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    FIGHTING IRISH

    March 22, 2001

    By the Associated Press

    GAME: No. 5 Utah (29-3) vs. No. 1 Notre Dame (30-2).
    REGIONAL: Midwest, semifinal.
    TIME: Friday, 8:07 p.m. EST.
    SITE: The Pepsi Center, Denver.

    If the past is any indication, Notre Dame is on the verge of making extended travel plans.

    With a win over fifth-seeded Utah in the round of 16, top-seeded Notre Dame will match the school mark for most wins in a season. When last the Fighting Irish won 31 games they ended up in the 1997 Final Four.

    Notre Dame's 88-54 second-round victory over Michigan on Monday was its 38th straight home win, and put the Irish in the regional semifinals for just the third time school history.

    Notre Dame, which shot 51.5 percent from the field, including 44.4 percent (8-of-18) from 3-point range, was again led by national player of the year Ruth Riley, who scored a game-high 21 points.

    The Irish are making their sixth consecutive tournament appearance and eighth overall under coach Muffet McGraw. A season ago, Notre Dame didn't have enough to make it to a regional final, losing to Texas Tech.

    However, the Irish might have more than enough to get the job done this season. In addition to Riley's dominant play in the paint, the team shoots nearly 50 percent from behind the 3-point arc. The Irish also boast the nation's top scoring defense, limiting opponents to 54.1 points per game.

    Utah, which is making its first-ever appearance in the tournament, advanced to this stage with a 78-69 win over Iowa on Monday, despite allowing 20 more points than its average for the season.

    However, offensively the Utes can spread it around. Against Iowa, Lindsey Herbert scored 15 points, leading five players in double figures.

    Utah will need a similar effort to defeat a team in Notre Dame that was ranked first in the nation for a good portion of the season.

    "It's so thrilling, we're so excited," point guard Amy Ewert said. "It's such a great step for this program. I can't wait to play (Notre Dame)."

    PROBABLE STARTERS: Utah - F Kristina Andersen (9.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg), F Herbert (7.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg), C Lauren Beckman (12.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg), G Kelsy Stireman (5.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg), G Ewert (9.3 ppg, 3.4 apg). Notre Dame - F Ericka Haney (11.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg), F Kelley Siemon (11.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg), G Ruth Riley (17.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg), G Niele Ivey (12.2 ppg, 7.0 apg), G Alicia Ratay (13.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg).

    HOW THEY GOT HERE: Utah - At-large bid, Mountain West Conference, beat Fairfield 79-57, first round, beat Iowa, 78-69, second round. Notre Dame - At-large bid, Big East Conference, beat Alcorn State 98-49, first round, beat Michigan, 88-54, second round.

    ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Utah - 3-10, 11 year. Notre Dame - 11-7, 7 years.

     

     

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