST play at home, and the first since the 2004-05 campaign, when the Irish tipped off the conference docket with a 54-33 win over Seton Hall at Purcell Pavilion.

    All-time, Notre Dame is 5-1 (.833) when beginning its BIG EAST season at home, with the only loss coming on Dec. 8, 1998 (106-81 to top-ranked Connecticut).

    Getting The Jump
    At 13-0, Notre Dame is off to the second-best start in the program's 33-year history. The only time the Irish opened with a better record that this season was in 2000-01, when they reeled off a school-record 23 consecutive wins en route to a 34-2 final record and the program's first national championship.

    Bagel Works
    At 13-0, Notre Dame is one of only five Division I schools that are undefeated through Jan. 7. The others in this exclusive club are: No. 1 Connecticut (14-0), No. 8 Georgia (15-0), No. 12/13 Nebraska (13-0) and No. 18 Wisconsin-Green Bay (14-0).

    Streak Stats
    Notre Dame's current 13-game winning streak is the fourth-longest success string in program history (at any time), and it's the longest since the school-record 23-game run to begin the 2000-01 season.

    Spread The Wealth
    Notre Dame has seen six different players led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists this season.

    That trend has been particularly evident in the past six games, with a different player setting the pace in scoring and assists five times. Jnior guard Brittany Mallory (Valparaiso and UCF) is the only repeat leading scorer for the Irish, while Mallory (Charlotte and Vanderbilt) and senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner (Valparaiso and UCF) are the only repeat assist leaders for Notre Dame in that stretch.

    Five For Fighting (Irish)
    Notre Dame is the only Division I team in the country (out of 332) to have five players posting double-figure scoring averages through Jan. 7 (with players appearing in at least half of the team's games to date).

    A total of 25 schools have four players averaging double digits in the scoring column, including top-ranked Connecticut, No. 2 Stanford, No. 12/13 Nebraska and No. 14/15 Oklahoma (the Sooners also would have five in double figures if not for the season-ending injury suffered by Whitney Hand, who was at 13.3 ppg.).

    Stat Sheet Stuffers
    Another sign of Notre Dame's versatility is seen in the number of "5-5-5" games (5 or more in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and/or steals) posted by its players this year.

    Junior guard Brittany Mallory (Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Oklahoma and Vanderbilt) has a team-high three 5-5-5 games, while freshman guard Skylar Diggins (UAPB and Charlotte) has two 5-5-5 outings, and senior guard Ashley Barlow (Iona) and sophomore guard Natalie Novosel (Eastern Michigan) have one apiece.

    Taking What We Can Get
    Fueled by a renewed attention to defense this offseason, Notre Dame has been in the taking mood this year, forcing its opponents into at least 20 turnovers in 11 of 13 games thus far, with Irish foes averaging 26.0 giveaways per game.

    In a two-game stretch bookending the Christmas holiday, Notre Dame harassed its opponents into a combined 79 turnovers (43 by Charlotte on Dec. 20 and 36 at UCF on Dec. 29).

    Charlotte's 43 turnovers tied for the second-most opponent giveaways in a game in school history and the most since Dec. 8, 1981, when the Irish forced sister school Saint Mary's (Ind.) into 43 turnovers during the program's second season at the Division I level. The Notre Dame record for opponent turnovers in a game is 48 by Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Jan. 11, 1980, at DeKalb, Ill.

    The Irish have been especially hard on opponents in seven home games this season, forcing 29.1 turnovers per game (at least 29 in five of the seven Purcell Pavilion contests) while holding visitors to 52.6 points a night and a .330 field goal percentage (134-of-406).

    The Five-Finger Discount
    According to the Jan. 7 NCAA statistical report, Notre Dame ranks third in the nation in steals (currently at 14.9 thefts per game). The Irish have posted double-digit steal totals in nine of their 13 games this season, including five 20-steal efforts.

    What's more, Notre Dame has been particularly aggressive in the past six games, topping the 20-steal mark three times and averaging 16.8 steals per game during that span.

    Road Warriors
    Notre Dame is 23-9 (.719) in true road games since the start of the 2007-08 season, including wins at No. 21 Michigan State, UCF and Purdue this year.

    In addition, the past seven road losses for the Irish have been decided by an average of 8.4 points per game (all by 12 points or fewer), including all five road setbacks last season (average margin of 8.6 ppg.).

    Notre Dame posted 10 wins on the road in each of the past two years, marking just the second time in school history the Irish have logged double-digit win totals away from home in consecutive seasons (11 wins in 1989-90; 10 wins in 1990-91).

    Pomp And Circumstance
    On Jan. 3, senior center Erica Williamson received her bachelor's degree in film, television & theater from Notre Dame's College of Arts and Letters. Williamson, who also serves as the president of the school's Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), graduated a full semester early and will begin graduate studies in the spring.

    With Williamson collecting her diploma, all 58 Notre Dame women's basketball student-athletes who have completed their athletic and academic eligibility under head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-present) have earned their degrees.

    Polling Station
    For the third week in a row, Notre Dame is ranked third in the Associated Press poll, appearing in the top five for the ninth consecutive week -- it's the longest run in the AP Top 5 for the Irish since the 2000-01 season, when Notre Dame was a top-five fixture for the final 17 weeks.

    This marks the 47th consecutive AP poll appearance for the Irish, with the No. 3 ranking not only matching a season high (Dec. 7 & 21), but also being Notre Dame's highest since the week of Nov. 29, 2004, when the Irish also were ranked third.

    What's more, Notre Dame's No. 4 preseason ranking on Oct. 30 was its the highest ever, topping its No. 6 debut in the 2000-01 poll.

    With their current poll position, the Irish now have appeared in the top 10 of the AP poll during 10 of the past 14 seasons (1996-97 through 2009-10).

    Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 187 weeks during the program's 33-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 13th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also is 23rd all-time in that category.

    In addition, the Irish are spending a third consecutive week at a season-high No. 3 in the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll. It's the highest Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' survey since the 2004-05 season, when the Irish were third for two separate weeks (Nov. 30 and Jan. 5) during the year, and the first time they have been in the top three in consecutive weeks since the final 14 weeks of the 2000-01 season (capped by a No. 1 ranking in the final poll after winning the national championship).

    This marks the second consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as eight of the past 12 campaigns (1998-99 to present).

    Notre Dame was ranked in the coaches' survey for 38 consecutive weeks before falling just outside the Top 25 in the final poll of last season. With their No. 3 ranking, the Irish have appeared in the coaches' poll for 179 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).

    More Polling Data
    Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 24 people in NCAA Division I women's basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

    Besides her 187 AP poll appearances while coaching at Notre Dame, McGraw was the starting point guard at Saint Joseph's (Pa.) as a senior in 1977, helping the Hawks rise to No. 3 in the nation. Of the 24 people on this list, 12 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart).

    Game #13 Recap: Purdue
    Melissa Lechlitner has Purdue figured out.

    One year after setting a career scoring high in a victory over the Boilermakers, she did it again. She scored a career-best 20 points, and No. 3 Notre Dame held off Purdue 79-75 on Monday night at Mackey to remain unbeaten.

    Lechlitner, who was averaging 6.2 points per game, made 7 of 15 shots, including four three-pointers.

    "I thought she really had a great game," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "She carried us through the first half, and then kept it going in the second."

    Purdue coach Sharon Versyp knew Lechlitner was capable. The senior guard scored 19 points in a 62-51 win last season in South Bend.

    "She always plays well against us," Versyp said. "It's her fourth year, and she still played well against us. She took some good shots."

    Skylar Diggins and Lindsay Schrader each scored 15 points, and Ashley Barlow added 13 points and eight rebounds for Notre Dame (13-0), which is off to its best start since winning its first 23 games in 2000-2001. It was the final test for the Fighting Irish before BIG EAST play.

    "We're excited to be undefeated in the non-conference portion of our season," McGraw said. "That was one of our goals, and we're fortunate."

    Jodi Howell scored 18 points and Chelsea Jones added a career-high 16 for Purdue.

    Versyp is breaking in young players after reaching the NCAA Elite Eight last season, but close wasn't good enough for her.

    "It was a great basketball game between two good programs," Versyp said. "This isn't a moral victory whatsoever. We tasted it, we just didn't get it."

    Purdue could have tied the game in the closing seconds, but Devereaux Peters blocked Samantha Woods' 3-pointer from the right corner, and Notre Dame rebounded.

    Notre Dame recovered from a rough first half to shoot 48 percent after the break.

    The Irish had the ball with a 76-73 lead in the final minute. Diggins missed in close as the shot clock wound down, and Purdue gained possession.

    Howell made a layup with 12.1 seconds left to make it a one-point game.

    The Boilermakers fouled Diggins with 11.8 seconds to play. She made the first free throw and missed the second, but Schrader got the rebound. Schrader made the first free throw, but missed the second to give the Boilermakers a chance.

    Notre Dame had an uphill climb just to position itself to win. The Boilermakers led 37-28 late in the first half before Notre Dame went on a 8-0 run that included two baskets by Diggins to help trim Purdue's lead to three points at halftime.

    "I was a little disappointed with our defense in the first half, and our offense," McGraw said. "We were more ourselves the second half."

    Notre Dame took a 49-48 advantage on a 3-pointer by Lechlitner, but Purdue's Sam Ostarello came back with the first three-pointer of her college career to put the Boilermakers back in front.

    Brittany Mallory made a three-pointer for Notre Dame to give her team a 58-54 lead, and Purdue point guard FahKara Malone left the game with an ankle injury on the play.

    Malone returned as Howell tied the game at 62 on a pair of free throws, but Lechlitner and Diggins made back-to-back three-pointers to give Notre Dame a 68-62 lead, its largest of the game, with 5:41 to play.

    Purdue responded quickly. Howell was fouled on a three-pointer and made all three free throws, then Malone got a steal and layup to make it 68-67.

    A three-pointer by Barlow with 2:38 to play made it 72-67, but Purdue rallied again to set up the frantic final minute.

    The game provided just the test McGraw felt her team needed.

    "We're trying to get ready for the BIG EAST, and we got what we wanted out of this game," she said.

    Noting The Purdue Game

  • Notre Dame earns its fourth consecutive series win over Purdue and fifth in six games, although the Boilermakers still lead the all-time series, 14-9 (the Fighting Irish take a 9-8 edge since they joined the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96).
  • After losing its first eight games to Purdue at Mackey Arena, Notre Dame has won its last two series games in West Lafayette, and four in a row overall in the building (counting 2008 NCAA Tournament first and second round wins over SMU and Oklahoma).
  • Another series trend that continued -- at least one of the two teams has scored 70 points in 15 of the 23 games, with the first team to reach that mark earning the win all 15 times.
  • Notre Dame recorded its third-highest point total in the Purdue series (and highest ever at Mackey Arena), exceeding only by an 86-69 win in 2005 and a 87-83 loss in 1994, both at Purcell Pavilion.
  • The Fighting Irish won both of their games against Big Ten Conference opponents this year (also 68-67 at #21 Michigan State on Nov. 19) and have 13 of their last 19 against the Big Ten.
  • Notre Dame has won 12 consecutive games against in-state opponents since a 54-51 home loss to Indiana on Dec. 3, 2006.
  • Notre Dame committed a season-low nine turnovers (previous: 11 vs. South Carolina on Nov. 27 in the Virgin Islands) and its fewest in a game since Feb. 3, 2009 at Pittsburgh (also nine).
  • For the first time all season, Notre Dame trailed at halftime (39-36).
  • The Fighting Irish faced their largest deficit of the season when Purdue moved out to a 23-13 lead with 9:20 left in the first half; it was the first time Notre Dame rallied from a double-digit deficit to win since Feb. 17, 2009, when the Fighting Irish trailed by 14 points (33-19) in the first half at South Florida, but came back to win, 86-79.
  • Notre Dame tied its season high with eight three-pointers, hitting that mark for the fifth time this year (last vs. Charlotte on Dec. 20).
  • Senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner scored a career-high 20 points, one more than her previous high set in last year's 62-51 win over Purdue at Purcell Pavilion.
  • Lechlitner also had a career-high four three-pointers and eight total field goals at Purdue.
  • Fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader, who scored all 15 of her points in the second half after being saddled with first-half foul trouble, jumped two spots into 18th place on the Notre Dame career scoring list with 1,207 points, passing both Krissi Davis (1,194 from 1987-91) and Heidi Bunek (1,202 from 1985-89).
  • Senior center Erica Williamson earned her first start of the season (52nd of her career) in place of junior forward Becca Bruszewski, who did not dress due to illness.
  • Tournament Tested
    Notre Dame has felt right at home in tournament situations during the past 14 years. Starting with the 1996-97 season, the Irish have won 21 of their last 24 regular-season tournament games (multi-game events only), most recently capping a three-game run to the 2009 Paradise Jam Island Division championship over the Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    The only Notre Dame losses during this current stretch were a pair of defeats to third-ranked teams in the Preseason WNIT semifinals (72-59 vs. Tennessee at Ruston, La., in 1996; 75-59 at Maryland in 2007) and a 67-63 overtime setback at No. 20 Colorado on Nov. 15, 2003 in the finals of the WBCA Classic -- a game that saw the Buffaloes sink a desperation 30-footer at the end of regulation to force the extra session.

    High Value Freshman
    Freshman guard Skylar Diggins was named the most valuable player in the Island Division of the 2009 Paradise Jam after averaging 16.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game with a .538 field goal percentage (21-of-39) and a .545 three-point ratio (6-of-11) at the tournament.

    Diggins, who also earned a spot on the BIG EAST Conference Weekly Honor Roll for her efforts, was the first Notre Dame rookie in a decade to collect all-tournament team honors in a regular-season event. Alicia Ratay was the last to do so, garnering a place on the 1999 Wachovia Women's Basketball Invitational all-tournament team after helping Notre Dame to wins over No. 9/12 North Carolina (99-86) and Liberty (85-68) in Richmond, Va.

    Keeping It Close To Home
    Although Notre Dame has traditionally had a national reputation in recruiting circles, in recent seasons, the Irish have found their strongest talent comes from right in their own backyard. In fact, of the 13 players on this year's Notre Dame roster, four are from Indiana, while five others are from states that border Indiana (including sophomore forward Erica Solomon, who lived in Oak Park, Mich., and graduated from Detroit Country Day School in 2008 before her family moved back to her birthplace of Charleston, W.Va., this past summer).

    What's more, of the five current Notre Dame starters, four are from the state of Indiana -- senior guards Ashley Barlow (Indianapolis) and Melissa Lechlitner (Mishawaka), junior forward Becca Bruszewski (Valparaiso) and freshman guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend) -- while the fifth (fifth-year senior guard Lindsay Schrader) is from Bartlett, Ill., located right outside Chicago.

    As if that weren't enough, the quartet of Barlow, Lechlitner, Bruszewski and Schrader have been mainstays in the Irish lineup for the past two seasons and have a combined total of 268 career starts between them.

    Schrader reached a personal milestone on Dec. 12 against Valparaiso, becoming the 12th player in school history with 100 starting assignments in her career. Schrader now stands ninth in school history with 104 career starts, including a current streak of 62 in a row.

    Experience Matters
    For the first time in Notre Dame women's basketball history, four players have hit the 100 games played mark in the same season. Senior guards/tri-captains Ashley Barlow, Melissa Lechlitner and Lindsay Schrader, along with senior center Erica Williamson, all reached the century mark during the Thanksgiving weekend at the Paradise Jam (Lechlitner and Williamson on Nov. 26 vs. San Diego State, Barlow and Schrader on Nov. 27 vs. South Carolina).

    Current Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey holds the school record with 132 games played from 1996-2001.

    McGraw Joins Elite Notre Dame Club
    With a 84-79 win over No. 23/24 San Diego State on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 26) at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Irish head coach Muffet McGraw reached a personal milestone, becoming the fourth coach in school history (in any sport) to register 500 victories while coaching under the Golden Dome. McGraw now has a record of 509-197 (.721) in 23 seasons at Notre Dame (1987-88 to present) and a 597-238 (.715) record in 28 seasons overall -- including a five-year stint at Lehigh from 1982-87.

    Fencing's Michael DeCicco (680-45 from 1962-86) and Yves Auriol (525-33 from 1986-2002), and baseball's Jake Kline (558-449-5 from 1934-75) are the only other members of the "Fighting Irish Five Hundred Club," with one able to connect 75 years of Notre Dame athletics history and success via just four degrees of separation (Kline to DeCicco to Auriol to McGraw).

    McGraw reached two other mileposts on Dec. 2 vs. Eastern Michigan, as she coached her 700th game at Notre Dame, as well as her 300th at Purcell Pavilion.

    As it turned out, that EMU game also saw the school honor McGraw with an on-court post-game celebration for her 500th win, capped by a visit from her 19-year-old son, Murphy, who secretly drove four hours from his college campus at Indiana University in Bloomington to surprise his mother with a bouquet of flowers and the game ball from her milestone win.

    Upwardly Mobile
    Two of Notre Dame's senior guards and tri-captains -- Ashley Barlow and Lindsay Schrader -- are already members of the program's 1,000-Point Club, and will spend this season trying to work their way up the Irish all-time scoring ladder.

    Barlow currently ranks 15th in school history with 1,264 career points, while Schrader is 18th with 1,207 points. They could be joined by their fellow senior guard and tri-captain, Melissa Lechlitner, who has 805 points to date.

    Only one other time in program history has Notre Dame fielded three 1,000-point scorers on its roster at the same time -- and it literally happened for less than one game. Ruth Riley, Niele Ivey and Kelley Siemon all reached the millennium mark and played on the 2000-01 Irish national championship squad, with Siemon reaching the milestone after scoring 10 points in her final collegiate contest -- Notre Dame's 68-66 title-game victory over Purdue in St. Louis.

    Century City
    With its 102-57 season-opening win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Nov. 15 at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame topped the 100-point mark for the 13th time in school history, and the third time in less than two years (104-86 at Georgetown on Jan. 19, 2008; 102-54 at Boston College on Nov. 23, 2008).

    Notre Dame also hit the century mark at home for the first time since Nov. 26, 2002, when the Irish toppled Cleveland State, 107-65 in the 2002-03 season opener.

    Eight Is Enough (For Now)
    Notre Dame had a school-record eight players score in double figures in its 102-57 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Nov. 15 at Purcell Pavilion. That eclipsed the old standard of seven double-digit scorers that was first set on Feb. 6, 1997 vs. Syracuse (90-73 win at the Joyce Center) and matched on Jan. 19, 2008, in a 104-86 win at Georgetown.

    Dishing Thirty-One Flavors
    Notre Dame's 31 assists against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Nov. 15 were the most for the Irish in a single game since Nov. 20, 2000, when they also recorded 31 assists in a 95-65 win over Arizona at the Joyce Center.

    Leading the way for Notre Dame on that night was current Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey, who had a double-double with 14 points and 11 assists.

    First Impressions
    Freshman guard Skylar Diggins had 14 points in the Nov. 15 season opener vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the fifth-most by an Irish rookie in her debut game during the 23-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present), and the most since Courtney LaVere began her career with 18 points in a 2002 win over Cleveland State.

    Half And Half
    During the past decade, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 175-17 (.911) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 103 of their last 114 such contests.

    Notre Dame has led at the break in 12 of its 13 games this season, and has gone on to earn victories each time.

    The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
    During the past 15 seasons, Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season (Notre Dame's first in the BIG EAST Conference), the Irish have an amazing 202-14 (.935) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game.

    Notre Dame has added seven more wins to the ledger this season with victories over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Iona, South Carolina, Eastern Michigan, Valparaiso, Charlotte and UCF.

    ...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
    Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 15 seasons (since 1995-96), the Irish are 131-4 (.970) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are a pair of overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995, a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, and an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008.

    Notre Dame already has added eight more wins to this ongoing record with its conquests of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Iona, No. 23/24 San Diego State, No. 20/17 Oklahoma, IPFW, Valparaiso and Charlotte.

    Now That's A Home Court Advantage
    One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame's success has been its stellar play at home. In fact, the Irish have been virtually untouchable at home in recent years, winning 180 of their last 204 games (.882) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span. Notre Dame also has a 99-17 (.853) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the former Joyce Center, sporting a 31-game league winning streak at home before it ended with a 48-45 loss to Villanova in the '02 home finale.

    The Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 83 of their last 90 non-BIG EAST contests (.922) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the seven losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents (four by 12 points or less) -- Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT), Indiana in 2006 (54-51) and Minnesota in 2009 (79-71) -- with the other two defeats coming to Tennessee in 2005 (62-51) and 2008 (87-63). The Purdue loss also snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak which began after the UW setback.

    Since its inaugural season in 1977-78, Notre Dame has played all of its games at the former Joyce Center, posting a 330-85 (.795) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, setting a school record for home wins in a season.

    It's Fan-Demonium At Notre Dame
    If the preseason was any indication, Notre Dame women's basketball is easily the hottest ticket in South Bend. For the first time in school history, all Irish women's basketball season ticket packages (close to 7,500) have been sold, including more than 1,000 packages to first-time season ticket purchasers when they went on sale Aug. 14. Furthermore, fans were waiting in line at the Purcell Pavilion ticket office as early as 4:30 that morning, more than four hours before the ticket windows opened. Those early birds were rewarded with a visit from Irish head coach Muffet McGraw, who delivered coffee and bagels, courtesy of McGraw and athletics director Jack Swarbrick.

    While it's likely that some tickets will be made available for individual games during the weeks and days prior to the contests, there's a very real possibility that Notre Dame could approach a sell out for every one of its regular-season home games at the newly-refurbished 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion. In fact, the crowd of 9,080 for the Nov. 15 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff was the largest season-opening audience in program history, more than 1,100 higher than the old mark set in 2001-02 (7,960 vs. Valparaiso).

    Through seven home games this season, Notre Dame is averaging 8,527 fans per game, putting the Irish more than 700 fans above their school-record attendance average of 7,825 fans per game, also set in 2001-02.

    Notre Dame has posted seven sellouts in program history, the most recent coming on Dec. 31, 2009, when the Irish drew 9,149 fans to Purcell Pavilion for their win over No. 18/16 Vanderbilt. It was the first sellout for Notre Dame since the renovated arena opened this fall.

    Purcell Pavilion Opens Its Doors
    Following an intensive five-month, $26.3 million interior renovation, the arena for the newly-christened Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center made its regular season women's basketball debut on Nov. 15 when Notre Dame defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 102-57.

    The UAPB game was part of the culmination of a two-year project to upgrade the home for Notre Dame basketball and volleyball.

    The first (exterior) phase of the project, that began in September 2008, involves construction of a new three-story structure at the south end of the arena. That structure will include a new three-story lobby, which will house the Notre Dame ticket operations (approximately 4,500 square feet) and a varsity shop to sell apparel and souvenirs (approximately 3,000 square feet), in addition to a new club seating and hospitality area.

    Replacement of the existing arena seating footprint, including installation of single-color chair-back seating throughout the arena, began following the University's Commencement Exercises in May 2009 and was completed in time for the Irish volleyball team to play the first athletic event in the facility on Oct. 30 (a 3-1 win over Seton Hall).

    One of the other unique features of this renovation stage was an intensive theming initiative on the upper concourse inside the arena walls, featuring many of the historic moments and visitors to the arena during its four-decade history. In addition, the facility signage took on a Celtic script, while the evolution of the distinctive Notre Dame monogram logo is prominently displayed on the concourse.

    The University announced in October 2007 that this ambitious arena renovation had received a $12.5 million leadership gift from Notre Dame alumnus and Trustee Philip J. Purcell III, the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Morgan Stanley.

    Additional cornerstone donations were made by: Vincent J. Naimoli ('59), whose $5 million contribution will lead to the creation of the new Naimoli Family Club Room, and South Bend-area auto dealership owner Mike Leep Sr., whose generous gift will be recognized with the naming of the Mike Leep Sr. Varsity Shop.

    Both of those areas, along with the three-story Rosenthal Atrium (named for former Notre Dame director of athletics Dick Rosenthal) will open to the public on Saturday, when the Irish basketball teams play host to a BIG EAST doubleheader (women vs. Villanova at 2 p.m., men vs. West Virginia at 8 p.m.).

    Irish On Your Radio Dial
    Beginning with the 2008-09 athletics year, the Notre Dame athletics department announced it had partnered with the LeSEA Broadcasting Network, making Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) the new radio home of Notre Dame women's basketball in the South Bend market.

    LeSEA originates all Notre Dame women's basketball games, with those events carried on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), marking a return to the FM side of the dial for the first time since the 1998-99 season. Combined, these two stations blanket the nation's No. 89 media market (South Bend-Elkhart), covering a 21-county area in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan that contains more than 1.35 million listeners (better than 800,000 in the greater South Bend area alone). All told, Notre Dame's women's basketball network stretches from Kalamazoo, Mich., to the north, North Judson, Ind., to the west, Macy, Ind., (home of former Irish All-America center Ruth Riley) to the south, and LaGrange, Ind., to the east.

    Women's basketball game broadcasts also continue to be streamed live and free of charge on Notre Dame's official athletics web site (www.UND.com) through the Fighting Irish All-Access multimedia package.

    Bob Nagle, the voice of Notre Dame women's basketball from 1996-97 through 1998-99 (including the program's first NCAA Final Four berth in 1997), returns for his second season in his second stint as the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Irish.

    Notre Dame On The Small Screen
    Notre Dame will have at least 18 games televised during the 2009-10 season. Highlighting this year's broadcast schedule are 11 nationally-televised Irish women's basketball contests, including at least six games on the ESPN family of networks and four others on CBS College Sports (check schedule on page 1 of these notes for exact broadcast coverage).

    In addition, Notre Dame continues to expand its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. All Irish regular-season home games not selected for commercial TV coverage (with the exception of the Nov. 15 game vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff) will be webcast live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, www.UND.com, via the site's free multimedia package, Fighting Irish All-Access. And, the Thanksgiving weekend Paradise Jam was webcast in its entirety through Fox College Sports Broadband on a pay-per-view basis.

    This year's TV slate continues a recent trend that has seen the Irish become a regular fixture on television. Beginning with the NCAA championship season of 2000-01 and continuing through this year, Notre Dame has played in 150 televised games, including 97 that were broadcast nationally.

    Oh Captain, My Captain
    Fifth-year senior guard Lindsay Schrader and senior guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner all return for their second year as team captains for the 2009-10 season. All three players received the captain's honor following a vote of their teammates prior to the season.

    This marks the first time in program history that the same players are serving as captains in consecutive seasons.

    Irish Sign Three For 2010-11 Season
    Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw announced Nov. 13 that three of the country's top high school student-athletes have chosen to continue their academic and athletic careers with the Fighting Irish, each signing a National Letter of Intent to attend Notre Dame beginning in the fall of 2010.

    Natalie Achonwa (last name pronounced uh-CHAWN-wuh), a 6-3 forward from Guelph, Ontario (St. Mary's Catholic Secondary School/National Elite Development Academy), Ariel Braker, a 6-1 forward from Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. (Grosse Pointe North High School) and Kayla McBride, a 5-11 guard from Erie, Pa. (Villa Maria Academy) all made their official commitments to the Fighting Irish during the early signing period, which ended Nov. 18.

    All three student-athletes are rated among the top 50 players in the country by various national recruiting services. As a group, this trio is ranked as the No. 10 recruiting class in the country by All-Star Girls Report (and a consensus top-16 class by other recruiting services), giving Notre Dame a Top 25 recruiting class for the 14th consecutive year, a streak only two other schools in the country (Connecticut and Tennessee) can match. It's also the third consecutive top-10 recruiting class for the Fighting Irish.

    "I'm very excited about the class that we're signing this year," McGraw said. "I think we really addressed our needs, with three very good players coming in. They're going to change the way we do some things at both ends of the floor next year. We're going to be able to be more aggressive on defense because we're adding athleticism, length and speed, and on offense, we'll look at ways that we can take advantage of the size that we're going to have. It will probably be a whole new look, going from the more guard-oriented team that we have now, to next year when we'll have some depth in the post as well."

    "Notre Dame emphasized strengthening their perimeter game and did so with size, athleticism and versatility," said Dan Olson, director of the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.

    The full press release, with a complete look at the newest members of the Notre Dame women's basketball program, is available on-line at http://www.und.com/sports/w-baskbl/spec-rel/111309aab.html.

    Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
    It's year three of Notre Dame's wildly-successful "Big Mac" promotion, 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 home game.

    In the three-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 17 times, including wins this season over Indianapolis (exhibition), Arkansas-Pine Bluff, IPFW, Valparaiso and Charlotte.

    It should come as no surprise that in the short history of the promotion, the Notre Dame player with the most "Big Mac" baskets shares the same initials with the tasty burger -- junior guard Brittany Mallory, who sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) four times during the promotion's inaugural run in 2007-08.

    And for those tracking such things (or perhaps falling under the heading of "SID has too much time on his hands"), 10 different players have converted the "burger ball", including nine current members of the Irish roster.

    What's more, of the 17 Big Mac games to date, nine have been reached on two-point baskets, five on free throws, and three on three-pointers (including the past two home games).

    Next Game: South Florida
    Notre Dame is back in action on Tuesday when it plays host to BIG EAST foe South Florida in a 7 p.m. (ET) contest at Purcell Pavilion. The game will be webcast live and free of charge through Fighting Irish All-Access on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com.

    USF (9-5, 0-1) opened conference play this past Monday with an 84-42 loss at top-ranked Connecticut. The Bulls tip off the home portion of their BIG EAST slate Saturday night against No. rv/25 Georgetown before heading north to face the Irish on Tuesday.

    -- ND --
     

     

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