March 19, 2008
#15/19 [#5 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (23-8 / 11-5 BIG EAST) vs. [#12 seed] SMU Mustangs (24-8 / 11-5 Conference USA)
DATE: March 23, 2008
TIME: 2:30 p.m. ET
AT: West Lafayette, Ind. - Mackey Arena (14,123)
SERIES: Tied, 1-1
NCAA: First meeting
1ST MTG: 1/17/82 (ND 76-70)
LAST MTG: 1/15/84 (SMU 64-63)
RADIO: ESPN Radio 1490 AM (Sean Stires, p-b-p)
TV: ESPN/ESPNU/ESPN360/ESPN Full Court (live) (Dave O'Brien, p-b-p/Krista Blunk, color/Kim Anthony, sideline)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (800) 497-7678
No. 15/19 Irish Open NCAA Championship Play Sunday Against SMU
After waiting two weeks to erase the sting of some late-season stumbles, No. 15/19 Notre Dame will tip off play in the 2008 NCAA Championship on Sunday at approximately 2:30 p.m. (ET) when it takes on Conference USA Tournament champion SMU in a first-round game in the Oklahoma City Region. The game will be televised live on ESPN, ESPNU, ESPN360 and ESPN Full Court (pay-per-view) from Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.
For only the second time all season, Notre Dame lost back-to-back games when it fell to Pittsburgh, 64-53 in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Conference Championship on March 9 in Hartford. The Irish jumped out to a 14-2 lead, but couldn't maintain it, as the Panthers rallied back and used their own 13-2 run over the final 1:36 to take the victory.
Senior guard Charel Allen scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed a team-best eight rebounds for Notre Dame. Sophomore guard Ashley Barlow was the only other Irish player in double figures with 11 points.
A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Behind a high-octane offense and an aggressive defense, Notre Dame has been a fixture in the national polls this season. The Irish have been ranked every week (except for the preseason ESPN/USA Today poll) and have appeared in the top 20 for the past 16 weeks, rising as high as ninth in the March 3 AP poll.
Notre Dame also ranks in the top 25 in seven NCAA statistical categories, including scoring offense (8th, 76.5 ppg.), scoring margin (9th, +15.8 ppg.) and assist/turnover ratio (14th, 1.08), with nearly half its wins by 30 points. The Irish also lead the BIG EAST (and rank 13th nationally) in steals (11.7 spg.) and have forced 20 turnovers on 19 occasions.
Senior guard Charel Allen, a two-time first-team all-BIG EAST selection and WBCA honorable mention All-America pick last year, is setting the pace for a balanced Notre Dame attack, averaging a team-high 14.5 points per game (13th in BIG EAST).
Sophomore guard Ashley Barlow earned honorable mention all-BIG EAST status this year, ranking second on the team in scoring (11.7 ppg.) and tied for seventh in the BIG EAST with a team-high 61 steals (1.97 spg.).
Junior guard Lindsay Schrader also was an honorable mention all-conference pick this season after a strong return from a torn ACL last year. Schrader is third on the squad in scoring (10.4 ppg.) and tops in rebounding (6.0 rpg.) as one of the cornerstones of Notre Dame's unique Princeton-based four-guard lineup.
While Schrader is back from her ACL injury, BIG EAST All-Freshman Team forward Devereaux Peters had her season end early with a torn ACL in her left knee, suffered Feb. 10 vs. Pittsburgh. Peters provided a strong spark off the bench, averaging 9.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.96 blocks per game. She also scored in double figures 14 times, including a season-high 15 points vs. Villanova and her first career double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds) against top-ranked Connecticut.
Potent Notables About The Irish
A Quick Look At SMU
Southern Methodist has earned its seventh trip to the NCAA Championship (first since 2000) after compiling a school-record 24 wins and taking home its first Conference USA Tournament title.
The Mustangs (24-8) have won 10 of their last 12 games entering this weekend's NCAA opener. Most recently, SMU knocked off then-No. 18/24 UTEP, 73-57 in the C-USA Tournament championship game on March 9 in Orlando. Sophomore forward Brittany Gilliam had a team-high 20 points, senior guard Sharee Shepherd tossed in 17 points and senior forward Janielle Dodds notched a double-double with 10 points and a team-best 11 rebounds. SMU also was excellent at the free throw line, making 29 of 33 foul shots (.879) to preserve the win.
Dodds, a first-team all-C-USA selection, leads the Mustangs in scoring (15.0 ppg) and rebounding (7.6 rpg) this season, while sophomore forward (and third-team all-league pick) Delisha Wills is second in scoring (12.3 ppg) and third in rebounding (5.2 rpg). Shepherd also was tabbed as the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year after collecting 98 steals this season.
Head coach Rhonda Rompola is winding down her 17th year at her alma mater, sporting a 312-196 (.614) record at SMU. She will be facing Notre Dame for the first time in her coaching career this weekend.
The Notre Dame-SMU Series
When they square off Sunday in West Lafayette, Notre Dame and Southern Methodist will be meeting for just the third time on the hardwood and the first time in more than 24 years. The all-time series is tied at 1-1, with both teams successfully defending their home court in a two-game set during the early 1980s.
Notre Dame won the first game in the series, 76-60 on Jan. 17, 1982, at the Joyce Center. Mary Beth Schueth led four Irish players in double figures with 17 points and Carrie Bates came off the bench to chip in 16 points and a team-high six rebounds for Notre Dame, which shot a blistering 64.4 percent from the field (29-of-45).
Current SMU head coach Rhonda Rompola starred on the court for the Mustangs that afternoon, collecting 25 points, 10 rebounds and four steals.
SMU won the most recent series meeting, 64-63 on Jan. 15, 1984, at Moody Coliseum in Dallas. A recap of that game follows, while a box score is available on page 4 of these notes.
The Last Time Notre Dame And SMU Met
Ruth Kaiser and Mary Beth Schueth both rang up double-doubles, but it wasn't enough as Notre Dame dropped a slim 64-63 decision to SMU on Jan, 15, 1984 at Moody Coliseum in Dallas.
Kaiser registered game highs of 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Irish, while Schueth added 14 points and 11 rebounds of her own. Notre Dame also connected at a sharp 47.9-percent clip (23-of-48) from the field, but hurt its chances with 24 turnovers.
Shasta Smothers paced four SMU double-figure scorers with 19 points, hitting on 7-of-11 shots. Toni Jackson tallied 10 points and six rebound, while Scotti Wood contributed 10 points, eight assists and four steals for the Mustangs.
SMU led for a good portion of the day, opening up its largest lead at 51-43 with 10:47 remaining. However, Schueth led a spirited Irish comeback, scoring 11 points during a 14-4 Notre Dame charge that eventually put the visitors on top with 3:46 to play. The lead didn't last long, though, as the Mustangs scored five consecutive points to go in front for good. Notre Dame did have one final chance to win the game when Laura Dougherty drove the lane in the closing seconds, but her layup try would not fall as time expired.
Other Notre Dame-SMU Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. Conference USA
Notre Dame is 6-2 (.750) against the current Conference USA alignment, with a 3-2 away from home (1-0 on neutral floors). The Irish have not played a current C-USA member since Dec. 28, 2001, when they fell at Rice, 72-61, at Autry Court in Houston.
Sunday will mark the second time Notre Dame has opened NCAA Championship play against a current C-USA school. On March 15, 1997, the sixth-seeded Irish tipped off their run to the Final Four with a 93-62 victory over No. 11 seed Memphis at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.
Podcenter: Tidbits From West Lafayette
Notre Dame In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is set to make its 15th appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 13th in a row, when it takes the court Sunday afternoon against SMU. The Irish have a .639 winning percentage (23-13) in NCAA tournament play, which ranks 11th all-time (minimum of 20 games played).
In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 13 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances ranks eighth in the record books.
Here are some other facts about the Irish in the "Big Dance" (see page 6 sidebar for Notre Dame's year-by-year NCAA Championship results and check pp. 150-164 in the Notre Dame media guide for box scores and records):
Sowing The Seeds
Notre Dame has been seeded fifth for the third time in 15 NCAA Championship appearances. It's the program's highest seed since 2005, when the Irish were seeded fourth in the Tempe Region and split games with No. 13 seed UC Santa Barbara (won 61-51) and fifth-seeded Arizona State (lost 70-61) in Fresno, Calif.
The first time the Irish were a No. 5 seed was 1999, when they defeated 12th-seeded Saint Mary's (Calif.), 61-57 in a West Region first-round game at Baton Rouge, La., before losing in round two to No. 4 seed LSU, 74-64.
The last time Notre Dame was a No. 5 seed was 2004, when they hosted East Region first and second-round games at the Joyce Center. That year, the Irish outlasted No. 12 seed Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State, 69-65 in overtime, before downing 13th-seeded Middle Tennessee, 59-46 in the second round to make the program's most recent Sweet 16 appearance.
The Irish have played 16 NCAA tournament games as a higher seed and have posted a 13-3 (.813) record, including wins in nine of their last 10 such contests (only loss was the 2005 second-round game vs. Arizona State).
It Hinges On Defense
Notre Dame's success in the NCAA tournament can be directly traced to its performance at the defensive end of the floor. In 14 previous NCAA postseason appearances, the Irish are 14-2 (.875) when holding the opposition to 60 points or less. The two losses both came at the hands of top-seeded squads -- Penn State (55-49) in the 2004 East Regional semifinals, and North Carolina (60-51) in the second round of last year's Dallas Region.
Looking For Postseason Productivity
Come NCAA Championship time, the Irish have preferred a low-scoring "grind-it-out" style of play. In fact, Notre Dame has not scored more than 61 points in a regulation NCAA tournament game since it defeated Purdue, 68-66 to win the 2001 national championship, going 7-6 in the intervening six-year span. The lone exception was a 69-65 overtime win over Southwest Missouri State in 2004, a game that was tied at 59-all after regulation.
Notre Dame Against The NCAA Field
Notre Dame has played 14 of its 31 games this season against teams that were invited to the 2008 NCAA Championship (including three of the four top seeds), registering a 7-7 (.500) record vs. the rest of this year's field.
2007 NCAA Championship Rewind
Notre Dame split two games in last year's NCAA Championship at Pittsburgh. The ninth-seeded Irish edged No. 8 seed California, 62-59 in first-round action before falling to top-seeded North Carolina, 60-51 in the second round of the Dallas Region. Here's a brief recap of each game:
Notre Dame 62, California 59 (first round)
Tulyah Gaines made two free throws with 16.5 seconds remaining after Charel Allen scored a key basket and set up another, and Notre Dame rallied for a 62-59 victory over California on March 18, 2007, in Pittsburgh.
The Irish relied on Allen's 13 points and Melissa Lechlitner's 12 to reach the second round for the 11th time in 12 years despite having only two seniors.
After going down 12-2 early on and trailing 32-23 at the half, Cal rallied from a 36-25 second-half deficit to take the lead four separate times. Almost all the Bears' offense came from Ashley Walker (20 points) and Devanei Hampton (13 points).
Erica Williamson scored from the lane to up the Irish lead to seven points, but the Bears had one more comeback left in them. Lauren Greif hit a 3-pointer and Natasha Vital scored on a four-player fast break to cut it to 58-56.
Lechlitner gave the Bears another chance by missing the front end of a one-and-one with 31 seconds to go. But Hampton dribbled the ball out of bounds off her foot with 19 seconds remaining, and Gaines took advantage by making her two free throws.
Greif made three free throws after unwisely being fouled on a three-point attempt with seven seconds remaining, but the Irish worked the clock down to a half-second left before Lechlitner made two free throws to seal it.
North Carolina 60, Notre Dame 51 (second round)
LaToya Pringle led a frantic 15-0 second-half run and Ivory Latta made six free throws in the final minute as top-seeded North Carolina avoided the upset and rallied to defeat Notre Dame 60-51 on March 20, 2007, in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Pittsburgh.
Latta scored 17 points despite an off shooting night (4-of-12) and Pringle added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels as the nation's highest-scoring team was slowed considerably but still managed to recover after trailing by eight points with less than 13 minutes remaining.
Charel Allen, playing a few miles from her Pittsburgh-area hometown, scored 21 points as the Irish threatened to pull off one of the biggest victories in school history only to falter down the stretch while being outscored 27-10.
Just when the Tar Heels looked to be in serious trouble, after Allen hit a three-pointer from several feet beyond the arc to make it 41-33, UNC rallied to seize a 48-41 lead.
Pringle scored on consecutive possessions during the 15-0 run and, after the Irish cut it to 50-46, blocked an Allen shot before scoring herself at the other end. Latta then sealed it with her free throw shooting.
A BIG EAST Bonanza
Notre Dame is one of eight BIG EAST Conference schools that earned invitations to the 2008 NCAA Championship, joining a club that includes five-time national champion Connecticut, as well as 2007 NCAA runner-up Rutgers and Syracuse (making its fourth overall trip and first since 2002).
For the second consecutive year, the BIG EAST has tied its own record for the highest number of teams from one conference invited to a single NCAA tournament, a mark the BIG EAST also reached in 2004. The Southeastern Conference first set that record in 1999, and duplicated it in 2002, while the Big 12 has hit that total for the first time this season.
The BIG EAST also has four teams -- Marquette, St. John's, South Florida and Villanova -- participating in this year's Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT), meaning a conference-record 12 schools have advanced to postseason play. That's one more than the 2006 record of 11, which included seven NCAA and four WNIT qualifiers.
Don't Mess With Tradition
The Irish have developed two traditions that should be quite evident at this weekend's NCAA tournament.
Double The Madness
Both the Notre Dame women's and men's basketball teams have been selected for this year's NCAA Championship, and in an interesting twist, both have drawn No. 5 seeds in their respective brackets. The Irish men will take on 12th-seeded George Mason in Denver on Thursday, and could face either No. 4 seed Washington State or 13th-seeded Winthrop in round two on Saturday for a spot in the East Regional semifinals.
Notre Dame is one of just eight schools to have both of its basketball teams earn top-five seeds in the 2008 NCAA Championship. The others are: Connecticut (#1 women/#4 men), Duke (#3 women/#2 men), Louisville (#4 women/#3 men), North Carolina (#1 women/#1 men), Stanford (#2 women/#3 men), Tennessee (#1 women/#2 men) and Vanderbilt (#4 women/#4 men).
All told, 24 schools had both basketball teams qualify for NCAA tournament play. In addition to Notre Dame and the others listed above, the remaining double-dippers are: Baylor, Coppin State, Cornell, Georgia, Kansas State, Louisville, Oklahoma, Oral Roberts, Pittsburgh, Purdue, San Diego, Temple, Texas, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Western Kentucky, West Virginia and Xavier.
Hitting The Books
Notre Dame is one of 12 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 1997-2001, allowing six years for graduation.
The other 2008 NCAA tournament participants with spotless graduation rates named in this survey were: Bucknell, Marist, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Robert Morris, San Diego, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas and Vanderbilt.
The Irish are 10-4 on the road this year, gaining their 10th win with a 66-64 victory at DePaul on Feb. 24. It's the first time Notre Dame has posted double-digit road wins in a season since 2004-05, when it went 11-2 on opponent's home floors. The school record for road wins in a season was set in 1996-97, when the Irish went 13-4 on the road as part of their first NCAA Final Four run.
Notre Dame reached the 20-win mark for the 14th time in the past 15 seasons with a 79-67 victory at Syracuse on Feb. 16. The Irish now have registered 20-or-more wins 18 times in the 21-year Muffet McGraw era and 22 times in the program's 31-year history.
Notre Dame is peppered throughout the latest NCAA statistical rankings (as of March 17). The Irish among the top 25 in the nation in seven categories, led by a No. 8 ranking for scoring offense (76.5) and a No. 9 ranking for scoring margin (+15.8 ppg). Notre Dame also is 13th in steals (11.7 spg), 14th in assist/turnover ratio (1.08), 22nd in assists (16.0 apg), 23rd in field goal percentage (.450) and 25th in fewest turnovers per game (14.8).
A full recap of Notre Dame's positions on the NCAA statistics charts (and its relation to the national leaders) can be found on page 13 of this notes package.
Close to half (10) of Notre Dame's 23 wins this season have come by at least 30 points, while the Irish have held 30-point leads late in the second half against Western Kentucky, Richmond and Marquette.
Notre Dame's 10 30-point wins this year have tied the school record originally set during the 2000-01 national championship season. However, in that campaign, only eight of those 30-point victories came in the first 30 games.
What's more, the Irish had a streak of four consecutive 30-point wins from Nov. 20-Dec. 2. The last time Notre Dame did that was Jan. 20-30, 1999, when the Irish had four straight 30-point victories, all during BIG EAST Conference play -- at Seton Hall (87-47), home vs. St. John's (99-60), at Syracuse (94-61) and at Providence (97-59).
Put A Tiger In Your Tank
Less than two seasons after posting the program's lowest scoring output (64.5 ppg) since 1980-81 (its first as a Division I program), Notre Dame has reversed that trend in a big way.
The Irish currently rank third in the BIG EAST Conference in scoring (and eighth in the nation as of March 17) at 76.5 points per game, having tallied at least 80 points 15 times this season. What's more, Notre Dame also is on pace for the sixth-highest scoring average in program history, and highest since the 1998-99 squad set the single-season school scoring record (81.0 ppg).
What's more, Notre Dame has scored at least 90 points seven times this season, tying the school record first set in the 1996-97 NCAA Final Four season, and later matched in 1998-99. In fact, during the six seasons prior to the current one (2001-02 through 2006-07), Notre Dame had a combined total of four 90-point games.
Notre Dame also ranks second in the conference (and ninth in the nation) in scoring margin at +15.8 points per game. If it holds up, that margin would go down as the second-largest in school history for an entire season. The 2000-01 team won by an average of 21.4 points per game during its 34-2 run to the national title.
McGraw's Shock Troops
During his coaching tenure with the Notre Dame football team in the 1920s, the legendary Knute Rockne was at the forefront of the two-platoon system, using his "shock troops" -- a full team of second stringers -- at the start of most games.
While Irish women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw may not quite be following Rockne's philosophy to the letter, she could easily rotate in much of her second unit and not see much decline in productivity. In fact, Notre Dame's bench is averaging 28.2 points per game (compared to 48.3 ppg. by the starters) and has outscored 28 of 31 opponent benches this season (all but the second DePaul and Pittsburgh games, and St. John's contest) by an average of +13.8 points per night.
Prior to her season-ending knee injury on Feb. 10 vs. Pittsburgh, freshman forward Devereaux Peters was leading the way for this year's Irish "shock troops". The Chicago native averaged 9.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.96 blocks per game with a .522 field goal percentage. Peters came off the bench in 21 of 23 games this year, piling up a season-high 15 points and seven steals vs. Villanova before collecting her first career double-double (10 points, season-high 12 rebounds) on Jan. 27 against top-ranked Connecticut.
Last year's Irish rookie class (aka the "BMW" trio of guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner and center Erica Williamson) became the first threesome from one school ever to be named to the BIG EAST Conference All-Freshman Team in the same season. Following on the heels of that success, Notre Dame has a new freshman trio that is aiming to make an early splash at the college level -- the "BBD" lineup of guard Brittany Mallory and forwards Becca Bruszewski and Devereaux Peters.
All three Irish rookies have done their part to help Notre Dame to its 23-8 record, with each one averaging at least 12 minutes and having scored in double figures at least four times. Before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 10 vs. Pittsburgh, Peters was fourth on the team in scoring (9.0 ppg) and scored in double digits 14 times, while also leading the team in blocked shots (1.96 bpg). Mallory is averaging 6.6 points per game with a team-high 33 three-pointers and tossed in 14 points (season-high 4-5 3FG) on Feb. 27 vs. South Florida. Bruszewski is logging 4.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game, collecting her fourth double-figure scoring performance of the season with 10 points and six rebounds on Feb. 10 vs. No. 15 Pittsburgh.
Spreading The Wealth
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame's squad this season is its balance and depth. That's been particularly evident, as six different players from all five floor positions and all four classes have led the team in scoring at least once. Senior point guard Tulyah Gaines became the latest new scoring leader for the Irish with 13 points vs. No. 15 Pittsburgh (Feb. 10) and a season-high 22 points vs. Marquette (Feb. 13).
Notre Dame's balance this season can best be seen in its point distribution. No fewer than 10 of the 11 Irish players on this year's roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, with only senior guard Amanda Tsipis yet to crack the 10-point mark.
Notre Dame also has had at least three double-figure scorers in 25 of 31 games this year, with a season-high seven in double digits at Georgetown (the most in one game for the Irish since Feb. 6, 1997 vs. Syracuse).
What's more, the Irish fielded five double-figure scorers in three consecutive games from Nov. 20-27. It's believed to be the first time in school history (and certainly the first time in the Muffet McGraw era) the Irish have pulled off that feat of three straight games with five double-digit scorers, although records are incomplete prior to the 1983-84 season.
Protecting The Pill
Notre Dame has been sharp at the offensive end this season, thanks in large part to its ability to take care of the basketball. The Irish rank 25th in the nation with just 14.8 turnovers per game and have been charged with 20 or more turnovers just three times in the past 47 games (20 at Louisville on Jan. 8; 23 vs. Marquette on Feb. 13; 20 vs. Pittsburgh on March 9).
The Irish took ball protection to a new level in their loss at No. 3 Maryland on Nov. 16. Notre Dame set a school record with only three turnovers against the Terrapins, with two of those giveaways coming on offensive fouls. The previous school record for fewest turnovers was six, set on Feb. 12, 2006 at DePaul.
With only three turnovers, it probably comes as no surprise that Maryland did not register a steal against Notre Dame. However, what is surprising is that it was the first time in the 31-year history of the Irish program that an opponent did not record a steal against Notre Dame. Several opponents had only one steal vs. the Irish, with the most recent being Boston College on March 19, 2006 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (played at West Lafayette, Ind.).
Piping Hot Turnovers
Notre Dame is forcing 21.8 turnovers per night and currently leads the BIG EAST with a +7.03 turnover margin, more than three takeaways better than second-place Connecticut. The Irish have caused at least 20 turnovers in 19 games this season, including a season-high 33 takeaways against Boston College on Nov. 24.
All told, Notre Dame has harassed its opponents into 677 turnovers, putting the Irish within striking distance of the school record in that category. The 1996-97 Final Four club holds the program high-water mark with 731 takeaways, but that occurred in a 38-game season.
Notre Dame has made even the strongest ball-handling teams struggle this season. In fact, Villanova came into its Jan. 16 game at the Joyce Center leading the nation with only 11.2 turnovers per game. However, the Wildcats left town with 24 turnovers, their highest single-game giveaway mark in more than six years (Dec. 1, 2001 at Temple).
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame leads the BIG EAST Conference and ranks 13th nationally in steals, averaging 11.7 thefts per game (11.0 in conference play), including eight games this season where the Irish had at least 15 steals. What's more, Notre Dame's season-high 23 steals vs. Providence on Jan. 30 were the most for the Irish in a single game since Jan. 28, 1995 (23 vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee at the Joyce Center), and only one off the BIG EAST record.
As a team, the Irish have piled up 363 steals, which currently is the third-highest single-season total in school history. The 1990-91 Notre Dame squad holds the record with 397 thefts.
Individually, the Irish have five players with at least 40 steals this season (and injured forward Devereaux Peters ended her year with 39). Sophomore guard Ashley Barlow holds the team lead with 61 steals (her second consecutive 60-steal season), also tying for seventh in the BIG EAST (1.97 spg).
For the second consecutive year, Notre Dame has tied for the BIG EAST title in steals, sharing this season's crown with Marquette. Last year's trophy was split with Connecticut (9.69 spg. in league play; 10.47 overall), marking the first time the Irish won a conference steals crown since 1989-90, when they led the Horizon League with 10.93 steals per game.
Keeping It On The Plus Side
Notre Dame has registered a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in 17 games this season and ranks third in the BIG EAST (14th nationally) with a 1.10 assist-to-turnover ratio. Notre Dame also has assisted on 56.4 percent of its field goals this year (497 assists on 881 baskets), ranking fifth in the conference and 22nd in the land with 16.03 assists per game.
Off And Running
Notre Dame has wasted little time in jumping ahead of its opponents this season. In 10 of their wins, the Irish have opened up a double-digit lead less than 12 minutes into the game, while other first-half runs vs. Central Michigan (20-0), Bowling Green (18-3), Villanova (16-6), Georgetown (15-3) and Marquette (21-1) aided those wins.
Even in its defeat at third-ranked Maryland on Nov. 16, Notre Dame made a statement early with a 10-0 run in the first five minutes of action and led by as many as five points in the first half before the Terrapins rallied back for the win.
Boldly Going Where No Irish Player Has Gone Before
Senior guard Charel Allen has done something no other player has done in the 31-year history of Notre Dame women's basketball. With three steals vs. Seton Hall, Allen became the first Irish women's cager to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 200 steals in her career. The closest any player in program history had previously come to that all-around feat was in 2001, when current Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey had 1,430 points, 482 rebounds, 727 assists and 348 steals.
By comparison, the Irish men's basketball program has had only two players reach this milestone -- Chris Thomas (2001-05) and David Graves (1998-2002). However, steals were first kept as a statistic in 1978-79, while individual assists were first kept in 1983-84.
Allen Climbing Irish Points Ladder
Senior guard Charel Allen continues to make her way up Notre Dame's all-time scoring list, ranking eighth with 1,501 points. Allen got her milestone 1,500th point on March 9 vs. Pittsburgh in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals, canning a baseline jumper with 3:08 left. She now resumes chasing Trena Keys, who scored 1,589 points from 1982-86.
Notre Dame was ranked 15th in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, marking the eighth time in program history (first since 2004-05) that the Irish have appeared in the year-end media poll. Rising as high as ninth on March 3, Notre Dame now has reached the AP Top 10 in eight of the past 12 seasons (1996-97 to present).
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 159 weeks during the program's history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era. McGraw ranks 14th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also stands 25th all-time in that category.
The Irish also are in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll for the 19th consecutive week, placing No. 19 for the second poll in a row. Notre Dame has risen to 14th four times this season, most recently on Feb. 26.
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 23 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 159 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 23 people on this elite list, 12 are currently NCAA Division I head coaches.
Clutch When It Counts
Notre Dame is 94-of-116 (.810) from the free throw line in the final two minutes (plus overtime) this season, including an 8-of-8 display on March 1 against Seton Hall. Among those with a minimum of 10 attempts, senior guard Tulyah Gaines leads the way with an .842 free throw percentage (16-of-19) in crunch time.
A Six-Figure Season
For the second consecutive year, and the third time in school history, Notre Dame welcomed more than 100,000 fans at home. The Irish drew a school-record 112,253 fans to their 16 games at the Joyce Center, topping the old school mark of 109,549 set in 2001-02.
Notre Dame also finished with an average attendance of 7,016 fans per game, its highest since the 2002-03 campaign (7,132 per game). The school record for average attendance is 7,825 in 2001-02.
The Jan. 27 game vs. Connecticut was the fifth women's basketball sellout (11,418) in school history and second this season (also Jan. 5 vs. Tennessee). It also is the second time in school history Notre Dame has posted multiple sellouts in one season, having also done so in 2000-01 (Connecticut and Georgetown).
In addition, the Jan. 27 audience marked the first time the Irish have attracted three crowds of 10,000 fans in the same season, as 10,825 fans took in the Dec. 2 win over Michigan.
Start Me Up
Notre Dame's 13-2 start matched the second-best 15-game mark in the program's 31-year history. In 2000-01, the Irish opened with 23 consecutive victories, en route to their first-ever No. 1 ranking and eventually, the program's first national championship.
The last time Notre Dame got off to a 13-2 start was the 2004-05 season, when the Irish won their first seven games (including the Preseason WNIT title) before a Dec. 2 overtime loss to 15th-ranked Michigan State. Notre Dame (which rose as high as third in the national polls that season) then reeled off six more wins before suffering consecutive loss at Villanova (59-54) and home vs. No. 16 Connecticut (67-50). However, the Irish rebounded with a 10-game win streak, finishing the year at 27-6 and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Notre Dame posted a 13-2 record on three other occasions, also doing so in 1999-2000 (27-5, NCAA Sweet 16), 1998-99 (26-5, NCAA second round) and 1977-78 (13-4, program's first varsity season when playing at AIAW Division III level).
We're Going Streaking!
Notre Dame's 10-game win streak from Nov. 20-Jan. 2 was its longest since a similar 10-game run from Jan. 16-Feb. 15, 2005. The Irish now have amassed 10 double-digit win streaks in program history (eight in the Muffet McGraw era), led by the school-record 23-game success string to open the 2000-01 national championship season.
Notre Dame also won six consecutive road games earlier this season (Nov. 20-Jan. 2). That was the longest run for the Irish away from the Joyce Center since a 10-game run from Nov. 17, 2000 to Feb. 14, 2001, a streak that ended with a 54-53 loss at No. 11/14 Rutgers (one of only two defeats for the Irish on their run to the NCAA title).
No Easy Road
Notre Dame has always played a difficult schedule, using it as a means of preparation for future tests in both the BIG EAST Conference and the postseason. However, this year's slate has been one of the tougher ones in recent memory.
With the addition of Maryland to the docket in the Preseason WNIT semifinals (75-59 loss on Nov. 16), the Irish faced four of the top seven teams in the latest Associated Press poll at some point this season. Besides the Terrapins (No. 5), Notre Dame also played No. 1 Connecticut (lost 81-64 on Jan. 27 at the Joyce Center), No. 3 Tennessee (lost 87-63 on Jan. 5 at the Joyce Center), and No. 7 Rutgers (lost 57-51 on Feb. 19 in Piscataway, N.J.). Three of the top five teams in the poll have combined to win five of the past six national championships, with Tennessee currently holding the hardware after defeating Rutgers in last year's title game.
Game #31 Recap: Pittsburgh
Marcedes Walker had 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Pittsburgh upset No. 9/15 Notre Dame 64-53 on March 9 in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Championship in Hartford.
Xenia Stewart added 13 points, including a big 3-pointer with less than a minute left, for the Panthers (22-9). Charel Allen had 17 points for Notre Dame (23-8).
The teams combined for 39 turnovers and neither shot better than 35 percent in a defensive struggle. Pitt trailed 35-30 early in the second half before going on an 11-2 run.
Allen led the Irish back, and they went up 49-48 with 3:08 left. A layup by Walker with 1:36 remaining gave Pitt a 53-51 advantage. After Allen missed a jumper on the other end, Stewart hit a huge three-pointer with 56 seconds left. The Panthers made their free throws down the stretch to earn the school's first berth in the conference semifinals.
Pitt started slowly and the Irish went on 14-2 run to open the game. The Panthers had just two points and eight turnovers in the first eight minutes. They hit just two of their first 19 shots, and didn't score their second basket until almost the 10-minute mark of the first half when Stewart knocked down a short jumper.
Walker, who had 20 points and seven rebounds in Pitt's first-round win over Villanova, picked up two early offensive fouls, but still had eight of Pittsburgh's first 12 points.
She led the Panthers on a 15-3 run to tie the game at 17. Shavonte Zellous put back her own miss to pull the Panthers within 22-21 at the half.
Zellous, who came in averaging almost 19 points per game, went just 3-for-14 from the field. Allen was 7-of-15 for Notre Dame, which shot just 30.6 percent for the game.
Noting The Pittsburgh Game
Half And Half
During the past eight seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 144-13 (.917) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 72 of their last 79 such contests. This season, Notre Dame has won 20 of 21 games after taking the lead to the locker room. The lone loss came in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals, when the Irish couldn't hold on to a 22-21 halftime lead over Pittsburgh.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 13 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 a 184-12 (.939) record when they hold their opponents to less than 60 points in a game. Notre Dame is 16-2 this year when holding opponents below 60 points, with losses at No. 16 West Virginia (56-50 on Jan. 13) and No. 5/4 Rutgers (57-51 on Feb. 19) the exceptions.
...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 13 seasons (1995-96 to present), the Irish are 114-4 (.966) 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 a 81-80 loss to DePaul earlier this year (Jan. 22). Notre Dame has won 14 of 15 games this season when it reaches the 80-point mark.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Senior guards Charel Allen, Tulyah Gaines and Amanda Tsipis are team captains for the 2007-08 season. Gaines is in her second year as a captain for the Irish, while Allen and Tsipis are first-time captains. All three players received the captain's honor through a vote of their teammates prior to the season.
Joyce Center Arena Renovation On Tap
On Oct. 3, 2007, Notre Dame announced that construction on the Joyce Center arena addition and renovation will begin in September 2008. The University has selected the architects for the project, and they currently are in the process of completing final design plans.
The first phase of the project, to begin this September, involves construction of a new three-story structure at the south end of the arena. That structure will include a new two-story lobby, the Notre Dame ticket operations (approximately 4,500 square feet) and a varsity shop to sell apparel and souvenirs (approximately 3,000 square feet), in addition to a new club seating and hospitality area.
Replacement of the Joyce Center arena seating, including installation of chair-back seating throughout the arena, is expected to take place after the University's Commencement Exercises in May 2009. The project is scheduled for completion in January 2010. The arena is expected to re-open by mid-October 2009, in time for the start of the men's and women's basketball seasons and the end of the women's volleyball season.
The University announced last October that this $26.3 million project had received a $12.5 million leadership gift from Notre Dame alumnus and Trustee Philip J. Purcell III. A month later, another major gift of $5 million from Notre Dame graduate Vincent J. Naimoli was announced.
The arena will be named Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center -- and the new club/hospitality area and two outdoor patios will be named for the Naimoli family.
ND To Host NCAA Tourney Games In '09, '10
Notre Dame's Joyce Center has been selected as a host site for first- and second-round games in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, it was announced Feb. 13. This selection comes on the heels of last summer's announcement that the Irish also would play host to early-round action in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
Notre Dame has played in the NCAA Tournament on its home floor five times before, most recently defeating Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) and Middle Tennessee in 2004 to make the program's sixth NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. All told, the Irish are 6-1 in NCAA play at the Joyce Center, winning six in a row since an 81-76 first-round loss to Minnesota in 1994.
Irish Fans Crave A Big Mac Attack
Notre Dame introduced a new promotion this season, offering fans a coupon for a free Big Mac from South Bend-area McDonald's restaurants if the Irish scored at least 88 points in a game.
This season's burger watch ended at eight, as the Irish hit the 88-point mark in both exhibition wins, along with regular-season victories over Miami (Ohio), Boston College, Canisius, Valparaiso, Marquette and USF.
It's probably not a surprise that the Notre Dame player with the most "Big Mac baskets" this season has the same initials as that of the tasty burger -- freshman guard Brittany Mallory, who sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) four times.
Next Game: NCAA Second Round
Should Notre Dame defeat SMU, the Irish would move on to face the winner of Sunday's first-round game between No. 4 seed Oklahoma and 13th-seeded Illinois State. That second-round contest would take place Tuesday night at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind., and would be televised nationally on ESPN2.
Notre Dame lost its only prior game vs. OU, 57-54 on Dec. 30, 1986, at the Seattle Times Husky Classic. Meanwhile, the Irish are 2-1 all-time vs. ISU, most recently defeating the Redbirds, 92-73 on Nov. 12, 2004, in the first round of the Preseason WNIT at the Joyce Center.