March 7, 2010
BIG EAST Conference Championship -- Semifinal
#6/7 [#5 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (27-4 / 12-4 BIG EAST) vs. #1/1 [#1 seed] Connecticut Huskies (31-0 / 16-0 BIG EAST)
DATE: March 8, 2010
TIME: 6 p.m. ET
AT: Hartford, Conn. - XL Center (16,294)
SERIES: UCONN leads 24-4
1ST MTG: UCONN 87-64 (1/18/96)
LAST MTG: UCONN 76-51 (3/1/10)
TV: ESPNU (live) (Dave O'Brien, p-b-p / Doris Burke, color / Rebecca Lobo, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com / bigeast.org
#6/7 Irish Square Off With #1 Connecticut Monday In BIG EAST Semifinals
For the second time in a week, and the third time this season, No. 6/7 Notre Dame embraces the unique opportunity to face the nation's top-ranked team, as the Irish tangle with Connecticut in the semifinals of the BIG EAST Conference Championship Monday at 6 p.m. (ET) from the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. Monday's conference semifinal will be televised live to a national cable audience by ESPNU.
Notre Dame (27-4) punched its ticket for the BIG EAST "final four" with a hard-fought 75-67 quarterfinal win over 16th-ranked St. John's on Sunday afternoon in Hartford. The Irish led by as many as seven points early, then trailed by seven in the second half before riding a 12-0 run in the final five minutes to secure the victory. Notre Dame also made the most of its offensive opportunities, shooting 54 percent (27-of-50) from the field on the afternoon.
Freshman guard Skylar Diggins paced the Irish with a team-high 21 points (her sixth 20-point game of the season), while junior forward Devereaux Peters came off the bench to add 13 points and fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader chipped in 10 points.
The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
Notre Dame and Connecticut will be playing for the 29th time in a series that didn't begin until the Irish joined the BIG EAST Conference 15 seasons ago (1995-96). The Huskies lead the all-time series, 24-4, including a 5-0 record at the XL Center (two of those wins coming in the BIG EAST Championship). Connecticut also has won the past eight games in the series, with Notre Dame's last victory coming on Jan. 30, 2005 (a 65-59 win at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., snapping the Huskies' 112-game regular season BIG EAST home winning streak).
Monday's game is the eighth between Notre Dame and Connecticut in the BIG EAST Championship, with the Huskies going 7-0 against the Irish in the conference tournament to date. Five of those victories came in the title game (1996-99, 2001), while the two most recent BIG EAST Championship matchups in the series came in the semifinals (2005 - UConn 67-54) and quarterfinals (2006 - Uconn 71-60), respectively.
The Last Time Notre Dame and Connecticut Met
Tina Charles had 18 points and eight rebounds to become top-ranked Connecticut's career leader in both categories in a 76-51 win over No. 6 Notre Dame on March 1 at Purcell Pavilion, leaving the Huskies one shy of tying their NCAA women's record for consecutive victories.
Charles passed Nykesha Sales (1995-98) as the school's all-time leading scorer 2,184 points and Rebecca Lobo (1992-95) as its leading rebounder with 1,272.
Connecticut (30-0, 16-0 BIG EAST), which reached 30 wins for the fifth straight season, and it is the eighth time the Huskies have gone unbeaten in a BIG EAST regular season. Every win in the streak has been by double figures.
The loss dropped the Fighting Irish (25-4, 12-4) into a fourth-place tie with No. 16 St. John's, but the Irish are the fifth seed in the tournament because of a loss to the Red Storm.
Maya Moore had 17 points and nine rebounds as all five Connecticut starters finished in double figures. Tiffany Hayes added 13 points, Kalana Greene 12 and Caroline Doty 11. The Huskies got just five points from their bench.
The Last Time Notre Dame and Connecticut Met At The XL Center
Maya Moore scored 18 points to help Connecticut remain unbeaten with a 76-66 victory over No. 24 Notre Dame on Feb. 22, 2009, at the XL Center in Hartford -- the smallest margin of victory for the Huskies last season.
Renee Montgomery led UConn with 20 points, eight assists and five steals and Tina Charles had 19 points and eight rebounds as the Huskies (27-0, 13-0 BIG EAST) posted their 37th consecutive home win.
Despite the loss, Notre Dame (18-7, 7-6) played one of its better games.
The Irish led for much of the first half, and were ahead 43-41 almost four minutes into the second -- the first time the Huskies trailed after intermission all season.
A pair of baskets by Moore and two three-pointers by Montgomery started a 22-1 run over the next seven minutes that put the game away. During the span, Moore had 12 points and Montgomery added two assists and two steals.
The Huskies had trailed for just over 27 minutes all season. But UConn missed its first five shots and the Irish took a 6-0 lead, the biggest deficit the Huskies faced all year.
Connecticut didn't get its first basket until Charles hit a layup three minutes into the game. Montgomery gave UConn its first lead with a three-pointer that made it 11-10.
The Irish led 33-28 before an 8-0 Huskies' run gave Connecticut a 36-33 halftime lead. Notre Dame shot 43 percent in the first half and made 4-for-7 three-point shots, including three by Barlow.
The Last Time Notre Dame and Connecticut Met At The BIG EAST Championship
Barbara Turner scored 19 points and Ketia Swanier added a career-high 11 to lead No. 7 Connecticut to a 71-60 win over Notre Dame on March 5, 2006, in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at the XL Center in Hartford.
Notre Dame's Megan Duffy had 14 of her game-high 20 points in the final 10 minutes of the game as the Fighting Irish tried to rally from 21 down.
Willnett Crockett had a team-high 11 boards for UConn, which finished with a 36-23 advantage on the glass and outscored the 10th-seeded Irish 34-20 in the paint. The Huskies' 27 defensive rebounds afforded the Irish few second chances and helped UConn get out in transition quickly. Guards Renee Mongtomery and Swanier directed UConn's uptempo attack with a combined 10 assists as the Huskies shot 58 percent from the floor.
UConn, the defending tournament champ, was looking for its 13th conference tournament title. It was Turner's ninth tournament game and the senior forward's 19 points were a tournament high for her. Ann Strother added 10 for UConn.
Courtney LaVere finished with 15 points and two blocked shots for the Irish.
The Huskies relied on their post game early to take control. Fifteen of their 19 first-half boards were on the defensive end resulted in several breakaway layups.
Turner and Charde Houston muscled their way inside for two layups in a 9-0 UConn run. Turner capped the spurt with an up-and-under around 6-foot-5 Melissa D'Amico with 10:38 left in the period for an 18-11 lead.
The Huskies led by as many as 18 in the period and led 38-24 at the break. UConn stretched the lead to 21 in the first five minutes of the second half. The Irish would get no closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Other Notre Dame-Connecticut Series Tidbits
Notre Dame has had a penchant for ending impressive winning streaks in a number of different sports, contributing to the University's storied 123-year athletics tradition. Connecticut will enter Monday night's game with a 70-game winning streak, matching its own NCAA Division I record that was originally set from 2001-03.
Here is a rundown of the various notable "streak-busting" victories Notre Dame teams have posted through the years:
Monday's game is the third this season between Notre Dame and Connecticut, the first time since the 2006-07 season that the Irish will play one opponent three times in the same year. In that '06-07 season, Notre Dame split its regular season matchups with DePaul before the Blue Demons took the rubber match, 76-71 in the first round of the BIG EAST Championship.
This also represents the fifth season in which the Irish will play Connecticut three times. In three of the four previous cases (1995-96, 1996-97 and 2004-05), the teams met home-and-away in the regular season, and then again in the conference tournament. In 2000-01, Notre Dame won the lone regular season contest (92-76 on Jan. 15, 2001, at Purcell Pavilion), Connecticut claimed the rematch in the BIG EAST Championship final (78-76 on March 6, 2001, in Storrs, Conn.), and the Irish nabbed the third encounter in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals (90-75 on March 30, 2001, in St. Louis).
One other notable occurrence associated with Monday's game -- it will be the first time Notre Dame has ever played a top-ranked opponent three times in one season. The Irish had two games against No. 1-ranked teams in both 1996-97 and 2000-01 ... and the opponent in question each time? Connecticut.
Since the start of last season, Notre Dame has played 12 times when it has had a short one-day break (or less) between games, including three games in three days over this year's Thanksgiving weekend at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands (a similar three-day run to what it is facing this week at the BIG EAST Championship). However, when faced with such a tight turnaround, the Irish have risen to the occasion, going 9-3 (.750) on the back half of these two-game (or more) blitzes.
This season, Notre Dame is 5-2 in these 48-hour challenges, winning twice at the Paradise Jam (South Carolina and No. 20/17 Oklahoma), and then at home on New Year's Eve vs. No. 18/16 Vanderbilt (returning from a road trip to UCF less than two days earlier). The Irish also earned a 75-63 win at Rutgers on Feb. 1, two days after a narrow 74-73 win at Syracuse.
Notre Dame then lost on the back half of its last two regular season "quick changes". On Feb. 16, the Irish dropped a 76-71 verdict at No. 22/23 St. John's, two days after a 90-66 home victory over DePaul (the game in which fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader suffered a sprained left ankle and subsequently missed two games). Then, on March 1, Notre Dame fell at home to top-ranked Connecticut, 76-51, two days after a 72-47 win at Seton Hall.
Most recently, the Irish returned to the win column on a tight turnaround with Sunday's 75-67 BIG EAST Championship quarterfinal triumph over No. 16 St. John's, one day following an 89-52 second-round victory over Louisville.
Monday's game against Connecticut will mark the fifth time in a little more than a month Notre Dame has tackled a tight turnaround.
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has seen at least eight different players led the team in scoring and rebounding this season. That has been even more evident in the past nine games, with seven different players leading the Irish in scoring during that time.
In addition, 11 of the 13 players on the Irish roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including sophomore guard Fraderica Miller, and freshman guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, who each topped the 10-point mark for the first time in their careers.
What's more, five different players have scored at least 20 points in a game this year. Diggins has six 20-point games (San Diego State, Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, St. John's (twice)), while senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner (Purdue, Marquette) has reached that mark twice. Senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow (Georgetown), junior forward Becca Bruszewski (DePaul) and junior guard Brittany Mallory (Valparaiso) have one 20-point game apiece.
Notre Dame has faced a rigorous schedule this season, taking on 10 ranked opponents. The Irish also have risen to that challenge quite well, winning six of those 10 contests (Michigan State, San Diego State, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, West Virginia and St. John's), including four victories away from home (MSU, SDSU, OU and STJ).
In addition, two of the four losses to ranked opponents (at St. John's and at Georgetown) came by 10 points or fewer and occurred while fifth-year senior guard Lindsay Schrader was sidelined with a sprained left ankle (the first two games Schrader missed in her college career).
Four of Notre Dame's six wins over ranked opponents this season came during the non-conference portion of the regular season schedule, marking the second consecutive year in which the Irish defeated four Top 25 non-conference foes.
Game #31 Recap: St. John's
Notre Dame had already lost to St. John's during the regular season. Devereaux Peters said they weren't going to let it happen again.
Peters scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half and Skylar Diggins scored 21, two shy of her career high, as No. 6 Notre Dame defeated the No. 16 Red Storm 75-67 in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Championship.
The Irish, seeded fifth in the tournament because all four of its losses were to BIG EAST teams, fell to the Red Storm 76-71 in New York in February.
"It definitely burned," Peters said of the earlier loss. "We definitely came in with a chip on our shoulder and wanted to come out hard and definitely prove that we can play better than we did when we were there."
They played that earlier game without guard Lindsay Schrader, who sustained an ankle injury two days earlier against DePaul, and they failed to score for a seven-minute stretch in the second half.
Notre Dame had trouble with scoring droughts again Sunday, but they were nothing the Irish couldn't overcome. St. John's (24-6), down seven midway through the first half, went on an 11-0 run over four minutes and outscored the Irish, 21-8 to finish the half leading 36-32.
The Irish also had what coach Muffet McGraw called 13 "really uncharacteristically bad turnovers," in the first half, including dribbling into traps and travel calls that resulted from rushed play.
"We just talked about moving the ball a little bit and trying to get it to the middle of the floor," McGraw said. "That was an area we really wanted to get the ball to. We didn't have a lot of success with that in the first half, and I thought we did a little better in the second half."
Peters, who reached double figures in scoring for her third consecutive game and fifth of the season, was the primary beneficiary of Notre Dame's offensive adjustments.
She scored 10 of her points in a four-minute stretch midway through the second half, including a basket with 13:36 remaining that gave Notre Dame a 47-45 lead -- its first since the nine-minute mark of the first half.
St. John's, which starts two freshmen and a sophomore, showed its postseason inexperience down the stretch.
The Red Storm held a 63-59 advantage with six minutes to play before Notre Dame went on a 12-0 run.
"We wanted to just take over," Diggins said. "We really came together and were like, `We don't want to go home. We want to win.' And we were very anxious to come out here and play this team. We didn't get off to a good start, so we wanted to make sure we finished well."
St. John's committed 20 fouls, with 17 coming in the second half and eight in the last six minutes.
"I think today was the first time in some time that we showed our inexperience and youth at the end," said St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico. "The kids got extremely frustrated by it and we tried to continue to stay positive, but I think it really affected us."
Shenneika Smith scored 23 points for St. John's, making her first five shots and nine of her first 10, and Da'Shena Stevens scored 14 despite missing three minutes early in the game with a right ankle injury.
Notre Dame shot 54 percent despite making just one of its six three-point attempts. The Irish also shot over 56 percent in a second-round victory over Louisville on Saturday.
Noting The St. John's Game