Jan. 31, 2010
#3/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (19-1 / 6-1 BIG EAST) vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (12-9 / 4-3 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 1, 2010
TIME: 7:30 p.m. ET
AT: Piscataway, N.J. - Louis Brown Athletic Center (8,000)
SERIES: RU leads 16-9
1ST MTG: RU 81-74 (11/27/82)
LAST MTG: RU 78-68 (1/27/09)
TV: ESPN2 (live) (Bob Wischusen, p-b-p / Carolyn Peck, color / Rebecca Lobo, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
#3 Irish Visit Rutgers For ESPN2 Big Monday Matchup
No. 3 Notre Dame has faced numerous situations this season that will prepare them for the challenges to come, and the Irish tackle the latest in those tests when they play their second BIG EAST Conference road game in three days with Monday's 7:30 p.m. (ET) visit to Rutgers. The game will be televised live nationally as part of ESPN2's "Big Monday" package, the second of three Monday night appearances for Notre Dame on that network this year.
After erasing subpar first halves with strong second stanzas in the prior five games, the Irish (19-1, 6-1) flipped the script on Saturday, bolting to a 16-point first-half lead at Syracuse before the Orange rallied late. However, senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow had the final say, hitting a three-pointer with 34.2 seconds left to give Notre Dame a 74-73 win.
Freshman guard Skylar Diggins tied her career high with 21 points, while Barlow matched her season best with 19 points for the Irish.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At Rutgers
Rutgers has a veteran core back in the fold this season, with seven letterwinners and two starters returning from last year's club that advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16. The Scarlet Knights also have a handful of talented newcomers suiting up, including McDonald's All-Americans Monique Oliver and Erica Wheeler.
RU (12-9, 4-3 BIG EAST) last took the floor on Saturday, dropping a 59-50 decision at No. 17/15 Georgetown. The Scarlet Knights' trademark suffocating defense forced 25 GU turnovers and a .333 field goal percentage by the Hoyas, but Rutgers turned the ball over 24 times itself as Georgetown did just enough to earn the victory.
Redshirt sophomore guard Khadijah Rushdan scored a team-high (and season-best) 18 points in Saturday's loss, while Oliver came off the bench to drop in 12 points for the Scarlet Knights.
Senior sharpshooting guard Brittany Ray leads Rutgers in scoring (15.3 ppg.) and three-point percentage (.387), while Rushdan is second in scoring (7.0 ppg) and tops in both assists (3.3 apg.) and steals (1.8 spg.).
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer is in her 15th season at Rutgers, with a 317-154 (.673) record with the Scarlet Knights. The Hall of Fame mentor has an overall record of 837-289 (.743) in her storied 39-year career, including a 13-9 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Rutgers Series
Notre Dame and Rutgers will square off for the 26th time on Monday night, with the Scarlet Knights leading the series by a 16-9 count. RU also is 13-9 against the Irish since the teams joined the BIG EAST Conference together in time for the 1995-96 season, and owns an active five-game series winning streak, the longest by either side in the rivalry.
In addition, Rutgers has won nine of 12 games against Notre Dame in Piscataway, including the past four since a 57-52 Irish win on Feb. 16, 2002, at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
The Last Time Notre Dame and Rutgers Met
Brittany Ray scored a career-high 26 points, Epiphanny Prince added 24 and Rutgers beat No. 17/13 Notre Dame 78-68, on Jan. 27, 2009, at Purcell Pavilion.
Rutgers (12-6, 4-3 BIG EAST), which fell out of the AP Top 25 a day earlier for the first time since Dec. 3, 2007, rebounded with its third win in eight road games.
Meanwhile, 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 Natalie Novosel nearly 10 minutes into the game.
Novosel led the Irish with 19 points and Ashley Barlow scored 18.
The Last Time Notre Dame and Rutgers Met At The Louis Brown Athletic Center
Epiphanny Prince scored 18 points, Matee Ajavon added 15 and No. 5/4 Rutgers overcame an eight-minute scoreless drought to beat No. 14 Notre Dame 57-51 on Feb. 19, 2008, in Piscataway, N.J.
Kia Vaughn, who finished with 14 points, finally broke the offensive drought with a putback 4 1/2 minutes into the second half that cut Rutgers' deficit to 28-26. That basket started a 17-5 run over the next seven minutes for the Scarlet Knights. Prince capped the spurt with a three-point play that gave Rutgers a 41-33 lead with 8:49 left. Notre Dame would get no closer than four points the rest of the game.
It was a sloppy first half with the teams combining for 19 turnovers and missing shot after shot. After a forgettable first 12 minutes, Rutgers used a 9-0 run to turn a one-point deficit into a 22-14 lead with 6:21 left. Those were the last points the Scarlet Knights would score in the half.
Notre Dame scored the last eight points of the half, including a jumper by Allen at the buzzer to tie the game at 22.
Prince had 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the first half and Ajavon added seven points. The rest of the Scarlet Knights were a combined 2-for-16 from the field.
Other Notre Dame-Rutgers Series Tidbits
Since the start of last season, Notre Dame has played eight times when it has had a short one-day break (or less) between games, including three games in three days over this year's Thanksgiving weekend at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, when faced with such a tight turnaround, the Irish have risen to the occasion, going 7-1 (.875) on the back half of these two-game (or more) blitzes, with the only loss coming in last year's BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals (58-47 vs. Villanova in Hartford, Conn.).
This season, Notre Dame is 3-0 in these 48-hour challenges, winning twice at the Paradise Jam (South Carolina and No. 20/17 Oklahoma), and then at home on New Year's Eve vs. No. 18/16 Vanderbilt (returning from a road trip to Central Florida less than two days earlier).
The Irish have at least three more tight turnarounds this season, beginning Monday night with the back half of their Syracuse/Rutgers road swing, before home/away splits with DePaul (Feb. 14) and at St. John's (Feb. 16), and at Seton Hall (Feb. 27) and vs. Connecticut (March 1).
Peaking When It Counts
When the regular season enters its stretch run in the month of February, Notre Dame historically seems to raise its level of play. Since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, the Irish are 81-23 (.779) in February games, including a 46-5 (.902) mark at home.
In the 23-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-present), the Irish are 129-38 (.772) in the month of February, including a 68-11 (.861) home record. In that time, Notre Dame has not had a losing February, and only once did the Irish end the month at .500 (4-4 in 1988-89, McGraw's second season in South Bend).
Notre Dame already has faced a rigorous schedule through the first two months of the 2009-10 season, taking on six ranked opponents in its first 20 games. The Irish also have risen to that challenge quite well, winning five of those six contests (Michigan State, San Diego State, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt and West Virginia), including three victories away from home (MSU, SDSU and OU).
Four of Notre Dame's five wins over ranked opponents came during the non-conference portion of the schedule, marking the second consecutive year in which the Irish defeated four Top 25 non-conference foes.
Notre Dame has rallied from a double-digit deficit to win three times this month. The Irish erased a 10-point first-half margin at Purdue on Jan. 4, followed by a 12-point first-half spread at Louisville on Jan. 19, and most recently, they wiped out a 13-point second-half gap at home against West Virginia on Jan. 24.
The three double-digit comeback victories are the most for Notre Dame in a single season since 2002-03, when it came back to win at West Virginia (trailed by 14), at Providence (trailed by 10) and home vs. Seton Hall (trailed twice by 12).
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has seen seven different players led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists this season.
In addition, 11 of the 13 players on the Irish roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including sophomore guard Fraderica Miller, and freshman guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, who each topped the 10-point mark for the first time in their careers.
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) and freshman guard Skylar Diggins (UAPB, Charlotte and Syracuse) have a team-high three 5-5-5 games, while senior guard Ashley Barlow (Iona and South Florida) has two 5-5-5 outings, and junior forward Becca Bruszewski (Louisville) and sophomore guard Natalie Novosel (Eastern Michigan) each have one.
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 17 of 20 games thus far, with Irish foes averaging 25.1 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 its Jan. 9 game with Notre Dame ranked second in the nation with just 12.6 turnovers per game, but the Irish dogged the Wildcats into 34 turnovers (17 in each half).
Notre Dame has been especially hard on opponents in 11 home games this season, forcing 27.6 turnovers per game (at least 25 in seven Purcell Pavilion contests) while holding visitors to 54.8 points a night.
The Five-Finger Discount
According to Friday's NCAA statistical report, Notre Dame ranks third in the nation in steals (now at 14.0 spg.). The Irish have posted double-digit steal totals in 14 of their 20 games this season, including five 20-steal efforts.
Notre Dame, Connecticut and Providence are the only three BIG EAST teams with at least two current players having 500+ career rebounds. Irish fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader is eighth all-time at Notre Dame with 757 boards, while senior guard tri-captain Ashley Barlow has 580 caroms.
The Irish will soon join UConn and have a third player in this group, as senior center Erica Williamson has 493 career rebounds.
Schrader Added To State Farm Wade Trophy Watch List
fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader was one of seven players added to the 2009-10 State Farm Wade Trophy Watch List, it was announced last Thursday by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). Schrader and her fellow mid-season additions earned their spots on this year's Wade Watch List by virtue of their on-court performances to date during the `09-10 campaign, and they expand the player pool for this season's national player-of-the-year award to 32, as selected by the State Farm Wade Trophy Committee.
Schrader, a preseason all-BIG EAST Conference selection and three-time BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll choice this year, becomes the fifth Notre Dame player named to the Wade Watch List in the past seven seasons, and the first since Charel Allen in 2007-08.
In addition, Schrader is the third Notre Dame player this season to earn a place on a national player-of-the-year award watch list. Senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow was both a preseason Naismith Trophy candidate and a midseason John R. Wooden Award Top 20 choice, while freshman guard Skylar Diggins joined Barlow on this year's preseason Naismith Trophy candidate slate.
Schrader currently ranks third on the team in scoring (11.3 ppg.) and is tops in rebounding (career-high 7.9 rpg./sixth in the BIG EAST), while also owning a career-best .562 field goal percentage (good for fifth in the league) and five double-doubles (sixth in the BIG EAST), three coming in wins against ranked opponents.
For her career, Schrader ranks 16th all-time at Notre Dame with 1,283 points, eighth in rebounds (757) and games started (111), and first for double-doubles by a guard (16), while she maintains an active streak of 69 consecutive starts that is only five away from moving her into the top five at Notre Dame in that category.
A two-time all-BIG EAST selection, including a first-team honoree in 2008-09, Schrader is in her second season as a team captain for the Fighting Irish. She is finishing up work on her bachelor's degree in management-consulting from Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, having twice earned recognition on the BIG EAST All-Academic Team for her success in the classroom.
Getting The Jump
At 15-0, Notre Dame got 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 season-opening 15-game winning streak tied for the third-longest success string in program history (at any time), and it was the longest since the school-record 23-game run to begin the 2000-01 season.
Notre Dame is 25-10 (.714) in true road games since the start of the 2007-08 season, including a 5-1 record this year.
In addition, seven of the past eight 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).
Notre Dame was ranked third in last week's Associated Press poll, appearing in the top five for the 12th 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.
In addition to their current poll appearance run of 50 consecutive weeks (the second-longest in school history behind a 56-week stretch from 1998-2002), the Irish have spent a total of six weeks this year at a season-high No. 3 ranking. That is Notre Dame's highest poll position 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 last week's 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 190 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 22nd all-time in that category.
In addition, the Irish checked in at No. 3 in last week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll. After a one-week dip to fifth, Notre Dame moved back up to a season-high third for the fifth time in six weeks in the ESPN/USA Today poll, 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. It also was the first time they were 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 182 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 27 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 190 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 27 people on this list, 15 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart), including former Irish point guard and assistant coach Coquese Washington ('92), who helped Notre Dame to its first-ever AP poll ranking in 1990-91, and is in her third season as head coach at Penn State, guiding the Lady Lions into last week's AP poll at No. 23.
But Barlow, who had missed her previous four three-point attempts, was true from the right wing with 34.2 seconds left and Notre Dame escaped with a 74-73 victory on Saturday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.
The Irish finished 2 of 12 in the period from beyond the arc against the fired-up Orange zone, which was victimized for eight threes in the first half.
"That three was so big. We ran a play for her to get it and we executed well, screened well," McGraw said. "Despite my screaming the entire half to stop shooting the three, she just kept her poise and made it."
Juanita Ward's three-point play had given the Orange a 73-71 lead with a minute left, but Barlow got open on the wing and saved Notre Dame (19-1, 6-1 BIG EAST), which has beaten Syracuse (16-5, 3-5) 23 times in 25 meetings.
"We just had to stay with it. We didn't hold our heads down," said Barlow, who tied her season high with 19 points. "We knew that we had to get a couple of rebounds at the end of the game. We knew we had to make a stop."
The Orange's aggressive defense limited Notre Dame to 25 percent shooting (7 of 28) in the second half and they repeatedly drove the ball inside, outscoring the Irish 22-6 in the paint in the period (38-20 overall).
"Defensively, we couldn't guard the ball," McGraw said. "They got to the line 37 times. We did a poor job of containing the ball. We did a poor job on the boards. We just really didn't play our game, and yet despite all the foul trouble and ice-cold shooting in the second half, we managed to hold onto the win."
Syracuse also outrebounded Notre Dame 49-34, but was undone by 25 turnovers and 14 missed free throws.
"We stand up here every day and talk about our kids' effort, how hard they play," Orange coach Quentin Hillsman said. "I'm very appreciative, but the effort has to turn into wins. The effort has to turn into big wins. Right now, our efforts aren't turning into big wins. When you outrebound a team like that (and don't win), that's tough."
After the Irish's Lindsay Schrader missed the front end of a 1-and-1, a held ball gave Syracuse one final possession with less than a second left. Tasha Harris' inbounds pass to Kayla Alexander in the lane was deflected away.
"We didn't let them get us rattled," said Irish freshman guard Skylar Diggins, who matched her season high with 21 points. "We knew what we had to do to get calmed down. Their defensive pressure really picked up. They really got after it, had a lot of energy in the second half. We held it together."
Ward led Syracuse with 16 points, Erica Morrow had 14, Vionca Murray 12 and Nicole Michael 11 before fouling out in the final minute.
The Irish survived despite squandering a 16-point lead in the opening minutes of the game. Syracuse began the second half with a 21-5 spurt to erase a 14-point halftime deficit and make it a game as the Irish went cold, hitting just 4 of their first 18 shots of the period.
Tyler Ash's fast-break layup had the Orange within 53-47 at 16:35, and three straight points by Morrow tied it at 58 with 11:03 left.
Michael's floater in the lane gave the Orange their first lead since the opening two minutes of the game, but Diggins tied it with a jumper in the lane and sank a free throw to put the Irish back in front.
It was tight the remainder of the game, with Notre Dame barely holding the lead. Brittany Mallory's three gave the Irish a 68-63 with 5:56 left, and after Murray's follow moved Syracuse within 68-67 just over a minute later, Harris fouled Mallory while she was shooting a three and she sank all three free throws to boost the Irish lead to 71-67 with 3:15 to go.
Seconds later, Murray missed a pair of free throws and Michael missed another with 71 seconds left.
"How many free throws we missed, I missed," said Murray, who was 2 of 5 from the foul line. "We could have won that game. We'll come back from this."
Noting The Syracuse Game
McGraw Earns 600th Career Win
Irish head coach Muffet McGraw reached her second important career milestone of the season on Jan. 19, as she became the 19th Division I coach to record 600 career wins when the Irish posted a 78-60 victory at Louisville.
McGraw earned the milestone win in her 839th career game (she now has a 28-year mark of 603-239, .716), tying her with former Saint Peter's coach Mike Granelli as the 10th-fastest to the 600-win plateau in Division I history.
In honor of the historic 600th victory, Notre Dame fans at Purcell Pavilion held up signs with the number "600" on them when McGraw and her staff took the floor prior to the Jan. 24 win over No. 16/11 West Virginia. The visibly-moved Irish coach later called the scene "one of the top five moments" of her Notre Dame career.
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 515-198 (.722) in 23 seasons at Notre Dame (1987-88 to present) and a 603-239 (.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.
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 296 career starts between them.
Schrader reached a personal milestone on Dec. 12 against Valparaiso, becoming the 12th player in school history with 100 starting assignments in her career. Schrader now stands eighth in school history with 111 career starts, including a current streak of 69 in a row (putting her five away from moving into the Notre Dame top five in that category).
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, while the current Irish senior quartet is closing in on 10th place (127) in that category (Lechlitner at 116, the other three at 115).
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 13th in school history with 1,347 career points, while Schrader is 16th with 1,283 points. They could be joined by their fellow senior guard and tri-captain, Melissa Lechlitner, who has 866 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.
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.
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 has begun graduate studies this 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.
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.
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.
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.
Half And Half
During the past decade, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 179-17 (.913) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 107 of their last 118 such contests.
Notre Dame has led at the break in 16 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 204-14 (.936) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game.
Notre Dame has added nine more wins to the ledger this season with victories over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Iona, South Carolina, Eastern Michigan, Valparaiso, Charlotte, UCF, Villanova and Providence.
...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 134-4 (.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 11 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, Villanova, South Florida and Providence.
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 184 of their last 208 games (.885) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span. Notre Dame also has a 103-17 (.858) 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 334-85 (.797) 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 11 home games this season, Notre Dame is averaging 8,505 fans per game, putting the Irish nearly 700 fans ahead of their school-record attendance average of 7,825 fans per game, also set in 2001-02.
Notre Dame has posted eight sellouts in program history, the most recent coming on Jan. 24, when the Irish drew 9,149 fans to Purcell Pavilion for their win over No. 16/11 West Virginia -- it was the second women's basketball sellout since the renovated arena opened this fall (the other capacity crowd coming on New Year's Eve for a win over No. 18/16 Vanderbilt).
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 156 televised games, including 103 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.
Irish Lend Hand For Haiti Earthquake Relief
Fundraising efforts held in conjunction with two University of Notre Dame home basketball games have resulted in more than $250,000 in donations that will go toward relief efforts in Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit the island nation on Jan. 12.
Through the generosity of fans and alumni, as well as contributions from the University and the Notre Dame Monogram Club, the money was raised at the men's and women's basketball games that were played Jan. 23 and 24, respectively, at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame donated full gate receipts and net concession revenue from both games to the relief effort. In addition, a collection organized by the Notre Dame Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) -- led by president and current Irish women's basketball senior center Erica Williamson, as well as baseball player Ryan Connolly and rower Emily Crosby -- raised more than $25,000 from fans and alumni who contributed during the games. The Monogram Club added a $10,000 matching gift to the student total.
Money raised will benefit short-term needs and long-term rebuilding efforts in Haiti and will be distributed to the Notre Dame Haiti Program, which works to eradicate the debilitating mosquito-borne disease lymphatic filariasis; the Congregation of Holy Cross, which has served in Haiti since 1944 and was heavily affected by the earthquake; and Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.
Next Game: Pittsburgh
Notre Dame returns home this weekend as the Irish play host to Pittsburgh Saturday in a 2 p.m. (ET) BIG EAST matchup at Purcell Pavilion. The game will be webcast live and free of charge on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, www.UND.com.
Pittsburgh (12-8, 1-6) is coming off a 98-56 loss at home to top-ranked Connecticut on Saturday. The Panthers will remain in the Steel City Tuesday night to welcome Syracuse for a conference contest before heading to South Bend for the weekend matinee with Notre Dame.