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    Fighting Irish
    #7 Irish Open NCAA Championship Play Sunday Against Cleveland State

    FIGHTING IRISH Two-time all-BIG EAST and 2010 all-region senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow is the first Notre Dame player (male or female) to register 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists and 250 steals in her career.
    FIGHTING IRISH
    Two-time all-BIG EAST and 2010 all-region senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow is the first Notre Dame player (male or female) to register 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists and 250 steals in her career.
    FIGHTING IRISH

    March 18, 2010

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    2009-10 ND Women's Basketball: Game 33
    NCAA Championship -- Kansas City Region/First Round
    #7/7 [#2 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (27-5 / 12-4 BIG EAST) vs. [#15 seed] Cleveland State Vikings (19-13 / 11-7 Horizon League)

    DATE: March 21, 2010
    TIME: 2:30 p.m. ET
    AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
    SERIES: ND leads 5-0
    1ST MTG: ND 85-68 (1/20/87)
    LAST MTG: ND 107-65 (11/26/02)
    TV: ESPN (live) (Eric Collins, p-b-p / Brooke Weisbrod, color)
    RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
    LIVE STATS: UND.com
    TICKETS: (574) 631-7356

    NCAA Tournament Central

    Storylines

  • Notre Dame is making its 15th consecutive NCAA Championship appearance, the sixth-longest active streak in the nation.
  • The Irish will carry the flag for the state of Indiana into this year's NCAA Championship, as the lone team from the Hoosier State to qualify for the 64-team field.
  • No. 7 Irish Open NCAA Championship Play Sunday Against Cleveland State
    After a strong performance and semifinal berth at the BIG EAST Conference Championship, No. 7 Notre Dame looks to translate that effort into more positive results, as the second-seeded Irish begin their 17th NCAA Championship appearance (and 15th in a row) at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday against No. 15 seed Cleveland State in a Kansas City Region first-round game at Purcell Pavilion. ESPN will televise the game live to a national audience via its "whiparound" coverage, while the South Bend market (and viewers on ESPN360.com) will see the Notre Dame contest in its entirety.

    The Irish (27-5) last took the floor on March 8, battling top-ranked Connecticut from the opening tip to the final horn in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals before dropping a 59-44 decision in Hartford, Conn.

    Freshman guard Skylar Diggins was the lone Irish player to score in double figures, tallying all 10 of her points in the first half.

    Rankings

  • Notre Dame is No. 7 in the final Associated Press poll and No. 7 in the latest ESPN/USA Today poll.
  • Cleveland State is not ranked.
  • Quick Hitters

  • Notre Dame is in the midst of a 58-week run in the Associated Press poll (as of March 15), the second-longest streak in school history (59 from 1998-2002).
  • The Irish appeared in the top five of the AP poll for the first 15 weeks this season, marking the second-longest string of consecutive AP Top 5 rankings in program history behind only the final 17 weeks in 2000-01.
  • Notre Dame's 15-game winning streak earlier this season tied for the third-longest in school history, and longest since a school-record 23-game run from Nov. 17, 2000-Feb. 14, 2001.
  • At 15-0, the Irish posted the second-best start in program history, topped only by a 23-0 debut in 2000-01 (the season in which Notre Dame won its first NCAA title).
  • The Irish have secured their 16th 20-win season in the past 17 years, as well as the 20th in the 23-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present) and the 24th in the program's 33-year history.
  • Notre Dame has earned the seventh 25-win campaign in program history, with all seven in the past 14 years (1996-97 to present).
  • The Irish have toppled six Top 25 opponents (Michigan State, San Diego State, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, West Virginia, St. John's) this year, including four away from home.
  • The Irish won the 2009 Paradise Jam Island Division title (their first regular-season tourney crown since the 2005 Duel in the Desert in Las Vegas), with freshman guard Skylar Diggins capturing MVP honors and senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner making the all-tournament team.
  • At least eight different players have led the Irish in scoring, rebounding and assists this season. In addition, 11 of the 13 players on the Notre Dame roster have scored in double figures at least once this year.
  • In the March 15 NCAA statistical rankings, Notre Dame appears among the top 20 in eight categories -- steals (4th at 12.7 spg.), assists (6th at 17.9 apg.), assist/turnover ratio (12th at 1.08), turnover margin (12th at +6.06), scoring offense (13th at 76.8 ppg.), won-loss percentage (14th at .844), scoring margin (18th at +14.9 ppg.) and field goal percentage (18th at .450).
  • Conversely, Notre Dame has no player ranked higher than 73rd in any NCAA statistical category -- senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow is 73rd in the land in steals at 2.4 per game.
  • Notre Dame is forcing 22.9 turnovers per game this season, including 25.1 at home. The Irish also have caused at least 20 takeaways in 21 games, with no fewer than 25 opponent turnovers in 10 games (and six 30-takeaway nights) this year.
  • Notre Dame is averaging 8,677 fans per game this year (with a school-record six sellouts, including a current streak of four in a row), ranking fifth in the nation and showing a 21-percent increase from last year (7,168). The Irish also are the only school from the top 25 of the final 2008-09 NCAA attendance rankings to see an increase in attendance this year.
  • Other Notre Dame Notables

  • Notre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past 14 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking seventh with 341 victories.
  • Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in attendance each of the past nine seasons. Last year, the program finished ninth in the country for the second year in a row with an average of 7,168 fans for its 13 home games (the second-highest single-season attendance average in school history). The Irish also have drawn 5,000-or-more fans to 139 of their last 141 home games, logging 12 Purcell Pavilion sellouts (including the past four home games, most recently on March 1, 2010 vs. top-ranked Connecticut).
  • The Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as seven Notre Dame players have been selected in the past nine seasons. Charel Allen was the most recent Irish player to be chosen, going to the Sacramento Monarchs in the third round (43rd overall pick) of the 2008 WNBA Draft. Ruth Riley (San Antonio) was active in the league during the '09 season, helping the Silver Stars return to the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Three of Notre Dame's eight WNBA alums have won a total of 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.
  • For the fourth year in a row, the Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October 2009. What's more, 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 58-for-58 success rate), with all five members of this year's senior class on target to graduate by May 2010 (Erica Williamson earned her undergraduate degree one semester early in January 2010).
  • The Notre Dame-Cleveland State Series
    Notre Dame and Cleveland State will meet for the sixth time on Sunday afternoon, with the Irish owning a 5-0 series lead on the Vikings, including a 3-0 record against CSU at Purcell Pavilion.

    The teams played a non-conference home-and-home series in 1987 and 1988 (the first of which came the season before current Irish head coach Muffet McGraw arrived in South Bend), then played a home-and-home series in Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now Horizon League) play in 1995 -- the second of those two 1995 games was an 83-79 Irish victory in overtime in Cleveland, marking the closest margin in the series (although Notre Dame played that game without All-America forward Beth Morgan, who was sidelined with an injury).

    The Last Time Notre Dame And Cleveland State Met
    Katy Flecky and Jacqueline Batteast combined for 41 points and 16 rebounds as No. 10 Notre Dame opened the season with a 107-65 victory over Cleveland State on Nov. 26, 2002, at Purcell Pavilion.

    Flecky had 22 points and Batteast 19 with seven assists. They grabbed eight rebounds apiece.

    Notre Dame, which scored 42 points in its season-opener against Valparaiso a year earlier, broke the school record for points in a half en route to a 61-30 lead at the break.

    Batteast broke the mark with a layup with 16 seconds left in the half, bettering the 59 scored in a 109-56 win over Marquette in 1990.

    Teresa Borton added 18 points, all in the first half, Courtney LaVere had 18 and seven rebounds and Le'Tania Severe had 13 points. Erika Roudebush led Cleveland State with 23 points and Ashley Schrock added 10.

    The Irish, who forced 31 turnovers, broke the 100-point mark when LaVere made a free throw with 4:06 left, the first time the Irish broke triple figures since a 111-90 win over West Virginia in 1999. The school record for points is 113 points, set against Liberty in 1989.

    It was the most points given up by the Vikings since a 130-55 loss to Louisiana Tech on Dec. 28, 1998.

    The Irish made 20 of their first 28 shots (71.4 percent) to open a 42-22 lead on a jumper inside by Borton. They made just six of their next 13 shots, but they continued to pull away.

    Notre Dame shot 60 percent for the game while holding the Vikings to 39.3 percent shooting, blocking six shots.

    Batteast fell two rebounds and three assists shy of becoming the first Irish player with a triple double since Sara Liebscher had 17 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against Detroit in 1990. The Irish won even though Alicia Ratay, the team's top returning scorer at 15.4 points a game, had just four points on 1-of-4 shooting.

    Other Notre Dame-Cleveland State Series Tidbits

  • Notre Dame is averaging 90.4 points in five series games against Cleveland State, topping the 80-point mark each time.
  • The Irish have four common opponents with the Vikings this season -- Iona, Eastern Michigan, Valparaiso and Marquette. Notre Dame went 4-0 against this quartet, while Cleveland State was 3-2 against this foursome (sweeping a two-game Horizon League set with Valparaiso, along with a Thanksgiving weekend win over Iona in Cancun, Mexico).
  • Notre Dame is 71-16 (.816) all-time against Ohio schools, with a 35-7 (.833) record against the Buckeye State at Purcell Pavilion. The Irish also have an active 15-game home winning streak against the state of Ohio since a 78-74 home loss to Dayton on March 8, 1993, in the quarterfinals of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now Horizon League) tournament.
  • Although no current Notre Dame players hail from Ohio, Irish associate head coach Jonathan Tsipis was born in Cleveland and grew up in northeast Ohio. In the 33-year history of the Notre Dame women's basketball program, nine players have come out of the Buckeye State, making Ohio the fourth-most common home state on the program's all-time roster behind Indiana (19), Michigan (15) and Illinois (12).
  • Notre Dame vs. The Horizon League
    Notre Dame is 104-14 (.881) all-time against the Horizon League, including a 53-5 (.914) record at Purcell Pavilion.

    Sunday's matchup with Cleveland State is the second for the Irish against a Horizon League opponent this season. Back on Dec. 12, Notre Dame defeated Valparaiso, 88-47 at Purcell Pavilion behind a career-high 22 points from junior guard Brittany Mallory.

    As a member of the Horizon League from 1988-95 (back when it was known as the Midwestern Collegiate Conference), the Irish have extensive experience against several of that circuit's institutions, with more than 20 series games (and at least 19 series victories) against current Horizon League schools Butler, Detroit, Loyola-Chicago and Valparaiso.

    In addition, Notre Dame and Valparaiso were regular opponents long before the Crusaders moved to the Horizon League from the Mid-Continent Conference (now known as the Summit League) in 2007-08.

    Irish In The NCAA Championship
    Notre Dame is set to make its 17th appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 15th in a row, when it takes the Purcell Pavilion court Sunday afternoon against Cleveland State. The Irish have a .625 winning percentage (25-15) in NCAA tournament play, ranking 13th all-time in that category (minimum of 20 games played).

    In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 15 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances ranks sixth in the record books.

    Here are some other facts about the Irish in the "Big Dance" (see pp. 174-190 in this year's media guide for box scores, results and records):

  • Each of Notre Dame's 17 NCAA tournament appearances have come during the tenure of 23rd-year head coach Muffet McGraw.
  • The Irish have won their NCAA tournament opener in 12 of the past 14 seasons, corresponding exactly with both their current NCAA Championship appearance streak and their membership in the BIG EAST Conference (1995-96 to present).
  • Notre Dame is one of 12 schools in the country to have advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 seven times in the past 13 years (1997-2009).
  • Notre Dame is one of 11 schools to make multiple trips to the NCAA Women's Final Four and come away with at least one national championship, going to the semifinals in 1997 and winning it all in 2001.
  • Notre Dame is playing an NCAA tournament game on March 21 for the fourth time, having gone 1-2 on this date. In 1998, the Irish dropped a 70-65 decision to Purdue in the Midwest Regional semifinals at Lubbock, Texas. In 2004, Notre Dame opened tournament play with a 69-65 overtime win over Missouri State at Purcell Pavilion. A year later, the Irish were upset by Arizona State, 70-61 in a Tempe Region second-round game at Fresno, Calif.
  • Notre Dame is 6-2 (.750) all-time in NCAA tournament play at Purcell Pavilion. Between first-round losses to Minnesota in 1994 and 2009, the Irish won six consecutive NCAA tourney games at home, advancing to the Sweet 16 from the Purcell Pavilion in 2000, 2001 and 2004.
  • Notre Dame Against The NCAA Field
    Notre Dame has played nearly half (13) of its 32 games this season against teams that were invited to the 2010 NCAA Championship, registering an 8-5 (.615) record vs. the rest of this year's NCAA tournament field (5-0 against teams on the bracket's "right side", which contains the Kansas City and Sacramento regions).

    Sowing The Seeds
    Notre Dame has been seeded second for the second time in its 17 NCAA Championship appearances, earning its highest tournament seed since 2001, when the Irish were a No. 1 seed for the first time in program history.

    In 2000, the Irish also were seeded second and opened the tournament with victories at Purcell Pavilion over 15th-seeded San Diego (87-61) and No. 7 seed George Washington (95-60), before bowing to third-seeded Texas Tech (69-65) in the Mideast Regional semifinals at The Pyramid in Memphis, Tenn.

    Notre Dame has been awarded a top-eight seed for the 11th time in its 17 NCAA Championship visits. The Irish are 14-4 (.778) all-time as the higher seed in NCAA tournament play.

    It Hinges On Defense
    Notre Dame's success in the NCAA Championship can be directly traced to its performance at the defensive end of the floor. In its first 16 NCAA tournament trips (40 games), the Irish are 14-2 (.875) when holding their opponent to 60 points or fewer. The two losses both came at the hands of top-seeded clubs -- Penn State (55-49) in the 2004 East Regional semifinals, and North Carolina (60-51) in the second round of the 2007 Dallas Region.

    Re-Stoking The Offensive Fires
    Prior to the 2008 NCAA Championship, Notre Dame had gone 13 consecutive games without scoring more than 61 points in a regulation NCAA tournament contest, dating back to its 2001 national championship game win over Purdue (68-66 in St. Louis).

    However, that 2008 tournament saw the Irish offense roar to life, as Notre Dame topped the 70-point mark in its first two games (75-62 over SMU and 79-75 in overtime over Oklahoma) before a hard-fought 74-64 loss to Tennessee at the regional semifinals in Oklahoma City.

    The back-to-back 70-point outings were the first for the Irish in the NCAA Championship since their Midwest Regional final and Final Four games in 2001, as they downed Vanderbilt (72-64) and Connecticut (90-75), respectively.

    Notre Dame got back over the 70-point mark again in last year's 79-71 first-round loss to Minnesota at Purcell Pavilion.

    Bonus Basketball
    Notre Dame is 2-0 all-time when going to overtime in the NCAA tournament, following its 2008 second-round win over Oklahoma (79-75 in West Lafayette, Ind.). The Irish also defeated Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), 69-65, in extra time in their 2004 NCAA opener.

    Notre Dame is 16-15 (.516) all-time when going to overtime, and have won four of its last six OT games, dating back to the 2005-06 season -- the only losses in that stretch were an 87-78 setback at South Florida on Jan. 13, 2007, and a 63-59 defeat at Michigan on Dec. 10, 2008.

    At Purcell Pavilion, the Irish hold a 7-5 (.583) record in overtime contests, with their most recent extra-time home game coming on Nov. 13, 2007 (an 85-81 win over Bowling Green).

    2009 NCAA Championship Rewind: Minnesota
    Notre Dame's home-court advantage was no match for Minnesota's three-point shooting and strong rebounding.

    The Gophers opened a 14-point first-half lead, then used timely three-point shooting to hold off Notre Dame 79-71 on March 22, 2009, in the first round of the NCAA tournament's Trenton Region at Purcell Pavilion.

    Emily Fox scored 23 points and Katie Ohm added 15 to pace the Gophers, who shot 49 percent from the field. Zoe Harper had 13 rebounds as the Gophers (20-11) outrebounded the Irish 45-32.

    Ashley Barlow led Notre Dame (22-9) with 20 points.

    The Irish, who twice last season overcame 14-point deficits to win, including coming back from a school-record 18 points down against Vanderbilt in December, couldn't pull even after the Gophers shot 63 percent in the first half to lead 42-30 at intermission.

    Notre Dame used a 9-2 run to close to 50-44 with 15:12 left on a three-point play by Melissa Lechlitner. Moments later, the Irish cut the lead to 58-56 on a three-pointer by Becca Bruszewski, but the Gophers answered with three three-pointers by Ohm, Ashley Ellis-Milan and Fox to move ahead 67-56 with 5:12 left.

    The Irish, who shot 33 percent, never got closer than six again. The 49 percent shooting was the highest by an opponent against Notre Dame last season -- even better than unbeaten and top-seeded Connecticut.

    The Gophers scored on 13 of their first 17 shots, with two of those baskets coming off missed shots, to a 33-19 lead on a basket inside by Ellis-Milan. They led 42-30 at halftime.

    Dance Party
    Notre Dame is one of 24 schools in the country to send both its men's and women's basketball programs to this year's NCAA Championship. Among the others in this select company are fellow BIG EAST Conference members Georgetown and West Virginia, as well as two of the other three schools competing this weekend at Purcell Pavilion -- Vermont and Wisconsin.

    It's the sixth time in the past decade that both Irish basketball teams have advanced to the NCAA tournament (also 2001, 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2008), and the third in the past four seasons. Notre Dame last appeared in both NCAA championships in 2008, with the Irish women advancing to the Sweet 16, while the Notre Dame men made it to the second round.

    A BIG EAST Bonanza
    Notre Dame is one of seven BIG EAST Conference schools that earned invitations to the 2010 NCAA Championship, joining a club that also includes six-time national champion Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Rutgers, St. John's and West Virginia.

    This year's seven selections are one off the conference (and NCAA Championship) record for the highest number of teams from one league invited to a single NCAA tournament. The BIG EAST (2004, 2008) and SEC (1999, 2002) have hit that mark twice, while the Big 12 reached that total for the first time in 2008.

    The BIG EAST also had five teams -- Marquette, Pittsburgh, Providence, South Florida and Syracuse -- selected for this year's Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT), while Louisville was tapped for the inaugural Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI), meaning a conference-record 13 schools have advanced to postseason play for the second consecutive season.

    Collectively, the BIG EAST (81.3%, 13 of 16) is second only to the Big Ten (81.8%, 9 of 11) in terms of conferences with the highest percentage of its membership participating in postseason action.

    Don't Mess With Tradition
    The Notre Dame women's basketball program has developed some traditions that should be quite evident during this weekend's NCAA tournament games at Purcell Pavilion.

  • Green nails -- each of the Irish players and female coaches wear green nail polish throughout the NCAA Championship. This tradition started during the 1997 tourney, when the Irish added the green polish to their fingers prior to their second-round St. Patrick's Day game at Texas, which Notre Dame won 86-83. The Irish ended up going to their first NCAA Final Four that season and the green nail polish was here to stay. As a show of solidarity, the male members of the travel party usually paint their left pinky green, and some (including associate head coach Jonathan Tsipis) have even gone so far as to shave their heads for the duration of the tournament.
  • Green uniforms -- though not limited exclusively to NCAA tournament play, Notre Dame's distinctive kelly green road uniforms have become a staple of the postseason in keeping with the St. Patrick's Day holiday, which often falls during the early rounds of the tournament (or in this year's case, during the week leading up to the preliminary rounds). The Irish last wore the alternate green road threads in the NCAA Championship for their 2008 second-round and regional semifinal games, splitting games with Oklahoma (W, 79-75 OT) and Tennessee (L, 64-74) -- Notre Dame is 6-7 (.462) all-time in the NCAA tournament, including a 3-0 record at home, when featuring the "wearing o' the green." The Irish also broke out their alternate home whites with green trim for first-round games the past two seasons (2008 - a 75-62 win over SMU in West Lafayette, Ind.; 2009 - a 79-71 home loss to Minnesota), the first time those uniforms have been worn in NCAA tournament play.
  • Irish jig -- this unique pre-game ritual has become one of the widely-recognized traditions of Notre Dame women's basketball. Just prior to the introduction of the starting lineups, the Irish players will circle up in the lane with a basketball at their feet. As the Notre Dame pep band plays, the team will perform the Irish Jig (a popular step with Notre Dame fans, especially the student body) with the ball bouncing around in the midst of their dance. This tradition is believed to have started during the 1999-2000 season, but picked up steam during Notre Dame's 2000-01 national championship run and has been part of the Irish pre-game ritual ever since.
  • Hitting The Books
    Notre Dame is one of 19 schools in this year's NCAA Championship field to post a perfect 100-percent graduation rate, according to a study released this week by Richard Lapchick, head of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. The study looked at student-athletes in freshman classes from 1999-2003, allowing six years for graduation.

    The other 2010 NCAA tournament participants with spotless graduation rates named in this survey were: Bowling Green, Connecticut, Dayton, DePaul, Iowa, Lehigh, Liberty, Marist, Nebraska, North Carolina, Northern Iowa, Ohio State, St. John's, Stanford, Tennessee, Tulane, Vanderbilt and Vermont.

    The BIG EAST led all conferences in this report with four teams, while no other league had more than two schools named in the study. In fact, three of those four BIG EAST teams -- Notre Dame, Connecticut and DePaul -- also posted Academic Progress Rates (APR) among the top 15 in this year's 64-team NCAA Championship field.

    What's more, Notre Dame was the only school to have both its men's and women's basketball teams advance to the NCAA Championship and have both register perfect 100-percent graduation rates.

    Bouncing Back
    In recent years, Notre Dame has shown exceptional resiliency when it comes to responding to a double-digit loss. Since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, the Irish are 55-14 (.797) in "bounce back" games, including victories in their three such scenarios this season (78-60 at Louisville on Jan. 19; 82-67 vs. Marquette on Feb. 23; 89-52 vs. Louisville on March 6).

    Overall, Notre Dame is 80-31 (.721) in the Muffet McGraw era (1987-present) when playing its first game following a loss of 10 points or more.

    Pieces of Silver
    Notre Dame collected its 25th win of the season on Feb. 27 with a 72-47 victory at Seton Hall. It's the seventh time in program history (all in the past 14 seasons) that the Irish have registered at least 25 wins in a campaign, and the first since posting a 25-9 record in 2007-08.

    What's more, the Irish have reached the 25-win level in the regular season for the fourth time in school history, and the first since the 2004-05 campaign. The other 25-win regular seasons came in 1996-97 and 2000-01.

    Twenty Questions
    Notre Dame reached the 20-win mark for the 16th time in the past 17 seasons with its 75-63 victory at Rutgers on Feb. 1. The Irish now have registered 20-or-more wins 20 times in the 23-year Muffet McGraw era and 24 times in the program's 33-year history.

    Notre Dame also hit the 20-win plateau in its 21st game this season, reaching that milestone faster than all but one Irish team -- the 2000-01 squad that opened 23-0 and earned its 20th victory at Providence on Jan. 31, 2001 (one calendar day earlier than this year's club).

    Tough Enough
    Notre Dame has faced a rigorous schedule this season, taking on 11 ranked opponents to date. The Irish also have risen to that challenge well, winning six times (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 year came during the regular season non-conference portion of the schedule, marking the second consecutive year in which the Irish defeated four Top 25 non-league foes in their pre-conference slate.

    Comeback Kids
    Notre Dame has rallied from a double-digit deficit to win three times this season. The Irish erased a 10-point first-half margin at Purdue on Jan. 4, followed by a 12-point first-half spread at Louisville on Jan. 19, and most recently, they wiped out a 13-point second-half gap at home against West Virginia on Jan. 24.

    The three double-digit comeback victories are the most for Notre Dame in a single season since 2002-03, when it came back to win at West Virginia (trailed by 14), at Providence (trailed by 10) and home vs. Seton Hall (trailed twice by 12).

    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 10 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.

    Stat Sheet Stuffers
    Another sign of Notre Dame's versatility is seen in the number of "5-5-5" games (5 or more in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and/or steals) posted by its players this year. In fact, no fewer than six Irish players have pulled off this feat at least once during the current campaign.

    Freshman guard Skylar Diggins (UAPB, Charlotte, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Marquette) has a team-high five 5-5-5 games, while senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow (Iona, South Florida, DePaul, St. John's) and junior guard Brittany Mallory (Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, DePaul) both have four 5-5-5 games. Junior forward Becca Bruszewski (Louisville), sophomore guard Natalie Novosel (Eastern Michigan) and junior forward Devereaux Peters (St. John's) each have one.

    Barlow took it to another level in the Feb. 14 DePaul win with her first "5-5-5-5" game, piling up nine points, a career-high eight assists, six rebounds and five steals. Mallory nearly matched that trick in that same game with six points, seven rebounds, five steals and four assists.

    Irish Trio Makes All-Region Team
    For the first time in school history, Notre Dame placed three players on the State Farm/WBCA All-Region I Team, it was announced Tuesday.

    Senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow, freshman guard Skylar Diggins and fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader were among 52 all-region selections, including 12 from Region I, which covers teams in the BIG EAST, America East, Atlantic 10 and Northeast conferences, as well as the Ivy Group and Patriot League. The Irish trio -- each of whom earned all-region honors for the first time -- also were the first Notre Dame players to be selection for the region squad since Charel Allen in 2007.

    On March 23, the State Farm Coaches' All-America Team selection committee will trim the list of 52 all-region honorees to 40 finalists for the 10-member State Farm Coaches' All-America Team that will be announced during the open practices prior to the NCAA Women's Final Four on April 3 in San Antonio, Texas. Ruth Riley (2001) and Jacqueline Batteast (2005) are the two Irish players who have earned their way onto the prestigious squad.

    Those 30 finalists not chosen for this year's coaches' All-America squad will earn State Farm Coaches' All-America Honorable Mention status, something earned by seven Notre Dame players in the past two decades (most recently Allen in 2007).

    Uncharted Territory
    In her first season at Notre Dame, freshman guard Skylar Diggins already is rising to seldom-seen heights in the Irish history books.

    Here's a look at her more noteworthy accomplishments this season:

  • She already holds the school record for steals (74) and free throws made (102) by a freshman.
  • She became the first Notre Dame rookie ever to make the BIG EAST Championship All-Tournament Team after leading the Irish to their first semifinal berth since 2005.
  • She was named the Most Valuable Player of the Paradise Jam's Island Division, becoming the first Notre Dame freshman in 10 seasons to earn all-tournament team honors at a regular-season event (Alicia Ratay made the Wachovia Women's Basketball Invitational squad in 1999).
  • Diggins has scored 436 points, the most by an Irish rookie in a decade (Ratay had 447 in 1999-2000).
  • Diggins' team-high scoring average (13.6 ppg.) puts her in a position to become the first Notre Dame freshman in 17 seasons to lead the team in scoring (Beth Morgan was the last rookie to do so in 1993-94).
  • Diggins is poised to become the first Irish rookie in 16 years to dish out 100 assists in a single season, a feat last achieved by Mollie Peirick in 1994-95.
  • Perhaps most noteworthy of all, Diggins needs only six assists and one steal to become the third player in school history (and first freshman) to amass 400 points, 100 assists and 75 steals in a single season. The only other Irish players who can make that claim are current assistant coach Niele Ivey (434p/247a/94s in 2000-01) and Megan Duffy (407p/178a/90s in 2004-05).
  • Taking What We Can Get
    Fueled by a renewed attention to defense this offseason, Notre Dame has been in the taking mood this year, forcing its opponents into at least 20 turnovers in 23 of 32 games thus far, with Irish foes averaging 22.7 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +6.06 turnover margin that was 12th-best in the nation (as of March 15).

    In a two-game stretch bookending the Christmas holiday, Notre Dame harassed its opponents into a combined 79 turnovers (43 by Charlotte on Dec. 20 and 36 at UCF on Dec. 29).

    Charlotte's 43 turnovers tied for the second-most opponent giveaways in a game in school history and the most since Dec. 8, 1981, when the Irish forced sister school Saint Mary's (Ind.) into 43 turnovers during the program's second season at the Division I level. The Notre Dame record for opponent turnovers in a game is 48 by Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Jan. 11, 1980, at DeKalb, Ill.

    The Irish also are making even the most disciplined teams fall victim to their aggressive defensive style. Villanova came into its Jan. 9 game with Notre Dame ranked second in the nation with just 12.6 turnovers per game, but the Irish dogged the Wildcats into 34 turnovers (17 in each half).

    Notre Dame has been especially hard on opponents at home this season, forcing 25.1 turnovers per game and collecting at least 25 takeaways in eight Purcell Pavilion contests thus far.

    The Five-Finger Discount
    According to the March 15 NCAA statistical report, Notre Dame ranks fourth in the nation in steals (12.7 spg.). The Irish already have broken the single-season school record for steals with 407 thefts (the old mark of 397 was set twice before --1990-91 and 2007-08), posting double-digit steal totals in 23 games this season, including five 20-steal efforts.

    What makes Notre Dame's steal total even more impressive is the fact that the Irish are equal opportunity thieves. Ten different Notre Dame players have recorded double-digit steals this season, with five topping the 40-steal mark (the third time in four years the Irish have pulled off that feat).

    Leading the way is senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow with a career-high 76 steals (good for 73rd in the nation at 2.4 spg.). In fact, Barlow now has topped the 60-steal mark in each of her four seasons under the Golden Dome, making her just the third Irish player ever to accomplish that feat, along with Coquese Washington (1989-93) and current Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey (1997-2001).

    Freshman guard Skylar Diggins is second on the squad with 74 thefts (85th in the nation at 2.3 spg.), having already broken Washington's school record for thefts by a rookie (67 in 1989-90).

    The twin 70-steal efforts by Barlow and Diggins are rare in Notre Dame history, as it marks just the third time that's occurred in a single season.

    In 1990-91, Washington had 83 steals, Krissi Davis added 76 steals and Karen Robinson chipped in 67 thefts. Most recently, in the 1996-97 Final Four campaign, Jeannine Augustin had 92 steals, Katryna Gaither logged 76 steals and Beth Morgan chalked up 66 thefts.

    No Notre Dame squad ever has had two players each collect more than 76 steals in a single season.

    That 1996-97 season also was the last in which the Irish had three players with 65+ steals, something that could be repeated this year if junior guard Brittany Mallory adds to her career-high 59-steal total (Notre Dame had three 60-steal players in 2006-07).

    Glass Houses
    Notre Dame and Connecticut are the only two BIG EAST teams with at least three current players having 500+ career rebounds. Irish fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader is seventh all-time at Notre Dame with 803 boards (the seventh player in school history with at least 800 rebounds), while senior guard tri-captain Ashley Barlow has 640 caroms and senior center Erica Williamson has 529 career rebounds.

    Polling Station
    Notre Dame was ranked seventh in the final Associated Press poll of the season that was released Monday, marking the fourth time in program history that the Irish have finished in the top 10 of the year-end AP poll (and first since a three-year run from 1999-2001, capped with a No. 2 ranking).

    Earlier this season, Notre Dame had a run of 15 consecutive weeks in the top five -- it was the second-longest run in the AP Top 5 in program history, and the longest for the Irish since the 2000-01 season, when Notre Dame was a top-five fixture for the final 17 weeks.

    Notre Dame's current poll appearance run of 58 consecutive weeks is the second-longest in school history behind a 59-week stretch from 1998-2002). The Irish also spent a total of seven weeks this year at a season-high No. 3 ranking, which was Notre Dame's highest poll position since the week of Nov. 29, 2004, when the Irish also were ranked third.

    What's more, Notre Dame's No. 4 preseason ranking on Oct. 30 was its the highest ever, topping its No. 6 debut in the 2000-01 poll.

    With this week's poll position, the Irish now have appeared in the top 10 of the AP poll during 10 of the past 14 seasons (1996-97 through 2009-10), with their current 19-week stint being the second-longest in program history behind a 31-week stretch from 1999-2001.

    Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 197 weeks during the program's 33-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 22nd all-time in that category.

    In addition, the Irish are ranked seventh in the current ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll. Notre Dame reached its season high in the ESPN/USA Today poll for eight weeks earlier this year with a No. 3 ranking, which also was the highest it has been ranked in the coaches' survey since the 2004-05 season, when the Irish were third for two separate weeks (Nov. 30 and Jan. 5) during the year.

    What's more, it was the first time Notre Dame was in the top three in consecutive weeks since the final 14 weeks of the 2000-01 season (capped by a No. 1 ranking in the final poll after winning the national championship).

    This marks the second consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as eight of the past 12 campaigns (1998-99 to present).

    Notre Dame was ranked in the coaches' survey for 38 consecutive weeks before falling just outside the Top 25 in the final poll of last season. With their No. 7 ranking this week, the Irish have appeared in the coaches' poll for 189 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).

    More Polling Data
    Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 28 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 197 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 28 people on this list, 16 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches, including former Irish point guard and assistant coach Coquese Washington ('92), who helped Notre Dame to its first-ever AP poll ranking in 1990-91, and is in her third season as head coach at Penn State, guiding the Lady Lions into the Jan. 25 AP poll at No. 23.

    Six of the 16 active coaches in this group -- including McGraw -- also have led their teams to this year's NCAA Championship, while McGraw and Baylor's Kim Mulkey are the only active skippers to play for and coach a team in the AP poll, and also coach that team to a national title (McGraw in 2001, Mulkey in 2005).

    Game #32 Recap: Connecticut (BIG EAST Championship Semifinal)
    Tina Charles, Maya Moore and the latest Connecticut Huskies' dynasty now has its own place in the record books.

    Charles scored 16 points and Moore added 11 to help top-ranked Connecticut win an NCAA-record 71st straight game -- a 59-44 victory over No. 6 Notre Dame on March 8 in the semifinals of the BIG EAST Championship in Hartford, Conn.

    UConn surpassed its own mark set from Nov. 9, 2001, to March 11, 2003. Unlike that amazing run, which ended in a loss in the BIG EAST Conference tournament semifinals to Villanova, this Huskies team has thoroughly dominated its opponents in every game, winning all of them by double digits.

    With the win over Notre Dame (27-5), UConn improved to 13-0 against top-10 opponents, winning by an average of 26.2 points. Even second-ranked Stanford lost by 12 when the teams met in late December.

    Notre Dame kept it close for a half.

    UConn only led 25-22 at the break -- its lowest scoring output in nearly three years. The Huskies then asserted themselves, led by Kalana Greene.

    The senior hit just one of eight shots in the first 20 minutes, but scored the first four points of a decisive 13-4 run that gave UConn a 49-35 lead with 9:00 left. Moore's deep three-pointer capped the spurt. Greene finished the game with 15 points.

    Notre Dame, which was led by Skylar Diggins' 10 points, was only able to close to 10.

    For 20 minutes it looked as if Notre Dame might have some of its traditional luck of the Irish. It was a sloppy first half as neither team could put together a sustained run. The Huskies took their biggest lead of the half on Caroline Doty's three-pointer with 8:37 left that made it 19-14. Notre Dame answered scoring six of the next eight points to close within one.

    The Irish had plenty of chances to take the lead, but couldn't get over the hump.

    Charles scored consecutive layups to extend the lead back to five and UConn went into the half only up three. In the first two meetings UConn led Notre Dame by 23 and 13.

    Noting The Connecticut Game

  • All five of Notre Dame's losses this season have come to ranked oppponents (Connecticut three times, plus at St. John's and Georgetown), four away from home, with the Fighting Irish now 6-5 this season against Top 25 teams.
  • Notre Dame held Connecticut to its lowest single-game and first-half point totals in nearly three years, dating back to March 26, 2007, when the Huskies scored only 22 points in the first half of a 73-50 loss to LSU in the NCAA Fresno Regional final in Fresno, Calif.
  • Notre Dame also logged the third-closest game against Connecticut this season, with only Stanford (12 points) and St. John's (14 points) managing to come closer to defeating the Huskies in 2009-10.
  • During Connecticut's present winning streak, Notre Dame twice has come within 15 points of defeating the Huskies (it lost by 10 points during the 2008-09 regular season in Hartford), joining St. John's as the only schools that can make that claim (the Red Storm lost to visiting Connecticut by 13 points last season).
  • The Fighting Irish were held to their lowest point total since Jan. 24, 2006, when they dropped a 69-43 decision at No. 10/9 Rutgers.
  • The 44 points were the fewest scored by Notre Dame in a BIG EAST Championship game since March 9, 2003, when the Fighting Irish fell in the tournament quarterfinals to No. 20/18 Villanova, 50-39, in Piscataway, N.J.
  • Notre Dame limited Connecticut to its second-lowest point total in the 29-game series between the schools, and lowest since a 65-59 Fighting Irish win on Jan. 30, 2005, in Storrs, Conn. (Notre Dame's most recent victory prior to the current nine-game Huskies' win streak in the series).
  • Notre Dame's two free throws made and attempted were the fewest for the Fighting Irish in a single game since March 21, 1991, when they went 2-for-3 from the stripe in an 81-65 loss to Santa Clara in the first round of the old National Women's Invitation Tournament (NWIT) in Amarillo, Texas.
  • Connecticut's .300 free throw percentage was the lowest by a Notre Dame opponent this season, surpassing the .333 mark by Charlotte on Dec. 20 at Purcell Pavilion.
  • The Fighting Irish fall to 5-3 this season (and 9-4 in the past two years) when playing with one day's rest (or less).
  • For the first time in program history, Notre Dame played a top-ranked team three times in one season.
  • Getting The Jump
    At 15-0, Notre Dame got off to the second-best start in the program's 33-year history. The only time the Irish opened with a better record that this season was in 2000-01, when they reeled off a school-record 23 consecutive wins en route to a 34-2 final record and the program's first national championship.

    Streak Stats
    Notre Dame's season-opening 15-game winning streak tied for the third-longest success string in program history (at any time), and it was the longest since the school-record 23-game run to begin the 2000-01 season.

    McGraw Earns 600th Career Win
    Irish head coach Muffet McGraw reached her second important career milestone of the season on Jan. 19, as she became the 19th Division I coach to record 600 career wins when the Irish posted a 78-60 victory at Louisville.

    McGraw earned the milestone win in her 839th career game (she now has a 28-year mark of 611-243, .715), tying her with former Saint Peter's coach Mike Granelli as the 10th-fastest to the 600-win plateau in Division I history.

    In honor of the historic 600th victory, Notre Dame fans at Purcell Pavilion held up signs with the number "600" on them when McGraw and her staff took the floor prior to the Jan. 24 win over No. 16/11 West Virginia. The visibly-moved Irish coach later called the scene "one of the top five moments" of her Notre Dame career.

    McGraw Joins Elite Notre Dame Club
    With a 84-79 win over No. 23/24 San Diego State on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 26) at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Irish head coach Muffet McGraw reached a personal milestone, becoming the fourth coach in school history (in any sport) to register 500 victories while coaching under the Golden Dome. McGraw now has a record of 523-202 (.721) in 23 seasons at Notre Dame (1987-88 to present) and a 611-243 (.715) record in 28 seasons overall -- including a five-year stint at Lehigh from 1982-87.

    Fencing's Michael DeCicco (680-45 from 1962-86) and Yves Auriol (525-33 from 1986-2002), and baseball's Jake Kline (558-449-5 from 1934-75) are the only other members of the "Fighting Irish Five Hundred Club," with one able to connect 75 years of Notre Dame athletics history and success via just four degrees of separation (Kline to DeCicco to Auriol to McGraw).

    McGraw reached two other mileposts on Dec. 2 vs. Eastern Michigan, as she coached her 700th game at Notre Dame, as well as her 300th at Purcell Pavilion.

    As it turned out, that EMU game also saw the school honor McGraw with an on-court post-game celebration for her 500th win, capped by a visit from her 19-year-old son, Murphy, who secretly drove four hours from his college campus at Indiana University in Bloomington to surprise his mother with a bouquet of flowers and the game ball from her milestone win.

    Keeping It Close To Home
    Although Notre Dame has traditionally had a national reputation in recruiting circles, in recent seasons, the Irish have found their strongest talent comes from right in their own backyard. In fact, of the 13 players on this year's Notre Dame roster, four are from Indiana, while five others are from states that border Indiana (including sophomore forward Erica Solomon, who lived in Oak Park, Mich., and graduated from Detroit Country Day School in 2008 before her family moved back to her birthplace of Charleston, W.Va., this past summer).

    What's more, of the five most common Notre Dame starters this season, four are from the state of Indiana -- senior guard Ashley Barlow (Indianapolis), junior forward Becca Bruszewski (Valparaiso) and the all-South Bend backcourt of senior guard Melissa Lechlitner and freshman guard Skylar Diggins -- while the fifth starter (fifth-year senior guard Lindsay Schrader) is from Bartlett, Ill., located right outside Chicago.

    As if that weren't enough, the quartet of Barlow, Lechlitner, Bruszewski and Schrader have been mainstays in the Irish lineup for the past two seasons and have a combined total of 337 career starts between them.

    Schrader reached a personal milestone on Dec. 12 against Valparaiso, becoming the 12th player in school history with 100 starting assignments in her career. Schrader now is third in school history with 121 career starts, trailing only Alicia Ratay (129 from 1999-2003) and Ruth Riley (124 from 1997-2001). Schrader also had a streak of 73 starts in a row from Jan. 16, 2008-Feb. 14, 2010 (sixth-best in school history) before missing the Feb. 16 game at St. John's with an ankle injury.

    Experience Matters
    For the first time in Notre Dame women's basketball history, four players have hit the 100 games played mark in the same season. Senior guards/tri-captains Ashley Barlow, Melissa Lechlitner and Lindsay Schrader, along with senior center Erica Williamson, all reached the century mark during the Thanksgiving weekend at the Paradise Jam (Lechlitner and Williamson on Nov. 26 vs. San Diego State, Barlow and Schrader on Nov. 27 vs. South Carolina).

    Current Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey holds the school record with 132 games played from 1996-2001, while the current Irish senior quartet is intent on crashing the top 10 in that that category. Lechlitner presently is tied for eight at 128 (joining Mollie Peirick [1994-98] and Katryna Gaither [1993-97]), while Barlow and Williamson are knocking on the door in an 11th-place tie at 127, and Schrader isn't far behind at 125.

    Upwardly Mobile
    Two of Notre Dame's senior guards and tri-captains -- Ashley Barlow and Lindsay Schrader -- are already members of the program's 1,000-Point Club, and will spend this season trying to work their way up the Irish all-time scoring ladder.

    Barlow currently ranks 10th in school history with 1,459 career points, while Schrader is 13th with 1,388 points. They could be joined by their fellow senior guard and tri-captain, Melissa Lechlitner, who has 965 points to date.

    Only one other time in program history has Notre Dame fielded three 1,000-point scorers on its roster at the same time -- and it literally happened for less than one game. Ruth Riley, Niele Ivey and Kelley Siemon all reached the millennium mark and played on the 2000-01 Irish national championship squad, with Siemon reaching the milestone in her final collegiate contest after scoring 10 points in Notre Dame's 68-66 title-game victory over Purdue in St. Louis.

    Lechlitner Named Second-Team Academic All-District
    Senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner has been named to the 2010 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District V Second Team, it was announced Feb. 4 by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).

    It's the first time Lechlitner has earned the award, and she is the first Fighting Irish player to garner academic all-district status since 2006, when former Notre Dame point guard Megan Duffy received her second consecutive district award and parlayed that into first-team Academic All-America honors. What's more, Lechlitner becomes the eighth Fighting Irish women's basketball player in the past 12 seasons to be an academic all-district selection.

    Lechlitner currently maintains a 3.377 cumulative grade-point average (GPA) in the College of Arts and Letters, where she is pursuing her bachelor's degree in psychology. She earned dean's list honors in the spring of 2007 with a 3.75 semester GPA, and is coming off a stellar fall 2009 term that saw her post a 3.583 GPA. In addition, she is a three-time BIG EAST Conference All-Academic Team selection and is a prime candidate to make that squad once again this year.

    Pomp And Circumstance
    On Jan. 3, senior center Erica Williamson received her bachelor's degree in film, television & theater from Notre Dame's College of Arts and Letters. Williamson, who also serves as the president of the school's Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), graduated a full semester early and started graduate studies at Notre Dame this spring.

    She subsequently has earned admission into the graduate program at Syracuse University's prestigious S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, where she will continue pursuing a sports broadcasting career in the fall of 2010.

    With Williamson collecting her diploma, all 58 Notre Dame women's basketball student-athletes who have completed their athletic and academic eligibility under head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-present) have earned their degrees.

    Tournament Tested
    Notre Dame has felt right at home in tournament situations during the past 14 years. Starting with the 1996-97 season, the Irish have won 21 of their last 24 regular-season tournament games (multi-game events only), most recently capping a three-game run to the 2009 Paradise Jam Island Division championship over the Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    The only Notre Dame losses during this current stretch were a pair of defeats to third-ranked teams in the Preseason WNIT semifinals (72-59 vs. Tennessee at Ruston, La., in 1996; 75-59 at Maryland in 2007) and a 67-63 overtime setback at No. 20 Colorado on Nov. 15, 2003 in the finals of the WBCA Classic -- a game that saw the Buffaloes sink a desperation 30-footer at the end of regulation to force the extra session.

    Half And Half
    During the past decade, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 186-17 (.916) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 114 of their last 125 such contests.

    Notre Dame has led at the break in 23 games this season and has gone on to earn victories each time.

    The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
    During the past 15 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 an amazing 207-15 (.932) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including a 12-1 record this season. The lone loss? A 59-44 setback to top-ranked Connecticut in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals on March 8 in Hartford, Conn.

    ...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 15 seasons (since 1995-96), the Irish are 138-4 (.972) 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.

    This season, Notre Dame is 15-0 when it scores at least 80 points, including four games when it topped the 90-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 187 of their last 212 games (.882) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span. Notre Dame also has a 106-18 (.855) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the former 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 83 of their last 90 non-BIG EAST contests (.922) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the seven losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents (four by 12 points or less) -- Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT), Indiana in 2006 (54-51) and Minnesota in 2009 (79-71) -- 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 former Joyce Center, posting a 337-86 (.797) 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.

    It's Fan-Demonium At Notre Dame
    If the preseason was any indication, Notre Dame women's basketball is easily the hottest ticket in South Bend. For the first time in school history, all Irish women's basketball season ticket packages (close to 7,500) were sold, including more than 1,000 packages to first-time season ticket purchasers when they went on sale Aug. 14. Furthermore, fans were waiting in line at the Purcell Pavilion ticket office as early as 4:30 that morning, more than four hours before the ticket windows opened. Those early birds were rewarded with a visit from Irish head coach Muffet McGraw, who delivered coffee and bagels, courtesy of McGraw and athletics director Jack Swarbrick.

    It didn't take long for this heightened enthusiasm to come to fruition, as the crowd of 9,080 for the Nov. 15 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff was the largest season-opening audience in program history, more than 1,100 higher than the old mark set in 2001-02 (7,960 vs. Valparaiso).

    Through 15 home games this season, Notre Dame is averaging 8,677 fans per game, good for fifth in the nation and putting the Irish more than 850 fans ahead of their school-record attendance average of 7,825 fans per game, also set in 2001-02.

    Notre Dame also has posted 12 sellouts in program history, with half of those capacity crowds coming this season in the newly-renovated arena -- including the past four home games and five of the last six (all during BIG EAST Conference play).

    The most recent sellout came on March 1, when the Irish drew 9,149 fans to Purcell Pavilion for their matchup with top-ranked Connecticut.

    Irish On Your Radio Dial
    Beginning with the 2008-09 athletics year, 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 originates all Notre Dame women's basketball games, with those events carried on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), marking a return to the FM side of the dial for the first time since the 1998-99 season. 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 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 (www.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 for his second season in his second stint as the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Irish.

    Notre Dame On The Small Screen
    Notre Dame will have at least 23 games televised during the 2009-10 season. Highlighting this year's broadcast schedule were 14 nationally-televised Irish women's basketball contests, including at least nine games on the ESPN family of networks (three on ESPN2's "Big Monday" package) and four others on CBS College Sports.

    In addition, Notre Dame continues to expand its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. All Irish regular-season home games not selected for commercial TV coverage (with the exception of the Nov. 15 game vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff) were webcast live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, www.UND.com, via the site's free multimedia package, Fighting Irish All-Access.

    What's more, the Thanksgiving weekend Paradise Jam was webcast in its entirety through Fox College Sports Broadband on a pay-per-view basis.

    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 (not counting Sunday's NCAA Championship first-round game vs. Cleveland State), Notre Dame has played in 164 televised games, including 110 that were broadcast nationally.

    Oh Captain, My Captain
    Fifth-year senior guard Lindsay Schrader and senior guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner all return for their second year as team captains for the 2009-10 season. All three players received the captain's honor following a vote of their teammates prior to the season.

    This marks the first time in program history that the same players are serving as captains in consecutive seasons.

    Irish Sign Three For 2010-11 Season
    Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw announced Nov. 13 that three of the country's top high school student-athletes have chosen to continue their academic and athletic careers with the Fighting Irish, each signing a National Letter of Intent to attend Notre Dame beginning in the fall of 2010.

    Natalie Achonwa (last name pronounced uh-CHAWN-wuh), a 6-3 forward from Guelph, Ontario (St. Mary's Catholic Secondary School/National Elite Development Academy), Ariel Braker, a 6-1 forward from Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. (Grosse Pointe North High School) and 2010 McDonald's All-American Kayla McBride, a 5-11 guard from Erie, Pa. (Villa Maria Academy) all made their official commitments to the Fighting Irish during the early signing period, which ended Nov. 18.

    All three student-athletes are rated among the top 50 players in the country by various national recruiting services. As a group, this trio is ranked as the No. 10 recruiting class in the country by All-Star Girls Report (and a consensus top-16 class by other recruiting services), giving Notre Dame a Top 25 recruiting class for the 14th consecutive year, a streak only two other schools in the country (Connecticut and Tennessee) can match. It's also the third consecutive top-10 recruiting class for the Fighting Irish.

    "I'm very excited about the class that we're signing this year," McGraw said. "I think we really addressed our needs, with three very good players coming in. They're going to change the way we do some things at both ends of the floor next year. We're going to be able to be more aggressive on defense because we're adding athleticism, length and speed, and on offense, we'll look at ways that we can take advantage of the size that we're going to have. It will probably be a whole new look, going from the more guard-oriented team that we have now, to next year when we'll have some depth in the post as well."

    "Notre Dame emphasized strengthening their perimeter game and did so with size, athleticism and versatility," said Dan Olson, director of the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.

    The full press release, with a complete look at the newest members of the Notre Dame women's basketball program, is available on-line at http://www.und.com/sports/w-baskbl/spec-rel/111309aab.html.

    Irish Signee Kayla McBride Named McDonald's All-American
    Notre Dame incoming freshman guard Kayla McBride (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy) is one of 24 student-athletes who have been named to the 2010 McDonald's Girls' High School All-America Team, it was announced Feb. 11. With the selection, McBride will compete for the East team in the McDonald's High School All-America Game, which is scheduled to take place at 5:30 p.m. (ET) on March 31 and will be televised live to a national cable audience by ESPNU from Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

    "This is an incredible honor and we are so proud of Kayla," Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. "She put in so much time and effort during the off-season to improve her game, and it's such a thrill to see that kind of hard work and dedication pay off. We're looking forward to following Kayla throughout the rest of her high school career, and excited to have her joining us next season."

    The 5-foot-11 McBride is the sixth future Notre Dame women's basketball player, and third in four seasons, to earn McDonald's High School All-America recognition since the girls' team was first created in 2002. Other incoming Fighting Irish cagers who played in the McDonald's game have included Courtney LaVere (2002), Crystal Erwin (2003), and a trio of current Notre Dame players -- Lindsay Schrader (2005), Devereaux Peters (2007) and Skylar Diggins (2009). Diggins shared Most Valuable Player honors at last year's McDonald's game in Coral Gables, Fla., after collecting a game-high 18 points, five rebounds and three steals for the East team in a 69-68 loss to the West squad.

    McBride, who also earned a spot on the ESPN Hoopgurlz All-Star Team that likewise was released Feb. 11, has been ranked as one of the top 25 players in the nation in the Class of 2010 by both ESPN Hoopgurlz (20th) and All-Star Girls Report (22nd). She recently became the all-time scoring leader in Villa Maria Academy history and has helped VMA -- the defending Pennsylvania Class AA state champion -- to a No. 1 ranking in the state in Class AA. The Victors also have been ranked among the top 15 teams in the East Region by several national media outlets this year.

    Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
    It's year three of Notre Dame's wildly-successful "Big Mac" promotion, 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 home game (not counting NCAA Championship contests).

    In the three-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 18 times, including wins this year over Indianapolis, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, IPFW, Valparaiso, Charlotte and DePaul.

    It should come as no surprise that in the short history of the promotion, the Notre Dame player with the most "Big Mac" baskets shares the same initials with the tasty burger -- junior guard Brittany Mallory, who sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) four times during the promotion's inaugural run in 2007-08.

    And for those tracking such things (or perhaps falling under the heading of "SID has too much time on his hands"), 10 different players have converted the "burger ball", including nine current members of the Irish roster.

    What's more, of the 18 Big Mac games to date, nine have been reached on two-point baskets, six on free throws, and three on three-pointers.

    Notre Dame Lends A Hand For Haiti Earthquake Relief
    Fundraising efforts held in conjunction with two University of Notre Dame home basketball games have resulted in more than $250,000 in donations that will go toward relief efforts in Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit the island nation on Jan. 12.

    Through the generosity of fans and alumni, as well as contributions from the University and the Notre Dame Monogram Club, the money was raised at the men's and women's basketball games that were played Jan. 23 and 24, respectively, at Purcell Pavilion.

    Notre Dame donated full gate receipts and net concession revenue from both games to the relief effort. In addition, a collection organized by the Notre Dame Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) -- led by president and current Irish women's basketball senior center Erica Williamson, as well as baseball player Ryan Connolly and rower Emily Crosby -- raised more than $25,000 from fans and alumni who contributed during the games. The Monogram Club added a $10,000 matching gift to the student total.

    Money raised will benefit short-term needs and long-term rebuilding efforts in Haiti and will be distributed to the Notre Dame Haiti Program, which works to eradicate the debilitating mosquito-borne disease lymphatic filariasis; the Congregation of Holy Cross, which has served in Haiti since 1944 and was heavily affected by the earthquake; and Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.

    Next Game: NCAA Second Round
    The winner of Sunday's NCAA Championship first-round game between Notre Dame and Cleveland State will advance to a second-round date against either No. 7 seed Wisconsin or 10th-seeded Vermont at 7 p.m. (ET) Tuesday inside Purcell Pavilion. ESPN2 and ESPN360.com will carry the game live, with whiparound coverage for much for the country outside the South Bend market (which will see the game in its entirety).

    Notre Dame is 5-2 all-time against Wisconsin, most recently defeating the Badgers, 77-72 on Dec. 4, 2005, in Madison, Wis.

    Notre Dame and Vermont have never played in the sport of women's basketball.

    -- ND --
     

     

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