Jan. 25, 2008
#16/16 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (15-4 / 3-2 BIG EAST) vs. #1/1 Connecticut Huskies (18-0 / 5-0 BIG EAST)
DATE: January 27, 2008
No. 16 Irish Square Off With No. 1 Connecticut Sunday Night
Notre Dame (15-4, 3-2 BIG EAST) is still smarting from a tough 81-80 loss at home to No. rv/25 DePaul on Tuesday night. The Irish led by 10 points twice in the first half, then trailed by that same margin with 14 minutes remaining before trimming the deficit to a single point five times down the stretch. However, Notre Dame couldn't quite pull off the comeback, as a last-second shot attempt didn't find the mark.
Sophomore guard Ashley Barlow continued her recent hot streak, scoring a career-high 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Sophomore center Erica Williamson tied her career high with 16 points and added six rebounds for the Irish.
A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Last year, the Irish learned quickly that respect is something that isn't handed to you, but rather earned on the court. It's also a quality that takes time to develop and doesn't come from trophy cases or record books. So although Notre Dame was tabbed fifth in the preseason BIG EAST Conference balloting, it's not a great concern to McGraw and her charges. Instead, they focus on the things they can control and prefer to let the outside world judge them when the season is over.
This year could prove to be unlike any in recent memory for Notre Dame. For one, the Irish will roll out some impressive depth, going virtually two-deep at every floor position. In addition, Notre Dame's new offensive system (a Princeton-based set with four guards and a post) continues to evolve, building upon last year's 70.1 point-per-game average that was its highest since the 2000-01 NCAA national championship season.
Senior guard Charel Allen is the top returning scorer and rebounder for the Irish, leading the team in both categories last year (17.0 ppg., 6.2 rpg.). She also was a first-team all-BIG EAST and WBCA honorable mention All-America selection, and was a finalist for the 2007 USA U21 World Championship Team that struck gold this past summer in Moscow.
Allen's backcourt partner and classmate is point guard Tulyah Gaines. Now in her second full season at the helm of the Notre Dame offense, the speedy Gaines averaged 9.6 points per game along with team highs of 3.9 assists and 2.0 steals per contest. She also is a two-year team captain who commands instant respect from teammates, coaches and opponents.
The Irish will benefit from the return of junior guard Lindsay Schrader, who missed the entire 2006-07 season with a torn ACL in her right knee. Schrader, who retains three years of athletic eligibility, was Notre Dame's second-leading scorer (10.5 ppg.) and top rebounder (5.4 rpg.) as a rookie in 2005-06 and will look to regain that form this season.
Last year saw Notre Dame break new ground by becoming the first school ever to put three players on the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team. Guards Ashley Barlow (10.3 ppg., 5.4 rpg.) and Melissa Lechlitner (6.3 ppg., 2.7 apg.) will provide a superb complement to the veteran Allen-Gaines tandem, while center Erica Williamson (6.1 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 1.3 bpg.) showed flashes of potential throughout her rookie season and is poised for increased development this year.
Headlining a three-player freshman class (ranked 11th nationally by Blue Star Basketball) is Devereaux Peters, a smooth 6-2 forward who was a consensus All-American as a senior last year at national powerhouse Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Ill. Fellow post Becca Bruszewski (Valparaiso, Ind.) finished third in last season's Indiana Miss Basketball voting and was a perennial all-state pick. And, guard Brittany Mallory (Baltimore, Md.) offers a perimeter shooting threat, as well as a cerebral player who will mesh well in the Irish offensive system.
Potent Notables About The Irish
A Quick Look At Connecticut
UConn is coming off an 82-71 home win over No. 3 North Carolina on Monday night. The Huskies erased an 11-point halftime deficit with strong second-half defense and a balanced offensive attack that featured four players in double figures. Junior guard Renee Montgomery led the way with a game-high 26 points, while sophomore center Tina Charles piled up 15 points and 19 rebounds (11 offensive).
Freshman forward Maya Moore has been a major sparkplug for the Connecticut machine, leading the team in scoring (16.8 ppg) and ranking second in both rebounding (7.0 rpg) and three-point percentage (.379). Charles averages a double-double herself (13.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg), along with a .596 field goal percentage and team-best 1.83 blocks per game.
Head coach Geno Auriemma is in his 23rd season at Connecticut with a 639-120 (.842) record. He is 20-4 all-time against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
UConn won the first 11 games in the series before Notre Dame broke through by winning two of three games in 2000-01. The Irish also claimed single victories in 2004 (66-51 at the Joyce Center) and 2005 (65-59 at Gampel Pavilion), with the latter triumph breaking the Huskies' 112-game BIG EAST regular-season home winning streak.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Connecticut Met
The Huskies jumped to an early 8-4 lead, in what was a sloppy game, as Renee Montgomery hit her first three shots. Notre Dame shot just 24 percent from the floor, and hit one of its first 11 attempts from the field. However, the Irish were able to stay in the game thanks to 15 first-half turnovers by Connecticut, eight in the first 10 minutes of the game. The two teams combined for 45 giveaways -- 27 turnovers for Connecticut and 18 for Notre Dame.
UConn led just 29-23 at the half, and got its first double-digit lead, 35-25, three minutes into the second half on a spin move and bucket by Charde Houston. The Huskies stretched that to 18 after Erwin was called for an intentional foul. Houston hit one foul shot, and Charles hit a turnaround on the ensuing possession to put UConn up 54-36.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Connecticut Met At The Joyce Center
UConn led 52-48 when Strother made a pair of free throws and a pair of three-pointers to give the Huskies a 60-51 lead. Strother added another trey during the run to give the Huskies a 15-point lead. UConn stretched the lead to 18 points twice before finally winning by 15.
Strother was 5-for-8 from three-point range. Renee Montgomery had 15 points, Charde Houston 14 and Barbara Turner scored 11 of her 13 in the second half. She also grabbed nine rebounds. The Huskies, who outrebounded the Irish 36-31, shot 45 percent while the Irish shot 44 percent. Charel Allen, Lindsay Schrader and Breona Gray each had 12 for the Irish, and Megan Duffy added 11.
Notre Dame, which trailed by nine late in the first half, opened the second half with a 5-0 spurt to take a 38-37 lead on a basket inside by Courtney LaVere. The teams traded leads, with the Irish moving ahead 42-41 on a basket inside by Crystal Erwin.
But Montgomery hit a three to spark a 7-0 run to make it 48-42. The Irish had one last 6-2 spurt before the Huskies went on their decisive run.
The Irish were able to keep the score close until then. They started the game by making eight of 12 shots and took a 21-18 lead when Melissa D'Amico made a pair of free throws. The Huskies defense finally slowed the Irish, holding them to 1-of-7 shooting, using a 17-5 spurt to open a 35-26 lead when Houston scored inside.
The Huskies then made just one basket the rest of the half, turning the ball over twice, missing two shots and a pair of free throws as Notre Dame closed to 37-33 at halftime.
Other Notre Dame-Connecticut Series Tidbits
Running With The Top Dogs
Notre Dame is 2-11 (.154) all-time against top-ranked teams, with both victories coming vs. Connecticut in the 2000-01 season (92-76 on Jan. 15, 2001, at the Joyce Center; 90-75 on March 30, 2001, at the NCAA Women's Final Four in St. Louis).
Barlow Named To BIG EAST Honor Roll
Last week, Barlow averaged 18.5 points per game and shot a blistering .706 from the field (12-of-17), including a .500 three-point percentage (4-of-8), and also was a perfect 9-of-9 at the free throw line, as Notre Dame picked up BIG EAST wins over Villanova and Georgetown. In the midweek 69-58 victory over VU, Barlow scored a team-high 16 points (5-8 FG, 5-5 FT) and added four steals. She followed that up in a 104-86 triumph at Georgetown with a team-best 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting and matched her career high with three three-pointers.
A full recap of Notre Dame's positions on the NCAA statistics charts (and its relation to the national leaders) can be found on page 11 of this notes package.
It's also the first time since the 2000-01 national championship season that the Irish have logged at least seven 30-point wins in a single season. That year, Notre Dame collected a school-record 10 30-point victories, but only six of those came in the first 19 games.
What's more, the Irish had a streak of four consecutive 30-point wins from Nov. 20-Dec. 2. The last time Notre Dame did that was Jan. 20-30, 1999, when the Irish had four straight 30-point victories, all during BIG EAST Conference play -- at Seton Hall (87-47), home vs. St. John's (99-60), at Syracuse (94-61) and at Providence (97-59).
Put A Tiger In Your Tank
The Irish currently rank third in the BIG EAST Conference in scoring (and seventh in the nation) at 79.4 points per game, having tallied at least 80 points 11 times this season. What's more, Notre Dame also has the fourth-highest scoring average through 19 games in program history, and highest since the 1998-99 squad averaged 85.2 points at this juncture on the way to the single-season school scoring record (81.0).
What's more, Notre Dame has scored at least 90 points five times this season. That's the most 90-point games for the Irish in one year since 1998-99, when they tied the school record with seven 90-point games. In fact, during the six seasons prior to the current one (2001-02 through 2006-07), Notre Dame had a combined total of four 90-point games.
Notre Dame also ranks second in the conference (and eighth in the nation) in scoring margin at +19.0 points per game.
McGraw's Shock Troops
While Irish women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw may not quite be following Rockne's philosophy to the letter, she could easily rotate in much of her second unit and not see much decline in productivity. In fact, Notre Dame's bench is averaging 31.1 points per game (compared to 48.3 ppg. by the starters) and has outscored all 19 opponent benches this season by an average of +16.2 points per night.
Leading the way for this year's Irish "shock troops" is freshman forward Devereaux Peters, who is averaging 8.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and a BIG EAST-best 2.16 blocks per game (also 33rd in nation) with a .516 field goal percentage (11th-best in the conference). Peters has come off the bench in 17 of 19 games this year, dropping in a season-high 15 points and adding a season-best seven steals on Jan. 16 vs. Villanova.
All three Irish rookies have done their part to help Notre Dame to its 15-4 record, with each one averaging at least 11 minutes and having scored in double figures at least three times. Peters is fourth on the team in scoring (8.5 ppg.) and has scored in double digits 10 times, while also leading the BIG EAST Conference and ranking 33rd in the nation in blocked shots (2.16 bpg.). Mallory is averaging 6.9 points per game, is second on the team with 19 three-pointers and most recently chalked up a season-high 15 points on Jan. 19 at Georgetown. Bruszewski is logging 4.4 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, carding her third double-digit scoring game of the year with 10 points at Georgetown.
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame also has had at least three double-figure scorers in all but three games (Purdue, No. 3 Tennessee, No. 16 West Virginia) this year, with a season-high seven in double digits at Georgetown (the most in one game for the Irish since Feb. 6, 1997 vs. Syracuse).
What's more, the Irish fielded five double-figure scorers in three consecutive games from Nov. 20-27. It's believed to be the first time in school history (and certainly the first time in the Muffet McGraw era) the Irish have pulled off that feat of three straight games with five double-digit scorers, although records are incomplete prior to the 1983-84 season.
Protecting The Pill
The Irish took ball protection to a new level in their loss at No. 3 Maryland on Nov. 16. Notre Dame set a school record with only three turnovers against the Terrapins, with two of those giveaways coming on offensive fouls. The previous school record for fewest turnovers was six, set on Feb. 12, 2006 at DePaul.
With only three turnovers, it probably comes as no surprise that Maryland did not register a steal against Notre Dame. However, what is surprising is that it was the first time in the 31-year history of the Irish program that an opponent did not record a steal against Notre Dame. Several opponents had only one steal vs. the Irish, with the most recent being Boston College on March 19, 2006 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (played at West Lafayette, Ind.).
Piping Hot Turnovers
Notre Dame has made even the strongest ball-handling teams struggle this season. In fact, Villanova came into its Jan. 16 game at the Joyce Center leading the nation with only 11.2 turnovers per game. However, the Wildcats left town with 24 turnovers, their highest single-game giveaway mark in more than six years (Dec. 1, 2001 at Temple).
The Five-Finger Discount
Individually, the Irish have seven players with at least 20 steals this season. Sophomore guard Ashley Barlow leads the way with 37 steals, ranking 13th in the BIG EAST in that category (1.95 spg). Freshman forward Devereaux Peters is next with 36 steals (1.89 spg.), good for 15th in the conference, and her seven thefts vs. Villanova on Jan. 16 were the most for an Irish player in a game since Jan. 30, 2005, when Megan Duffy had the last of her three seven-steal games that season in a 65-59 win at No. 9/10 Connecticut.
Keeping It On The Plus Side
Off And Running
Even in its defeat at third-ranked Maryland on Nov. 16, Notre Dame made a statement early with a 10-0 run in the first five minutes of action and led by as many as five points in the first half before the Terrapins rallied back for the win.
Allen Climbing Irish Points Ladder
What's more, Allen is 103 points away from moving into the top 10 on the Irish career scoring charts. The person currently holding down that 10th position? First-year assistant coach Niele Ivey, who had 1,430 points from 1996-2001.
Notre Dame now has been ranked in the AP poll for 151 weeks during the program's history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era. McGraw currently ranks 14th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also stands 25th all-time in that category.
The Irish also are in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll for the 11th consecutive week, falling one spot to 16th in this week's balloting. Notre Dame's No. 14 rankings on Jan. 2-8 were the highest poll position for Notre Dame in two years, when the Irish were tabbed 12th by the coaches prior to the aforementioned losses to St. John's and Seton Hall.
More Polling Data
Of the 23 people on this elite list, 12 are currently NCAA Division I head coaches.
Clutch When It Counts
In addition, Sunday's crowd will represent the first time the Irish have attracted three crowds of 10,000 fans in the same season, as 10,825 fans took in the Dec. 2 win over Michigan.
Start Me Up
The last time Notre Dame got off to a 13-2 start was the 2004-05 season, when the Irish won their first seven games (including the Preseason WNIT title) before a Dec. 2 overtime loss to 15th-ranked Michigan State. Notre Dame (which rose as high as third in the national polls that season) then reeled off six more wins before suffering consecutive loss at Villanova (59-54) and home vs. No. 16 Connecticut (67-50). However, the Irish rebounded with a 10-game win streak, finishing the year at 27-6 and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Notre Dame posted a 13-2 record on three other occasions, also doing so in 1999-2000 (27-5, NCAA Sweet 16), 1998-99 (26-5, NCAA second round) and 1977-78 (13-4, program's first varsity season when playing at AIAW Division III level).
We're Going Streaking!
Notre Dame also won six consecutive road games earlier this season (Nov. 20-Jan. 2). That was the longest run for the Irish away from the Joyce Center since a 10-game run from Nov. 17, 2000 to Feb. 14, 2001, a streak that ended with a 54-53 loss at No. 11/14 Rutgers (one of only two defeats for the Irish on their run to the NCAA title).
No Easy Road
With the addition of Maryland to the docket in the Preseason WNIT semifinals (75-59 loss on Nov. 16), the Irish now will face four of the top five teams in the latest Associated Press poll. Besides the Terrapins (currently No. 4), Notre Dame also has or will play No. 1 Connecticut (Sunday at the Joyce Center), No. 2 Tennessee (lost 87-63 on Jan. 5 at the Joyce Center) and No. 5 Rutgers (Feb. 19 in Piscataway, N.J.). Three of the top four teams in the poll have combined to win five of the past six national championships, with Tennessee currently holding the hardware after defeating Rutgers in last year's title game.
Irish Fans Crave A Big Mac Attack
This season's burger watch already is at six, as the Irish have hit the 88-point mark in exhibition wins over Southern Indiana and Hillsdale, as well as regular-season victories over Miami (Ohio), Boston College, Canisius and Valparaiso.
It's probably also not a surprise that the Notre Dame player with the most "Big Mac baskets" this season has the same initials as that of the tasty burger -- freshman guard Brittany Mallory, who has sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) four times, including each of the past three games that the Irish have scored 88 points at home.
Friends In Need
A loyal supporter of the Irish for many years, Patricia has assisted Notre Dame's coordinator of basketball operations Stephanie Menio with numerous marketing and promotional activities, and also coordinated regular bus trips for fans to see the Irish on the road.
Patricia's OIT colleagues have created a web page to update supporters on her progress: Patricia McAdams Web Page.
Notre Dame also lost a treasured friend on Tuesday, when longtime Joyce Center clock operator Mark Tulchinsky passed away. Mark was a dedicated educator in the South Bend Community School Corporation, most recently serving as principal at Tarkington Traditional School. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mark, his wife, Nan (the official scorer for Notre Dame basketball), and the Tulchinsky family.
Next Game: Providence
PC (11-7, 1-4) got off to a solid start in non-conference play, but hasn't found the same success in BIG EAST action, dropping four of five to begin the conference season. The Friars play host to Seton Hall on Saturday afternoon before heading to South Bend.