March 17, 2008
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - For the 13th consecutive season, and the 15th time in school history, Notre Dame has earned a berth in the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship. The Irish are the No. 5 seed in the Oklahoma City Region and will play 12th-seeded SMU Sunday at approximately 2:30 p.m. (ET) at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.
The game will be televised by ESPN as part of that network's "whiparound coverage," with ESPNU and ESPN360 viewers, as well as ESPN watchers in the South Bend market, 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-SMU contest. Fourth-seeded Oklahoma and No. 13 seed Illinois State will square off in Sunday's other first-round Oklahoma City Region game at West Lafayette (noon ET tipoff), with the two first-round winners advancing to a March 25 contest at a time to be determined.
Tickets for the Sunday afternoon session in West Lafayette (featuring Notre Dame) are $18 each and 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. For information on ticket availability for other sessions in West Lafayette, contact the Purdue Athletics Ticket Office at (800) 497-7678.
"We're excited to be back in the (NCAA) tournament for the 13th year in a row," Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. "Hopefully, our fans will be able to follow us since we'll be right here in the state, going to Purdue, with a tough matchup against a very talented SMU team in the first round. When you get down to the 64 teams in the tournament, every single one of them is a quality team that earned their way here. They're the best of the best and we're starting with the best from Conference USA in SMU."
Notre Dame (23-8, 11-5 BIG EAST Conference) is ranked 15th in the final Associated Press poll of the season and 19th in the latest ESPN/USA Today coaches poll (final poll to be released after the NCAA tournament). The Irish finished fourth in the BIG EAST this season and picked up two victories over Top 25 opponents (No. 15 Pittsburgh and No. 21/23 Syracuse), while also reeling off a 10-game winning streak during the months of November and December, marking the program's longest success string since 2004-05. Notre Dame currently ranks among the top 25 in seven NCAA statistical categories, including top-10 rankings for scoring offense (8th, 76.5 ppg.) and scoring margin (9th, +15.8 ppg.), and has tied the school's single-season records for 30-point wins (10) and 90-point games (7).
Three Irish players also earned all-conference recognition this season -- senior guard Charel Allen (Monessen, Pa./Monessen) was a first-team pick, while sophomore guard Ashley Barlow (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike) and junior guard Lindsay Schrader (Bartlett, Ill./Bartlett) both were honorable mention selections. What's more, guard Brittany Mallory (Baltimore, Md./McDonogh School) and forward Devereaux Peters (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick) made the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team this year.
Notre Dame is 23-13 (.639) all-time in 14 previous NCAA Championship appearances (all under McGraw), having won 11 of its past 12 NCAA first-round games, and advancing to the Sweet 16 (regional semifinals) six times in the past 11 seasons. In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 13 consecutive NCAA tournament berths is the eighth-longest in the nation, while its .639 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. 5 seed on two other occasions -- in 1999, the Irish defeated 12th-seeded Saint Mary's (Calif.), 61-57, in Baton Rouge, La., before bowing to No. 4 seed LSU, 74-64, in the second round. Then, in 2004, Notre Dame was seeded fifth and played twice on its home floor at the Joyce Center, defeating No. 12 seed Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), 69-65 in overtime, and 13th-seeded Middle Tennessee, 59-46, to book its most recent trip to the Sweet 16.
The No. 5 seed is Notre Dame's highest since the 2005 NCAA tournament, when the Irish were seeded fourth, defeating UC Santa Barbara (61-51) in round one before being upset by No. 5 seed Arizona State (70-61) in the second round out in Fresno, Calif.
SMU (24-8, 11-5 Conference USA) is making its seventh NCAA Championship appearance (first since 2000) after winning the Conference USA tournament title on March 9 with a 73-57 upset of then-No. 18/24 UTEP. The Mustangs, led by 17th-year head coach (and 1983 SMU grad) Rhonda Rompola, have won a school-record 24 games this season behind the play of senior forward (and first-team all-C-USA selection) Janielle Dodds, as well as sophomore forward (and third-team all-conference pick) Delisha Wills. Senior guard Sharee Shepherd also was honored as the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year.
Notre Dame will be facing SMU for the third time on Sunday afternoon, with the all-time series between the Irish and Mustangs tied at 1-1. The teams last met on Jan. 15, 1984 in Dallas, with SMU pulling out a 64-63 win at Moody Coliseum.