Jan. 11, 2010
Full Notes Package in PDF Format
2009-10 ND Women's Basketball: Game 15
#3/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (14-0 / 1-0 BIG EAST) vs. South Florida Bulls (9-6 / 0-2 BIG EAST)
DATE: January 12, 2010
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
SERIES: ND leads 5-2
1ST MTG: ND 73-50 (12/13/97)
LAST MTG: ND 86-79 (2/17/09)
WEBCAST: UND.com (live)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
TEXT ALERT: UND.com
TICKETS: (574) 631-7356
StorylinesNotre Dame has held seven of its eight home opponents to 60 points or fewer while averaging 85.0 ppg. at Purcell Pavilion this year.
Of the five games the Irish and USF have played as BIG EAST members, four were decided by single digits, including two in OT.
No. 3 Irish Back In Action Tuesday Night Against South Florida
Following a strong defensive performance in its BIG EAST Conference opener against a methodical Villanova squad last weekend, No. 3 Notre Dame will get a different sort of defensive test on Tuesday, as the Irish take on a high-octane South Florida club in a 7 p.m. (ET) league matchup at Purcell Pavilion. A free, live webcast of the game is available on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, www.UND.com.
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.
RankingsNotre Dame is third in this week's Associated Press poll and was third in last week's ESPN/USA Today poll (new poll released Tuesday).
South Florida is not ranked.
Quick HittersThe Irish have appeared in the top five of the AP poll all 10 weeks this season (through Monday), 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 14-game winning streak is the fourth-longest in school history, and 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 this season. In the past seven games alone, Notre Dame has had a different player lead them in scoring six times.
In Monday'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 second in steals (15.2 spg.), third in assists (19.0 apg.), fourth in turnover margin (+8.9), fifth in scoring margin (+24.4 ppg.) and seventh in scoring offense (82.5 ppg.).
Conversely, Notre Dame has only one player ranking among the top 100 in any NCAA statistical category -- senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow stands 90th in the land in steals (2.4 per game).
Notre Dame is forcing 26.6 turnovers per game this season, including 29.8 at home. The Irish also have registered at least 20 takeaways in 12 of 14 games to date, with no fewer than 29 opponent turnovers in six of eight home games this year.
Notre Dame is averaging 8,576 fans per game this year, unofficially ranking fifth in the nation and showing a 19.6-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 NotablesNotre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past 14 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking seventh with 328 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 132 of their last 134 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 South Florida
South Florida is aiming to build upon its first postseason championship (the 2009 WNIT) and is doing so with a lot of fresh faces, as more than half of the Bulls' roster is made up of newcomers.
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
Notre Dame and South Florida will tangle for the eighth time on Tuesday, with the Irish holding a 5-2 series lead on the Bulls. Notre Dame also is 2-1 against USF at Purcell Pavilion, while the teams have split their four regular-season meetings since the Bulls joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06 (the Irish have won the last two).
The Last Time ND and South Florida Met
Lindsay Schrader scored 26 points and Becca Bruszewski added 20 to help No. 24 Notre Dame rally past South Florida 86-79 on Feb. 17, 2009, at the Sun Dome in Tampa.
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
After losing in overtime to South Florida the previous two seasons, No. 14 Notre Dame took all the drama out of its 2008 game with USF early.
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 TidbitsFor the most part, the five series games played since USF joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06 have been wildly entertaining, with two of the four regular season contests going to overtime (both won by the Bulls), and both the 2006 BIG EAST Championship first-round matchup and last year's contest in Tampa going to the Irish by seven points.
Notre Dame has scored at least 70 points in six of the seven series matchups to date, while USF has reached that mark twice, both in the last two series meetings in Tampa (87-78 USF win in OT in 2007; 86-79 Notre Dame win in 2009).
That 2007 game at the Sun Dome featured three entries into the Notre Dame record book -- team fouls (33), opponent free throw attempts (45) and rebounds by a freshman (18 by Erica Williamson).
The 2007 contest in Tampa also saw three Notre Dame foul out of a game for the first time since Dec. 28, 2000 (a 70-61 win at USC where Ruth Riley, Niele Ivey and Kelley Siemon all were disqualified).
Notre Dame has had eight Florida natives suit up in the program's 33-year history, with its most recent Sunshine State product being senior walk-on guard Alena Christiansen (Fort Lauderdale/Cardinal Gibbons HS).
Vincent J. Naimoli, the managing general partner and chief executive officer of the 2008 American League champion Tampa Bay Rays, is a 1959 Notre Dame graduate and, in 2007, he and his family donated $5 million towards the Joyce Center arena renovation project, with the new Purcell Pavilion club/hospitality area (and two outdoor patios) -- named the Naimoli Family Club Room and overlooking the south side of the Purcell Pavilion court -- making its debut this past weekend.
Sunshine State Success
Notre Dame is 22-5 (.815) all-time against Florida schools, with an 8-3 (.727) record against Sunshine State teams at Purcell Pavilion.
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
At 14-0, 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.
Notre Dame's current 14-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.
At 14-0, Notre Dame is one of only five Division I schools that are undefeated through Jan. 10. The others in this exclusive club are: No. 1 Connecticut (15-0), No. 6/8 Georgia (16-0), No. 11/13 Nebraska (14-0) and No. 17/18 Wisconsin-Green Bay (15-0).
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has seen six different players led the team in scoring and assists and seven different leading rebounders this season.
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
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 12 of 14 games thus far, with Irish foes averaging 26.6 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 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
According to Monday's lates NCAA statistical report, Notre Dame ranks second in the nation in steals (15.2 spg.). The Irish have posted double-digit steal totals in 10 of their 14 games this season, including five 20-steal efforts.
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.
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).
Award-Winning South Bend Backcourt
For the second time this season, Notre Dame rookie guard Skylar Diggins has been selected as the BIG EAST Conference Freshman of the Week, it was announced Monday by the conference office. In addition, senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner was tapped for the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll after the South Bend duo helped the No. 3 Fighting Irish pick up a pair of wins last week and keep Notre Dame as one of only five unbeaten teams in the country.
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.
For the fourth week in a row, Notre Dame is ranked third in the Associated Press poll, appearing in the top five for the 10th consecutive week -- it's the second-longest run in the AP Top 5 in program history, and the longest for the Irish since the 2000-01 season, when Notre Dame was a top-five fixture for the final 17 weeks.
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
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 26 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 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
Notre Dame's starters were sitting on the bench counting the number of turnovers Villanova was committing.
"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 GameNotre Dame snaps a two-game series losing streak to Villanova, improving to 16-10 all-time against the Wildcats (8-2 at Purcell Pavilion).
The Fighting Irish post their largest win ever against Villanova, topping the 64-33 victory they registered on Dec. 6, 2000, in South Bend.
Notre Dame scored 80 points against Villanova for only the third time in the 26-game series and the first time since Feb. 28, 1999 (an 83-53 win in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at Piscataway, N.J.).
The Fighting Irish held the Wildcats to their lowest series point total since Jan. 24, 2004, when Notre Dame pulled out a memorable 38-36 win at Purcell Pavilion.
The Fighting Irish have forced 106 Villanova turnovers in the past five series games, averaging 21.2 takeaways in that time; in all five games, the Wildcats came into the contest ranked among the top five in the nation for fewest turnovers committed (they were second prior to Saturday's tipoff at 12.6 per game).
Notre Dame moves to 11-4 (.733) in BIG EAST openers since joining the conference in 1995-96, including a 6-1 (.857) record when tipping off BIG EAST play at home (Saturday was only the second time in the past nine seasons the Fighting Irish opened conference action at Purcell Pavilion).
Notre Dame logs its largest margin of victory ever in any conference opener (BIG EAST, Midwestern Collegiate/Horizon League, and North Star), with Saturday's margin exceeding its previous BIG EAST best (31) set in the 2000 win over Villanova.
The Fighting Irish held an opponent to fewer than 50 points for the fourth time this season, with Villanova's 46 points being the fewest yielded by Notre Dame in a BIG EAST opener since Jan. 2, 2005 (a 54-33 win over Seton Hall at Purcell Pavilion).
Notre Dame registers its sixth 35-point win over the season, extending its school record in that category.
Coming into Saturday's game, the Fighting Irish had forced a combined total of 27 turnovers in their previous two contests, but with 34 takeaways vs. Villanova, they forced 30+ turnovers for the sixth time this season and have forced at least 29 turnovers in six of eight home games this year (Notre Dame is causing 29.8 turnovers per game at home this season).
The Fighting Irish collected 19 steals, more than four ahead of their season average at tipoff (14.9 spg., third in the nation), and it marked the 10th time in 14 games that Notre Dame has nabbed double-digit steals (sixth with 19+ thefts).
Conversely, the Fighting Irish tied their season best with only nine turnovers (set on Jan. 4 at Purdue), posting back-to-back games with 10 turnovers or fewer for the first time since Feb. 2 & 10, 2008 at Cincinnati (10) and vs. Pittsburgh (9).
Notre Dame shoots better than 50 percent from the field for the fifth time this season, and first since a .508 percentage at UCF on Dec. 29.
The Fighting Irish shoot a season-best .571 (4-7) from the three-point line, topping the .545 (6-11) mark they posted against IPFW on Dec. 8.
The seven three-point attempts by Notre Dame were a season low (9 at UCF on Dec. 29).
For the third time in five games, every Fighting Irish player in uniform got into the scoring column (12 vs. Charlotte on Dec. 20; 13 at UCF on Dec. 29).
The Fighting Irish earn their 100th BIG EAST win at Purcell Pavilion, improving to 100-17 (.855) all-time in BIG EAST play at the arena.
Saturday's crowd of 8,917 was the 16th-largest audience in program history and the seventh crowd of 8,000+ fans in eight home games this season (including a sellout of 9,149 on Dec. 31 vs. Vanderbilt).
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.
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 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.
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 510-197 (.721) in 23 seasons at Notre Dame (1987-88 to present) and a 598-238 (.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.
McGraw Nearing 600th Career Win
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw also is closing in on another important milestone, as she stands just two victories away from becoming the 19th Division I coach to record 600 career wins.
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.
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 1,271 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 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.
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.
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.
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 176-17 (.912) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 104 of their last 115 such contests.
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...
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 203-14 (.935) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game.
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
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 132-4 (.971) 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 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
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 181 of their last 205 games (.883) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span. Notre Dame also has a 100-17 (.855) 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 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
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 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
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) 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
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 151 televised games, including 98 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 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 Irish will tip off the road portion of their BIG EAST schedule Saturday when they visit top-ranked Connecticut for an ESPN nationally-televised 9 p.m. (ET) matchup at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.
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.
-- ND --