March 16, 2009
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - For the 14th consecutive season, and the 16th time in school history, Notre Dame has earned a berth in the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship. The Irish are the No. 7 seed in the Trenton Region and will play 10th-seeded Minnesota Sunday at approximately 2:30 p.m. (ET) at the Joyce Center.
The game will be televised by ESPN as part of that network's "whiparound coverage," while viewers in the South Bend market, as well as those watching on the Internet at ESPN360.com, will see the game in its entirety. However, the majority of ESPN viewers nationwide will be shuttled between all four games in that time slot, including the Notre Dame-Minnesota contest.
Second-seeded Texas A&M and No. 15 seed Evansville will square off in Sunday's other first-round Trenton Region game at the Joyce Center (noon ET tipoff), with the two first-round winners advancing to a March 24 second-round contest at a time to be determined.
Single-game tickets for either of Sunday's first-round matchups or Tuesday's second-round game in South Bend can be purchased now ($16 adults/$11 youth college age and under) through the official Notre Dame athletics ticketing web site (www.UND.com/tickets). These single-game tickets also will go on sale Tuesday at 9 a.m. (ET) through the Irish Athletics Ticket Office, either by visiting the ticket windows on the second floor of Gate 1 at the Joyce Center or by calling (574) 631-7356. In addition, ticket packages for all three games at the Joyce Center are now available ($32 adults/$22 youth) and can be purchased either on-line or through the Notre Dame Athletics Ticket Office -- processing fees and service charges may apply.
"This is always an exciting time of year and we are thrilled to not only be selected for our 14th consecutive NCAA tournament, but also to be able to play in front of the best fans in the country right here at the Joyce Center," Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. "Minnesota is a quality team from the Big Ten, which is a great conference, and we're going to have a challenge on our hands in the first round. We are all looking forward to getting into the gym tomorrow and beginning to prepare for Sunday's game with the Gophers."
Notre Dame (22-8, 10-6 BIG EAST Conference) is ranked 23rd in the final Associated Press poll of the season and 20th in the latest ESPN/USA Today coaches poll (final poll to be released after the NCAA tournament). The Irish tied for fourth in the BIG EAST this season and picked up five victories over Top 25 opponents (No. 24/22 LSU, No. 24 Michigan State, No. 17/20 Purdue, No. 20/19 Vanderbilt and No. 25 DePaul). What's more, Notre Dame earned seven wins over teams that qualified for this year's NCAA Tournament -- the aforementioned five ranked squads, plus Missouri Valley Conference tournament champion Evansville and Atlantic 10 Conference tourney winner Charlotte. The latter two squads, along with Southeastern Conference tourney victor Vanderbilt, were the three league champions the Irish defeated this season.
Two Notre Dame players also earned all-conference recognition this season -- senior guard Lindsay Schrader (Bartlett, Ill./Bartlett) was a first-team pick, while junior guard Ashley Barlow (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike) was a second-team selection. In addition, guard Natalie Novosel (Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic) and forward Erica Solomon (Oak Park, Mich./Detroit Country Day School) made the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team this year, giving Notre Dame seven all-rookie team choices in the past three seasons (more than any other school in the BIG EAST).
Notre Dame is 25-14 (.641) all-time in 15 previous NCAA Championship appearances (all under McGraw), having won 12 of its past 13 NCAA first-round games, and advancing to the Sweet 16 (regional semifinals) seven times in the past 12 seasons. In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 14 consecutive NCAA tournament berths is the seventh-longest in the nation, while its .641 winning percentage is 11th-best in tournament history. The Irish also have made two NCAA Final Four appearances and won the national championship in 2001.
Notre Dame has been a No. 7 seed once before -- in 2002, the Irish defeated 10th-seeded New Mexico, 58-44, in Knoxville, Tenn., before bowing to No. 2 seed Tennessee, 89-50, in the second round.
Notre Dame also will be playing host to first- and second-round games in the NCAA tournament for the fifth time, having also done so in 1994, 2000, 2001 and 2004. The Irish are 6-1 all-time in NCAA postseason play at the Joyce Center, most recently defeating Southwest Missouri State (now known as Missouri State), 69-65 in overtime, and Middle Tennessee, 59-46, in the '04 East Region before falling to top-seeded Penn State, 55-49 in the Sweet 16 at the Hartford Civic Center (now known as the XL Center).
Minnesota (19-11, 11-7 Big Ten) is making its eighth NCAA Championship appearance, and sixth in the seven-year tenure of head coach Pam Borton, highlighted by a trip to the 2004 NCAA Women's Final Four in New Orleans. After finishing tied for fifth in the Big Ten standings this season, the Golden Gophers earned a bye into the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, where they dropped a 79-64 decision to Iowa.
UM is led by a pair of all-Big Ten selections -- second-team senior guard Emily Fox (12.8 ppg., 3.9 apg., 2.1 spg.) and third-team junior forward/center Ashley Ellis-Milan (11.9 ppg., 7.3 rpg.). In addition, Minnesota has a familiar face on its roster -- redshirt freshman center Kristen Dockery is a Granger, Ind., native and graduated from South Bend's St. Joseph's High School in 2007. While at St. Joe, she was a teammate of current Notre Dame junior guard Melissa Lechlitner, with the pair helping the Indians win a Class 3A state title in 2005.
The Irish will be facing Minnesota for just the second time on Sunday afternoon, and ironically, the first meeting came under virtually the same circumstances. On March 16, 1994, No. 7 seed Notre Dame played host to the 10th-seeded Golden Gophers in an NCAA East Region first-round game at the Joyce Center, with UM pulling out an 81-76 victory, despite 26 points from Irish freshman forward Beth Morgan (who would go on to be a two-time All-American and the program's all-time leading scorer).
In an interesting twist, Morgan (now known as Beth Cunningham) herself will be appearing in this year's NCAA Tournament as a head coach -- her Virginia Commonwealth squad was seeded 10th in the Oklahoma City Region and will travel to another BIG EAST school, Rutgers, on Saturday. She is one of three coaches with Notre Dame ties guiding their teams in this year's tournament -- one of McGraw's original assistant coaches, Bill Fennelly (1987-88), will take his fourth-seeded Iowa State squad into a Sunday night Berkeley Region first-round matchup with East Tennessee State in Bowling Green, Ky., while another former McGraw aide, Kevin McGuff (1995-2002), brings his fifth-seeded Xavier program to Seattle for a Saturday night first-round game against Gonzaga in the Oklahoma City Region.