March 4, 2009
#20/17 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (21-7 / 10-6 BIG EAST) vs. Syracuse Orange (16-13 / 5-11 BIG EAST) or St. John's Red Storm (16-13 / 4-12 BIG EAST)
DATE: March 7, 2009
TIME: Noon ET
AT: Hartford, Conn. - XL Center (16,294)
SERIES: ND leads SU, 22-2 / ND leads STJ, 17-2
BE CHAMP: ND tied SU, 1-1 / ND leads STJ, 1-0
TV: BIG EAST TV (live) (Beth Mowins, p-b-p / Brooke Weisbrod, color / Bob Picozzi, studio host)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: bigeast.org
TICKETS: (800) 745-3000
Postseason Tips Off Saturday For #20/17 Irish With BIG EAST Second-Round Game
With four wins in its final five games, No. 20/17 Notre Dame comes into this year's BIG EAST Conference Championship with a renewed sense of confidence. The fifth-seeded Irish, who hold a first-round tournament bye, will face either 12th-seeded Syracuse or No. 13 seed St. John's in a second-round tourney game on Saturday at noon (ET), with the game to be televised live through the BIG EAST Regional Sports Networks package (see p. 10 of the PDF version of this notes package for full list of clearances).
Notre Dame (21-7, 10-6) finished in a three-way tie for fourth place in the BIG EAST standings after a 72-66 win over West Virginia in Monday's regular-season finale at the Joyce Center. The Irish led almost wire-to-wire, but could never totally shake the short-handed Mountaineers.
Senior guard Lindsay Schrader recorded her sixth double-double of the year for the Irish with 14 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Having earned its 15th 20-win season in the past 16 years and a top-four BIG EAST finish for the 11th time in its 14-year conference membership, Notre Dame (21-7, 10-6) is ranked 20th in this week's Associated Press poll and 17th in the latest ESPN/USA Today poll. The Irish have secured the No. 5 seed for this weekend's BIG EAST Championship and will be seeking their first league title of any kind since winning the 1994 Midwestern Collegiate Conference crown.
Despite losing two key players (sophomores Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory) to season-ending knee injuries earlier in the year, Notre Dame consistently has ranked among the top 40 teams in the nation in scoring offense (23rd at 72.7 ppg.) and field goal percentage (33rd at .439).
The Irish also feature a balanced offense that sees four players presently scoring in double figures. In addition, nine different players have led the team in scoring at least once during the year, while 10 of the 12 players have scored in double figures at least once to date.
Senior guard Lindsay Schrader has posted career-high averages almost across the board this season, leading the squad in scoring (12.9 ppg.) and rebounding (7.4 rpg.). She also has recorded a team-high six double-doubles this year, and is averaging 19.6 points and 9.8 rebounds in her last five games.
Junior guard Ashley Barlow is second on the team in both scoring (12.7 ppg.) and third in rebounding (4.9 rpg.). She also is among the BIG EAST leaders in steals (2.54 spg.) and has knocked down a team-high 36 three-pointers (including a career-high four treys at top-ranked Connecticut).
The Irish also are paced by two of the BIG EAST's most improved players in sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski and junior point guard Melissa Lechlitner. In her first year as a starter, Bruszewski has doubled her scoring (10.9 ppg.) and rebounding (5.0 rpg.) averages, along with a team-high .492 field goal percentage that is 11th-best in the BIG EAST. What's more, she is in the midst of the most successful run of her young career, averaging 15.2 points and 6.6 rebounds in her last nine games, including a career-high 20 points twice in that span (USF, Syracuse).
Also a first-year starter, Lechlitner is fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 ppg.) while setting the pace with 3.57 assists per game and a 1.49 assist/turnover ratio (all well above her previous career highs). She also has scored in double figures 15 times after reaching that mark a combined 16 times in her first two years.
Potent Notables About The Irish
The Notre Dame-Syracuse Series
Notre Dame and Syracuse have played 24 times before, with the Irish holding a 22-2 series lead. Notre Dame has won the past nine matchups with the Orange, and is 1-1 all-time against SU in BIG EAST Championship play. In fact, the last Syracuse series win came in the 2002 BIG EAST quarterfinals (84-79 at Piscataway, N.J.).
The Last Time ND And Syracuse Met In The BIG EAST Championship
Alicia Ratay scored a game-high 29 points and led a furious Notre Dame comeback in the second half, but it was not enough as the second-seeded Irish were upset by No. 7 seed (and eventual NCAA qualifier) Syracuse, 84-79, in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Championship on March 3, 2002, at the Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J.
Ratay tied her career high by canning seven three-point field goals on 14 attempts. It was her fifth consecutive 20-point game and gave her 131 points (26.2 ppg.) in her last five contests, the second-highest five-game scoring explosion in school history. Katy Flecky added 12 points and Le'Tania Severe tied her career high with nine assists for the Irish, who held a +11 rebounding edge (44-33) and matched their season best with 20 assists.
Jaime James led three Syracuse players in double figures with 23 points. Leaf Newman added 19 points and Julie McBride contributed 18 points and nine assists for the Orangewomen, who won despite fielding just six players in the game.
After falling behind by a 9-5 count early on, Syracuse scored eight straight points to take the lead for good midway through the first half. The Orangewomen built their lead to 38-31 by halftime, holding Notre Dame to 32.4 percent shooting in the first period. SU continued its surge in the second half, opening up a 53-34 lead when Newman cashed in a transition layup with 14:32 to play.
From there, the Irish made the first of two late-game rallies, cutting the deficit to 63-56 on a layup by Severe at the 6:38 mark. However, an 11-2 Syracuse run wiped out much of Notre Dame's comeback, putting the Irish in a 76-60 hole with only 3:52 remaining.
That's when Ratay erupted, scoring 17 of the final 19 Notre Dame points, including nine in a span of just 18 seconds as the Irish whittled the margin to 81-79 with 18 ticks remaining. Forced to foul, Notre Dame sent James to the line with 0:16 left, and the Syracuse guard coolly dropped in both charities. After making five consecutive shots, including four three-point field goals, Ratay finally misfired on a triple with six seconds remaining, and James knocked down one more free throw to seal the victory.
Other ND-Syracuse Series Tidbits
The Notre Dame-St. John's Series
Notre Dame and St. John's have met 19 times before, with the Irish maintaining a 17-2 series lead on the Red Storm (including a 94-57 win in a 1998 BIG EAST Championship first-round contest).
Notre Dame won its first 14 games with St. John's from 1996-2005, but the teams have split the past four series games (each winning twice on their home floor).
The Last Time ND And St. John's Met In The BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame scored the first 14 points of the game and built a 27-point halftime advantage as the Irish defeated St. John's 94-57 in the first round of the BIG EAST Championship on Feb. 28, 1998, in Piscataway, N.J.
Shelia McMillen set new BIG EAST Championship and school records by connecting on eight three-point goals (12 attempts) en route to a game-high 24 points. As a team, Notre Dame connected on 13 three-point goals to break both the league tournament and school records.
Mollie Peirick had 11 points, eight assists and five rebounds and became the 13th player in school history to score 1,000 career points. She achieved the milestone on a three-point basket in the first half.
Julie Henderson was also in double figures for the Irish with 14 points and eight rebounds off the bench.
Notre Dame used a suffocating defense to limit the Red Storm to just five first-half field goals in racing to a 47-20 halftime advantage. After St. John's opened the second half with a three-pointer, the Irish responded with 17 consecutive points to push the lead to 41 points.
Notre Dame led by as many as 48 points in the second half.
Other ND-St. John's Series Tidbits
Empire (State) Records
Notre Dame is 44-4 (.917) all-time against New York schools, with a 20-4 (.833) record away from home (road/neutral combined). The Irish are 2-0 against the Empire State this season, with victories over St. John's (70-67) and Syracuse (90-79).
Coincidentally, those two squads also account for all four New York wins over Notre Dame (two for each school). St. John's also has defeated the Irish in each of its past two visits to Carnesecca Arena (66-63 in 2006; 61-51 in 2008).
Irish In The BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame opens play in its 14th BIG EAST Championship this weekend, having compiled a 14-13 (.519) record in its 13 previous appearances. The Irish have reached the semifinals in seven of the past 13 years and advanced to the title game four times (1996, 1997, 1999, 2001). Ironically, three of Notre Dame's four BIG EAST finals appearances came when the tournament was held in the state of Connecticut (1996, 1997 and 2001 -- all on the UConn campus at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs).
Prior to joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96, Notre Dame was a member of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League). During its seven-year affiliation with that conference, the Irish won the MCC Tournament five times, with Notre Dame's most recent conference tourney title (of any kind) coming in 1994, following a 72-63 championship game win over Xavier at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The Not-So-Friendly Confines
The Irish will be playing inside the XL Center for the 12th time, having posted a 2-10 (.167) record in the building formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center. In fact, Notre Dame lost its first four contests in the arena prior to the 2004 BIG EAST Championship, when the Irish broke through with a 70-59 victory over West Virginia in the conference quarterfinals. Notre Dame also earned a 73-66 win over South Florida in the first round of the 2006 BIG EAST Championship.
Aside from the WVU and USF games, Notre Dame is 0-5 against Connecticut at the XL Center, falling twice in the BIG EAST Championship and three times in the regular season (most recently back on Feb. 22 when the Irish gave the Huskies all they wanted in a 76-66 UConn victory). The Iriah also are winless at the arena in single BIG EAST Championship matchups against Rutgers (2004 quarterfinals), DePaul (2007 first round) and Pittsburgh (2008 quarterfinals), as well as a 2004 NCAA East Regional semifinal against Penn State.
2008 BIG EAST Championship Rewind
Marcedes Walker had 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Pittsburgh upset No. 9/15 Notre Dame 64-53, on March 9, 2008, in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Championship at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Xenia Stewart added 13 points, including a big three-pointer with less than a minute left, for the Panthers. Charel Allen had 17 points for Notre Dame.
The teams combined for 39 turnovers and neither shot better than 35 percent in a defensive struggle. The fourth-seeded Irish came in averaging more than 77 points per game.
Pitt trailed 35-30 early in the second half before going on an 11-2 run. Allen led the Irish back, and they went up 49-48 with 3:08 left.
A layup by Walker with 1:36 remaining gave Pitt a 53-51 advantage. After Allen missed a jumper on the other end, Stewart hit a huge three-pointer with 56 seconds left. The Panthers made their free throws down the stretch to earn the school's first berth in the semifinals.
Pitt started slowly and the Irish went on 14-2 run to open the game. The Panthers had just two points and eight turnovers in the first eight minutes. They hit just two of their first 19 shots, and didn't score their second basket until almost the 10-minute mark of the first half when Stewart knocked down a short jumper.
Walker, who had 20 points and seven rebounds in Pitt's first-round win over Villanova, picked up two early offensive fouls, but still had eight of Pittsburgh's first 12 points.
She led the Panthers on a 15-3 run to tie the game at 17. Shavonte Zellous put back her own miss to pull the Panthers within 22-21 at the half. Zellous, who came in averaging almost 19 points per game, went 3-for-14 from the field.
Allen was 7-of-15 for Notre Dame, which shot just 30.6 percent for the game.
Notre Dame reached the 20-win mark for the 15th time in the past 16 seasons with a 65-56 victory at Providence on Feb. 28. The Irish now have registered 20-or-more wins 19 times in the 22-year Muffet McGraw era and 23 times in the program's 32-year history.
Notre Dame posted a 10-6 record in BIG EAST Conference play this year, tying for fourth place in the final league standings. It marks the 11th time in the program's 14-year BIG EAST membership that it has recorded a top-four conference finish.
Notre Dame is 5-3 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).
Two of Notre Dame's three losses to ranked opponents have come against AP top-10 foes by an average of 7.5 points. The Irish dropped a 71-66 decision at home to No. 10/12 Louisville on Feb. 11, and bowed at top-ranked Connecticut, 76-66, on Feb. 22 (the closest any team has come to taking down the Huskies this season).
Notre Dame is 20-9 (.690) in true road games during the past two seasons. In addition, the past seven road losses for the Irish have been decided by an average of 8.4 points per game (all by 12 points or fewer), including all five road setbacks this season (average margin of 8.6 ppg.).
The Feb. 28 win at Providence was the 10th road victory of the season for Notre Dame, marking the second consecutive season the Irish have posted a double-digit road win total. The only other time Notre Dame logged back-to-back 10-win seasons on the road was nearly two decades ago (1989-90 and 1990-91).
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 was 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.
Closer Than You Think
Notre Dame's seven losses this season have come by an average of 8.3 points per game (all by 12 points or fewer), and in six 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.
On Feb. 22 at No. 1 Connecticut, Notre Dame took a 43-41 lead with 16:11 to play, becoming the first team to own a second-half lead on the Huskies this season. However, Connecticut responded with a 22-1 run during the next 6:39 to wrest control away from the Irish, who rallied back within eight points twice in the final 1:13.
Senior guard Lindsay Schrader has played a key role in Notre Dame's surge during the past two weeks, with the Irish winning four of five in that span (with only a 10-point loss at top-ranked Connecticut blotting the resume).
During that five-game span, the Bartlett, Ill., native is averaging 19.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game with a .506 field goal percentage (43-of-85) and three double-doubles. She also was named to the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll twice in that time.
Schrader's run began Feb. 17 with a season-high 26 points and 11 rebounds at South Florida, the first 25-point, 10-rebound effort by an Irish player since Feb. 11, 2007 (Charel Allen vs. DePaul). She came back with 17 points and 11 rebounds at Connecticut, as the Irish battled the Huskies closer than any team this season.
Schrader then flirted with double-doubles against Syracuse and Providence while turning in sharp shooting efforts in the process. Against Syracuse, she chalked up 23 points (on 10-of-13 shooting) and grabbed eight rebounds before fouling out late in the game. Four days later at Providence, she collected 18 points (on 9-of-14 shooting) and eight rebounds, earning team-high scoring honors for the third time in four games.
Schrader came back with another double-double in Monday's regular-season finale against West Virginia with 14 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. It was her career-high sixth double-double of the season, tying Notre Dame's record for double-doubles by a guard (originally set by Danielle Green in 1998-99). Schrader also is one double-double shy of tying current assistant coach Niele Ivey (1996-2001) for the career record in that category.
This season, Schrader leads the Irish in scoring (12.9 ppg.) and rebounding (7.4 rpg.), while also ranking among the top 30 in the BIG EAST in scoring (22nd), rebounding (10th) and field goal percentage (14th, .472). Like her double-double total, each of those averages is a career high.
One Killer B
Sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski is making the most of her first season as a starter for the Irish, ranking third on the team in scoring (10.9 ppg.), second in rebounding (5.0 rpg.) and first in field goal percentage (.492, 11th in the BIG EAST Conference). The Valparaiso, Ind., native has doubled last year's scoring (5.0 ppg.) and rebounding (2.5 rpg.) averages, while adding a reliable three-point shot to her arsenal (.383, 18-of-47) after making 1-of-2 from beyond the arc last season.
Bruszewski has been especially sharp in the past nine games, averaging 15.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game with a .417 three-point percentage (10-of-21). She has scored in double figures in eight of those nine games, with her first career double-double (14 points, career-high 12 rebounds) on Feb. 8 in a win over No. 25 DePaul. She also has either tied or set a new career scoring high three times during her recent surge, including a pair of career-best 20-point outings a week apart at South Florida (Feb. 17) and at home vs. Syracuse (Feb. 24).
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 10.6 points per game, with 15 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 (10th, 3.57 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (ninth, 1.49). Her numbers were even better since BIG EAST play began, ranking seventh in assists (4.13 apg.) and eighth in assist/turnover ratio (1.61). 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.
Make Mine A Grand(e)
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.
Now ranking 21st on the Irish all-time scoring list (1,070), 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.
On Feb. 28, Barlow was joined in the Irish 1,000-Point Club by senior guard and fellow captain Lindsay Schrader, who scored her milestone point at Providence and now ranks 24th all-time at Notre Dame with 1,026 career points.
The four-game span between Barlow and Schrader's 1,000th career points is the second-shortest in school history. In 2005-06, Megan Duffy and Courtney LaVere reached the millennium mark three games apart to set the new school standard.
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 12 charges this season, nearly half of Notre Dame's team total of 26 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.
Taking Rock To Block
Freshman forward Erica Solomon (nicknamed "Rock") has registered a team-high 38 blocked shots this season and leads all BIG EAST freshmen with 1.36 blocks per game (good for sixth in the conference).
Solomon has turned away at least two shots on 12 occasions this year, including a season-high four blocks on Dec. 2 in her homecoming game at Eastern Michigan. The Oak Park, Mich., native also is fifth on the Irish single-season blocks list for freshmen.
Solomon also is on pace to become the third freshman in as many seasons to lead Notre Dame in blocks -- Erica Williamson did the honors in 2006-07 (39), before Devereaux Peters led the way last year (45).
The Five-Finger Discount
After forcing an opponent-record 737 turnovers (21.7 per game) last season, Notre Dame is on a similar pace again this year, causing 549 turnovers (19.6 per game) through 28 games.
More than half of those opponent turnovers have come via Irish steals, with Notre Dame registering 284 thefts (10.1 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.
Individually, Notre Dame has five players with at least 30 steals this season, led by junior guard Ashley Barlow's 66 thefts. It's the third consecutive year Barlow has recorded at least 60 steals, a feat only three other Irish players can match -- Mary Gavin (1985-86 to 1987-88), Coquese Washington (1989-90 to 1992-93) and current assistant coach Niele Ivey (1997-98 to 2000-01).
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 10 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.
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 21-7 record. Three of the four have scored in double figures at least three times (Novosel-8, Solomon-7, 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 14 minutes per night, while the speedy Miller has emerged as Notre Dame's go-to defensive stopper, averaging close to one steal per game in her 20 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 also registering a career-scoring high at some point this year -- Brittany Mallory vs. Georgia Southern (19), Kellie Watson vs. Michigan State (18), Melissa Lechlitner vs. Purdue (19), Erica Williamson vs. Georgetown (21), Natalie Novosel vs. Rutgers (19) and Becca Bruszewski at South Florida/vs. Syracuse (20). The other team-leading scorers this season have been junior guard Ashley Barlow and senior guard Lindsay Schrader, both of whom have posted eight 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 the 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.
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 March 2), led by a No. 23 ranking in scoring offense (72.7 ppg.).
At the same time, only one Irish player is appearing in the top 50 of the 10 NCAA individual statistical rankings -- junior guard Ashley Barlow is 39th in the nation in steals (2.54 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 20th in this week's Associated Press poll, rising three spots from last week's rank. It is the 37th 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 176 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 is tied for 24th all-time in that category.
In addition, the Irish earned their 37th consecutive ranking in the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll on Tuesday, rising five spots to No. 17. 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 168 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 176 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 #28 Recap: West Virginia
Senior guard Lindsay Schrader had 14 points and 11 rebounds and No. 20 Notre Dame defeated short-handed West Virginia 72-66 on Monday at the Joyce Center.
The Irish (21-7, 10-6 BIG EAST) led comfortably for most of the game after using a 9-2 run midway through the first half to open a a 25-15 lead. West Virginia (16-13, 5-11) played with just seven players because starting point guard Ashley Powell was ill and three players are sidelined for the season with injuries. The Mountaineers closed to 70-66 on a basket inside by Sarah Miles with 44 seconds left.
But the Irish, who struggled with free throws, made five of six in the final 64 seconds to hold on. They finished 14-of-24 from the line.
Takisha Granberry, who was 5-of-9 from three-point range, led WVU with 21 points.
Noting The West Virginia Game
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 five games, averaging 0.6 points and 0.2 rebounds in 1.6 minutes per contest.
A supplemental biographical sketch on Christiansen can be found in the players' section of the PDF version of these game notes.
Half And Half
During the past nine seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 163-16 (.911) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 91 of their last 101 such contests.
This season, Notre Dame is 17-2 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 194-13 (.937) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game.
Notre Dame is 10-1 in such games this season, with wins over LSU, Boston College, Georgia Southern, Purdue, Valparaiso, Loyola-Chicago, Vanderbilt, Cincinnati, DePaul (second game) and Providence. 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 123-4 (.969) 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 nine 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 173 of their last 196 games (.883) at the 11,418-seat Joyce Center, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span. Notre Dame also has a 99-17 (.853) 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 323-84 (.794) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, setting a school record for home wins in a season.
The Dec. 7 home game vs. No. 17/20 Purdue was sold out, representing the sixth women's basketball sellout (11,418 capacity) in school history and the third in the past two seasons. It also was the first time in the 22-game series between the Irish and Boilermakers that an on-campus game sold out.
On Jan. 27, Notre Dame drew 10,082 fans for its game against Rutgers, marking the largest weeknight crowd in school history and the eighth-largest overall audience in the program's 32-year annals.
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 21 games televised during the 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 and three others on CBS College Sports.
Notre Dame's BIG EAST Championship second-round game on Saturday will be televised part of the BIG EAST Regional Sports Networks package. Clearances (as of March 4) can be found in the accompanying chart in the PDF version of these notes.
In addition, Notre Dame continues to expand its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. All 11 Irish home games not selected for commercial TV coverage aired live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com, via the site's free multimedia package, Fighting Irish All-Access. Notre Dame's BIG EAST second-round game also can be seen free at the conference multimedia web site, www.bigeast.tv.
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 135 televised games, including 85 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.
Shootaround With Beth & Debbie
For the second consecutive year, the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) is featuring a weekly national women's basketball podcast entitled "Shootaround With Beth & Debbie". The 30-minute show, which is available for download each Wednesday during the basketball season through the WBCA web site (www.wbca.org), is hosted by national women's basketball television broadcasters Beth Mowins and Debbie Antonelli. It features in-depth analysis of all the latest happenings in the world of women's college basketball, as well as interviews with some of the game's top coaches -- in fact, Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw was a guest on one of the podcast's first airings early last year.
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.
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.
For more information on the new Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, see the inside back cover of the 2008-09 Notre Dame women's basketball media guide, or go on-line for a virtual tour at www.UND.com/purcell.
Next Game: NCAA Championship
Following the conclusion of this week's BIG EAST Championship, Notre Dame will learn its postseason fate on March 16 at 7 p.m. (ET), when the 64-team field is announced for the 2009 NCAA Championship live on ESPN. The Irish have been selected for the tournament 15 times in program history, including each of the past 13 seasons, and will have the added benefit this year of being one of 16 host sites for first- and second-round games.