Feb. 7, 2009
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2008-09 ND Women's Basketball: Game 22
#19/16 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (16-5 / 5-4 BIG EAST) vs. #25/25 DePaul Blue Demons (18-5 / 6-3 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 8, 2009
TIME: 2:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Joyce Center (11,418)
SERIES: DPU leads 18-13
1ST MTG: DPU 82-53 (1/30/79)
LAST MTG: ND 86-62 (1/6/09)
TV: ESPNU (live) (Beth Mowins, p-b-p / Brooke Weisbrod, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (574) 631-7356
StorylinesSunday's game has been selected as Notre Dame's "WBCA Pink Zone" game, designed to heighten awareness of breast cancer and raise funds towards finding a cure.
DePaul is the second of three consecutive ranked opponents (and four in a five-game stretch) for the Irish.
No. 19/16 Irish Face No. 25 DePaul In Sunday "Pink Zone" Matinee
The next chapter in the ongoing rivalry between Notre Dame and DePaul will be written Sunday afternoon when the No. 19/16 Irish and the 25th-ranked Blue Demons step onto the Joyce Center for a 2 p.m. (ET) matchup that will be televised live to a national cable audience by ESPNU.
For the first time in five opportunities this season, Notre Dame (16-5, 5-4) fell to a ranked opponent on Tuesday night, dropping an 82-70 decision at No. 22/24 Pittsburgh. The Irish started slowly, falling behind by 11 points and while they clawed back to within one point twice, they couldn't entirely climb out of their early hole.
Two of Notre Dame's young posts -- sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski and freshman forward Erica Solomon -- shared team-high scoring honors with 14 points, while Solomon also collected a team-best eight rebounds.
RankingsNotre Dame is ranked 19th in the latest Associated Press poll and is 16th in the current ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
DePaul is ranked 25th in the latest Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches' polls.
A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Following two seasons of impressive growth and development, Notre Dame has constructed a firm foundation upon which to build its next championship contender. The Irish enter the 2008-09 season on the heels of a seventh trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 and a highly-competitive effort in that regional semifinal that has players, coaches and followers optimistic that even greater success may be on the horizon.
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 IrishNotre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past 12 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking seventh with 308 victories.
Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in attendance each of the past eight seasons. This year, the program has averaged 7,323 fans for its nine home games. The Irish also have drawn 5,000-or-more fans to 119 of their last 121 home games, including six Joyce Center sellouts of 11,418 (most recently on Dec. 7, 2008 vs. Purdue).
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 eight 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. Allen, Megan Duffy (New York) and Ruth Riley (San Antonio) all were active in the league during the '08 season, with all three teams making the playoffs (San Antonio made the WNBA Finals, while New York was the Eastern Conference runner-up). 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 third year in a row, the Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October 2008. Notre Dame also was one of only four teams with a perfect '07 GSR to advance to the 2008 NCAA Sweet 16 (joining Oklahoma State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt). Furthermore, 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 57-for-57 success rate).
A Quick Look At DePaul
Every team goes through its ups and downs during the season, and DePaul appears to have navigated through its challenges with flying colors. After battling a brief early January hiccup and some nagging injuries, the Blue Demons have regained their early-season sharpness with wins in six of their last seven games and a No. 25 ranking in both major polls this week.
DePaul (18-5, 6-3) is coming off a 57-51 win over visiting Georgetown on Wednesday night, thanks to sophomore guard Sam Quigley, who scored the last seven points of the game in the final 64 seconds. Quigley finished with 15 points, while senior forward Natasha Williams had a team-high 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Junior guard Deirdre Naughton is averaging a team-best 16.1 points and 5.0 assists per game, ranking among the BIG EAST leaders in both categories. Williams adds 15.0 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game, while setting the conference pace with a .636 field goal percentage.
DePaul head coach Doug Bruno is 432-247 (.636) in 23 seasons at his alma mater, including an 11-7 record against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-DePaul Series
Notre Dame and DePaul will meet for the 32nd time on Sunday, with the Blue Demons holding an 18-13 series lead over the Irish. However, Notre Dame is 7-6 against DePaul when the scene shifts to the Joyce Center.
The two schools also are tangling as conference foes for the 18th time between their affiliations in the North Star and BIG EAST conferences, with the Irish owning a 9-8 regular-season lead in these matchups (4-3 since DePaul joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06).
The Last Time ND And DePaul Met
Junior center Erica Williamson scored a career-high 20 points to lead No. 12/4 Notre Dame to an 86-62 win at DePaul on Jan. 6.
Freshman guard Natalie Novosel added a season-high-tying 18 points, junior guard Ashley Barlow had 12 and senior guard Lindsay Schrader chipped in 11 for Notre Dame (13-1, 2-0 BIG EAST), which held DePaul's Deirdre Naughton, who averaged about 18 points, scoreless for the first time in her three-year college career on 0-for-8 shooting.
Notre Dame never trailed after going ahead 11-10 about six minutes into the game and led 44-30 at the half.
DePaul (12-4, 0-2) shot just 36 percent from the field, compared with 49 percent for the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame also outmuscled DePaul underneath, with 20 second-chance points compared with 10 for the Blue Demons. The Fighting Irish outrebounded DePaul 50-29.
Felicia Chester led DePaul with a career-high 20 points. Keisha Hampton added 19 points for the Blue Devils, who had been undefeated at home this season.
The Last Time ND And DePaul Met At The Joyce Center
Deirdre Naughton scored 20 points and No. rv/25 DePaul shot a season-high 60 percent to beat No. 16 Notre Dame 81-80 on Jan. 22, 2008, at the Joyce Center.
The Irish had a chance to win in the closing seconds, but Holly Medley stole the ball from Charel Allen with two seconds left and dribbled away as the clock ran out.
DePaul shot 72 percent in the first half and beat the Irish for the third straight time.
The Blue Demons, which led by two at halftime, went on a 9-0 run early in the second half to open a 58-49 lead. Allie Quigley ignited the run when she converted on a three-point play, then Naughton did it again 36 seconds later. Missy Mitidiero capped the run with a three-pointer.
The Irish cut the lead to 71-70 when Allen hit a three with 4:37 left. But the Blue Demons stretched the lead to five moments later when Natasha Williams scored inside and Quigley made a pair of free throws.
Brittany Mallory's two foul shots for the Irish cut the lead to 81-80. Quigley caught the inbounds pass and while being covered by Mallory lost her dribble out of bounds to give the Irish a chance with four seconds left. Quigley scored 16 points for DePaul, Williams had 14 and Mitidiero added 12.
Ashley Barlow scored a career-high 23 points for the Irish, Allen had 17 points on 5-of-14 shooting and Erica Williamson tied her (then) career high with 16 points.
Other ND-DePaul Series TidbitsUntil last season, home court advantage played a prominent role in the series outcome (ND leads 7-6 in South Bend, while DPU is up 10-6 in Chicago and 2-0 at neutral sites. However, last year saw each team win on the other's home court, with DePaul snapping a four-game losing streak at the Joyce Center (first win since February 1992) and the Irish breaking a five-game drought in Chicago (first win since January 1991, back at old Alumni Hall).
Last month, Notre Dame won its second consecutive game over DePaul in Chicago, the first time the Irish have done that since the 1986 and 1987 seasons, the latter coming the year before current head coach Muffet McGraw arrived in South Bend.
In 11 of the past 12 series games, the winning team has scored at least 75 points. The only exception was last year's second matchup, a 66-64 Notre Dame win in Chicago, which also was the first time neither side topped 70 points since DePaul's 1992 win in South Bend (62-49 on Feb. 11).
The DePaul series is the second-longest in Notre Dame history, with Sunday being the 32nd game between the clubs. Only the Marquette rivalry (34 games) is longer.
DePaul's 18 series wins are the third-most by one Irish opponent, exceeded only by Connecticut (21) and Tennessee (20).
Combining their memberships in the North Star and BIG EAST conferences, Notre Dame is 9-8 all-time against DePaul in regular-season conference games. The Blue Demons did win the only conference tournament game between the programs, shading the Irish, 76-71 in the first round of the 2007 BIG EAST Championship in Hartford, Conn.
Notre Dame junior guard Melissa Lechlitner was a member of the 2007 USA U19 World Championship Team, coached by DePaul's Doug Bruno and assisted by former Irish aide (and current Northern Illinois head coach) Carol Owens. That squad went a perfect 9-0 and captured the gold medal in Bratislava, Slovakia, with Lechlitner averaging 4.6 points and 1.4 assists during the '07 FIBA U19 World Championships.
Notre Dame has had 11 players come from the state of Illinois, including 10 from the Chicagoland area, with senior guard Lindsay Schrader (Bartlett/Bartlett HS) and sophomore forward Devereaux Peters (Chicago/Fenwick HS) the latest additions to a list that includes NCAA career three-point percentage record holder Alicia Ratay (Lake Zurich/Lake Zurich HS) and 1,000-point scorer/2004 Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (Chicago/Roosevelt HS). The Irish will add another Chicago-area product to the roster next fall when guard Kaila Turner (Joliet/Marian Catholic HS) arrives in South Bend.
Schrader was named Illinois Miss Basketball in 2005, claiming that honor by the sixth-largest margin (374 points) since the award was created in 1986.
The top three vote-getters for the 2008 Michigan Miss Basketball award will be in the building on Sunday. Irish freshman forward Kellie Watson took home the honor, edging out her current teammate, forward Erica Solomon. Meanwhile, DePaul freshman guard Courtney Webb, a native of Benton Harbor, Mich. (40 miles north of the Notre Dame campus), was third in the balloting.
Both head coaches -- Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw and DePaul's Doug Bruno -- have ties to the old Women's Professional Basketball League (WBL) which existed from 1978-81; McGraw was a point guard for the California Dreams in 1979 (the franchise's only year of existence), while Bruno was the head coach and director of player personnel for the Chicago Hustle throughout its incarnation from 1978-80.
McGraw and Bruno just returned from a two-day trip (Thursday and Friday) to Indianapolis, where they participated in an NCAA Championship "mock selection" seminar, designed to simulate the deliberations that the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Committee goes through when selecting and bracketing the 64-team field for the NCAA Championship. McGraw and Bruno were two of the four active coaches at the event, along with Texas A&M's Gary Blair and Oklahoma's Sherri Coale, and one of the media representatives in attendance was ESPNU's play-by-play voice for Sunday's game, Beth Mowins.
Besides fostering the "Pink Zone" breast cancer awareness initiative that will be spotlighted during Sunday's game, the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) will have several other ties to the contest. McGraw is the Division I legislative chair on the WBCA's Board of Directors, while Bruno is the body's immediate past president. In addition, Mowins is in her second year as a co-host (with national women's basketball analyst Debbie Antonelli) of the WBCA's weekly women's basketball podcast called "Shootaround With Beth & Debbie." The 30-minute podcast is available for download each Wednesday during the basketball season by going to the WBCA's official web site, www.wbca.org. For more details, see the sidebar on page 10 of this notes package.
Irish In The Pink (Zone) All Season Long
Notre Dame is proud to be a participant in the second annual Pink Zone initiative, created by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) in order to heighten breast cancer awareness and raise money for research towards finding a cure for the disease.
Throughout the 2008-09 season, the Irish will take part in several activities centered around the Pink Zone initiative, including:Open Practice/Tip-Off Luncheon - On Oct. 19, the Irish open the doors to one of their preseason practice sessions and allowed approximately 600 season ticket holders to watch the team prepare for the upcoming season. A luncheon with the team followed and a total of $3,311 was raised.
Three-Point Pledge - Fans can pledge an amount to donate for every three-pointer the Irish make this season. Pledge cards are available at the Joyce Center Gate 10 marketing table prior to each home game.
Beanie Bears/Calendars - The Irish are collecting $5 donations for every special-edition Notre Dame women's basketball beanie bear and team calendar sold during the season.
T-Shirt Sales - Specially-commissioned "Irish Believe" pink t-shirts are on sale in the Hammes Bookstore and Varsity Shop on the Notre Dame campus. Proceeds from the sales of the t-shirt will go to breast cancer awareness and research.
Brittany and Becca's Class - During the fall semester, sophomores Brittany Mallory and Becca Bruszewski took a management class in Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business taught by Chuck Lennon, an Irish women's basketball season ticket holder, as well as Associate Vice President for University Relations and Executive Director of the Notre Dame Alumni Association. This class focused on ways to help promote and enhance the Pink Zone initiative on the Notre Dame campus and rolled out their ideas at the Dec. 7 Purdue game.
Pink Zone Challenge - The Irish women's basketball program has challenged some of the other top-drawing teams in the country to a friendly fund-raising competition to see which school can raise the most money for breast cancer awareness and research during the WBCA's designated Pink Zone games (Feb. 13-22, 2009). A total of 15 schools from among the top 20 in last year's final NCAA attendance rankings have committed for this inaugural challenge -- Baylor, Connecticut, Duke, LSU, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri State, New Mexico, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech and Vanderbilt. The school raising the most money during their specific Pink Zone game will earn the first-ever Pink Zone Challenge Trophy, to be commissioned by Notre Dame and awarded during the WBCA National Convention, to be held April 3-7, 2009, at the NCAA Women's Final Four in St. Louis.
Game Day (Sunday vs. DePaul) - The Irish have selected Sunday's game against DePaul as Notre Dame's Pink Zone game, presented by Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center. The Irish will take the court in white, pink and navy uniforms, specially-designed by the school's official athletics apparel provider, adidas. The first 2,000 fans in attendance will receive a free pink Irish t-shirt, compliments of Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, and pink pom-poms, balloons and posters will fill the crowd. In addition, breast cancer survivors will be recognized on the court during a special halftime ceremony. What's more, should Notre Dame sell out this game, the Irish will donate an additional $10,000 to the Pink Zone initiative.
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.
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 77-21 (.786) in February games, including a 44-4 (.917) mark at home.
In the 22-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-present), the Irish are 125-36 (.776) in the month of February, including a 66-10 (.868) 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).
Last year, Notre Dame continued its trend of winning records in February under McGraw, going 6-1 with only a 57-51 loss at No. 5/4 Rutgers on Feb. 19, 2008.
Four of Notre Dame's wins this season have come against AP Top 25 opponents, marking the first time in school history the Irish have registered four non-conference Top 25 victories in the regular season. The four ranked wins also currently represent nearly half of the BIG EAST's nine Top 25 wins during the 2008-09 non-conference schedule (no other league school has more than two Top 25 non-conference victories this season).
Closer Than You Think
All five of Notre Dame's losses this season have come by 12 points or fewer, and in four of them, the Irish either led in the second half, or had a chance to take the lead down the stretch.
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.
On Tuesday at No. 22/24 Pittsburgh, Notre Dame nearly erased a 13-point first-half deficit, trimming the margin to one point twice, and even had a chance to tie, but missed one of two free throws 4:45 into the second half before the Panthers finally drew clear down the stretch.
A Real Smart Al-Lech
Junior point guard and tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner had started only once in her first two seasons at Notre Dame, but the Mishawaka, Ind., native seems to be making up for lost time this year, while emerging as one of the most improved players in the BIG EAST Conference.
Lechlitner has more than doubled her scoring average from last year to 11.0 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 (13th, 3.4 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (ninth, 1.5). Her numbers are even better since BIG EAST play began, ranking 29th in the loop in scoring (11.1 ppg.), eighth in assist/turnover ratio (1.7) and assists (4.1 apg.) and 15th in three-point percentage (.375). Across the board, these averages are career highs, in some cases even doubling her previous bests.
Off the court, Lechlitner was 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
Freshman guard Natalie Novosel earned the nickname "nasty" for her gritty and competitive style of play at Lexington Catholic High School in Lexington, Ky., but it would seem that moniker is becoming approproiate for her budding career at Notre Dame as well.
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 12 outings, averaging 9.3 points per game in that stretch. She has been especially solid in BIG EAST play, when she ranks fourth on the team in scoring (9.4 ppg.) and seventh in the conference with a .582 field goal percentage.
A two-time BIG EAST Freshman of the Week, Novosel's progress was readily apparent on Jan. 27 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
Junior guard and tri-captain Ashley Barlow is closing in on becoming the 24th player in Notre Dame women's basketball history to score 1,000 career points. Barlow presently has 965 points in her two-plus seasons under the Golden Dome, and at her current season scoring pace of 11.9 ppg., she could reach the milestone on Feb. 17 at South Florida.
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 914 career points.
Using Her Charge Card
Junior center Erica Williamson has developed an uncanny knack for drawing charges despite her 6-foot-4 frame. The Charlotte, N.C., product has taken a team-high eight charges this season, nearly half of Notre Dame's team total of 19 to date.
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
After forcing an opponent-record 737 turnovers (21.7 per game) last season, Notre Dame is at it again this year, causing 431 turnovers (20.5 per game) through 21 games.
More than half of those turnovers have come via Irish steals, with Notre Dame registering 222 thefts (10.6 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
Notre Dame has used some impressive scoring streaks to take command in several games this season. In fact, the Irish have fashioned nine game-changing runs during which they have outscored their opponent by at least 12 points.
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.
Notre Dame is 18-8 (.692) in true road games during the past two seasons. In addition, the past six road losses for the Irish have been decided by 12 points or fewer, including all four setbacks this season.
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.
New Kids On The Block
It may not be exactly the way Irish head coach Muffet McGraw envisioned it prior to the season, but Notre Dame's freshman class has been getting some valuable on-the-job training this year.
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 16-5 record. Three of the four have scored in double figures at least twice (Novosel-7, Solomon-6, Watson-3), 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
Notre Dame has seen nine different players lead the team in scoring this season, with six of the Irish leading scorers registering a career-scoring high -- Becca Bruszewski at Boston College (18), Brittany Mallory vs. Georgia Southern (19), Kellie Watson vs. Michigan State (18), Melissa Lechlitner vs. Purdue (19), Erica Williamson vs. Georgetown (21) and Natalie Novosel vs. Rutgers (19). The other team-leading scorers this season have been junior guard Ashley Barlow, who has set the pace for the Irish six times, senior guard Lindsay Schrader, who has posted four team-high scoring games, and freshman forward Erica Solomon, who tossed in a team-high 14 points in Tuesday's loss at No. 22/24 Pittsburgh.
The only three players on this year's Irish roster who have not taken a turn leading the team in scoring thus far are injured sophomore forward Devereaux Peters (out for season with torn ACL in her left knee), freshman guard Fraderica Miller and walk-on junior guard Alena Christiansen, who was added to the Irish roster on Dec. 19.
The balanced scoring load has reappeared for the Irish in the past seven games, with seven different players leading the team in scoring (including different leaders in the past five contests) -- in order, they have been Williamson (Georgetown), Barlow/Lechlitner (Marquette), Lechlitner (St. John's), Barlow (Villanova), Novosel (Rutgers), Schrader (Cincinnati) and Bruszewski/Solomon (Pittsburgh).
For the season, 10 of the 12 players on Notre Dame roster have scored in double figures at least once, with Miller and Christiansen aiming to join that club.
More On The Balance Beam
Notre Dame is ranked among the top 50 in eight NCAA team statistical categories (as of Friday). Included in that count are No. 24 rankings in field goal percentage (.447) and scoring offense (72.8 ppg.).
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 27th in the nation in steals (2.8 spg.).
A Start We Can Believe In
Notre Dame's 14-1 start was the second-best 15-game debut in school history. The only time an Irish squad started better than this year's club was 2000-01, when Notre Dame opened the season with a school-record 23 consecutive wins en route to the program's first No. 1 ranking and eventually, its first national championship.
Notre Dame is ranked 19th in this week's Associated Press poll, dropping two spots from the last week's rank. Still, it is the 33rd consecutive AP poll appearance for the Irish, who moved into the Top 10 for the ninth time in the past 13 seasons (1996-97 through 2008-09) with their No. 8 ranking on Dec. 8.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 172 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 33rd consecutive ranking in this week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, dipping three spots to No. 16. 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 164 weeks during its history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 24 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 172 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
With the Irish trailing at No. 20/19 Vanderbilt, 36-24, at halftime on Dec. 30, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw calmly walked into the locker room and assured her team that they were about to pull off one of the greatest comebacks in school history. As it turned out, she was right on the money.
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 #21 Recap: Pittsburgh
Shavonte Zellous scored 29 points and No. 22/24 Pittsburgh beat No. 19/16 Notre Dame 82-70 on Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh.
Xenia Stewart and Taneisha Harrison scored 17 points and Shayla Scott added 11 points and a career-high 18 rebounds for the Panthers (17-4, 7-2 BIG EAST).
Pepper Wilson had 12 rebounds for Pittsburgh. Sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski and freshman forward Erica Solomon scored 14 points for Notre Dame (16-5, 5-4), which has lost four of its past six games.
Notre Dame, which never led, closed to 49-48 on Erica Williamson's basket five minutes into the second half. Zellous then scored eight points during a 14-6 Pitt run which put the Panthers ahead 63-54. The Irish got no closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Noting The Pittsburgh GameNotre Dame has dropped three of its last four series games vs. Pittsburgh after winning the first 16 matchups with the Panthers.
Pitt posted its highest point total in the 20-game series, while the Irish lost for the first time when scoring at least 65 points against the Panthers.
Notre Dame falls to 4-1 against Associated Press Top 25 opponents this season (2-1 on the road).
Pitt's 82 points were the most allowed by the Irish this year (previous: 78 by Rutgers on Jan. 27), as were the Panthers' .538 three-point percentage (previous: .500 by Rutgers on Jan. 27) and 48 rebounds (previous: twice, last by Rutgers on Jan. 27).
Notre Dame's nine turnovers were its second-lowest total of the season, exceeding only by the eight giveaways vs. Evansville on Nov. 19.
Notre Dame's 21 offensive rebounds tied for its second-highest mark of the season, one behind the 22 offensive boards collected at Eastern Michigan on Dec. 2.
Solomon became the ninth different Irish player to post team-high scoring honors at least once this season.
Bruszewski logged her second consecutive double-digit scoring night and fourth in six games (10th of the year after having six all of last season).
Bruszewski also recorded a new career-high three blocked shots (previously having had two blocks twice, the last vs. #24 Michigan State on Nov. 29, 2008), while playing a career-high-tying 30 minutes for the third time (second in as many games).
Peters, Mallory Out For Season
Sophomores Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory will miss the remainder of the 2008-09 season after each player suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee. Peters' injury occurred in the first half of Notre Dame's win at Boston College on Nov. 23. Meanwhile, Mallory went down in the opening minute of overtime on Dec. 10 at Michigan. Mallory underwent successful corrective surgery on Jan. 6, while Peters did the same on Friday, with both players now beginning their respective rehabilitation programs.
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
With the injuries to Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory, Notre Dame added junior walk-on guard Alena Christiansen to its roster on Dec. 19. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native has appeared in three games, averaging 1.0 points and 0.3 rebounds in 2.3 minutes per contest.
A supplemental biographical sketch on Christiansen can be found in the players' section of the PDF version of these game notes.
Half And Half
During the past nine seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 160-16 (.909) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 88 of their last 98 such contests.
This season, Notre Dame is 14-2 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.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 14 seasons (1995-96 to present), 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 192-13 (.937) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game.
Notre Dame is 8-1 in such games this season, with wins over LSU, Boston College, Georgia Southern, Purdue, Valparaiso, Loyola-Chicago, Vanderbilt and Cincinnati. The lone loss came Jan. 24 at Villanova (55-48).
...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 14 seasons (since 1995-96), the Irish are 121-4 (.968) 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 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
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 170 of their last 192 games (.885) at the 11,418-seat Joyce Center, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span. Notre Dame also has a 96-16 (.857) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the 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 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 320-83 (.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.
The Dec. 7 home game vs. No. 17/20 Purdue was sold out, representing the sixth women's basketball sellout (11,418 capacity) in school history and the third in the past two seasons. It also was the first time in the 22-game series between the Irish and Boilermakers that an on-campus game sold out.
On Jan. 27, 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 Sunday's 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
On Aug. 27, 2008, 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 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.
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
Notre Dame will have at least 20 regular-season games televised during the upcoming 2008-09 season. Highlighting this year's broadcast schedule are eight nationally-televised Irish women's basketball contests, including five games on the ESPN family of networks (including Sunday's Pink Zone home game against DePaul, which will air on ESPNU) and three others on CBS College Sports.
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 130 televised games, including 80 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Senior guard Lindsay Schrader and junior guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner are team captains for the 2008-09 season. All three players are serving as captains for the first time in their careers, and each received the captain's honor following a vote of their teammates prior to the season.
ND To Host NCAA Tourney Games in 2009
Notre Dame's Joyce Center will serve as one of 16 host sites for first- and second-round games in this year's NCAA Championship on March 22 & 24.
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 NCAA announced the details for the 2009 Pinnacle of Fitness challenge program which will energize middle school age children in nine cities across the United States and allow them to compete for a chance to win the national title in St. Louis during the week of the 2009 NCAA Women's Final Four.
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 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.
Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
After a wildly-successful debut last season, Notre Dame is bringing back its "Big Mac" promotion for 2008-09, 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.
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
On Sept. 13, 2008, groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Purcell Pavilion, including the Joyce Center arena addition and renovation, were held to kick off the first phase of the two-year project to upgrade the home for Notre Dame basketball and volleyball.
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:New, blue chair-back seating from top to bottom of the arena, including all-new upper-arena sections. All seating will be replaced in the lower bowl (including platform seats), and the wooden bleachers in the upper bowl will be removed and replaced with treads and risers and permanent arena seats. The exchange of the bleacher sections for chair back seats will change the capacity from the current 11,418 to approximately 9,800.
A stadium club/hospitality area (approximately 16,500 square feet) in the south end of the arena, with a separate, private entry and with premium club seating for nearly 800 fans (that figure is part of the projected 9,800 capacity). Included in this area will be food service and restroom facilities.
New fixed concession areas, increased numbers of women's restrooms and increased handicapped seating options.
The interior seating changes provide an opportunity to consider new options for student seating. Students currently sit in both lower- and upper-arena sections behind the basket on the east end of the arena.
Next Game: Louisville
The Irish will be right back home Wednesday night for their third consecutive game against a Top 25 opponent, as they welcome No. 5/10 Louisville to the Joyce Center for a 7 p.m. (ET) tipoff.
The Cardinals (21-2, 8-1) have won 16 of their last 17 games coming into Saturday's home game vs. West Virginia and sit just one-half game behind Connecticut in the BIG EAST standings.
-- ND --