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    #23/20 Irish Tip Off NCAA Tournament Sunday Against Minnesota

    FIGHTING IRISH Second-team all-BIG EAST junior guard Ashley Barlow is averaging 10.6 points and 6.6 rebounds in five career NCAA tournament games, including a double-double (20 points, 12 rebounds) in last year's first-round win over SMU.
    FIGHTING IRISH
    Second-team all-BIG EAST junior guard Ashley Barlow is averaging 10.6 points and 6.6 rebounds in five career NCAA tournament games, including a double-double (20 points, 12 rebounds) in last year's first-round win over SMU.
    FIGHTING IRISH

    March 19, 2009

    NCAA Tournament Notes Package Get Acrobat Reader

    2009 NCAA Trenton Region -- First Round
    #23/20 [#7 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (22-8 / 10-6 BIG EAST) vs. [#10 seed] Minnesota Golden Gophers (19-11 / 11-7 Big Ten)

    DATE: March 22, 2009
    TIME: 2:30 p.m. ET
    AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Joyce Center (11,418)
    SERIES: UM leads 1-0
    NCAA: UM leads 1-0
    LAST MTG: 3/16/94 (UM 81-76)
    TV: ESPN (live) (Eric Collins, p-b-p / Stephanie White, color)
    RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
    LIVE STATS: UND.com/ncaa.com
    TICKETS: (574) 631-7356

    Storylines

  • Notre Dame is making its 14th consecutive NCAA Championship appearance, and 16th overall, having compiled a 25-14 (.641) record in the event.
  • The Irish are playing host to NCAA tournament first- and second-round games for the fifth time, having gone 6-1 at the Joyce Center in their first four hosting opportunities.
  • No. 23/20 Irish Tip Off NCAA Tournament Sunday Against Minneaota
    The tradition continues for No. 23/20 Notre Dame, as the seventh-seeded Irish prepare to make their 14th consecutive trip to the NCAA Championship (and 16th overall), beginning Sunday with a 2:30 p.m. (ET) first-round game against No. 10 seed Minnesota at the Joyce Center. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience by ESPN, which will feature its whiparound coverage to other tourney games at the same time, but will protect the home markets of both schools so they will see the game in its entirety.

    Notre Dame (22-8) will be playing for the first time in two weeks after a 58-47 loss to Villanova in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Championship in Hartford, Conn. The Irish led by 10 points in the first half, but lost their shooting eye in the second half, while the Wildcats came alive to eliminate Notre Dame. Junior guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner scored a team-high 10 points to pace the Irish.

    Rankings

  • Notre Dame was ranked 23rd in the final Associated Press poll and is 20th in the latest ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
  • Minnesota is not ranked.
  • A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
    After battling the injury bug and the challenge of an extremely youing bench, Notre Dame has come away with its 14th consecutive NCAA Championship bid and its 15th 20-win season in the past 16 years. The Irish (22-8, 10-6), who were ranked 23rd in the final Associated Press poll and 20th in the current ESPN/USA Today poll, are seeded seventh in the Trenton Region and will bring NCAA postseason play back to the Joyce Center for the first time since 2004.

    Despite losing two key players (sophomores Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory) to season-ending knee injuries earlier in the year, Notre Dame consistently has ranked among the top 40 teams in the nation in scoring offense (28th at 71.5 ppg.) and field goal percentage (37th at .434).

    The Irish also feature a balanced offense that sees four players presently scoring in double figures. In addition, nine different players have led the team in scoring at least once during the year, while 10 of the 12 players have scored in double figures at least once to date.

    First-team all-BIG EAST senior guard Lindsay Schrader has posted career-high averages almost across the board this season, leading the squad in scoring (12.9 ppg.) and rebounding (7.5 rpg.). She also has a team-high seven double-doubles this year, and is averaging 17.6 points and 9.5 rebounds in her last seven games.

    Second-team all-BIG EAST junior guard Ashley Barlow is second on the team in both scoring (12.4 ppg.) and third in rebounding (4.9 rpg.). She also is among the BIG EAST leaders in steals (2.46 spg.) and has knocked down a team-high 38 three-pointers (including a career-high four treys at top-ranked Connecticut).

    The Irish also are paced by two of the BIG EAST's most improved players in sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski and junior point guard Melissa Lechlitner. In her first year as a starter, Bruszewski has doubled her scoring (10.7 ppg.) and rebounding (5.0 rpg.) averages, along with a team-high .494 field goal percentage that is 11th-best in the BIG EAST. What's more, she is in the midst of the most successful run of her young career, averaging 14.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in her last 11 games, including a career-high 20 points twice (USF, Syracuse).

    Also a first-year starter, Lechlitner is fourth on the team in scoring (10.5 ppg.) while setting the pace with 3.43 assists per game and a 1.43 assist/turnover ratio (all well above her previous career highs). She also has scored in double figures 16 times after reaching that mark 16 times in her first two years combined.

    Potent Notables About The Irish

  • Notre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past 12 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking seventh with 314 victories.
  • Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in attendance each of the past eight seasons. This year, the program ranks ninth with an average of 7,228 fans for its 12 home games. The Irish also have drawn 5,000-or-more fans to 123 of their last 125 home games, including six Joyce Center sellouts of 11,418 (most recently on Dec. 7, 2008 vs. Purdue).
  • 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 eight 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. Allen, Megan Duffy (New York) and Ruth Riley (San Antonio) all were active in the league during the '08 season, with all three teams making the playoffs (San Antonio made the WNBA Finals, while New York was the Eastern Conference runner-up). 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 third year in a row, the Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October 2008. Notre Dame also was one of only four teams with a perfect '07 GSR to advance to the 2008 NCAA Sweet 16 (joining Oklahoma State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt). Furthermore, 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 57-for-57 success rate).
  • A Quick Look At Minnesota
    For the seventh time in eight years, Minnesota is headed to the NCAA Championship, after posting a 19-11 record and tying for fifth place in the Big Ten Conference with an 11-7 mark. The Golden Gophers are seeded 10th in the NCAA Trenton Region.

    Minnesota comes into Sunday's game at Notre Dame having dropped five of its last seven games, including a 79-64 loss to Iowa in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. A pair of juniors -- forward/center Ashley Ellis-Milan and guard Brittany McCoy -- shared team-high scoring honors with 15 points, while senior guard Emily Fox added 13 points for the Gophers.

    Fox, a second-team all-Big Ten selection, leads UM in scoring (12.8 ppg.) and is tied for top honors with 64 steals. Ellis-Milan copped third-team all-league honors after averaging 11.9 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds per game. Junior guard Katie Ohm leads a dangerous Gopher perimeter shooting unit, averaging 9.1 points per game with a team-high .393 three-point percentage, including 68 triples.

    Head coach Pam Borton is in her seventh season at Minnesota with a 150-72 (.676) record at the school. Adding in her four years at the helm of the Vermont women's program (1993-94 to 1996-97), Borton has an 11-year career record of 220-118 (.651), while Sunday will mark her first-ever matchup against Notre Dame.

    The Notre Dame-Minnesota Series
    Sunday will mark just the second meeting between Notre Dame and Minnesota. The Irish and Golden Gophers faced off in the opening round of the 1994 NCAA East Region at the Joyce Center, with UM claiming an 81-76 win.

    The Last Time ND And Minnesota Met
    Freshman forward Beth Morgan scored a game-high 26 points, but it would not be enough as 10th-seeded Minnesota slipped past No. 7 seed Notre Dame, 81-76 on March 16, 1994, in an NCAA East Region first-round game at the Joyce Center.

    Morgan, who would go on to become the program's all-time leading scorer and a two-time honorable mention All-American, connected on 10 of 21 shots in 39 minutes. Carey Poor came off the bench to add 11 points and Kara Leary scored 10 points for the Irish, while Letitia Bowen grabbed a game-high eight rebounds.

    Notre Dame trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half, but closed the period on a 12-2 run to pull within 31-30 at the intermission. The Irish then regained the lead at 42-40 on Poor's basket with 14 minutes to play, but the Gophers answered with nine consecutive points and never let Notre Dame get closer than the five-point final margin.

    The Irish committed 28 fouls in the contest, as Minnesota made 24 of 34 free throws. Notre Dame outrebounded the Gophers, 44-29, but the Irish turned the ball over 21 times. Minnesota also shot 51 percent from the field (26-51), including 65 percent in the second half.

    Carol Ann Shudlick, who earned the 1994 WBCA Wade Trophy as the national player of the year, led five Gophers in double figures with 19 points, while Nikki Coates added 14 points and Nancy Alexander had 13 points on a perfect shooting day (5-5 FG, 2-2 3FG, 1-1 FT).

    Other ND-Minnesota Series Tidbits

  • Notre Dame and Minnesota have played four common opponents this year -- Boston College, Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan. The Irish went 3-1 against this quartet (losing at Michigan in OT), while the Gophers were 5-2 against these common foes (lost twice to Purdue).
  • Although Notre Dame never has played Minnesota outside of the Joyce Center, the Irish previously visited the Twin Cities in 1982, playing in the Saint Catherine tournament (lost to Creighton and Marquette).
  • While Minnesota head coach Pam Borton has not faced the Irish as a head coach, she saw them for five seasons as an assistant and associate head coach at Boston College from 1997-98 through 2001-02. In that time, the Irish went 4-2 against BC.
  • Minnesota director of athletics Joel Maturi is a 1967 graduate of Notre Dame (B.A. in government) and was on the support staff for legendary Irish football coach Ara Parseghian's first national championship squad in 1966.
  • Notre Dame junior guard Melissa Lechlitner and Minnesota redshirt freshman forward Kristen Dockery were teammates for three seasons (2003-04 to 2005-06) at South Bend's St. Joseph's High School, located across the street from the southwest corner of the Notre Dame campus. During their time together, Lechlitner and Dockery comprised two-fifths of the Indians' starting lineup that featured four Division I players (along with Valparaiso's Aimee Litka and Tennessee's Sydney Smallbone) and helped St. Joe to a Class 3A state title in 2005.
  • Lechlitner and Dockery also played AAU ball together for Indiana Elite (based at Midwest Basketball Academy in Mishawaka, Ind., located just east of the Notre Dame campus). For two years, the pair were AAU teammates with Irish sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski.
  • In 1997-98, Notre Dame assistant coach Angie (Potthoff) Barber was a teammate of former Minnesota All-American Carol Ann (Shudlick) Smith with the Columbus (Ohio) Quest of the now-defunct American Basketball League, helping the Quest win their second consecutive league title.
  • Notre Dame has suited up four Minnesota natives in the program's 32-year history. The most recent state resident to play for the Irish was Edina product Kelley Siemon (1997-2001), who was a starting forward on Notre Dame's 2001 national championship squad and was named the BIG EAST Most Improved Player that season.
  • Notre Dame vs. The Big Ten Conference
    Notre Dame is 38-47 (.447) all-time against the Big Ten Conference, including a 22-16 (.579) record at the Joyce Center. The Irish also are 31-33 (.484) against the Big Ten in the Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present), with a 17-11 (.607) home slate.

    What's more, Notre Dame has won 11 of its last 16 games against Big Ten schools and four in a row at home, dating back three seasons since a 54-51 loss to Indiana on Dec. 3, 2006.

    This season, the Irish have added a pair of victories over Big Ten foes at the Joyce Center -- 78-72 over 24th-ranked Michigan State on Nov. 29, and a 62-51 victory over No. 17/20 Purdue on Dec. 7. The Irish also dropped a 63-59 overtime game at Michigan on Dec. 10.

    Notre Dame is 3-4 against Big Ten teams in the NCAA Championship, most recently falling to Penn State, 55-49 in the 2004 East Regional semifinals in Hartford, Conn. Four of those games have come against in-state rival Purdue, with the most notable being the 2001 NCAA national championship game won by Notre Dame, 68-66, at the Savvis Center (now Scottrade Center) in St. Louis.

    When playing at the Joyce Center in the NCAA Championship, the Irish are 1-1 against the Big Ten, losing to Minnesota (81-76) in 1994 and defeating Michigan (88-54) in 2001.

    Irish In The NCAA Championship
    Notre Dame is set to make its 16th appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 14th in a row, when it takes the Joyce Center court Sunday afternoon against Minnesota. The Irish have a .641 winning percentage (25-14) in NCAA tournament play, which ranks 11th all-time (minimum of 20 games played).

    In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 14 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances ranks seventh 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. 170-186 in this year's Irish media guide for box scores and records):

  • Each of Notre Dame's 16 NCAA tournament appearances have come during the tenure of 22nd-year head coach Muffet McGraw.
  • The Irish have won their NCAA tournament opener in 12 of the past 13 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 playing an NCAA tournament game on March 22 for the second time. The first contest occurred in the 1997 East Regional semifinals in Columbia, S.C., when the sixth-seeded Irish toppled No. 2 seed Alabama, 87-71, behind a career-high 36 points from All-America forward Beth Morgan (the most points ever scored by an Notre Dame women's basketball cager in NCAA postseason play).
  • Notre Dame is one of 10 schools in the country to have advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 seven times in the past 12 years (1997-2008).
  • 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 6-1 (.857) all-time in NCAA tournament play at the Joyce Center. Since their 1994 first-round loss to Minnesota, the Irish have won six consecutive NCAA tourney games at home, advancing to the Sweet 16 from the Joyce Center in 2000, 2001 and 2004.
  • Sowing The Seeds
    Notre Dame has been seeded seventh for the third time in its 16 NCAA Championship appearances, compiling a 1-2 record in its previous two stints at the No. 7 position.

    In 1994, the Irish faced this very same Minnesota squad (seeded 10th, just like this year) at the Joyce Center in Notre Dame's first-ever home NCAA tournament game. However, the Golden Gophers spoiled the party with an 81-76 victory.

    In 2002, Notre Dame won its first-round game as a seventh seed, ousting No. 10 seed New Mexico, 58-44, in Knoxville, Tenn., and holding the Lobos to just 11 second-half points, tying an NCAA Midwest Region preliminary round record (and just one off the overall preliminary round standard). The Irish then lost their second-round game that year to the host school (and second-seeded), Tennessee, 89-50.

    Notre Dame also has been awarded a top-eight seed for the 10th time in its 16 NCAA Championship visits. The Irish are 14-3 (.824) all-time as the higher seed in NCAA tournament play.

    Notre Dame Against The NCAA Field
    Notre Dame has played nearly half (14) of its 30 games this season against teams that were invited to the 2009 NCAA Championship, registering an 8-6 (.571) record vs. the rest of this year's NCAA tournament field (5-4 against teams seeded equal to or higher than the seventh-seeded Irish).

    Here's a rundown of Notre Dame's performance against the teams that advanced to the 2009 NCAA Championship:

    Team (Seed)	   Region	  Record
    Charlotte (11)	   Oklahoma City  1-0
    Connecticut (1)	   Trenton	  0-1
    DePaul (7)	   Berkeley	  2-0
    Evansville (15)	   Trenton	  1-0
    LSU (6)	           Raleigh	  1-0
    Louisville (3)	   Raleigh	  0-1
    Michigan State (9) Berkeley	  1-0
    Pittsburgh (4)	   Oklahoma City  0-1
    Purdue (6)	   Oklahoma City  1-0
    Rutgers (7)	   Oklahoma City  0-1
    Vanderbilt (4)	   Raleigh	  1-0
    Villanova (8)	   Raleigh	  0-2
    TOTALS		                  8-6 (.571)
    
    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 15 NCAA tournament trips (39 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 last year's 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, last year saw the Irish offense roar to life, as Notre Dame topped the 70-point mark in its first two NCAA tourney 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.

    Bonus Basketball
    Notre Dame is 2-0 all-time when going to overtime in the NCAA tournament, following last year's 79-75 second-round win over Oklahoma. 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 earlier this season (Dec. 10).

    At the Joyce Center, 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).

    2008 NCAA Championship Rewind
    Notre Dame went 2-1 in last year's NCAA Championship, advancing to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in program history (all in the past 12 seasons). The fifth-seeded Irish downed No. 12 SMU, 75-62 in the opening round, before toppling No. 4 seed Oklahoma, 79-75 in a classic second-round overtime thriller. Notre Dame then pushed top-seeded Tennessee to the limit in their Oklahoma City regional semifinal, leading the Lady Vols at the half (a first for the Irish in the 20-game series) before UT rallied for a 74-64 win. Here's a brief recap of each game:

    Notre Dame 75, SMU 62 (first round)
    Ashley Barlow had 20 points, a career-high 12 rebounds, four steals and three assists, leading Notre Dame past SMU 75-62 in their NCAA tournament opener at West Lafayette, Ind.

    The surprise wasn't that the Irish won. It was how they did it.

    They overcame 40.6 percent shooting from the floor with a 49-26 advantage on the glass, pulling down nearly as many offensive rebounds (24) as defensive. Barlow had five offensive rebounds. Teammates Lindsay Schrader and Charel Allen each had six.

    SMU (24-9), the Conference USA tournament champs, rallied several times but eventually wore down inside. Janielle Dodds and Jillian Samuels each had 15 points to lead the 12th-seeded Mustangs, but it wasn't enough to extend their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2000 to a second game.

    If the Mustangs needed an explanation for what went wrong, it was clear - the rebounding differential. And it was never more obvious than in the game's decisive flurry. With Notre Dame leading 61-57 with 2:29 to go, Allen scored on a putback, drew a foul, then missed the free throw. Barlow grabbed the rebound, drew another foul and made the free throw to complete the five-point play. That made it 66-57, and the Mustangs never challenged again.

    Notre Dame 79, Oklahoma 75 (OT) (second round)
    Charel Allen scored a career-high 35 points, had six rebounds and made all the big plays late to help Notre Dame rally from a five-point overtime deficit and beat fourth-seeded Oklahoma 79-75 in overtime.

    Allen's outburst wasn't exactly by design.

    After spending the first half of Notre Dame's first-round win over SMU in foul trouble, Allen responded with the biggest performance of her life. She hit 10 of 21 shots, all three three-pointers and all 12 free throws and when the Irish needed her late, she did it all: force turnovers, score, draw fouls, even block shots. It was just the kind of effort the Irish needed to get back to the regional semis for the first time since 2004.

    Oddly enough, Notre Dame's biggest advantage against SMU -- inside play -- was its biggest weakness against the Sooners.

    The Irish struggled against OU All-American Courtney Paris, who finished with 24 points -- but just four in the final 16 minutes and none in overtime -- and 16 rebounds. Amanda Thompson had 19 points, and Jenna Plumley finished with 18, all on threes.

    But even Paris' dominance inside, and the ability of her helpful teammates to hit critical shots, wasn't enough to thwart Allen, who almost single-handedly erased a seven-point deficit with a little more than eight minutes to go in regulation. She scored 10 points in the crucial 16-4 run, which gave Notre Dame a 65-60 lead with 2:02 left in regulation, but the Sooners tied it on Paris' post-up basket with 13.7 seconds to go.

    In overtime, Allen again brought the Irish back after Oklahoma scored the first five points. This time, Allen hit a three, stole the ball and made the outlet pass that led to Ashley Barlow's layup to tie it at 70.

    The Irish finally regained the lead when Barlow and Tulyah Gaines combined to make 3 of 4 shots, and Barlow and Allen sealed it by making their last four free throws. Barlow finished with 16 points.

    Tennessee 74, Notre Dame 64 (Sweet 16)
    Candace Parker matched her career best with 34 points and hauled in 12 rebounds, pushing the top-seeded Lady Vols to a 74-64 win over Notre Dame on an Oklahoma City regional semifinal.

    The 6-foot-3 All-American put back Nicky Anosike's miss and then converted a three-point play off a transition jumper to send Tennessee into the lead with a 14-0 run early in the second half, and the Lady Vols never looked back.

    Shannon Bobbitt added a pair of three-pointers as Tennessee built its lead to 60-44 before Notre Dame made a late rally.

    For a while, Notre Dame (25-9) was able to stay in front of the Lady Vols even with Parker on a tear.

    Parker scored Tennessee's first eight points while her teammates combined to miss their first eight shots. She had 19 by halftime, but the rest of the Lady Vols combined for only 12 in the first half, and Notre Dame led 33-31 at intermission. It was only the third time all season the Lady Vols trailed at halftime, and they'd come back to win both times against Mississippi State and Georgia. It was no different this time.

    Becca Bruszewski scored 16 to match her (then) career-high she had in the first round against SMU and Charel Allen also had 16 for the Irish. Lindsay Schrader added 13 points and Ashley Barlow scored 11.

    Bobbitt finished with 11 and Anosike had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Vols.

    Notre Dame led 37-33 after Tulyah Gaines drove the lane for a layup in the opening minutes of the second half, but Parker then started getting some backup on the game-changing run.

    A BIG EAST Bonanza
    Notre Dame is one of seven BIG EAST Conference schools that earned invitations to the 2009 NCAA Championship, joining a club that also includes five-time national champion Connecticut, 2007 NCAA runner-up Rutgers, 2008 NCAA Sweet 16 qualifiers Louisville and Pittsburgh, as well as DePaul and Villanova.

    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 last season.

    The BIG EAST also had five teams -- South Florida, Marquette, Georgetown, Syracuse and St. John's -- selected for this year's Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT), meaning a conference-record 13 schools have advanced to postseason play. That's one more than the previous BIG EAST high-water mark, set just last year.

    Collectively, the BIG EAST (81.3%, 13 of 16) is second only to the SEC (83.3%, 10 of 12) 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 postseason traditions that should be quite evident during this weekend's NCAA tournament games at the Joyce Center.

  • 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 wore the alternate road threads in their second-round and regional semifinal games last year, 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 last year's first-round win over SMU, 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 14 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 1998-2002, allowing six years for graduation.

    The other 2009 NCAA tournament participants with spotless graduation rates named in this survey were: Connecticut, DePaul, Evansville, Florida, Lehigh, Marist, Ohio State, Sacred Heart, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas, Vanderbilt and Villanova.

    The BIG EAST led all conferences in this report with four teams, while the SEC was next with three. No other league had more than one school named in the study.

    Twenty Questions
    Notre Dame reached the 20-win mark for the 15th time in the past 16 seasons with a 65-56 victory at Providence on Feb. 28. The Irish now have registered 20-or-more wins 19 times in the 22-year Muffet McGraw era and 23 times in the program's 32-year history.

    Un-Four-Gettable, Part I
    Notre Dame posted a 10-6 record in BIG EAST Conference play this year, tying for fourth place in the final league standings. It marks the 11th time in the program's 14-year BIG EAST membership that it has recorded a top-four conference finish.

    Un-Four-Gettable, Part II
    Junior guard Ashley Barlow has registered not one, but two four-point plays this season, and ironically, both of them came in the same building -- the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

    The Indianapolis native and second-team all-BIG EAST pick collected her first three-and-one on Feb. 22 against top-ranked Connecticut at the 11:10 mark of the first half, becoming the first Irish player to notch the rare four-pointer since Feb. 16, 2003, when Alicia Ratay did so in a win at Providence.

    As if that weren't enough, Barlow picked up another quad on March 8 in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals vs. Villanova, burying a top-side triple and tacking on the free throw with 1:34 to play.

    Serving Notice
    Notre Dame is 5-3 against Associated Press Top 25 opponents this season, with four of those victories coming against non-conference opponents. That marks the first time in school history the Irish have registered four non-conference Top 25 victories in the regular season. The four ranked wins also currently represent nearly half of the BIG EAST's nine Top 25 wins during the 2008-09 non-conference schedule (no other league school has more than two Top 25 non-conference victories this season).

    Two of Notre Dame's three losses to ranked opponents have come against AP top-10 foes by an average of 7.5 points. The Irish dropped a 71-66 decision at home to No. 10/12 Louisville on Feb. 11, and lost at top-ranked Connecticut, 76-66, on Feb. 22 (after holding a 43-41 second-half lead, the closest any team has come to taking down the Huskies and the only time UConn has trailed after halftime this season).

    Road Warriors
    Notre Dame is 20-9 (.690) in true road games during the past two seasons. In addition, the past seven road losses for the Irish have been decided by an average of 8.4 points per game (all by 12 points or fewer), including all five road setbacks this season (average margin of 8.6 ppg.).

    The Feb. 28 win at Providence was the 10th road victory of the season for Notre Dame, marking the second consecutive season the Irish have posted a double-digit road win total. The only other time Notre Dame logged back-to-back 10-win seasons on the road was nearly two decades ago (1989-90 and 1990-91).

    From Dec. 28-Jan. 6, the Irish embarked on a four-game road swing, their longest regular-season trip since early in the 2002-03 season, sweeping games at Charlotte (68-61), No. 20/19 Vanderbilt (59-57), Seton Hall (66-60) and DePaul (86-62).

    It was the first time Notre Dame won four consecutive games, all on the road (opponent's home floor) since Jan. 7-19, 1991, when the Irish won at Butler (80-64), DePaul (81-66), Loyola-Chicago (66-55) and Marquette (91-73) in succession during Notre Dame's first full week as a ranked team in program history.

    Closer Than You Think
    Notre Dame's eight losses this season have come by an average of 8.6 points per game (all by 12 points or fewer), and in seven of them, the Irish either led in the second half, or had a chance to take the lead down the stretch.

    On Dec. 10 at Michigan, Notre Dame led by two with 13 seconds left in regulation, but a turnover allowed the Wolverines to send the game to OT. In the extra session, the Irish had two chances to tie or take the lead in the final 20 seconds, but came up short, falling 63-59.

    On Jan. 13 at Marquette, Notre Dame led by as many as eight points in the second half, and trailed by only two with 4:30 to play before the Golden Eagles pulled away for a 75-65 win.

    On Jan. 24 at Villanova, the Irish never led, but also rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit to get within one point three times in the second half. Notre Dame had four second-half possessions with a chance to tie or take the lead, but could never quite manage to break through, as the Wildcats gamely hung on for a 55-48 win.

    On Feb. 3 at No. 22/24 Pittsburgh, Notre Dame nearly erased a 13-point first-half deficit, trimming the margin to one point twice, and even had a chance to tie, but missed one of two free throws 4:45 into the second half before the Panthers finally drew clear down the stretch.

    On Feb. 11 vs. No. 10/12 Louisville, the Irish used a 12-2 second-half run to virtually wipe out a 14-point Cardinal lead, getting within 63-61 with 1:49 left before Louisville earned a three-shot foul with one second on the shot clock on the ensuing possession (and hit all three free throws). Notre Dame got back within three twice more in the final minute, but the Cardinals made a basket and three free throws to keep the Irish at bay.

    On Feb. 22 at No. 1 Connecticut, Notre Dame took a 43-41 lead with 16:11 to play, becoming the first team to own a second-half lead on the Huskies this season. However, Connecticut responded with a 22-1 run during the next 6:39 to wrest control away from the Irish, who rallied back within eight points twice in the final 1:13.

    On March 8 vs. Villanova (BIG EAST quarterfinals), Notre Dame led by 10 points in the first half and took a 25-21 lead at the half. The Irish held that margin for the first three minutes of the second half before VU went on a 13-2 run to take the lead for good. Notre Dame got as close as four points midway through the period, but could never overtake the Wildcats.

    Super Schrader
    Senior guard Lindsay Schrader has played a key role in Notre Dame's surge during the final three weeks of the season, with the Irish winning five of seven in that span.

    During that seven-game run, the Bartlett, Ill., native averaged 17.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game with a .486 field goal percentage (54-of-111) and four double-doubles. She also was named to the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll twice in that time and went on to be chosen as a first-team all-BIG EAST selection.

    Schrader's run began Feb. 17 with a season-high 26 points and 11 rebounds at South Florida, the first 25-point, 10-rebound effort by an Irish player since Feb. 11, 2007 (Charel Allen vs. DePaul). She came back with 17 points and 11 rebounds at Connecticut, as the Irish battled the Huskies closer than any team this season.

    Schrader followed by flirted with double-doubles against Syracuse and Providence while turning in sharp shooting efforts in the process. Against Syracuse, she chalked up 23 points (on 10-of-13 shooting) and grabbed eight rebounds before fouling out late in the game. Four days later at Providence, she collected 18 points (on 9-of-14 shooting) and eight rebounds, earning team-high scoring honors for the third time in four games.

    Schrader came back with another double-double in the regular-season finale against West Virginia with 14 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. She then added her seventh double-dip of the year in Notre Dame's BIG EAST Championship second-round win over St. John's with game highs of 16 points and 11 rebounds, setting a new single-season school record for double-doubles by a guard (previous mark was 6 by Danielle Green in 1998-99). Schrader also has tied current assistant coach Niele Ivey (1996-2001) for the career record in that category.

    This season, Schrader leads the Irish in scoring (12.9 ppg.) and rebounding (7.5 rpg.), while also ranking among the top 20 in the BIG EAST in scoring (19th), rebounding (10th) and field goal percentage (13th, .468). Like her double-double total, each of those averages is a career high.

    One Killer B
    Sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski is making the most of her first season as a starter for the Irish, ranking third on the team in scoring (10.7 ppg.), second in rebounding (5.0 rpg.) and first in field goal percentage (.494, 11th in the BIG EAST Conference). The Valparaiso, Ind., native has doubled last year's scoring (5.0 ppg.) and rebounding (2.5 rpg.) averages, while adding a reliable three-point shot to her arsenal (.380, 19-of-50) after making 1-of-2 from beyond the arc last season.

    Bruszewski has been especially sharp in the past 11 games, averaging 14.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game with a .407 three-point percentage (11-of-27). She has scored in double figures in eight of those 11 games, with her first career double-double (14 points, career-high 12 rebounds) on Feb. 8 in a win over No. 25 DePaul. She also has either tied or set a new career scoring high three times during her recent surge, including a pair of career-best 20-point outings a week apart at South Florida (Feb. 17) and at home vs. Syracuse (Feb. 24).

    A Real Smart Al-Lech
    Junior point guard and tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner had started only once in her first two seasons at Notre Dame, but the Mishawaka, Ind., native seems to be making up for lost time this year, while emerging as one of the most improved players in the BIG EAST Conference.

    Lechlitner has nearly doubled her scoring average from last year to 10.5 points per game, with 16 double-figure scoring nights (after 16 in her first two seasons combined). She also tossed in a career-high 19 points on Dec. 7 in a victory over No. 17/20 Purdue at the Joyce Center.

    In addition, Lechlitner ranks among the conference pacesetters in assists (12th, 3.43 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (ninth, 1.43). Her numbers were even better since BIG EAST play began, ranking seventh in assists (4.13 apg.) and eighth in assist/turnover ratio (1.61). Across the board, these averages are career highs, in some cases even doubling her previous bests.

    Off the court, Lechlitner was a prime candidate for ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District status, having been nominated for the honor after compiling a 3.357 cumulative grade-point average (GPA) through the fall 2008 semester as she works towards her degree in psychology.

    Make Mine A Grand(e)
    With 16 points against No. 10/12 Louisville on Feb. 11, junior guard and tri-captain Ashley Barlow became the 24th player in Notre Dame women's basketball history to score 1,000 career points. Barlow hit the milestone on the nose by making two free throws with 37 seconds left.

    Now ranking 21st on the Irish all-time scoring list (1,087), Barlow is the first Notre Dame player to score her 1,000th career point since Charel Allen reached the mark on Feb. 26, 2007, at DePaul.

    On Feb. 28, Barlow was joined in the Irish 1,000-Point Club by senior guard and fellow captain Lindsay Schrader, who scored her milestone point at Providence and now ranks 23rd all-time at Notre Dame with 1,051 career points.

    The four-game span between Barlow and Schrader's 1,000th career points is the second-shortest in school history. In 2005-06, Megan Duffy and Courtney LaVere reached the millennium mark three games apart to set the new school standard.

    Using Her Charge Card
    Junior center Erica Williamson has developed an uncanny knack for drawing charges despite her 6-foot-4 frame. The Charlotte, N.C., product has taken a team-high 12 charges this season, nearly half of Notre Dame's team total of 27 to date.

    This is the first season the Irish have tracked charges taken (which are an unofficial statistic and not recognized by the NCAA), although it is believed Williamson drew at least a dozen offensive fouls last year.

    Taking Rock To Block
    Freshman forward Erica Solomon (nicknamed "Rock") has registered a team-high 38 blocked shots this season and leads all BIG EAST freshmen with 1.27 blocks per game (good for seventh in the conference).

    Solomon has turned away at least two shots on 12 occasions this year, including a season-high four blocks on Dec. 2 in her homecoming game at Eastern Michigan. The Oak Park, Mich., native currently is fifth on the Irish single-season blocks list for freshmen.

    Solomon also is on pace to become the third freshman in as many seasons to lead Notre Dame in blocks -- Erica Williamson did the honors in 2006-07 (39), before Devereaux Peters led the way last year (45).

    The Five-Finger Discount
    After forcing an opponent-record 737 turnovers (21.7 per game) last season, Notre Dame is on a similar pace again this year, causing 578 turnovers (19.3 per game) through 30 games.

    More than half of those opponent turnovers have come via Irish steals, with Notre Dame registering 298 thefts (9.9 per game, third in the BIG EAST) after leading the conference in that category each of the past two seasons -- the first time the Irish won their league's steal title since 1990-91, when they took top honors in the old Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League) with a school-record 397 steals (12.4 spg.), while their 237 steals (14.8 spg.) in conference play remain a Horizon League standard to this day.

    Individually, Notre Dame has five players with at least 30 steals this season, led by junior guard Ashley Barlow's career-high 69 thefts. It's the third consecutive year Barlow has recorded at least 60 steals, a feat only three other Irish players can match -- Mary Gavin (1985-86 to 1987-88), Coquese Washington (1989-90 to 1992-93) and current assistant coach Niele Ivey (1997-98 to 2000-01).

    Born To Run
    Notre Dame has used some impressive scoring streaks to take command in several games this season. In fact, the Irish have fashioned 11 game-changing runs during which they have outscored their opponent by at least 12 points.

    Furthermore, Notre Dame has manufactured three streaks of at least 16 consecutive points this season, including a 27-0 blitz in the second half of its win over Georgia Southern on Nov. 25. That was the second-longest run of unanswered points in school history, topped only by a 31-0 run in the first half of a win over Pittsburgh on Jan. 18, 1997, at the Joyce Center.

    New Kids On The Block
    It may not be exactly the way Irish head coach Muffet McGraw envisioned it prior to the season, but Notre Dame's freshman class has been getting some valuable on-the-job training this year.

    With season-ending knee injuries to sophomores Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory, the Irish bench now basically consists of the four-player freshman class -- forward Erica Solomon and Kellie Watson and guards Natalie Novosel and Fraderica Miller.

    Yet, despite their relative lack of experience at the college level, all four players have made solid contributions to Notre Dame's 22-8 record. Three of the four have scored in double figures at least three times (Novosel-9, Solomon-7, Watson-3), with both Novosel and Solomon going to be named to the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team, while Watson and Novosel also twice were named the BIG EAST Freshman of the Week (Watson - Dec. 1 & 8; Novosel - Dec. 29 & Jan. 12).

    What's more, those three aforementioned players each are averaging at least 14 minutes per night, while the speedy Miller has emerged as Notre Dame's go-to defensive stopper, averaging close to one steal per game in her 22 appearances this season.

    Notre Dame's knack for quick player development should come as no surprise -- with the selections of Novosel and Solomon this year, the Irish now have developed seven BIG EAST All-Freshman Team picks in the past three seasons alone (including Peters and Mallory last year), the most of any team in the conference -- Connecticut is second with five honorees.

    Spreading The Wealth
    Notre Dame has seen nine different players lead the team in scoring this season, with six of the Irish leading scorers also registering a career-scoring high at some point this year -- Brittany Mallory vs. Georgia Southern (19), Kellie Watson vs. Michigan State (18), Melissa Lechlitner vs. Purdue (19), Erica Williamson vs. Georgetown (21), Natalie Novosel vs. Rutgers (19) and Becca Bruszewski at South Florida/vs. Syracuse (20). The other team-leading scorers this season have been junior guard Ashley Barlow and senior guard Lindsay Schrader, both of whom have posted nine team-high scoring games, and freshman forward Erica Solomon, who tossed in a team-high 14 points on Feb. 3 at No. 22/24 Pittsburgh.

    The only three players on the Irish roster who have not taken a turn leading the team in scoring thus far are injured sophomore forward Devereaux Peters (out for season with torn ACL in her left knee), freshman guard Fraderica Miller and walk-on junior guard Alena Christiansen, who was added to the Irish roster on Dec. 19.

    For the season, 10 of the 12 players on Notre Dame roster have scored in double figures at least once, with Miller and Christiansen aiming to join that club.

    More On The Balance Beam
    Notre Dame was ranked among the top 50 in seven NCAA team statistical categories (as of March 15), led by a No. 28 ranking in scoring offense (71.5 ppg.).

    At the same time, not one single Irish player is appearing in the top 50 of the 10 NCAA individual statistical rankings -- junior guard Ashley Barlow is the closest, ranking 51st in the nation in steals (2.46 spg.).

    Polling Station
    Notre Dame was ranked 23rd in the final Associated Press poll released on March 16. It is the 38th consecutive AP poll appearance for the Irish, who moved into the Top 10 for the ninth time in the past 13 seasons (1996-97 through 2008-09) with their No. 8 ranking on Dec. 8.

    Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 178 weeks during the program's 32-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 12th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also is 23rd all-time in that category.

    In addition, the Irish earned their 38th consecutive ranking in the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll when the final regular-season balloting was released on March 16, checking in at No. 20. Notre Dame's season-high poll position of fourth on Jan. 6 and 13 was its highest ranking in the coaches poll since the week of Jan. 5, 2005, when the Irish rose to No. 3. Notre Dame has appeared in the coaches' poll for 170 weeks during its history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).

    More Polling Data
    Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 24 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 178 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 24 people on this list, 12 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches.

    A Start We Can Believe In
    Notre Dame's 14-1 start was the second-best 15-game debut in school history. The only time an Irish squad started better than this year's club was 2000-01, when Notre Dame opened the season with a school-record 23 consecutive wins en route to the program's first No. 1 ranking and eventually, its first national championship.

    Nostradamus In High Heels
    With the Irish trailing at No. 20/19 Vanderbilt, 36-24, at halftime on Dec. 30, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw calmly walked into the locker room and assured her team that they were about to pull off one of the greatest comebacks in school history. As it turned out, she was right on the money.

    After the Commodores expanded their lead to 18 points on two occasions (the last at 46-28 with 15:56 to play), Notre Dame went to work, blitzing Vanderbilt with a 22-0 run over the next 8:40 to take the lead. VU tied the game at 50-50, but the Irish then went on top for good on a layup by sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski with 4:06 left, capping the improbable rally.

    The previous school-record comeback had been 16 points, which took place on March 30, 2001, at the NCAA Women's Final Four in St. Louis, when Notre Dame erased a 47-31 deficit late in the first half and charged past Connecticut, 90-75 on the way to the program's first national championship.

    Game #30 Recap: Villanova
    Laura Kurz had 21 points and 11 rebounds and Villanova beat No. 20/17 Notre Dame 58-47 on March 8 in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals in Hartford, Conn.

    Lisa Karcic added 11 points for the Wildcats (19-12), while Melissa Lechlitner and Ashley Barlow each had 10 for Notre Dame (22-8).

    Villanova hit just two of its first 14 shots and trailed by four at halftime, but opened the second half with an 18-8 run.

    Consecutive three-pointers from Heather Scanlon gave Villanova a 39-33 lead with 13 minutes left, and Kurz's first three put her team up 50-41 with just over three minutes left.

    The Wildcats were 10 of 25 from three-point range. Notre Dame attempted just five three-pointers and made one.

    The Irish jumped out to an 15-5 lead, but the Wildcats kept in close by going inside to Kurz, who had eight first-half points. Her kickout to Siobhan O'Connor for a three-pointer cut the lead to 23-21 with 16 seconds left in the first half. But Lechlitner hit an 18-foot jump shot at the halftime buzzer to give the Irish a 25-21 lead.

    Noting The Villanova Game

  • Notre Dame has its four-game winning streak snapped.
  • This was the first time the Irish lost after holding a double-digit lead (15-5, 9:18 of first half) since last year's BIG EAST quarterfinals, when Pittsburgh rallied from a 12-point first-half deficit to down Notre Dame, 64-53.
  • The Irish fall to 15-10 all-time against Villanova, with the Wildcats winning both matchups this year (the third time VU has posted back-to-back wins over Notre Dame).
  • The series also is tied 2-2 in the BIG EAST Championship, with all four games coming in the quarterfinal round (Villanova has won the past two conference tournament meetings in 2003 and 2009).
  • Notre Dame falls to 13-2 this season when outrebounding its opponent, with both losses coming to Villanova, and the Irish are 10-2 when holding their opponents to fewer than 60 points (also both losses to VU).
  • Notre Dame was held to a season-low 47 points, one fewer than its output in the regular-season matchup at Villanova (a 55-48 Wildcat win).
  • The Irish were credited with a season-low three assists, four fewer than their previous low set twice before (most recently at Villanova on Jan. 24).
  • Notre Dame continues to protect the ball well, committing 15 turnovers or fewer for the seventh consecutive game.
  • Barlow moved into 10th place on the Irish career steals list with exactly 200 thefts, passing Letitia Bowen (199 from 1991-95) and closing to one behind Jeannine Augustin (1993-97) for ninth place.
  • Barlow also now has 84 career three-pointers, putting her one back of Sherri Orlosky (1990-94) for ninth place on Notre Dame's all-time list.
  • Barlow converted her second four-point play of the season with 1:34 left in the game; the Irish had gone six years without one prior to Barlow's four-pointer on Feb. 22 at Connecticut, a game also played at Hartford's XL Center.
  • Peters, Mallory Out For Season
    Sophomores Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory will miss the remainder of the 2008-09 season after each player suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee. Peters' injury occurred in the first half of Notre Dame's win at Boston College on Nov. 23. Meanwhile, Mallory went down in the opening minute of overtime on Dec. 10 at Michigan. Mallory underwent successful corrective surgery on Jan. 6, while Peters did the same on Feb. 6, with both players now beginning their respective rehabilitation programs.

    Peters had played in only three games at the time of her injury, while Mallory had seen action in seven games. Thus, both players appear to meet the guidelines for the NCAA's hardship waiver (Rule 14.2.4; sometimes informally referred to as a "medical redshirt") that stipulates a petitioning student-athlete may not have played in more than 30 percent of a team's scheduled number of regular-season games (Notre Dame wond up playing 28 regular-season games in 2008-09).

    Both players are expected to petition for the NCAA hardship waiver. If granted, both Peters and Mallory will maintain three years of athletic eligibility beginning with the 2009-10 season.

    Christiansen Joins Irish Roster
    With the injuries to Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory, Notre Dame added junior walk-on guard Alena Christiansen to its roster on Dec. 19. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native has appeared in six games, averaging 0.5 points and 0.3 steals in 1.5 minutes per contest.

    A supplemental biographical sketch on Christiansen can be found in the players' section of the PDF version of these game notes.

    Half And Half
    During the past nine seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 163-17 (.906) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 91 of their last 102 such contests.

    This season, Notre Dame is 17-3 when it is ahead at the break, losing 63-59 in overtime at Michigan on Dec. 10, 75-65 at Marquette on Jan. 13 and 58-47 to Villanova on March 8 in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals.

    The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
    During the past 14 seasons (1995-96 to present), 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 195-14 (.933) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game.

    Notre Dame is 11-2 in such games this season, with wins over LSU, Boston College, Georgia Southern, Purdue, Valparaiso, Loyola-Chicago, Vanderbilt, Cincinnati, DePaul (second game), Providence and St. John's (second game).

    As is often the case, both of this year's losses in this category came against Villanova and its methodical style of play -- 55-48 in the regular season (Jan. 24 at VU) and 58-47 in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinal round (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 14 seasons (since 1995-96), the Irish are 123-4 (.969) 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.

    Notre Dame has scored at least 80 points in nine games this year, winning each time. Last season, the Irish won 14 of 15 games when reaching the 80-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 173 of their last 196 games (.883) at the 11,418-seat Joyce Center, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span. Notre Dame also has a 99-17 (.853) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the 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 76 of their last 82 non-BIG EAST contests (.927) at the Joyce Center, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Four of the losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents -- Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT) and Indiana in 2006 (54-51) -- 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 Joyce Center, posting a 323-84 (.794) 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.

    Crowded House
    The Dec. 7 home game vs. No. 17/20 Purdue was sold out, representing the sixth women's basketball sellout (11,418 capacity) in school history and the third in the past two seasons. It also was the first time in the 22-game series between the Irish and Boilermakers that an on-campus game sold out.

    On Jan. 27, Notre Dame drew 10,082 fans for its game against Rutgers, marking the largest week-night crowd in school history and the eighth-largest overall audience in the program's 32-year annals.

    The Feb. 8 WBCA Pink Zone game vs. No. 25 DePaul attracted 10,011 fans, making it the ninth-largest crowd in school history and a record-tying third gathering of 10,000 fans or more this season (matching last year's record).

    A full rundown of the top crowds in Joyce Center history can be found in the sidebar on page 9 of the PDF version of this notes package.

    Notre Dame Wins NCAA/BIG EAST "Pack The House" Challenge
    Notre Dame is one of 32 winners in the 2009 NCAA Division I "Pack the House" Challenge, it was announced March 16. "Pack the House" is a national effort in which conferences and institutions compete to build attendance.

    NCAA Division I women's basketball marketing staffs selected a home game and designated that date as a "Pack the House" game with the goal of setting an attendance record. One winner from each of the 31 conferences and one from a group of independent institutions were named. Selections were based on marketing plan creativity and attendance criteria. The NCAA will award prizes and donate $500 to the nonprofit organization of each winning institution's choice.

    Notre Dame registered the sixth sellout in the program's history, welcoming 11,418 fans to its Dec. 7 game against Purdue at the Joyce Center, marking the first on-campus capacity crowd in the 22-game series between the in-state rivals.

    McGraw Selected To Receive 2009 WBCA Carol Eckman Award
    Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw has been selected as the 2009 recipient of the Carol Eckman Award by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), it was announced March 5 at the WBCA offices in Atlanta.

    McGraw will be formally recognized at the WBCA Awards Luncheon on April 7 at noon (CT) in the Hyatt Regency St. Louis Riverfront Grand Ballroom. The WBCA Awards Luncheon is part of the WBCA National Convention held in conjunction with the 2009 NCAA Women's Final Four in St. Louis, Mo.

    The Carol Eckman Award is presented annually to an active WBCA coach who exemplifies Eckman's spirit, integrity and character through sportsmanship, commitment to the student-athlete, honesty, ethical behavior, courage and dedication to purpose. The award is named in honor of the late Carol Eckman, the former West Chester (Pa.) State College coach who is considered the "Mother of the Women's Collegiate Basketball Championship." Eckman organized the first women's basketball championship at West Chester in 1969 and continued to garner recognition and support for the women's game until her death from cancer in 1985.

    McGraw, herself a native of West Chester, Pa., is the second BIG EAST Conference coach in as many years to receive the Carol Eckman Award, following the selection of DePaul's Doug Bruno in 2008. McGraw and Bruno have served together on the WBCA's Board of Directors in recent years, with Bruno completing his two-year term (2005-06 to 2007-08) as the association's president, while McGraw has been the Board's NCAA Division I Legislative Chair since June 2005, when Bruno appointed her to the post.

    Now in its 24th year, the WBCA's Carol Eckman Award has honored some of the greats in women's college basketball. In addition to Bruno, the list of recipients includes: Theresa Grentz, University of Illinois (2007); Gail Goestenkors, Duke University (2006); Marsha Sharp, Texas Tech University (2003); Ceal Barry, University of Colorado (1995); the late Sue Gunter, Louisiana State University (1994); C. Vivian Stringer, University of Iowa (1993); the late Kay Yow, North Carolina State University (1988) and Jody Conradt, University of Texas (1987).

    Diggins Named Naismith and Gatorade National High School Player Of The Year
    Notre Dame incoming freshman guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington HS) has been selected as both the Naismith and Gatorade Girls Basketball National High School Player of the Year, it was announced recently.

    Diggins, who is rated as the consensus No. 1 guard in the country and one of the top three players overall, will be honored with the Naismith Trophy by the Atlanta Tipoff Club on March 23 during the Naismith Awards banquet at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta. She already was presented the Gatorade honor during a special assembly at Washington High School on March 18, and she now is a finalist for the Gatorade National High School Athlete of the Year, to be presented in July at a special afternoon ceremony prior to the ESPY Awards.

    These are only the latest in a series of high-profile honors for Diggins, who also has been selected to participate in the McDonald's and Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) High School All-America games next month. Diggins will be the fifth future Notre Dame women's basketball player to compete in the McDonald's game since its inception in 2002, joining the likes of Courtney LaVere (2002), Crystal Erwin (2003), and future Irish teammates Lindsay Schrader (2005) and Devereaux Peters (2007). The soon-to-be Irish guard will suit up for the East squad in this year's McDonald's High School All-America Game, which will be played April 1 at 5:30 p.m. (ET) and will be televised live nationally by ESPNU from the BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Fla.

    Meanwhile, Diggins will be the sixth Irish women's basketball signee to take part in the WBCA High School All-America Game, following the footsteps of Alicia Ratay (1999), Katy Flecky (2001), LaVere (2002), Schrader (2005) and another future Notre Dame teammate, Ashley Barlow (2006). The 18th annual WBCA contest is slated for April 4 at 4:30 p.m. (CT) from the Washington University Athletics Complex in St. Louis, which also is the host city for this year's NCAA Women's Final Four and WBCA National Convention.

    Diggins recently completed one of the most storied careers in Indiana high school girls basketball history by leading Washington High School to its fourth consecutive Indiana Class 4A state championship game appearances, one of only four schools ever to pull off that feat. In her four years on South Bend's "West Side," the Panthers posted a staggering 102-7 (.936) record, winning the 2007 4A state title (the first girls' crown by a South Bend public school).

    While helping WHS to a 26-1 record and a No. 1 national ranking (by ESPN Rise magazine) for much of this season, Diggins led the state in scoring at 29.0 points per game, while adding 6.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 5.4 steals and 2.2 blocks per game (ranking sixth in the state in steals and eighth in assists). What's more, she was an exceptional shooter, connecting at a .616 clip (207-of-336) from the field, including a .406 mark (56-of-138) from three-point range. All told, she piled up 14 30-point games this season, with three coming in the state tournament, including a season-high 38 points in a semi-state victory over Pendleton Heights. She also tallied two double-doubles and one triple-double (nearly a quadruple-double) this year, amassing 28 points, 12 assists, 12 steals and nine rebounds in the season opener vs. LaPorte on Nov. 15.

    Diggins finished her prep career with 2,790 points, good for third in Indiana high school history behind only Shanna Zolman and Stephanie White. Overall, she averaged 25.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 4.4 steals and 1.5 blocks per game, holding Washington High School records in just about every meaningful category, including career and single-season points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. In addition, she owns 4A state championship game records with 17 rebounds (vs. Columbus East in 2007) and four three-pointers made (vs. Castle in 2006), as well as three of the top six scoring performances in the history of the Class 4A title game, including a 29-point effort in this year's 71-69 last-second loss to co-national No. 1 squad, Ben Davis High School, before more than 13,000 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in a game many have called the greatest in state history.

    Awards have been plentiful for Diggins throughout her career, with the possibility for more to come, as the balance of this year's state and national honors -- including the announcement of the 2009 Indiana Miss Basketball -- expected in the coming days. For more information on her exploits, see the sidebar on page 13 of the PDF version of this notes package.

    Irish Have New Home On The Dial
    On Aug. 27, 2008, 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 now originates all Notre Dame women's basketball games, with those events carried on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), marking the first time since the 1998-99 season that the Irish are heard on an FM station. 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 new 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 (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 as the play-by-play voice of the Irish this season.

    Notre Dame On The Small Screen
    Notre Dame will have at least 23 games televised during the 2008-09 season. Highlighting this year's broadcast schedule are 10 nationally-televised Irish women's basketball contests, including at least seven games on the ESPN family of networks and three others on CBS College Sports.

    Every one of Notre Dame's games in the 2009 NCAA Championship will be broadcast on either ESPN (first round vs. Minnesota) or ESPN2, with ESPN360.com and ESPN Full Court also airing every tournament game in their entirety.

    In addition, Notre Dame continues to expand its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. All 11 Irish regular-season home games not selected for commercial TV coverage aired live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com, via the site's free multimedia package, Fighting Irish All-Access.

    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 opener vs. Minnesota), Notre Dame has played in 137 televised games, including 86 that were broadcast nationally.

    Oh Captain, My Captain
    Senior guard Lindsay Schrader and junior guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner are team captains for the 2008-09 season. All three players are serving as captains for the first time in their careers, and each received the captain's honor following a vote of their teammates prior to the season.

    Joyce Center Arena Renovation Underway
    On Sept. 13, 2008, groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Purcell Pavilion, including the Joyce Center arena addition and renovation, were held to kick off the first phase of the two-year project to upgrade the home for Notre Dame basketball and volleyball.

    The first phase of the project, that began in September 2008, involves construction of a new three-story structure at the south end of the arena. That structure will include a new three-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 existing 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 entire 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 basketball season and the end of the volleyball season.

    The University announced in October 2007 that this $26.3 million project had received a $12.5 million leadership gift from Notre Dame alumnus and Trustee Philip J. Purcell III, the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Morgan Stanley.

    For more information on the new Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, see the inside back cover of the 2008-09 Notre Dame women's basketball media guide, or go on-line for a virtual tour at www.UND.com/purcell.

    Next Game: NCAA Second Round
    Should Notre Dame win its NCAA Championship first-round game against Minnesota on Sunday, the Irish would advance to a second-round game in the Trenton Region on Tuesday at 7 p.m. (ET) inside the Joyce Center. The second-round game, which would pit Notre Dame against the winner of Sunday's other first-round game in South Bend between No. 2 seed Texas A&M and 15th-seeded Evansville -- is slated to be televised live on ESPN2, ESPN360.com and ESPN Full Court.

    Notre Dame has faced Texas A&M only once before, dropping an 88-84 decision in overtime on Dec. 3, 1995, at the Kona Women's Basketball Classic in Kona, Hawaii.

    The Irish are quite familiar with Evansville, having played the Purple Aces 20 times in their history, with Notre Dame owning a 19-1 series lead (10-0 at the Joyce Center). The teams met earlier this season on Nov. 19, with the Irish winning their home opener over UE, 96-61, behind a season-high 19 points from junior guard Ashley Barlow and a (then) career-high 18 points from sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski.

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