2007-08 ND Women's Basketball: Game 26
#14/16 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (20-5 / 8-3 BIG EAST) vs. #5/4 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (20-4 / 10-1 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 19, 2008 TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET AT: Piscataway, N.J.
Louis Brown Ath. Ctr. (8,000) SERIES: RU leads 14-9 1ST MTG: 11/27/82 (RU 81-74) LAST MTG: 2/24/07 (RU 76-60) RADIO: ESPN Radio 1490 AM
Sean Stires, p-b-p TV: CSTV (live)
Greg Amsinger, p-b-p
Debbie Antonelli, color LIVE STATS: UND.com TICKETS: (866) 445-4678
For the fourth time this season, Notre Dame takes on a Top 5 opponent.
The Irish will face their third ranked opponent in the past four games, and fifth in eight games.
With little time to savor an important road win over a ranked opponent, No. 14 Notre Dame has another significant challenge on its hands when it travels to fifth-ranked Rutgers Tuesday for an 8 p.m. (ET) BIG EAST matchup at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience by CSTV, marking the fourth time the Irish have appeared on that network this season.
Notre Dame (20-5, 8-3 BIG EAST) reached the 20-win plateau for the 14th time in the past 15 seasons with a 79-67 victory at No. 21/23 Syracuse last Saturday night. The Irish closed the game on a 15-3 run to break away from the much-improved Orange and take the win.
Senior guard Charel Allen collected her first double-double of the season with 22 points and a season-high 12 rebounds for Notre Dame. Sophomore center Erica Williamson also posted a double-double, finishing with 14 points and a season-best 11 rebounds.
Notre Dame is ranked 14th in this week's Associated Press poll and was 16th in last week's ESPN/USA Today poll.
Rutgers is ranked fifth in this week's Associated Press poll and was fourth in last week's ESPN/USA Today poll.
Setting The Standard
Under the guidance of 21st-year head coach Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame has evolved into one of the country's leading women's basketball powers. The Irish have appeared in 14 NCAA Tournaments (including a current streak of 12 in a row) and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 six times in the past 11 years. Notre Dame also has reached the NCAA Women's Final Four twice, winning college basketball's ultimate prize with the 2001 national championship.
In its history, Notre Dame has developed nine All-Americans, nine WNBA players (including six draft picks in the past seven years) and four USA Basketball veterans (nine medals won). Now in their 31st season in 2007-08, the Irish own an all-time record of 633-283 (.691).
A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Behind a high-octane offense and an aggressive defense, Notre Dame has been a fixture in the national polls this season. The Irish have been ranked every week (except for the preseason ESPN/USA Today poll) and have appeared in the top 20 for the past 12 weeks, rising as high as 14th on three occasions (including this week's AP poll).
Notre Dame also ranks in the top 20 in seven NCAA statistical categories (as of last Friday), including scoring offense (5th, 79.6 ppg.), scoring margin (8th, +18.3 ppg.) and assist/turnover ratio (10th, 1.12), with nearly half its wins by 30 points. The Irish also rank second in the BIG EAST (14th nationally) in steals (12.08 spg.) and have forced 20 turnovers on 16 occasions.
Senior guard Charel Allen, a first-team all-BIG EAST and honorable mention All-America pick last year, is setting the pace for a balanced Notre Dame attack, averaging a team-high 14.2 points per game (17th in BIG EAST) and owning the team lead with 50 steals (8th in BIG EAST). She also has scored in double figures 21 times in 25 games, including 12 of her last 13.
Sophomore guard Ashley Barlow has built upon last year's BIG EAST All-Freshman Team selection, ranking second on the team in scoring (12.3 ppg.) and standing right behind Allen with 48 steals. She also boasts a team-high .324 three-point percentage and is 28th in the country with an .840 free throw percentage.
Junior guard Lindsay Schrader continues to work her way back to peak form after missing last year with a torn ACL in her right knee. Schrader is third on the squad in scoring (10.7 ppg.) and tops in rebounding (5.8 rpg.) as one of the cornerstones of Notre Dame's unique Princeton-based four-guard lineup.
While Schrader is back from her ACL injury, freshman forward Devereaux Peters had her season end early with a torn ACL in her left knee, suffered Feb. 10 vs. Pittsburgh. Peters provided a strong spark off the bench, averaging 9.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. She also scored in double figures 14 times, including a season-high 15 points vs. Villanova and her first career double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds) against top-ranked Connecticut.
Potent Notables About The Irish
Notre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past 12 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking seventh with 287 victories in that span.
Notre Dame's incoming class of 2008 (next year's freshmen) has an average ranking of 15th (peaking at No. 8 by Dan Olsen Collegiate Girls Basketball Report), marking the 12th consecutive season that the Irish attracted a Top 25 recruiting class. Notre Dame is one of only three schools (along with Connecticut and Tennessee) to have an active streak of that length.
Notre Dame ranked ninth in the Feb. 11 unofficial national attendance rankings (compiled by the Wisconsin Sports Information Office), averaging 7,090 fans to its 14 home games this season (including three of the top six crowds in school history). The Irish also have attracted 5,000-or-more fans to 108 of their last 110 home games, including five Joyce Center sellouts of 11,418 (most recently on Jan. 27, 2008 vs. Connecticut). Last season, Notre Dame ranked 10th nationally in attendance (6,364 fans per game), marking the seventh consecutive year the Irish were among the national top 20 in attendance.
The Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as six Notre Dame players have been selected in the past seven seasons. Megan Duffy was the most recent Irish player to be chosen, going to the Minnesota Lynx in the third round (31st overall pick) of the 2006 WNBA Draft. Duffy and Ruth Riley (San Antonio) both were active in the league during the 2007 season, with Riley making her sixth playoff appearance (on her third different team) in a solid seven-year pro career. All told, seven Notre Dame alums have competed in WNBA regular-season play, with three of them combining to win 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.
Notre Dame has been an elite program in the classroom as well. For the second year in a row, the Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October 2007. Notre Dame was one of 23 Division I-A programs to achieve this distinction, and one of only two BIG EAST schools (Syracuse was the other). 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 perfect 53-for-53 success rate).
A Quick Look At Rutgers
After a magical run to the NCAA title game last season, Rutgers is back for more this year and looks to have all the pieces to make that happen. The Scarlet Knights have been a fixture in the top five of the national polls this season, and came within an eyelash (or an itchy trigger finger by Tennessee's timekeeper) from becoming the first team ever to defeat AP top-ranked teams in consecutive games.
RU (20-4, 10-1) bounced back from that loss at Tennessee in impressive fashion last Saturday night, rolling to a 71-50 win at South Florida. The Scarlet Knights shot .619 from the field and never trailed en route to the win. Senior guard Matee Ajavon led Rutgers with 14 points, while sophomores Epiphanny Prince and Myia McCurdy each added 10 points.
Prince leads the Knights in scoring this season (14.2 ppg) and is second in rebounding (5.6 rpg), while Ajavon is second in scoring (12.5 ppg) and adds a team-high 4.5 assists per game.
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer is in her 13th season at Rutgers with a 277-129 (.682) record. In her legendary 37-year career, she has a 797-264 (.751) record that includes an 11-9 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Rutgers Series
One of the BIG EAST's better rivalries resumes Tuesday when Notre Dame and Rutgers meet for 24th time on the hardwood. The Scarlet Knights lead the series, 14-9, and have won six of the past seven meetings with the Irish, including three in a row (matching the longest win streak by either side).
RU also is 8-3 all-time against Notre Dame at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, and has won three consecutive matchups in Piscataway since the last time the Irish won there more than six years ago (57-52 on Feb. 16, 2002).
The Last Time Notre Dame And Rutgers Met
Matee Ajavon scored a season-high 26 points, including 15 in a row for Rutgers in the second half, and the No. 21/22 Scarlet Knights beat Notre Dame 76-60 on Feb. 24, 2007, at the Joyce Center.
Essence Carson added 17 points for the Rutgers (19-7, 12-3 BIG EAST), while Notre Dame, which had four double-figure scorers in its previous five games, had two vs. RU. Charel Allen had 20 points on 7-of-18 shooting and a team-high seven rebounds, while Tulyah Gaines had 10 points.
Rutgers led 29-28 at the half before Ajavon took charge. The guard scored 20 points in the second half and her two free throws with 6:18 left put the Scarlet Knights ahead 60-47.
Ajavon finished 8-of-13 from the field, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range. As a team, Rutgers was 4-of-5 from long distance in the second half after going 3-of-8 in the first half. The Knights also scored 21 points off 16 turnovers by the Irish.
Kia Vaughn added 13 points and 10 rebounds for Rutgers, and Epiphanny Prince had 10 points.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Rutgers Met In Piscataway
Matee Ajavon scored a season-high 28 points and No. 10/9 Rutgers held No. 21 Notre Dame to one point over the game's first 11 minutes in a 69-43 victory on Jan. 24, 2006, at the Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J.
Cappie Pondexter had 20 for Rutgers, including 14 in the second half when she and Ajavon led a 32-6 run that put away the Irish. Notre Dame had clawed back from a 20-1 deficit to trail by eight points at halftime.
Notre Dame made it 28-24 early in the second half on a three-pointer by Breona Gray before Ajavon and Pondexter combined for 23 of RU's 32 points over the next eight minutes. Rutgers' suffocating defensive pressure also forced 22 turnovers that led to 35 points.
Considering the way the Irish began the game, the fact they trailed only 26-18 at halftime had to be considered quite a feat. After Crystal Erwin's free throw 18 seconds into the game, they didn't score again until Megan Duffy hit a three-pointer with 8:42 left.
During that stretch, Ajavon got the Scarlet Knights going with consecutive three-pointers. Two jumpers by Michelle Campbell gave them a 14-1 lead, and six straight points by Pondexter made it 20-1 with 9:26 left.
The Irish scored the next 13 points, starting with the three-pointer by Duffy and ending with a putback by Gray. Ajavon then scored on a three-point play and hit a three-pointer to extend the lead back to double digits. Duffy finished with 10 points for Notre Dame.
Other Notre Dame-Rutgers Series Tidbits
The series is nearly evenly split (RU leads 11-9) since Notre Dame and Rutgers joined the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96.
Both teams are known for their defense, so it should come as no surprise that Rutgers' 76 points last season marked the first time either side cracked 70 points in a regulation game since a 77-57 RU win on Feb. 13, 1999, in Piscataway.
Nearly half (10) of the 23 series matchups between Notre Dame and Rutgers have been decided by single-digit margins, including two overtime contests (both in 2000). However, no series game has seen a single-digit finish since March 7, 2004, when RU rallied for a 51-45 win in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Championship at Hartford, Conn.
Notre Dame sophomore guard Ashley Barlow and RU sophomore guard Epiphanny Prince also were named to the 2006 Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) High School All-America Team and subsequently played in the WBCA High School All-America Game in Boston. Barlow and Prince were teammates on the White Team, which lost 68-61.
Notre Dame freshman forward Devereaux Peters and Rutgers freshman guard Khadijah Rushdan both played in the 2007 McDonald's High School All-America Game in Louisville. Peters had one point, five rebounds and two blocks as a reserve for the West squad, while Rushdan came off the bench to tally four points, eight rebounds and four assists for the East team, which earned a 105-76 victory. In a cruel and ironic twists, both players are out for this season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) -- Peters in her left knee on Feb. 10 vs. Pittsburgh and Rushdan in her right knee on Dec. 30 vs. Temple.
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw and Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer both rank among the 20 winningest coaches in NCAA Division I history, with a combined total of more than 1,350 victories in their illustrious careers.
Allen Named To BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll
For the second time this season, senior guard Charel Allen has earned a place on the BIG EAST Conference Weekly Honor Roll. The Monessen, Pa., native made this week's squad after averaging 17.5 points and 8.0 rebounds with a .609 field goal percentage (14-of-23) in wins over Marquette and Syracuse. In the latter game, Allen posted her first double-double of the year (and fourth of her career) with 22 points and a season-high 12 rebounds.
A returning first-team all-BIG EAST pick and WBCA honorable mention All-America selection, Allen now has made the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll six times in her career, in addition to twice being named the conference Player of the Week.
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 75-19 (.798) in February games, including a 43-4 (.915) mark at home.
In the 21-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-present), the Irish are 123-34 (.783) in the month of February, including a 65-10 (.867) 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 went 6-2 in February, winning its first six before ending with losses to No. 21/22 Rutgers (76-60 at home) and DePaul (87-73 on the road).
Notre Dame is peppered throughout the latest NCAA statistical rankings (as of last Friday). The Irish among the top 20 in the nation in seven categories, led by a No. 5 ranking for scoring offense (currently 79.6) and a No. 8 ranking for scoring margin (+18.3). Notre Dame also is 10th in assist/turnover ratio (1.12), 12th in field goal percentage (.465), 14th in steals per game (12.1), 18th in free throw percentage (.760) and 19th in fewest turnovers per game (14.5).
A full recap of Notre Dame's positions on the NCAA statistics charts (and its relation to the national leaders) can be found on page 11 of this notes package. The latest NCAA statistics report was scheduled for release late Monday afternoon.
Nearly half (9) of Notre Dame's 20 wins this season have come by at least 30 points, while the Irish have held 30-point leads late in the second half against Western Kentucky, Richmond and Marquette. This marks the first time in school history that Notre Dame has fashioned nine 30-point wins in its first 25 games.
It's also the first time since the 2000-01 national championship season that the Irish have logged at least nine 30-point wins in a single season. That year, Notre Dame collected a school-record 10 30-point victories, but only seven of those came in the first 25 games.
What's more, the Irish had a streak of four consecutive 30-point wins from Nov. 20-Dec. 2. The last time Notre Dame did that was Jan. 20-30, 1999, when the Irish had four straight 30-point victories, all during BIG EAST Conference play -- at Seton Hall (87-47), home vs. St. John's (99-60), at Syracuse (94-61) and at Providence (97-59).
Put A Tiger In Your Tank
Less than two seasons after posting the program's lowest scoring output (64.5 ppg) since 1980-81 (its first as a Division I program), Notre Dame has reversed that trend in a big way.
The Irish currently rank third in the BIG EAST Conference in scoring (and fifth in the nation as of last Friday) at 79.6 points per game, having tallied at least 80 points 14 times this season. What's more, Notre Dame also has the third-highest scoring average through 25 games in program history, and highest since the 1998-99 squad averaged 82.9 points at this juncture on the way to the single-season school scoring record (81.0).
What's more, Notre Dame has scored at least 90 points six times this season. That's the most 90-point games for the Irish in one year since 1998-99, when they tied the school record with seven 90-point games. In fact, during the six seasons prior to the current one (2001-02 through 2006-07), Notre Dame had a combined total of four 90-point games.
Notre Dame also ranks second in the conference (and ninth in the nation) in scoring margin at +18.3 points per game.
McGraw's Shock Troops
During his coaching tenure with the Notre Dame football team in the 1920s, Knute Rockne was at the forefront of the two-platoon system, using his "shock troops" -- a full team of second stringers -- at the start of most games.
While Irish women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw may not quite be following Rockne's philosophy to the letter, she could easily rotate in much of her second unit and not see much decline in productivity. In fact, Notre Dame's bench is averaging 30.3 points per game (compared to 49.3 ppg. by the starters) and has outscored all 25 opponent benches this season by an average of +15.5 points per night.
Prior to her season-ending knee injury on Feb. 10 vs. Pittsburgh, freshman forward Devereaux Peters was leading the way for this year's Irish "shock troops". The Chicago native averaged 9.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.96 blocks per game (third in BIG EAST and 44th in the nation) with a .522 field goal percentage (ninth in the conference). Peters came off the bench in 21 of 23 games this year, piling up a season-high 15 points and seven steals vs. Villanova before collecting her first career double-double (10 points, season-high 12 rebounds) on Jan. 27 against top-ranked Connecticut.
Last year's Irish rookie class (aka the "BMW" trio of guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner and center Erica Williamson) became the first threesome from one school ever to be named to the BIG EAST Conference All-Freshman Team in the same season. Following on the heels of that success, Notre Dame has a new freshman trio that is aiming to make an early splash at the college level -- the "BBD" lineup of guard Brittany Mallory and forwards Becca Bruszewski and Devereaux Peters.
All three Irish rookies have done their part to help Notre Dame to its 20-5 record, with each one averaging at least 12 minutes and having scored in double figures at least four times. Before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 10 vs. Pittsburgh, Peters was fourth on the team in scoring (9.0 ppg) and scored in double digits 14 times, while also ranking third in the BIG EAST (45th in the nation) in blocked shots (1.96 bpg). Mallory is averaging 6.8 points per game, leads the team with 25 three-pointers and chalked up a season-high 15 points on Jan. 19 at Georgetown. Bruszewski is logging 4.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game, collecting her fourth double-figure scoring performance of the season with 10 points and six rebounds on Feb. 10 vs. 15th-ranked Pittsburgh.
Spreading The Wealth
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame's squad this season is its balance and depth. That's been particularly evident, as six different players from all five floor positions and all four classes have led the team in scoring at least once. Senior point guard Tulyah Gaines became the latest new scoring leader for the Irish with 13 points vs. No. 15 Pittsburgh and a season-high 22 points vs. Marquette last week.
Notre Dame's balance this season can best be seen in its point distribution. No fewer than 10 of the 11 Irish players on this year's roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, with only senior guard Amanda Tsipis yet to crack the 10-point mark.
Notre Dame also has had at least three double-figure scorers in all but three games (Purdue, No. 3 Tennessee, No. 16 West Virginia) this year, with a season-high seven in double digits at Georgetown (the most in one game for the Irish since Feb. 6, 1997 vs. Syracuse).
What's more, the Irish fielded five double-figure scorers in three consecutive games from Nov. 20-27. It's believed to be the first time in school history (and certainly the first time in the Muffet McGraw era) the Irish have pulled off that feat of three straight games with five double-digit scorers, although records are incomplete prior to the 1983-84 season.
Protecting The Pill
Notre Dame has been sharp at the offensive end this season, thanks in large part to its ability to take care of the basketball. The Irish rank 19th in the nation (as of last Friday) with just 14.5 turnovers per game and have been charged with 20 or more turnovers just twice in the past 41 games (20 at Louisville on Jan. 8; 23 vs. Marquette on Feb. 13).
The Irish took ball protection to a new level in their loss at No. 3 Maryland on Nov. 16. Notre Dame set a school record with only three turnovers against the Terrapins, with two of those giveaways coming on offensive fouls. The previous school record for fewest turnovers was six, set on Feb. 12, 2006 at DePaul.
With only three turnovers, it probably comes as no surprise that Maryland did not register a steal against Notre Dame. However, what is surprising is that it was the first time in the 31-year history of the Irish program that an opponent did not record a steal against Notre Dame. Several opponents had only one steal vs. the Irish, with the most recent being Boston College on March 19, 2006 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (played at West Lafayette, Ind.).
Piping Hot Turnovers
Notre Dame is forcing 22.3 turnovers per night and currently leads the BIG EAST with a +7.84 turnover margin, more than 3.5 takeaways better than second-place Connecticut. The Irish have caused at least 20 turnovers in 16 games this season, including a season-high 33 takeaways against Boston College on Nov. 24.
Notre Dame has made even the strongest ball-handling teams struggle this season. In fact, Villanova came into its Jan. 16 game at the Joyce Center leading the nation with only 11.2 turnovers per game. However, the Wildcats left town with 24 turnovers, their highest single-game giveaway mark in more than six years (Dec. 1, 2001 at Temple).
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame ranks second in the BIG EAST Conference and 14th nationally in steals (as of last Friday), averaging 12.08 thefts per game (11.27 in conference play), including eight games this season where the Irish had at least 15 steals. What's more, Notre Dame's season-high 23 steals vs. Providence on Jan. 30 were the most for the Irish in a single game since Jan. 28, 1995 (23 vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee at the Joyce Center), and only one off the BIG EAST record.
Individually, the Irish have seven players with at least 25 steals this season. Senior guard Charel Allen leads the way with 50, ranking eighth in the BIG EAST in that category (2.0 spg). Allen has been especially potent of late with 15 steals in the past five games, including a career-high six in the win over Providence.
Notre Dame tied Connecticut for the BIG EAST title in steals last season (9.69 spg. in league play; 10.47 overall), the first time the Irish won a conference steals crown since 1989-90, when they led the Horizon League with 10.93 steals per game.
Keeping It On The Plus Side
Notre Dame has registered a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in 14 games this season and ranks fourth in the BIG EAST (10th nationally as of last Friday) with a 1.12 assist-to-turnover ratio. Notre Dame also has assisted on 54.8 percent of its field goals this year (406 assists on 741 baskets), ranking fifth in the conference and 23rd in the country with 16.24 assists per game.
Off And Running
Notre Dame has wasted little time in jumping ahead of its opponents this season. In eight of their 20 wins, the Irish have opened up a double-digit lead less than 12 minutes into the game, while other first-half runs against Central Michigan (20-0), Bowling Green (18-3), Villanova (16-6), Georgetown (15-3) and Marquette (21-1) aided those wins.
Even in its defeat at third-ranked Maryland on Nov. 16, Notre Dame made a statement early with a 10-0 run in the first five minutes of action and led by as many as five points in the first half before the Terrapins rallied back for the win.
Allen Climbing Irish Points Ladder
Senior guard Charel Allen continues to make her way up Notre Dame's all-time scoring list, currently standing 11th with 1,407 points and just 23 points away from moving into the top 10 on the Irish career scoring charts. The person currently holding down that 10th position? First-year assistant coach Niele Ivey, who had 1,430 points from 1996-2001.
Peters To Miss Rest Of 2007-08 Season
Freshman forward Devereaux Peters will miss the remainder of the 2007-08 women's basketball season after injuring her left knee in the second half of Notre Dame's 81-66 win over No. 15 Pittsburgh on Feb. 10 at the Joyce Center. Peters suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), an injury that was confirmed by team orthopedist Dr. Fred Ferlic after Peters underwent a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) exam on Feb. 11. Peters will undergo surgery to repair the injury at a later date, and her rehabilitation timetable has not yet been established.
At the time of her injury, Peters ranked fourth on the team in scoring at 9.0 points per game, second in rebounding (5.6 rpg) and third in steals (1.7 spg). She also ranked among the BIG EAST leaders in blocked shots (3rd - 1.96 bpg.) and field goal percentage (10th - .522), and she scored in double figures 14 times this season, including the final four games of her rookie campaign. In addition, she logged her first career double-double on Jan. 27 against top-ranked Connecticut with 10 points and a career-high 12 rebounds.
What's more, her total blocks (45) and blocks-per-game average rank third all-time among Irish freshmen, trailing only Shari Matvey (94 blocks, 3.1 bpg. in 1979-80) and Ruth Riley (71 blocks, 2.2 bpg. in 1997-98).
Notre Dame is ranked 14th in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll, rising two places from last week's survey. This week's ranking matches the best of the season for the Irish, and their highest in the media poll since the week of Jan. 2, 2006, when they were ranked 12th prior to losses at St. John's (66-63) and home vs. Seton Hall (74-61).
Notre Dame now has been ranked in the AP poll for 155 weeks during the program's history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era. McGraw currently ranks 14th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also stands 25th all-time in that category.
The Irish also were in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll for the 14th consecutive time last week, moving up one spot to 16th in the previous week's balloting. Notre Dame's No. 14 rankings on Jan. 2-8 were the highest poll position for Notre Dame in two years, when the Irish were tabbed 12th by the coaches prior to the aforementioned losses to St. John's and Seton Hall. The new coaches' poll will be released Tuesday afternoon.
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 23 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 155 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 23 people on this elite list, 12 are currently NCAA Division I head coaches.
The Jan. 27 game vs. Connecticut was the fifth women's basketball sellout (11,418) in school history and second this season (also Jan. 5 vs. Tennessee). It also is the second time in school history Notre Dame has posted multiple sellouts in one season, having also done so in 2000-01 (Connecticut and Georgetown).
In addition, the Jan. 27 audience marked the first time the Irish have attracted three crowds of 10,000 fans in the same season, as 10,825 fans took in the Dec. 2 win over Michigan.
Clutch When It Counts
Notre Dame is 79-of-98 (.806) from the free throw line in the final two minutes (plus overtime) this season, including an impressive 14-of-16 (.875) display in the Feb. 10 win over No. 15 Pittsburgh.
Among those with a minimum of 10 attempts, senior guard Tulyah Gaines leads the way with an .824 free throw percentage (14-of-17) in crunch time. Also worth noting -- even after missing two free throws at Syracuse on Saturday, sophomore guard Ashley Barlow is 21-of-26 (.808) in her career when toeing the line down the stretch.
Start Me Up
Notre Dame's 13-2 start matched the second-best 15-game mark in the program's 31-year history. In 2000-01, the Irish opened with 23 consecutive victories, en route to their first-ever No. 1 ranking and eventually, the program's first national championship.
The last time Notre Dame got off to a 13-2 start was the 2004-05 season, when the Irish won their first seven games (including the Preseason WNIT title) before a Dec. 2 overtime loss to 15th-ranked Michigan State. Notre Dame (which rose as high as third in the national polls that season) then reeled off six more wins before suffering consecutive loss at Villanova (59-54) and home vs. No. 16 Connecticut (67-50). However, the Irish rebounded with a 10-game win streak, finishing the year at 27-6 and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Notre Dame posted a 13-2 record on three other occasions, also doing so in 1999-2000 (27-5, NCAA Sweet 16), 1998-99 (26-5, NCAA second round) and 1977-78 (13-4, program's first varsity season when playing at AIAW Division III level).
We're Going Streaking!
Notre Dame's 10-game win streak from Nov. 20-Jan. 2 was its longest since a similar 10-game run from Jan. 16-Feb. 15, 2005. The Irish now have amassed 10 double-digit win streaks in program history (eight in the Muffet McGraw era), led by the school-record 23-game success string to open the 2000-01 national championship season.
Notre Dame also won six consecutive road games earlier this season (Nov. 20-Jan. 2). That was the longest run for the Irish away from the Joyce Center since a 10-game run from Nov. 17, 2000 to Feb. 14, 2001, a streak that ended with a 54-53 loss at No. 11/14 Rutgers (one of only two defeats for the Irish on their run to the NCAA title).
No Easy Road
Notre Dame has always played a difficult schedule, using it as a means of preparation for future tests in both the BIG EAST Conference and the postseason. However, this year's slate could be one of the more rugged ones in recent memory.
With the addition of Maryland to the docket in the Preseason WNIT semifinals (75-59 loss on Nov. 16), the Irish now will face four of the top five teams in the latest Associated Press poll. Besides the Terrapins (currently No. 4), Notre Dame also has or will play No. 1 Connecticut (lost 81-64 on Jan. 27 at the Joyce Center), No. 3 Tennessee (lost 87-63 on Jan. 5 at the Joyce Center), and No. 5 Rutgers (Tuesday in Piscataway, N.J.). Three of the top four teams in the poll have combined to win five of the past six national championships, with Tennessee currently holding the hardware after defeating Rutgers in last year's title game.
Game #25 Recap: Syracuse
When Chandrea Jones made her only basket of the game and finished a three-point play, Syracuse was tied with Notre Dame with just over three minutes left and magic was in the Carrier Dome air again. But Irish sophomore guard Melissa Lechlitner had other ideas.
After Erica Morrow had led a 10-2 run by the No. 21/23 Orange to put them in front 61-60 with 5:13 left, Lechlitner hit a baseline jumper to break a 64-all tie and followed with a runner in the lane, her only baskets of the game, as the 16th-ranked Irish scored 10 straight points and beat Syracuse 79-67.
Senior guard Charel Allen had 22 points and a season-high 12 rebounds and sophomore center Erica Williamson had 14 points and a season-best 11 rebounds to pace Notre Dame.
In the decisive final minutes, Morrow missed a baseline jumper, Jones and Vaida Sipaviciute were called for fouls, and Jones committed a turnover to halt the Orange attack.
Morrow led the Orange with 19 points, Nicole Michael had 14 points and six rebounds, and Sipaviciute had 12 points. Jones, the team's leading scorer at 16 points, finished with just four on 1-for-12 shooting for the Orange, who lost for only the second time in 12 home games.
Notre Dame (20-5, 8-3 BIG EAST) outrebounded Syracuse 45-31, 20-14 on the offensive glass, and moved to 17-0 in BIG EAST regular-season play against Syracuse (19-5, 7-4) and into a tie for fourth in the conference with Pittsburgh.
Noting The Syracuse Game
Notre Dame records its 14th 20-win season in the past 15 years and its 18th 20-win season in the 21-year Muffet McGraw era.
The Irish earn their second victory over a ranked opponent in a six-day span, following an 81-66 win over 15th-ranked Pittsburgh on Feb. 10 at the Joyce Center.
Notre Dame posts its first road win over a ranked opponent since Feb. 15, 2005, when it claimed a 54-47 victory at No. 25/22 Boston College; Syracuse is the highest-ranked team the Irish have defeated on the road since Jan. 30, 2005, when they downed No. 9/10 Connecticut, 65-59.
The Irish move to 21-2 all-time against Syracuse, winning their eighth consecutive game in the series, and improve to 10-1 all-time at SU.
Notre Dame had two players record double-doubles in the same game for the first time since Jan. 26, 2005 vs. St. John's, when three players (Crystal Erwin, Megan Duffy and Jacqueline Batteast) all logged double-doubles in a 72-65 Irish win at the Joyce Center.
The double-doubles for Allen and Williamson were their first of the season (fourth of Allen's career, second in Williamson's tenure); Notre Dame now has had five different players notch a double-double this season.
Allen becomes the first Irish player with 20 points and 10 rebounds in a game since she herself did so on Feb. 11, 2007 vs. DePaul (25 points, career-high 13 rebounds) in a 78-70 Notre Dame win at the Joyce Center.
Notre Dame converted 11-of-14 free throws (.786) in the final 1:20, with five different players making foul shots down the stretch.
Syracuse came into the game ranked second in the BIG EAST in rebounding margin (+9.5 rpg.), but the Irish won the battle of the boards by a 45-31 count.
Playing before a vocal crowd of more than 100 family and friends from her old hometown of Rochester, N.Y. (about 90 minutes west of Syracuse), Williamson not only collected a double-double, but also registered a career-high three steals, one more than her old mark that she set on four occasions (most recently on Feb. 13 vs. Marquette).
Freshman guard Brittany Mallory tied her career-high with three three-point field goals, matching her output on Jan. 13 at No. 16 West Virginia.
Senior guard Tulyah Gaines' eight assists were one off her season high (career-best-tying nine at IUPUI on Dec. 21).
Irish Picked Fifth In BIG EAST Poll
Notre Dame was projected to finish fifth in the BIG EAST Conference this season, according to a preseason vote of the league's 16 head coaches that was announced Oct. 25 during BIG EAST Women's Basketball Media Day at the ESPNZone in New York City. The Irish collected 165 points, with Connecticut (15 first-place votes, 225 points), Rutgers (one first-place vote, 211 points), West Virginia (186 points) and Pittsburgh (169 points) joining Notre Dame in the top five.
Senior guard Charel Allen was one of 11 players selected to this year's Preseason All-BIG EAST Team. Allen averaged a team-high 17.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season and ranked second in the BIG EAST with 19.3 points per game in league play. She went on to earn first-team all-BIG EAST and honorable mention All-America laurels. while helping the Irish go 20-12 and reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Half And Half
During the past eight seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 141-12 (.922) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 69 of their last 75 such contests. Notre Dame has earned 17 victories in as many games after taking the lead to the locker room.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 13 seasons, Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season (Notre Dame's first in the BIG EAST Conference), the Irish have a 182-11 (.943) record when they hold their opponents to less than 60 points in a game.
Notre Dame is 14-1 this year when holding opponents below 60 points, with No. 16 West Virginia the lone exception (56-50 on Jan. 13).
...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 13 seasons (1995-96 to present), the Irish are 113-4 (.966) 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 a 81-80 loss to DePaul earlier this year (Jan. 22).
Notre Dame has won 13 of 14 games this season when it reaches 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 160 of their last 181 games (.884) at the 11,418-seat Joyce Center, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span. Notre Dame also has a 91-15 (.858) 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 71 of their last 77 non-BIG EAST contests (.922) 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 (62-51 in 2005; 87-63 in 2008). 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 310-82 (.791) 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. For the third time in four years, and the second consecutive season, Notre Dame will equal the most regular-season home games (16) in school history. However, in 2004-05, the Irish played host to all four rounds of the Preseason WNIT before its regular 12-game home slate began. Notre Dame also played two Preseason WNIT games at home this year, in addition to its previously-scheduled 14-game Joyce Center docket.
Notre Dame On The Small Screen
Notre Dame will have a school-record 22 regular-season games televised during the upcoming 2007-08 season. Highlighting this year's television schedule are nine nationally-televised Irish women's basketball contests, including one appearance on CBS (Jan. 5 vs. Tennessee), four games on the ESPN family of networks, and another four contests on CSTV.
In addition, Notre Dame has expanded its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. All Irish home games (11 regular-season, two exhibition) that have not been selected for commercial TV coverage will air live on the Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com.
This year's TV slate continues a recent trend that has seen the Irish become a regular fixture on television. Since the start of its 2000-01 NCAA championship season (and including this year's broadcasts to date), Notre Dame now has played in 109 televised games, including 60 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Senior guards Charel Allen, Tulyah Gaines and Amanda Tsipis are team captains for the 2007-08 season. Gaines is in her second year as a captain for the Irish, while Allen and Tsipis are first-time captains. All three players received the captain's honor through a vote of their teammates prior to the season.
Joyce Center Arena Renovation On Tap
On Oct. 3, 2007, Notre Dame announced that construction on the Joyce Center arena addition and renovation will begin in September 2008. The University has selected the architects for the project, and they currently are in the process of completing final design plans.
The first phase of the project, to begin this September, involves construction of a new three-story structure at the south end of the arena. That structure will include a new two-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 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 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 men's and women's basketball seasons and the end of the women's volleyball season.
The University announced last October that this $26.3 million project had received a $12.5 million leadership gift from Notre Dame alumnus and Trustee Philip J. Purcell III. A month later, another major gift of $5 million from Notre Dame graduate Vincent J. Naimoli was announced.
The arena will be named Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center -- and the new club/hospitality area and two outdoor patios will be named for the Naimoli family.
Irish Fans Crave A Big Mac Attack
Notre Dame has introduced a new promotion this season, 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 game. The coupons are issued at the Joyce Center gates as fans leave the arena following the game.
This season's burger watch is at seven, as the Irish have hit the 88-point mark in both exhibition wins, as well as regular-season victories over Miami (Ohio), Boston College, Canisius, Valparaiso and Marquette.
It's probably also not a surprise that the Notre Dame player with the most "Big Mac baskets" this season has the same initials as that of the tasty burger -- freshman guard Brittany Mallory, who has sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) four times.
Friends In Need
Longtime Irish women's basketball fan and Notre Dame Office of Information Technologies employee Patricia McAdams continues to recuperate at the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in South Bend after a Jan. 13 auto accident. While returning from Notre Dame's game at West Virginia earlier in the day, Patricia was severely injured when she stopped on a highway outside Fort Wayne, Ind., to help a fellow motorist and was then struck by a car.
A loyal supporter of the Irish for many years, Patricia has assisted Notre Dame's coordinator of basketball operations Stephanie Menio with numerous marketing and promotional activities, and also coordinated regular bus trips for fans to see the Irish on the road.
Patricia's OIT colleagues have created a web page to update supporters on her progress: http://oit.nd.edu/patricia.
Notre Dame also lost a treasured friend on Jan. 22, when longtime Joyce Center clock operator Mark Tulchinsky passed away. Mark was a dedicated educator in the South Bend Community School Corporation, most recently serving as principal at Tarkington Traditional School. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mark, his wife, Nan (the official scorer for Notre Dame basketball), and the Tulchinsky family.
Here's a rundown of some upcoming promotions and giveaways at future Notre Dame women's basketball games this season. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Irish athletics ticket office (second floor of the Joyce Center through Gate 1; 574-631-7356), on game day at the Gate 10 ticket windows of the Joyce Center, or via the Internet at Notre Dame's official athletics web site (UND.com). Please note -- additional promotions and giveaways may be added at a later date, so consult the Notre Dame promotions web site (www.notredamepromotions.com) for the latest information:
Feb. 27 vs. South Florida -- Midweek Mania (buy one ticket, get one free) ... post-game autograph session courtside with selected Notre Dame players.
Next Game: DePaul
Notre Dame closes out its season-long three-game road trip Sunday with a 1 p.m. (CT) rematch at DePaul, to be televised live to a national cable audience by ESPNU. The Irish and Blue Demons met back on Jan. 22 at the Joyce Center, with DePaul edging Notre Dame, 81-80 when the Irish couldn't get off a look at a game-winning shot in the final seconds.
DePaul (17-7, 6-5) earned a key 81-80 win at No. 11 West Virginia last Sunday, snapping a two-game losing streak. The Blue Demons will visit Georgetown Wednesday night before returning home to await Notre Dame.