Feb. 16, 2009
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2008-09 ND Women's Basketball: Game 24
#24/22 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-6 / 6-5 BIG EAST) vs. South Florida Bulls (18-7 / 5-6 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 17, 2009
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Tampa, Fla. - Sun Dome (10,411)
SERIES: ND leads 4-2
1ST MTG: ND 73-50 (12/13/97)
LAST MTG: ND 92-49 (2/27/08)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: GoUSFBulls.com
TEXT ALERT: UND.com
TICKETS: (800) 462-8557
StorylinesNotre Dame and USF are among the BIG EAST leaders in steals, with the Bulls in the top spot (12.3 spg.) and the Irish ranking third (10.5 spg.).
Notre Dame is 13-3 all-time when playing in the state of Florida, with all three losses coming by two points or less or in overtime.
No. 24/22 Irish Head To South Florida Tuesday Night
With the middle of the current BIG EAST standings looking more congested than Turn 4 at the recently-completed Daytona 500, No. 24/22 Notre Dame aims to break out of the pack Tuesday night when it travels to South Florida for a 7 p.m. (ET) game at the Sun Dome in Tampa.
The Irish (17-6, 6-5) will be playing for the first time in six days, following a hard-fought 71-66 loss to No. 10/12 Louisville on Feb. 11 at the Joyce Center. Notre Dame battled back from a 14-point second-half deficit to get within one possession three times in the final two minutes, but the Cardinals hung on for the win.
Sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski continued her recent resurgence, matching her career high with 18 points, while freshman guard Natalie Novosel provided a spark off the bench with 17 points, and junior guard Ashley Barlow chipped in 16 points and eight rebounds.
RankingsNotre Dame is ranked 24th in this week's Associated Press poll and was 22nd in last week's ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
South Florida is not ranked.
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 309 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 7,512 fans for its 11 home games. The Irish also have drawn 5,000-or-more fans to 121 of their last 123 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 South Florida
Behind a high-octane offense that ranks among the nation's best (80.4 ppg.), South Florida has positioned itself to return to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four seasons.
The Bulls (18-7, 5-6) have won three of their last four and are coming off an 80-51 victory over Seton Hall last Saturday night in Tampa. Junior guard Janae Stokes led four USF players in double figures with a game-high 20 points, hitting 6-of-10 from three-point range.
Senior guard Shantia Grace averages team highs of 14.7 points and 4.3 assists per game, while Stokes is second in scoring (13.2 ppg.) and tops in three-point percentage (.406). Senior guard Jazmine Sepulveda is third in scoring (12.0 ppg.) along with a team-high 2.9 steals per game.
Head coach Jose Fernandez is 134-130 (.508) in nine seasons at USF, including a 2-2 record against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-South Florida Series
Notre Dame and South Florida will meet for the seventh time on Tuesday, with the Irish holding a 4-2 series edge on the Bulls (1-1 in Tampa). USF has won two of three regular-season matchups since joining the BIG EAST in 2005-06, while the Irish downed the Bulls in the first round of the 2006 BIG EAST Championship.
The Last Time ND And South Florida Met
After losing in overtime to South Florida the previous two seasons, No. 14 Notre Dame took all the drama out of its latest game with USF early.
The Fighting Irish used a 27-5 run in the first half to gain control and continued to pull away throughout to beat the Bulls 92-49 on Feb. 27, 2008, at the Joyce Center.
Notre Dame outrebounded South Florida 29-14, outscored them 28-2 in the paint, outshot them 47 percent to 23 percent and forced 14 turnovers.
Lindsay Schrader led the Irish with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Brittany Mallory had 14 points, making 4-of-5 three-pointers, Charel Allen also added 14 and Melissa Lechlitner had 12 points. Melissa D'Amico finished with 10 points for Notre Dame.
Shantia Grace led the Bulls with 15 points and Melissa Dalembert added 10 points. South Florida shot 34 percent and had 23 turnovers, leading to 28 points for the Irish. Notre Dame's reserves outscored South Florida's 38-8.
The Last Time ND And South Florida Met In Tampa
Erica Williamson recorded her first career double-double with 11 points and a career-high 18 rebounds, but it wasn't quite enough as South Florida finally wore down Notre Dame in overtime and pulled out an 87-78 win on Jan. 13, 2007, at the Sun Dome in Tampa.
Williamson's 18 rebounds were a Notre Dame freshman record, as well as the most by any Irish player in nearly four years, and just two off the BIG EAST record for rebounds by a rookie in a conference game.
Williamson was one of five Notre Dame players in double figures, as Melissa D'Amico set the pace with 13 points and seven rebounds, while Ashley Barlow collected 12 points and nine rebounds. Melissa Lechlitner tied her (then) career high with 11 points, including the game-tying three-pointer with 11 seconds left in regulation, while Charel Allen also scored 11 points.
South Florida was led by All-America forward Jessica Dickson, who scored 30 points (making 14-of-18 free throws) and grabbed 11 rebounds. Nalini Miller added a career-high 26 points and 14 rebounds and Daiane Packer came off the bench to chip in 11 points for the Bulls.
Other ND-South Florida Series TidbitsFor the most part, the four series games played since USF joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06 have been wildly entertaining, with two of the three regular season contests going to overtime (both won by the Bulls) and the 2006 BIG EAST Championship first-round matchup going to the Irish by seven points.
Notre Dame has scored at least 70 points in five of the six series matchups to date, while USF reached that mark for the first time in 2007 (an 87-78 overtime win for the Bulls in Tampa).
That 2007 game at the Sun Dome (Notre Dame's most recent visit to Tampa) featured three entries into the Notre Dame record book -- team fouls (33), opponent free throw attempts (45) and rebounds by a freshman (18 by Erica Williamson).
The 2007 contest in Tampa also saw three Notre Dame foul out of a game for the first time since Dec. 28, 2000 (a 70-61 win at USC where Ruth Riley, Niele Ivey and Kelley Siemon all were disqualified).
Notre Dame senior guard Lindsay Schrader (Bartlett, Ill./Bartlett HS) and USF senior guard Shantia Grace (Sarasota, Fla./Riverview HS) were the 2005 Gatorade High School Players of the Year in their respective states.
Notre Dame has had eight Florida natives suit up in the program's 32-year history. The most recent Sunshine State product to don the Irish colors joined the roster on Dec. 19, when junior walk-on guard Alena Christiansen (Fort Lauderdale/Cardinal Gibbons HS) came aboard.
Vincent J. Naimoli, the managing general partner and chief executive officer of the 2008 American League champion Tampa Bay Rays, is a 1959 Notre Dame graduate and, in 2007, he and his family donated $5 million towards the Joyce Center arena renovation project, with the new Purcell Pavilion club/hospitality area (and two outdoor patios) to be named the Naimoli Family Club Room when it debuts next season.
Sunshine State Success
Notre Dame is 20-5 (.800) all-time against Florida-based schools, including a 12-2 (.857) record against Sunshine State teams away from home (road/neutral combined), and a 10-2 (.833) mark on their opponent's home court.
The only true road losses the Irish have taken in the state of Florida came on Feb. 3, 1998, at Miami (77-76 on Octavia Blue's free throw after time expired) and Jan. 13, 2007, at South Florida (87-78 in overtime).
Notre Dame also is 13-3 (.813) when playing in the state of Florida, regardless of the opposition, with the only other loss coming to James Madison, 53-51, on Jan. 3, 1986 at Miami's Burger King Classic in Coral Gables (JMU won on a three-point play with four seconds left).
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 78-22 (.780) in February games, including a 45-5 (.900) mark at home.
In the 22-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-present), the Irish are 126-37 (.773) in the month of February, including a 67-11 (.859) 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.
Notre Dame is 5-2 against Associated Press Top 25 opponents this season, with four of those victories coming against non-conference opponents. That marks 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 six of Notre Dame's losses this season have come by 12 points or fewer, and in five 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 Feb. 3 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.
On Feb. 11 vs. No. 10/12 Louisville, the Irish used a 12-2 second-half run to virtually wipe out a 14-point Cardinal lead, getting within 63-61 with 1:49 left before Louisville earned a three-shot foul with one second on the shot clock on the ensuing possession (and hit all three free throws). Notre Dame got back within three twice more in the final minute, but the Cardinals made a basket and three free throws to keep the Irish at bay.
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 nearly doubled her scoring average from last year to 10.8 points per game, with 12 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 (12th, 3.4 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (eighth, 1.5). Her numbers are even better since BIG EAST play began, ranking sixth in both assists (4.1 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (1.7). 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.
One Killer B
Sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski is making the most of her first season as a starter for the Irish, ranking fourth on the team in scoring (9.9 ppg.) and rebounding (4.7 rpg.), and standing second in field goal percentage (.505, also 10th in the BIG EAST Conference). The Valparaiso, Ind., native has nearly doubled last year's scoring (5.0 ppg.) and rebounding (2.5 rpg.) averages, while adding a reliable three-point shot to her arsenal (.375, 12-of-32) after making 1-of-2 from beyond the arc last season.
Bruszewski has been especially sharp in the past four games, averaging 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game with a .529 field goal percentage (27-of-51). After her first career double-double (14 points, career-high 12 rebounds) on Feb. 8 in a win over No. 25 DePaul, she came back last Wednesday with a career-high-tying 18 points (7-13 FG, 2-3 3FG) against No. 10/12 Louisville, including a layup with 1:49 left that pulled the Irish within two points.
Barlow's Grand Occasion
With 16 points against No. 10/12 Louisville on Feb. 11, junior guard and tri-captain Ashley Barlow became the 24th player in Notre Dame women's basketball history to score 1,000 career points. Barlow hit the milestone on the nose by making two free throws with 37 seconds left that drew the Irish within three points.
Barlow is 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 928 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 10 charges this season, nearly half of Notre Dame's team total of 22 to date.
This is the first season the Irish have tracked charges taken (which are an unofficial statistic and not recognized by the NCAA), although it is believed Williamson drew at least a dozen offensive fouls last year.
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 seven double-digit games in her last 14 outings, averaging 9.4 points per game in that stretch. She has been solid in BIG EAST play as well, where she ranks fifth on the team in scoring (9.5 ppg.) and sixth in the conference with a .571 field goal percentage.
A two-time BIG EAST Freshman of the Week, Novosel's progress was readily apparent in her last outing on Feb. 11 vs. No. 10/12 Louisville, when she tossed in 17 points (7-11 FG) and tied her season highs with four assists and four steals in 26 minutes of court time.
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 466 turnovers (20.3 per game) through 23 games.
More than half of those turnovers have come via Irish steals, with Notre Dame registering 241 thefts (10.5 per game, third in the BIG EAST) after leading the 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 was 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 17-6 record. Three of the four have scored in double figures at least three times (Novosel-8, 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 15 minutes per night, while the speedy Miller has emerged as Notre Dame's go-to defensive stopper, averaging one steal per game in her 15 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/vs. Louisville (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 on Feb. 3 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 nine games, with seven different players leading the team in scoring -- in order, they have been Williamson (Georgetown), Barlow/Lechlitner (Marquette), Lechlitner (St. John's), Barlow (Villanova), Novosel (Rutgers), Schrader (Cincinnati), Bruszewski/Solomon (Pittsburgh), Barlow (DePaul) and Bruszewski (Louisville).
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 was ranked among the top 50 in eight NCAA team statistical categories (as of Friday). Included in that count are a No. 28 ranking in scoring offense (72.0 ppg.) and a No. 29 ranking in field goal percentage (.440).
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 33rd in the nation in steals (2.7 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 24th in this week's Associated Press poll, dropping two spots from the previous week's rank. Still, it is the 35th 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 175 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 34th consecutive ranking in last week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, dipping six spots to No. 22. 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 165 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 175 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 #23 Recap: Louisville
No. 22 Notre Dame was a second away from forcing 10th-ranked Louisville into a big turnover. Angel McCoughtry made sure it didn't happen.
After Notre Dame used a 6-0 run to close within two points with less than two minutes left, there was one second left on the shot clock when McCoughtry threw up a hurried 3-pointer. She missed, but Melissa Lechlitner was called for the foul. McCoughtry hit all three free throws and the Cardinals hung on for a 71-66 victory on Wednesday night at the Joyce Center.
McCoughtry, who started the game making just 2-of-11 shots for four points in the first half, finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and eight steals. Candyce Bingham added 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Becca Bruszewski led Notre Dame (17-6, 6-5) with 18 points to tie her career high, Natalie Novosel had 17 and Ashley Barlow added 16 points and eight rebounds.
Notre Dame, which trailed by 10 at halftime, opened the second half on an 11-4 run, closing to 42-41 on a layup by Barlow with 14:52 left. The Cardinals quickly regained control, though, with a 13-0 run. McCoughtry had a pair of steals for easy layups during the run.
The Irish, though, made a game of it, getting within 63-61 on Bruszewski's basket with 1:49 remaining before McCoughtry's game-changing free throws sealed matters for the visitors.
Noting The Louisville GameNotre Dame was playing its third consecutive Associated Press Top 25 opponent, the first time the Irish have faced such a challenging stretch in the regular season since the 1996 Preseason WNIT (Nov. 17-20), when Notre Dame took on #6 Iowa (W, 61-50), #3 Tennessee (L, 72-59) and #8 North Carolina State (W, 64-53).
The Irish are 5-2 against ranked opponents this season (3-1 at home).
The last three times Notre Dame has played an AP Top 10 opponent, it has lost by 10 points or fewer (57-51 at #5 Rutgers on Feb. 19, 2008; 74-64 vs. #3 Tennessee in NCAA Oklahoma City Regional Semifinal on March 30, 2008).
Louisville regains a 4-3 series lead on Notre Dame (2-1 at the Joyce Center), while the road team continues to hold the upper hand, winning four of the six on-campus games in the series to date.
The seven-game aggregate point total in the series is virtually even, with the Irish edging the Cardinals, 460-459.
Six of the seven series games have been decided by 11 points or fewer, including all four since Louisville joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06 (series tied 2-2 in BIG EAST play).
Barlow became the 24th player in school history to score 1,000 career points, reaching the milestone exactly with her final two points of the evening (a pair of free throws with 37 seconds remaining that pulled the Irish within 66-63).
Bruszewski tied her career high with 18 points, matching the totals she had against Evansville (Nov. 19 at the Joyce Center) and at Boston College (Nov. 23).
Bruszewski has scored in double figures in four consecutive games and six times in the past eight contests, after posting six double-digit point games all of last season.
For the third time this season, Novosel tied her season highs with four steals (last: at Marquette on Jan. 13) and four assists (last: at Eastern Michigan on Dec. 2), while matching her 7-of-11 shooting performance vs. Rutgers on Jan. 27.
Novosel scored at least 17 points for the fourth time this season and logged her eighth double-figure scoring night of the year.
Junior center Erica Williamson had two blocked shots and moves into sole possession of 10th place on the Notre Dame career blocks chart with 95, passing Heidi Bunek (93 from 1985-89) and pulling within two blocks of former teammate Melissa D'Amico (97 from 2004-08) for ninth place.
McCoughtry tied the Joyce Center opponent record for steals in a game previously set by Detroit's Amira Danforth on Jan. 29, 1994.
For the first time this season, Notre Dame took the floor in their alternate home white uniforms with green trim.
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 Feb. 6, 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 four games, averaging 0.8 points and 0.3 rebounds in 2.0 minutes per contest.
Half And Half
During the past nine seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 161-16 (.910) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 89 of their last 99 such contests.
This season, Notre Dame is 15-2 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 193-13 (.937) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game.
Notre Dame is 9-1 in such games this season, with wins over LSU, Boston College, Georgia Southern, Purdue, Valparaiso, Loyola-Chicago, Vanderbilt, Cincinnati and DePaul (second game). 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 171 of their last 194 games (.881) at the 11,418-seat Joyce Center, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span. Notre Dame also has a 97-17 (.851) 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 321-84 (.793) 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.
The Feb. 8 WBCA Pink Zone game vs. No. 25 DePaul attracted 10,011 fans, making it the ninth-largest crowd in school history and a record-tying third gathering of 10,000 fans or more this season (matching last year's record).
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 this coming Sunday's game at Connecticut, 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 132 televised games, including 82 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.
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 (Feb. 8 vs. DePaul) - the 62-59 win over DePaul on Feb. 8 was designated as Notre Dame's Pink Zone game, presented by Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center. The Irish sported white, pink and navy uniforms, specially-designed by the school's official athletics apparel provider, adidas, while the first 2,000 fans in attendance received a free pink Irish t-shirt, compliments of Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, and pink pom-poms, balloons and posters filled the crowd. In addition, breast cancer survivors were recognized on the court during a special halftime ceremony. What's more, as a show of thanks for the near-capacity crowd of 10,011 fans in attendance, the Irish women's basketball program donated an additional $5,000 to the Pink Zone initiative.
Proceeds from all of Notre Dame's Pink Zone events this season (which currently have topped $40,000, with more to come) will go to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund, as well as three local charities -- Women's Task Force, Young Survivors Group and Secret Sisters Society. For more information on the WBCA's Pink Zone initiative, log on to the WBCA's official web site at www.wbca.org.
ND To Host NCAA Tourney Games in 2009
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: Connecticut
Notre Dame continues its two-game road swing this week with a Sunday matinee at No. 1 Connecticut. The Irish and Huskies will tangle at 2 p.m. (ET) at the XL Center in Hartford, with the game to be televised live on ESPNU.
Connecticut (25-0, 11-0) remains the nation's lone unbeaten squad following a 95-42 win over No. 19/23 Pittsburgh this past Sunday in Storrs, Conn. The Huskies will visit Providence Wednesday night before returning home to face the Irish.
-- ND --