Jan. 30, 2009
#17/13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (15-4 / 4-3 BIG EAST) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (13-6 / 3-3 BIG EAST)
DATE: January 31, 2009
No. 17/13 Irish Welcome Cincinnati For Saturday Matinee
Notre Dame (15-4, 4-3) is dusting itself off after a 78-68 loss to visiting Rutgers on Tuesday night. The Irish picked a bad time for one of their coldest shooting halves of the season, hitting on 28 percent of their shots in the opening 20 minutes, while the Scarlet Knights built enough of a cushion to withstand a Notre Dame comeback in the closing moments.
Freshman guard Natalie Novosel came off the bench to pour in a career-high 19 points, while junior guards and team tri-captains Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner added 18 and 17 points, respectively.
A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Notre Dame has three starters and seven monogram winners returning this season from a squad that ranked among the top 10 in the country in scoring offense (8th - 76.2 ppg) and scoring margin (10th - +14.6 ppg) a year ago. The Irish also have many of the pieces back from the '07-08 club that led the BIG EAST in steals for the second consecutive year (school-record 397, 11.68 per game) and forced an opponent-record 737 turnovers.
Perhaps it's no surprise that Notre Dame's present upward mobility has coincided with the arrival of its current junior class, including guards and co-captains Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner. Barlow earned honorable mention all-BIG EAST status last year and is the team's top returning scorer (12.1 ppg), while also setting the defensive tone with a team-high 68 steals last season. Meanwhile, Lechlitner (5.5 ppg, 2.6 apg) assumes the mantle of leadership from the point guard position after two consistent years as a reliable understudy to Tulyah Gaines.
The Irish also should benefit from the veteran experience and guidance of senior guard and co-captain Lindsay Schrader, who joined Barlow on last year's BIG EAST honorable mention squad after logging 10.3 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game. She earned similar status this fall in preseason voting by the conference coaches and gives Notre Dame a unique blend of toughness and determination that has become the common thread running through the team's recent resurgence.
The Irish sophomore class proved to be an exceptional complement to their predecessors last season, led by forward Devereaux Peters (9.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.0 bpg), who was a BIG EAST All-Freshman Team choice despite missing the final 11 games of the year with a knee injury. Guard Brittany Mallory (6.3 ppg, 34 3FG) joined Peters on the conference's all-rookie squad, while forward Becca Bruszewski (5.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg) may be the team's most improved player heading into this season after a scintillating three-game NCAA Tournament performance that included a season-high 16 points against both SMU and Tennessee.
Potent Notables About The Irish
A Quick Look At Cincinnati
UC should come into Saturday's game at Notre Dame a rest ballclub, having not played since Jan. 24, when the Bearcats dropped a 65-34 decision to top-ranked Connecticut at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati. UC was held to seven first-half points (on .107 shooting), but battled back and actually outscored the Huskies by a point over the final 20 minutes.
Freshman guard/forward Val Schuster came off the bench to score a team-high 11 points for Cincinnati, connecting on 3-of-7 three-pointers.
Redshirt junior guard Kahla Roudebush has mirrored her team's improvement by evolving into a multi-talented threat, averaging a team-best 16.3 points, 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Senior forward Jill Stephens is dangerous from inside and outside, averaging 10.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game with a .532 field goal percentage (.481 from beyond the arc). Although just 5-foot-8, senior guard Angel Morgan is a threat on the boards, averaging 7.6 caroms per night (including a staggering 9.7 rebounds per game in conference play).
Head coach J. Kelley Hall is in his second season at Cincinnati with a 25-22 (.532) record. He also sports an overall record of 111-84 (.569) in seven years walking the sidelines, including a five-year stint at Louisiana-Lafayette from 2002-07. He is 0-1 all-time against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Cincinnati Series
The Last Time ND And Cincinnati Met
Jill Stephens scored 14 points, and Kahla Roudebush had 11 for Cincinnati (10-11, 1-8), which has lost seven in a row and eight of its last nine.
Allen scored on a pull-up jumper, then stole the ball and fed Gaines for a layup to spark a 21-0 run that started late in the first half and continued after halftime, stretching a total of 12 minutes and 17 seconds. The run put Notre Dame in control at 38-26.
Roudebush scored four points on a pair of pull-up jumpers during a 9-0 Cincinnati run that gave the Bearcats their biggest lead, 26-17. Gaines scored four points in a 9-0 Notre Dame spurt that closed the half and tied it at 26.
Cincinnati missed its first five shots of the second half and committed eight turnovers while Notre Dame completed its decisive run. Cincinnati didn't score in the first seven minutes of the second half.
The Last Time ND And Cincinnati Met At The Joyce Center
Gaines also collected five assists and four steals for the Irish, while Charel Allen gave Notre Dame a first-half boost with 15 of her 19 points in the period. Allen also shared team-high rebounding honors with Erica Williamson, as both players grabbed seven caroms.
After spotting Cincinnati an early five-point lead, the Irish fired back with seven unanswered points, going in front on a three-pointer by Crystal Erwin at the 16:43 mark. The Notre Dame offense really kicked into gear soon after, on the back of a relentless defense that caused 17 Bearcat turnovers in the first half. The Irish led by as many as nine points in the period (27-18), before UC clawed back with a 14-6 run. However, the hosts stayed in front, taking a 37-34 edge to the locker room.
The Irish regained their footing early in the second half, as Melissa D'Amico dropped in a pair of buckets to spark a 14-6 run by the hosts, pushing Notre Dame's lead into double figures for the first time.
The Irish then put the game away with an 11-3 charge, getting seven points from Gaines to forge a 77-58 lead with 3:57 remaining before UC trimmed down the final margin against the Notre Dame reserves.
Other ND-Cincinnati Series Tidbits
Overall, Notre Dame is 74-30 (.712) in the Muffet McGraw era (1987-present) when playing its first game following a loss of 10 points or more.
Reversal Of Fortune
Notre Dame then righted the ship by winning eight of its next nine games, finishing fourth in the BIG EAST and eventually advancing all the way to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 for the seventh time in program history.
Closer Than You Think
On Dec. 10 at Michigan, Notre Dame led by two with 13 seconds left in regulation, but a turnover allowed the Wolverines to send the game to OT. In the extra session, the Irish had two chances to tie or take the lead in the final 20 seconds, but came up short, falling 63-59.
On Jan. 13 at Marquette, Notre Dame led by as many as eight points in the second half, and trailed by only two with 4:30 to play before the Golden Eagles pulled away for a 75-65 win.
On Jan. 24 at Villanova, the Irish never led, but also rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit to get within one point three times in the second half. Notre Dame had four second-half possessions with a chance to tie or take the lead, but could never quite manage to break through, as the Wildcats gamely hung on for a 55-48 win.
A Real Smart Al-Lech
Lechlitner has more than doubled her scoring average from last year, tying for 30th in the BIG EAST at 11.4 points per game, with 11 double-figure scoring nights (after 16 in her first two seasons combined). She also tossed in a career-high 19 points on Dec. 7 in a victory over No. 17/20 Purdue at the Joyce Center.
In addition, Lechlitner ranks among the conference pacesetters in assists (tie-14th, 3.2 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (11th, 1.4). Her numbers are even better since BIG EAST play began, tying for 26th in the loop in scoring (12.0 ppg.), ninth in assists (3.7 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (1.4), eighth in three-point percentage (.438) and 12th in free throw percentage (.826). Across the board, these averages are career highs, in some cases even doubling her previous bests.
Off the court, Lechlitner is a prime candidate for ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District status, having been nominated for the honor after compiling a 3.357 cumulative grade-point average (GPA) through the fall 2008 semester as she works towards her degree in psychology.
Novosel Is Just Plain Nasty
After scoring in double figures once in her first nine games (when she averaged 5.1 ppg.), Novosel has come alive with six double-digit games in her last 10 outings, averaging 9.8 points per game in that stretch. She has been especially solid in BIG EAST play, when she ranks third on the team in scoring (10.1 ppg.) and fifth in the conference with a .619 field goal percentage.
A two-time BIG EAST Freshman of the Week, Novosel's progress was readily apparent on Tuesday night against Rutgers, when she came off the bench to score a season- (and career-) high 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, while adding four rebounds and three assists (with only one turnover) in 27 minutes of court time.
A Grand Occasion
Barlow would be the first Notre Dame player to score her 1,000th career point since Charel Allen reached the mark on Feb. 26, 2007, at DePaul. Barlow also could be joined in the Irish 1,000-Point Club later this season by senior guard and fellow captain Lindsay Schrader, who presently has 887 career points.
Using Her Charge Card
This is the first season the Irish have tracked charges taken (which are an unofficial stat not recognized by the NCAA), although it is believed Williamson drew at least a dozen offensive fouls last year.
Piping Hot Turnovers
Almost half of those turnovers have come via Irish steals, with Notre Dame registering 194 thefts (10.2 per game) after leading the BIG EAST Conference in that category each of the past two seasons -- the first time the Irish won their league's steal title since 1990-91, when they took top honors in the old Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League) with a school-record 397 steals (12.4 spg.), while their 237 steals (14.8 spg.) in conference play remain a Horizon League standard to this day.
Born To Run
Furthermore, Notre Dame has manufactured three streaks of at least 16 consecutive points this season, including a 27-0 blitz in the second half of its win over Georgia Southern on Nov. 25. That marked the second-longest run of unanswered points in school history, topped only by a 31-0 run in the first half of a win over Pittsburgh on Jan. 18, 1997, at the Joyce Center.
From Dec. 28-Jan. 6, the Irish embarked on a four-game road swing, their longest regular-season trip since early in the 2002-03 season, sweeping games at Charlotte (68-61), No. 20/19 Vanderbilt (59-57), Seton Hall (66-60) and DePaul (86-62). It's the first time Notre Dame won four consecutive games, all on the road (opponent's home floor) since Jan. 7-19, 1991, when the Irish won at Butler (80-64), DePaul (81-66), Loyola-Chicago (66-55) and Marquette (91-73) in succession during Notre Dame's first full week as a ranked team in program history.
Wearing The Collar
The last time the Irish blanked the opponent's leading scorer was Dec. 22, 2001, when Notre Dame kept Marquette's Rachel Klug out of the scorebook in a 60-33 win at the Joyce Center (Klug was averaging 13.7 ppg. at tipoff).
New Kids On The Block
With season-ending knee injuries to sophomores Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory, the Irish bench now basically consists of the four-player freshman class -- forward Erica Solomon and Kellie Watson and guards Natalie Novosel and Fraderica Miller.
Yet, despite their relative lack of experience at the college level, all four players have made solid contributions to Notre Dame's 15-4 record. Three of the four have scored in double figures at least twice (Novosel-7, Solomon-5, Watson-2), with both Watson and Novosel also twice being named the BIG EAST Freshman of the Week (Watson - Dec. 1 & 8; Novosel - Dec. 29 & Jan. 12).
What's more, those three aforementioned players each are averaging at least 16 minutes per night, while the speedy Miller has emerged as Notre Dame's go-to defensive stopper, averaging one steal per game in her 13 appearances this season.
Notre Dame's knack for quick player development should come as no surprise -- the Irish have developed five BIG EAST All-Freshman Team selections in the past two seasons alone (including Peters and Mallory last year), the most of any team in the conference.
Spreading The Wealth
For the season, 10 of the 12 players on Notre Dame roster have scored in double figures at least once, with freshman guard Fraderica Miller aiming to join that club (along with walk-on junior guard Alena Christiansen, who was added to the Irish roster on Dec. 19).
More On The Balance Beam
At the same time, only one Irish player is appearing in the top 50 of the 10 NCAA individual statistical rankings -- junior guard Ashley Barlow currently stands 46th in the nation in steals (2.59 spg.).
A Start We Can Believe In
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 171 weeks during the program's 32-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 stands 25th all-time in that category.
In addition, the Irish earned their 32nd consecutive ranking in Tuesday's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, placing 13th after spending the previous week at No. 9. Notre Dame's season-high poll position of fourth on Jan. 6 and 13 was the highest ranking for Notre Dame in the coaches poll since the week of Jan. 5, 2005, when the Irish checked in at No. 3. Notre Dame has appeared in the coaches' poll for 163 weeks during its history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
More Polling Data
Besides her 171 AP poll appearances while coaching at Notre Dame, McGraw was the starting point guard at Saint Joseph's (Pa.) as a senior in 1977, helping the Hawks rise to No. 3 in the nation. Of the 24 people on this list, 13 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart).
Nostradamus In High Heels
After the Commodores expanded their lead to 18 points on two occasions (the last at 46-28 with 15:56 to play), Notre Dame went to work, blitzing Vanderbilt with a 22-0 run over the next 8:40 to take the lead. VU tied the game at 50-50, but the Irish then went on top for good on a layup by sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski with 4:06 left, capping the improbable rally.
The previous school-record comeback had been 16 points, which took place on March 30, 2001, at the NCAA Women's Final Four in St. Louis, when Notre Dame erased a 47-31 deficit late in the first half and charged past Connecticut, 90-75 on the way to the program's first national championship.
Game #19 Recap: Rutgers
Rutgers (12-6, 4-3 BIG EAST), which on Monday fell out of the Top 25 for the first time since Dec. 3, 2007, rebounded with just its third win in eight road games this season.
The Irish (15-4, 4-3) lost for the third time in four games.
Both teams struggled to get going. Rutgers missed its first seven shots, made five straight, then missed 11 in a row.
The Irish started even worse, missing their first 12 shots as they fell behind 17-4 before finally making their first basket, a layup by freshman guard Natalie Novosel nearly 10 minutes into the game.
Novosel led the Irish with 19 points and junior guard Ashley Barlow scored 18.
Noting The Rutgers Game
Peters, Mallory Out For Season
Peters had played in only three games at the time of her injury, while Mallory had seen action in seven games. Thus, both players appear to meet the guidelines for the NCAA's hardship waiver (Rule 14.2.4; sometimes informally referred to as a "medical redshirt") that stipulates a petitioning student-athlete may not have played in more than 30 percent of a team's scheduled number of regular-season games (Notre Dame is slated to play 28 regular-season games in 2008-09).
Both players are expected to petition for the NCAA hardship waiver. If granted, both Peters and Mallory will maintain three years of athletic eligibility beginning with the 2009-10 season.
Christiansen Joins Irish Roster
A supplemental biographical sketch on Christiansen can be found in the players' section of the PDF version of these game notes.
Half And Half
This season, Notre Dame is 13-2 when it is ahead at the break, losing 63-59 in overtime at Michigan on Dec. 10, and 75-65 at Marquette on Jan. 13.
Last year, the Irish went 22-2 when they led at the break, failing only to do so in their two postseason losses (BIG EAST quarterfinal vs. Pittsburgh, NCAA Oklahoma City Regional semifinal vs. Tennessee), although the UT lead marked the first time Notre Dame was up on the Lady Vols at the half in 20 series games.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
Notre Dame is 7-1 in such games this season, with wins over LSU, Boston College, Georgia Southern, Purdue, Valparaiso, Loyola-Chicago and Vanderbilt. The lone loss came Jan. 24 at Villanova (55-48).
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Notre Dame has scored at least 80 points in seven games this year, winning each time. Last season, the Irish won 14 of 15 games when reaching the 80-point mark.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
The Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 76 of their last 82 non-BIG EAST contests (.927) at the Joyce Center, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Four of the losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents -- Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT) and Indiana in 2006 (54-51) -- 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 Joyce Center, posting a 319-83 (.794) 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.
On Tuesday, Notre Dame drew 10,082 fans for its game against Rutgers, marking the largest weeknight crowd in school history and the eighth largest overall audience in the program's 32-year annals.
In addition, approximately 1,000 tickets remain for the Feb. 8 WBCA Pink Zone game vs. DePaul.
A full rundown of the top crowds in Joyce Center history can be found in the sidebar on page 9 of the PDF version of this notes package.
Irish Have New Home On The Dial
LeSEA now originates all Notre Dame women's basketball games, with those events carried on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), marking the first time since the 1998-99 season that the Irish are heard on an FM station. 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 new 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 (UND.com) through the Fighting Irish All-Access multimedia package.
The new agreement includes extensive Notre Dame athletics promotion aired on a combination of the LeSEA stations.
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 as the play-by-play voice of the Irish this season.
Notre Dame On The Small Screen
In addition, Notre Dame continues to expand its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. All 11 Irish regular-season home games not selected for commercial TV coverage will air live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com, via the site's free multimedia package, Fighting Irish All-Access.
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 129 televised games, including 79 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Irish In The Pink (Zone) All Season Long
Throughout the 2008-09 season, the Irish will take part in several activities centered around the Pink Zone initiative, including:
Proceeds from all of Notre Dame's Pink Zone events this season will go to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund, as well as three local charities -- Women's Task Force, Young Survivors Group and Secret Sisters Society. For more information on the WBCA's Pink Zone initiative, log on to the WBCA's official web site at www.wbca.org.
ND To Host NCAA Tourney Games in 2009
All-session tickets for this year's NCAA Championship games at the Joyce Center are available by contacting the Notre Dame athletics ticket office (574-631-7356).
Notre Dame has played in the NCAA Championship on its home floor five times before, most recently defeating Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) and Middle Tennessee in 2004 to make the program's sixth NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. All told, the Irish are 6-1 in NCAA tourney play at the Joyce Center, winning six in a row since an 81-76 first-round loss to Minnesota in 1994.
Notre Dame Welcomes NCAA Pinnacle Of Fitness Challenge Program
The Joyce Center at the University of Notre Dame is one of the nine sites for the competition and will host its first Middle School Challenge at halftime of the first-round game of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship that will be played on March 22. An additional Middle School Challenge will take place on March 24 during halftime of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship second-round game at the Joyce Center. For tickets call (574) 631-7356 or go online to www.UND.com.
The Pinnacle of Fitness challenge is an NCAA Division I women's basketball initiative of healthy living and education that will challenge and improve individuals and their communities. The 2009 Pinnacle of Fitness challenge is expected to involve 100 middle schools in nine selected cities, with 74,000 middle school students participating.
"The Pinnacle of Fitness challenge is an important and fun initiative that will connect the great game of basketball with youth in communities across the country to help in the promotion of improved physical fitness," said Sue Donohoe, NCAA vice president of Division I Women's Basketball. "We have enjoyed the challenge of beginning the program in nine markets in 2009 and hope to expand the reach of the program in the future."
The cornerstone of the program is the Middle School Challenge, which will educate and challenge students to improve their level of physical fitness through leading active lives, goal setting and developing life skills. The program will reward youth for improving their health and wellness and will be conducted at sites that will host a first- and second-round or regional round of competition during the 2009 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship.
The Middle School Challenge will begin with each of the competing middle schools conducting in-school physical fitness assessment and testing. The top-10 students from the competing middle schools will compete in progressive on-court competitions at the sites during the regular season and again during the championship.
Competing middle schools and individual students will be recognized through school rewards that include fitness support funding for equipment, special events and awards. The winning middle school from each region will be awarded the opportunity to compete in the NCAA National Pinnacle of Fitness challenge on center court at NCAA Hoop City Refreshed by Coca-Cola® during the 2009 Women's Final Four. There, one middle school will be named the 2009 Pinnacle of Fitness challenge champion.
For more information in regard to the Pinnacle of Fitness challenge, go online to www.ncaa.com/champ/wbasket-div1-champ.html or contact Denee Barracato at (317) 917-6643 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
It hasn't take long for the burger watch to fire back up again this year, as Notre Dame has topped the 88-point mark three times -- in its lone exhibition game (96-30 over Gannon on Nov. 5), as well as regular season games against Evansville (96-61 on Nov. 19) and Loyola-Chicago (89-45 on Dec. 20).
Last year, the Irish reached the magic number eight times, doing so in both exhibition wins, along with regular-season victories over Miami (Ohio), Boston College, Canisius, Valparaiso, Marquette and South Florida.
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 -- sophomore guard Brittany Mallory, who was sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) four times.
This season, it's been the Irish freshmen who have taken on the "Big Mac" mantle of responsibility, with guard Natalie Novosel doing the honors in the Gannon exhibition and Loyola-Chicago game, and forward Erica Solomon putting Notre Dame over the top against Evansville.
Joyce Center Arena Renovation Underway
The first 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, 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 Joyce Center arena seating, including installation of chair-back seating throughout the arena, is expected to take place after the University's Commencement Exercises in May 2009. The entire project is scheduled for completion in January 2010. The arena is expected to re-open by mid-October 2009, in time for the start of the basketball season and the end of the volleyball season.
The University announced in October 2007 that this $26.3 million project 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.
Exterior changes to the Joyce Center that began taking shape in September include a new, three-story addition on the south end of the current structure. The third floor area will include the stadium club/hospitality area. The first-floor addition will include almost 4,500 square feet for ticket offices (including four exterior and 10 interior tickets windows), 3,000 square feet for the varsity shop, as well as a completely new main entrance and lobby situated between Gates 8 and 10. The new entrance will feature graphics and theming that highlight Notre Dame's competing athletic programs.
Changes to the interior of the Joyce Center arena include:
Next Game: Pittsburgh
No. 21/24 Pittsburgh (15-4, 5-2) was riding a four-game winning streak entering its home game with Marquette on Friday evening.