Jan. 11, 2010
DATE: January 12, 2010
No. 3 Irish Back In Action Tuesday Night Against South Florida
Behind a 17-2 run to close out the first half, the Irish (14-0, 1-0) tipped off BIG EAST play with a solid 81-46 win over Villanova on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame forced the normally surehanded Wildcats into 34 turnovers and connected at a sharp .525 clip from the field to earn the victory.
Freshman guard Skylar Diggins led the way for the Irish with a game-high 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, while senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner added 11 points for her third consecutive double-digit scoring performance.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At South Florida
USF (9-6, 0-2 BIG EAST) has dropped four of its last six games since a season-long six-game winning streak. The Bulls last played on Saturday night, falling to No. rv/25 Georgetown, 66-52 at the Sun Dome in Tampa. Junior guard/forward Leondra Doomes-Stephens came off the bench to lead three USF players in double figures with 11 points.
Sixth-year senior center Jessica Lawson leads the Bulls in most categories, including scoring (14.7 ppg.) and rebounding (10.7 rpg.), while sharpshooting senior guard Janae Stokes is second on the team in scoring (12.4 ppg.) and three-point percentage (.371), keeping pace with sophomore guard Sequoyah Griffin (9.6 ppg.), who is shooting a team-high .389 from the three-point line.
Head coach Jose Fernandez is in his 10th season at USF, sporting a 152-139 (.522) record at the school, and a 2-3 career mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-South Florida Series
The Last Time ND and South Florida Met
Notre Dame (18-6, 7-5 BIG EAST) scored the first five points of the game, but a 15-2 run enabled South Florida (18-8, 5-7) to lead by as many as 14 midway through the first half.
Janae Stokes paced South Florida with 16 points, and Jazmine Sepulveda scored all of her 15 points before the Bulls took a 52-44 advantage into the half.
Porche Grant (14), Jessica Lawson (12) and Shantia Grace (11) also scored in double figures for the Bulls.
Schrader was one of three Notre Dame players to reach double digits before halftime with 14 points. Bruszewski and Ashley Barlow each chipped in 11.
Barlow finished with 16 and Erica Solomon had 10.
The Last Time ND and South Florida Met At Purcell Pavilion
The Fighting Irish used a 27-5 run in the first half to gain control and continued to pull away throughout to beat the Bulls 92-49 on Feb. 27, 2008, at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame outrebounded South Florida 29-14, outscored them 28-2 in the paint, outshot them 47 percent to 23 percent and forced 14 turnovers.
Lindsay Schrader led the Irish with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Brittany Mallory had 14 points, making 4-of-5 three-pointers, Charel Allen also added 14 and Melissa Lechlitner had 12 points. Melissa D'Amico finished with 10 points for Notre Dame.
Shantia Grace led the Bulls with 15 points and Melissa Dalembert added 10 points. South Florida shot 34 percent and had 23 turnovers, leading to 28 points for the Irish. Notre Dame's reserves outscored South Florida's 38-8.
Other Notre Dame-South Florida Series Tidbits
Sunshine State Success
Tuesday is the second of two games for the Irish against a Florida-based opponent this season. Back on Dec. 29, Notre Dame defeated Central Florida, 85-52, at UCF Arena in Orlando.
Getting The Jump
Spread The Wealth
That trend has been particularly evident in the past seven games, with a different player setting the pace in scoring six times. Junior guard Brittany Mallory (Valparaiso and UCF) is the only repeat leading scorer for the Irish in that span.
Stat Sheet Stuffers
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
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 also are making even the most disciplined teams fall victim to their aggressive defensive style. Villanova came into last Saturday's game ranked second in the nation with just 12.6 turnovers per game, but Notre Dame dogged the Wildcats into 34 turnovers (17 in each half).
The Irish have been especially hard on opponents in eight home games this season, forcing 29.8 turnovers per game (at least 29 in six of the eight Purcell Pavilion contests) while holding visitors to 51.8 points a night and a .340 field goal percentage (152-of-447).
The Five-Finger Discount
What's more, Notre Dame has been particularly aggressive in the past seven games, posting at least 19 steals four times and averaging 17.1 steals per game during that span.
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).
Award-Winning South Bend Backcourt
Diggins also earned BIG EAST Freshman of the Week honors back on Nov. 23 and was chosen for a place on the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll on Nov. 30. Meanwhile, Lechlitner cops the first BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll citation of her career, and her first recognition from the conference since making its All-Freshman Team at the end of the 2006-07 season.
Lechlitner also is the fourth different Fighting Irish player to make the conference's Weekly Honor Roll this season, joining Diggins, and senior guards/tri-captains Ashley Barlow and Lindsay Schrader.
Last week, Diggins started both games and averaged 16.5 points, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game with a .524 field goal percentage (11-of-21) and a .900 free throw percentage (9-of-10), as Notre Dame won at in-state rival Purdue, 79-75, before opening BIG EAST play with an 81-46 home victory over Villanova. Diggins tallied 15 points and a team-high four assists, canning a clutch insurance three-pointer with under six minutes left and hitting an equally-critical free throw with 12 seconds to go. This past Saturday against Villanova, Diggins opened her BIG EAST career in strong fashion, scoring a game-high 18 points on a near-perfect shooting day (7-9 FG, 1-1 3FG, 3-3 FT), while adding two steals.
Lechlitner was a key factor in both Notre Dame wins last week, averaging 16.5 points per game with a .500 field goal percentage (13-of-26) and a .625 three-point percentage (5-of-8). She began the week by scoring a career-high 22 points (on career bests of 8-16 FG and 4-7 3FG) in a season-high 38 minutes at Purdue, giving Notre Dame the lead for good on her fourth three-pointer of the night with 6:23 to play. Lechlitner then contributed 11 points and a game-high three assists in the BIG EAST opener against Villanova.
This marks the 48th 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 188 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 spent a third consecutive week at a season-high No. 3 in the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll (as of Jan. 5). 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 last week, the Irish have appeared in the coaches' poll for 179 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
More Polling Data
Besides her 188 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 26 people on this list, 14 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart).
Game #14 Recap: Villanova
"We heard they had 29, then we were like, `Thirty, that's 30, 31!"' Irish point guard Melissa Lechlitner said. "We were definitely excited because Coach (Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw) kept saying, `They're not going to turn it over, they're not going to make dumb plays.' So for us to force them into turnovers and travels and everything, I think that's really a credit to our defense."
The third-ranked Irish (14-0, 1-0 BIG EAST) forced the Wildcats (10-4, 0-2) into a season-high 34 turnovers in beating Villanova 81-46 on Saturday, the largest margin of victory in the 26-game series between the schools. The Wildcats entered the game second in the nation in fewest turnovers per game at 12.6. They had 17 in the first half -- one shy of their previous season high.
McGraw was pleased her team, which in the past has struggled against Villanova's methodical style in the past, was able to control the tempo.
"This is a game I don't look forward to because their style of play and they take such good care of the ball and they move so well. It's a difficult game for us," she said. "I thought our pressure today in the man-to-man was unbelievable."
The Irish turned the ball over nine times, matching the season low set against Purdue the previous game.
Skylar Diggins led the Irish with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting and was key in leading the Irish defensively. She was among seven Irish players with at least two steals. Melissa Lechlitner added 11 points.
Villanova's leading scorer Laura Sweeney, who had a career-high 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting in loss at Providence three days earlier, played just three minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. She finished with five points. Maria Getty scored 10 points to lead the Wildcats.
The Irish used a 19-4 run to end the first half and open a 43-22 lead at intermission. That was one point shy of the most points surrendered in a half this season by the Wildcats, who were giving up an average of 48 points a game. The Irish added a 23-3 run in the second half to go ahead 75-38.
Diggins said getting the lead early was key.
"We wanted to dictate the game and make them play to our pace and our tempo," she said.
Villanova coach Harry Perretta said the Wildcats, who start a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and a freshman because it lost two starters earlier this season to knee injuries, weren't ready for the experienced Irish.
"We're a little short on talent right now because of the injuries and we have very inexperienced players," he said. "Usually when that happens, that's going to be the result, what you saw out there."
Noting The Villanova Game
Pomp And Circumstance
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.
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
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
What's more, of the five current Notre Dame starters, four are from the state of Indiana -- senior guard Ashley Barlow (Indianapolis), junior forward Becca Bruszewski (Valparaiso) and the all-South Bend backcourt of senior guard Melissa Lechlitner and freshman guard Skylar Diggins -- while the fifth starter (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 272 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 is tied for eighth in school history with 105 career starts, including a current streak of 63 in a row.
Current Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey holds the school record with 132 games played from 1996-2001.
McGraw Joins Elite Notre Dame Club
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.
McGraw Nearing 600th Career Win
McGraw has a 28-year mark of 598-238 (.715) through 836 games (88-41 in five seasons at Lehigh from 1982-87 before coming to Notre Dame), putting her in position to be one of the 10 fastest coaches to the 600-win plateau in Division I history.
Barlow currently ranks 15th in school history with 1,271 career points, while Schrader is 18th with 1,212 points. They could be joined by their fellow senior guard and tri-captain, Melissa Lechlitner, who has 818 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.
Eight Is Enough (For Now)
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.
Dishing Thirty-One Flavors
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.
Half And Half
Notre Dame has led at the break in 13 of its 14 games this season, and has gone on to earn victories each time.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
Notre Dame has added eight more wins to the ledger this season with victories over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Iona, South Carolina, Eastern Michigan, Valparaiso, Charlotte, UCF and Villanova.
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Notre Dame already has added nine 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, Charlotte and Villanova.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
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 331-85 (.796) 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
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 eight home games this season, Notre Dame is averaging 8,576 fans per game, putting the Irish more than 750 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 since the renovated arena opened this fall.
Purcell Pavilion Opens Its Doors
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) opened to the public Jan. 9, when the Irish basketball teams swept a BIG EAST doubleheader (women defeated Villanova, 81-46; men upset No. 8 West Virginia, 70-68).
Irish On Your Radio Dial
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
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 151 televised games, including 98 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
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
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
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 year over Indianapolis, 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.
Next Game: Connecticut
The game will have special significance as ESPN College GameDay will originate from the arena with a pair of hour-long broadcasts during the day, marking the first time ever that College GameDay emanates from the site of a women's basketball game.
Like Notre Dame, Connecticut (15-0, 3-0 BIG EAST) is one of the five remaining unbeaten teams in the nation, as of Monday. The Huskies will venture to Marquette Wednesday night before returning home this weekend to take on Notre Dame.