March 26, 2010
NCAA Championship -- Kansas City Regional Semifinal
#7/7 [#2 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (29-5 / 12-4 BIG EAST) vs. #12/12 [#3 seed] Oklahoma Sooners (25-10 / 11-5 Big 12)
DATE: March 28, 2010
TIME: 6:34 p.m. CT
AT: Kansas City, Mo. - Sprint Center (9,455)
SERIES: ND leads 2-1
1ST MTG: OU 57-54 (12/30/86)
LAST MTG: ND 81-71 (11/28/09)
TV: ESPN2HD (live) (Pam Ward, p-b-p / Debbie Antonelli, color / Heather Cox, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
#7 Irish To Face #12 Oklahoma Sunday In NCAA Sweet 16
Four months after they tangled in front of less than 1,000 fans in a far-off corner of the Caribbean, Notre Dame and Oklahoma will meet once again, this time in an NCAA Kansas City Regional semifinal contest at 6:34 p.m. (CT) Sunday from the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. The game will televised live nationally on ESPN2HD, and it's a rematch of the Paradise Jam Island Division title clash won by the Irish, 81-71, on Nov. 28 in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Second-seeded Notre Dame (29-5) advanced to the second weekend of this year's NCAA Championship with an 84-66 win over No. 10 seed Vermont on Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion. Behind an aggressive defense that forced 25 Catamount turnovers, the Irish used a 32-13 run to close the first half and take control.
Freshman guard Skylar Diggins turned in one of the signature NCAA tournament performances in school history with a career-high 31 points, seven steals and six assists for the Irish.
Other Notre Dame Notables
The Notre Dame-Oklahoma Series
Notre Dame and Oklahoma will meet for the fourth time on Sunday night, with the Irish holding a 2-1 series edge on the Sooners. All three games in the series have been decided by 10 points or fewer, and in a strange twist, every game has been played at a neutral site (with Sunday's game being the fourth different time zone Notre Dame and Oklahoma have played in through the years).
A full series history can be found in the sidebar on page 5 of the PDF version of this notes package.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Oklahoma Met
Notre Dame might as well play ranked teams all the time.
Skylar Diggins scored 16 points and the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish beat its third ranked opponent in six games, knocking off No. 20 Oklahoma 81-71 on Nov. 28 to win the Island Division of the Paradise Jam at St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Notre Dame (6-0) beat then-No. 21 Michigan State the previous week, then eased past No. 23 San Diego State on Thanksgiving Day in the Paradise Jam.
Oklahoma (4-2) led 51-48 with 12:53 left when the Fighting Irish locked down on defense, triggering a 20-0 run. The Sooners, with leading scorer Danielle Robinson on the bench with four fouls, were 0-of-8 shooting and committed eight turnovers during the run.
Notre Dame led 68-51 with 5:27 left, but Robinson scored 10 points during a 12-5 spurt that made it 73-63. Oklahoma got no closer the rest of the way.
Robinson finished with 26 points to lead the Sooners. Amanda Thompson contributed 12 points, while Carlee Roethlisberger and Abi Olajuwon scored 11 points each.
Other Notre Dame-Oklahoma Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. Big 12 Conference
Notre Dame is 8-9 (.471) all-time against current Big 12 Conference members, including wins in six of its last eight games against that conference. The two losses in that time both came by four points -- 69-65 to Texas Tech in the 2000 NCAA Mideast Regional semifinals at The Pyramid in Memphis (the Irish led 17-0 to start that game), and 67-63 in overtime at Colorado in the 2003 WBCA Classic title game (CU forced OT with a 30-foot desperation shot at the regulation horn).
Notre Dame also will be playing a Big 12 opponent for the ninth time since that conference was founded in 1996-97. In an odd coincidence, the previous eight games (like Sunday's NCAA Kansas City Regional semifinal) have been played in a tournament format, including five in NCAA Championship play:
Irish In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is making its 17th appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 15th in a row, as it takes the Sprint Center court Sunday night for its Kansas City Regional semifinal game against Oklahoma. The Irish have a .643 winning percentage (27-15) in NCAA tournament play, ranking 11th all-time in that category (minimum of 20 games played).
In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 15 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances ranks sixth in the record books.
Here are some other facts about the Irish in the "Big Dance" (see pp. 174-190 in this year's media guide for box scores, results and records):
Sowing The Seeds
Notre Dame has been seeded second for the second time in its 17 NCAA Championship appearances, earning its highest tournament seed since 2001, when the Irish were a No. 1 seed for the first time in program history.
In 2000, the Irish also were seeded second and opened the tournament with victories at Purcell Pavilion over 15th-seeded San Diego (87-61) and No. 7 seed George Washington (95-60), before bowing to third-seeded Texas Tech (69-65) in the Mideast Regional semifinals at The Pyramid in Memphis, Tenn.
Notre Dame has been awarded a top-eight seed for the 11th time in its 17 NCAA Championship visits. The Irish are 16-4 (.800) all-time as the higher seed in NCAA tournament play.
It Hinges On Defense
Notre Dame's success in the NCAA Championship can be directly traced to its performance at the defensive end of the floor. In its 17 NCAA tournament trips (42 games), the Irish are 15-2 (.882) when holding their opponent to 60 points or fewer. The two losses both came at the hands of top-seeded clubs -- Penn State (55-49) in the 2004 East Regional semifinals, and North Carolina (60-51) in the second round of the 2007 Dallas Region.
Re-Stoking The Offensive Fires
Prior to the 2008 NCAA Championship, Notre Dame had gone 13 consecutive games without scoring more than 61 points in a regulation NCAA tournament contest, dating back to its 2001 national championship game win over Purdue (68-66 in St. Louis).
However, that 2008 tournament saw the Irish offense roar to life, as Notre Dame topped the 70-point mark in its first two games (75-62 over SMU and 79-75 in overtime over Oklahoma) before a hard-fought 74-64 loss to Tennessee at the regional semifinals in Oklahoma City.
The back-to-back 70-point outings were the first for the Irish in the NCAA Championship since their Midwest Regional final and Final Four games in 2001, as they downed Vanderbilt (72-64) and Connecticut (90-75), respectively.
Notre Dame now has topped the 70-point mark in each of its last three NCAA tournament games, with its 86-58 first-round win at home over Cleveland State on March 21 representing the highest point production by the Irish in the NCAA Championship since that 2001 NCAA national semifinal win over Connecticut.
Notre Dame is 2-0 all-time when going to overtime in the NCAA tournament, following its 2008 second-round win over Oklahoma (79-75 in West Lafayette, Ind.). The Irish also defeated Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), 69-65, in extra time in their 2004 NCAA opener.
Notre Dame is 16-15 (.516) all-time when going to overtime, and have won four of its last six OT games, dating back to the 2005-06 season -- the only losses in that stretch were an 87-78 setback at South Florida on Jan. 13, 2007, and a 63-59 defeat at Michigan on Dec. 10, 2008.
Notre Dame was one of 24 schools in the country to send both its men's and women's basketball programs to this year's NCAA Championship. Among the others in this select company are fellow BIG EAST Conference members Georgetown and West Virginia, as well as two of the other three schools that competed at Purcell Pavilion in last week's first and second round games -- Vermont and Wisconsin.
It's the sixth time in the past decade that both Irish basketball teams have advanced to the NCAA tournament (also 2001, 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2008), and the third in the past four seasons. Notre Dame last appeared in both NCAA championships in 2008, with the Irish women advancing to the Sweet 16, while the Notre Dame men made it to the second round.
A BIG EAST Bonanza
Notre Dame is one of seven BIG EAST Conference schools that earned invitations to the 2010 NCAA Championship, joining a club that also includes six-time national champion Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Rutgers, St. John's and West Virginia.
The BIG EAST is 7-5 (.583) through the first two rounds of this year's tournament, with Notre Dame and Connecticut carrying the conference banner into the regional rounds.
This year's seven selections are one off the conference (and NCAA Championship) record for the highest number of teams from one league invited to a single NCAA tournament. The BIG EAST (2004, 2008) and SEC (1999, 2002) have hit that mark twice, while the Big 12 reached that total for the first time in 2008.
The BIG EAST also had five teams -- Marquette, Pittsburgh, Providence, South Florida and Syracuse -- selected for this year's Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT), while Louisville was tapped for the inaugural Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI), meaning a conference-record 13 schools have advanced to postseason play for the second consecutive season.
As of March 24, Providence and Syracuse remain alive in the WNIT.
Collectively, the BIG EAST (81.3%, 13 of 16) is second only to the Big Ten (81.8%, 9 of 11) in terms of conferences with the highest percentage of its membership participating in postseason action.
Don't Mess With Tradition
The Notre Dame women's basketball program has developed some traditions that should be quite evident during this week's NCAA tournament games in Kansas City.
Hitting The Books
Notre Dame is one of 19 schools in this year's NCAA Championship field to post a perfect 100-percent graduation rate, according to a study released this week by Richard Lapchick, head of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. The study looked at student-athletes in freshman classes from 1999-2003, allowing six years for graduation.
The other 2010 NCAA tournament participants with spotless graduation rates named in this survey were: Bowling Green, Connecticut, Dayton, DePaul, Iowa, Lehigh, Liberty, Marist, Nebraska, North Carolina, Northern Iowa, Ohio State, St. John's, Stanford, Tennessee, Tulane, Vanderbilt and Vermont.
The BIG EAST led all conferences in this report with four teams, while no other league had more than two schools named in the study. In fact, three of those four BIG EAST teams -- Notre Dame, Connecticut and DePaul -- also posted Academic Progress Rates (APR) among the top 15 in this year's 64-team NCAA Championship field.
What's more, Notre Dame was the only school to have both its men's and women's basketball teams advance to the NCAA Championship and have both register perfect 100-percent graduation rates.
The Irish come into Sunday's NCAA Kansas City Regional semifinal riding some of their hottest shooting of the season. In its last eight games, Notre Dame has shot better than 50 percent from the floor six times (all victories), with the only exceptions coming in losses to top-ranked Connecticut on March 1 & 8.
During this latest six-win span, the Irish are connecting at a .534 clip from the floor, with a .520 field goal percentage through the first two rounds of this year's NCAA Championship.
Since the start of last season, Notre Dame has played 14 times when it has had a short one-day break (or less) between games, including three games in three days over this year's Thanksgiving weekend at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, when faced with such a tight turnaround, the Irish have risen to the occasion, going 10-4 (.714) on the back half of these two-game (or more) blitzes.
This season, Notre Dame is 6-3 in these 48-hour challenges, winning twice at the Paradise Jam (South Carolina and No. 20/17 Oklahoma), and then at home on New Year's Eve vs. No. 18/16 Vanderbilt (returning from a road trip to Central Florida less than two days earlier). The Irish also earned a 75-63 win at Rutgers on Feb. 1, two days after a a narrow 74-73 win at Syracuse.
Notre Dame then lost on the back half of its next two "quick changes". On Feb. 16, the Irish dropped a 76-71 verdict at No. 22/23 St. John's, two days after a 90-66 home victory over DePaul (the game in which fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader suffered a sprained left ankle and subsequently missed two games). Then, on March 1, Notre Dame fell at home to top-ranked Connecticut, 76-51, two days after a 72-47 win at Seton Hall.
At the BIG EAST Championship earlier this month in Hartford, Conn., the Irish defeated No. 16 St. John's, 75-67, in the quarterfinal round after toppling Louisville, 89-52 in a second-round contest the previous day. However, Notre Dame then dropped a 59-44 decision to No. 1 Connecticut the day after the St. John's win.
Most recently, the Irish earned an 84-66 victory over Vermont on March 23 at Purcell Pavilion in the second round of this year's NCAA Championship, following up on an 86-58 conquest of Cleveland State in their tournament opener two days earlier.
Notre Dame is on the brink of collecting its 30th win of the season, something that only two Irish clubs have achieved in the program's 33-year history. In 1996-97, Notre Dame went 31-7 en route to its first NCAA Women's Final Four appearance in Cincinnati. Then, in 2000-01, the Irish charged to a school-record 34 wins, the last coming against in-state rival Purdue, 68-66, in the national championship game at St. Louis.
Pieces of Silver
Notre Dame collected its 25th win of the season on Feb. 27 with a 72-47 victory at Seton Hall. It's the seventh time in program history (all in the past 14 seasons) that the Irish have registered at least 25 wins in a campaign, and the first since posting a 25-9 record in 2007-08.
What's more, the Irish have reached the 25-win level in the regular season for the fourth time in school history, and the first since the 2004-05 campaign. The other 25-win regular seasons came in 1996-97 and 2000-01.
Notre Dame reached the 20-win mark for the 16th time in the past 17 seasons with its 75-63 victory at Rutgers on Feb. 1. The Irish now have registered 20-or-more wins 20 times in the 23-year Muffet McGraw era and 24 times in the program's 33-year history.
Notre Dame also hit the 20-win plateau in its 21st game this season, reaching that milestone faster than all but one Irish team -- the 2000-01 squad that opened 23-0 and earned its 20th victory at Providence on Jan. 31, 2001 (one calendar day earlier than this year's club).
Notre Dame has faced a rigorous schedule this season, taking on 11 ranked opponents to date. The Irish also have risen to that challenge well, winning six times (Michigan State, San Diego State, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, West Virginia and St. John's), including four victories away from home (MSU, SDSU, OU and STJ).
In addition, two of the four losses to ranked opponents (at St. John's and at Georgetown) came by 10 points or fewer and occurred while fifth-year senior guard Lindsay Schrader was sidelined with a sprained left ankle (the first two games Schrader missed in her college career).
Four of Notre Dame's six wins over ranked opponents this year came during the regular season non-conference portion of the schedule, marking the second consecutive year in which the Irish defeated four Top 25 non-league foes in their pre-conference slate.
Notre Dame has rallied from a double-digit deficit to win four times this season:
The four double-digit comeback victories are the most for Notre Dame in a single season during the past decade. That tops the old mark of three double-figure rallies originally set in 2002-03, when the Irish came back to win at West Virginia (trailed by 14), at Providence (trailed by 10) and home vs. Seton Hall (trailed twice by 12).
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has seen at least eight different players led the team in scoring and rebounding this season. That has been even more evident in the past 12 games, with seven different players leading the Irish in scoring during that time.
In addition, 11 of the 13 players on the Irish roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including sophomore guard Fraderica Miller, and freshman guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, who each topped the 10-point mark for the first time in their careers.
What's more, five different players have scored at least 20 points in a game this year. Diggins has seven 20-point games (San Diego State, Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, St. John's [twice] and a 31-point outing vs. Vermont), while senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner (Purdue, Marquette) has reached that mark twice. Senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow (Georgetown), junior forward Becca Bruszewski (DePaul) and junior guard Brittany Mallory (Valparaiso) have one 20-point game apiece.
Stat Sheet Stuffers
Another sign of Notre Dame's versatility is seen in the number of "5-5-5" games (5 or more in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and/or steals) posted by its players this year. In fact, no fewer than six Irish players have pulled off this feat at least once during the current campaign.
Freshman guard Skylar Diggins (UAPB, Charlotte, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Cleveland State, Vermont) has a team-high seven 5-5-5 games, while senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow (Iona, South Florida, DePaul, St. John's) and junior guard Brittany Mallory (Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, DePaul) both have four 5-5-5 games. Junior forward Becca Bruszewski (Louisville), sophomore guard Natalie Novosel (Eastern Michigan) and junior forward Devereaux Peters (St. John's) each have one.
Barlow took it to another level in the Feb. 14 DePaul win with her first "5-5-5-5" game, piling up nine points, a career-high eight assists, six rebounds and five steals. Mallory nearly matched that trick in that same game with six points, seven rebounds, five steals and four assists.
Irish Trio Makes All-Region Team
For the first time in school history, Notre Dame has placed three players on the State Farm/WBCA All-Region I Team, it was announced March 16.
Senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow, freshman guard Skylar Diggins and fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader were among 52 all-region selections, including 12 from Region I, which covers teams in the BIG EAST, America East, Atlantic 10 and Northeast conferences, as well as the Ivy Group and Patriot League. The Irish trio -- each of whom earned all-region honors for the first time -- also were the first Notre Dame players to be selection for the region squad since Charel Allen in 2007.
The State Farm Coaches' All-America Team selection committee will trim the list of 52 all-region honorees to 40 finalists for the 10-member State Farm Coaches' All-America Team that will be announced during the open practices prior to the NCAA Women's Final Four on April 3 in San Antonio, Texas. Ruth Riley (2001) and Jacqueline Batteast (2005) are the two Irish players who have earned their way onto the prestigious squad.
Those 30 finalists not chosen for this year's coaches' All-America squad will earn State Farm Coaches' All-America Honorable Mention status, something earned by seven Notre Dame players in the past two decades (most recently Allen in 2007).
In her first season at Notre Dame, freshman guard Skylar Diggins already is rising to seldom-seen heights in the Irish history books.
Here's a look at her more noteworthy accomplishments this season:
Taking What We Can Get
Fueled by a renewed attention to defense this offseason, Notre Dame has been in the taking mood this year, forcing its opponents into at least 20 turnovers in 25 of 34 games thus far, with Irish foes averaging 22.8 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +6.32 turnover margin that was 10th-best in the nation (as of March 24).
In a two-game stretch bookending the Christmas holiday, Notre Dame harassed its opponents into a combined 79 turnovers (43 by Charlotte on Dec. 20 and 36 at UCF on Dec. 29).
Charlotte's 43 turnovers tied for the second-most opponent giveaways in a game in school history and the most since Dec. 8, 1981, when the Irish forced sister school Saint Mary's (Ind.) into 43 turnovers during the program's second season at the Division I level. The Notre Dame record for opponent turnovers in a game is 48 by Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Jan. 11, 1980, at DeKalb, Ill.
The Irish also are making even the most disciplined teams fall victim to their aggressive defensive style. Villanova came into its Jan. 9 game with Notre Dame ranked second in the nation with just 12.6 turnovers per game, but the Irish dogged the Wildcats into 34 turnovers (17 in each half).
More recently, Notre Dame faced Vermont in the second round of the NCAA Championship on March 23 at Purcell Pavilion. The Catamounts were ranked 10th nationally in fewest turnovers (13.9 per game at tipoff), but the Irish nearly doubled that total by forcing UVM into 25 giveaways.
Notre Dame was especially hard on opponents at home this season, forcing 25.1 turnovers per game and collecting at least 25 takeaways in nine of its 17 Purcell Pavilion contests.
The Five-Finger Discount
According to the March 24 NCAA statistical report, Notre Dame ranks fourth in the nation in steals (12.9 spg.). The Irish already have broken the single-season school record for steals with 439 thefts (the old mark of 397 was set twice before -- 1990-91 and 2007-08), posting double-digit steal totals in 25 games this season, including five 20-steal efforts.
What makes Notre Dame's steal total even more impressive is the fact that the Irish are equal opportunity thieves. Ten different Notre Dame players have recorded double-digit steals this season, with five topping the 40-steal mark (the third time in four years the Irish have pulled off that feat).
Leading the way is freshman guard Skylar Diggins with 84 steals (good for 61st in the nation at 2.5 spg.). Diggins already has broken Coquese Washington's school record for thefts by a rookie (67 in 1989-90).
Meanwhile, senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow is second on the squad with a career-high 78 steals (85th in the nation at 2.3 spg.). In fact, Barlow now has topped the 60-steal mark in each of her four seasons under the Golden Dome, making her just the third Irish player ever to accomplish that feat, along with Washington (1989-93) and current Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey (1997-2001).
The twin 70-steal efforts by Diggins and Barlow are rare in Notre Dame history, as it marks just the third time that's occurred in a single season. Furthermore, they are the first duo in program annals to collect at least 77 steals in a single season.
In 1990-91, Washington had 83 steals, Krissi Davis added 76 steals and Karen Robinson chipped in 67 thefts. Most recently, in the 1996-97 Final Four campaign, Jeannine Augustin had 92 steals, Katryna Gaither logged 76 steals and Beth Morgan chalked up 66 thefts.
That 1996-97 season also was the last in which the Irish had three players with 65+ steals, something that could be repeated this year if junior guard Brittany Mallory adds to her career-high 61-steal total (Notre Dame last had three 60-steal players in 2006-07).
Notre Dame and Connecticut are the only two BIG EAST teams with at least three current players having 500+ career rebounds. Irish fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader is seventh all-time at Notre Dame with 820 boards (the seventh player in school history with at least 800 rebounds), while senior guard tri-captain Ashley Barlow has 644 caroms and senior center Erica Williamson has 535 career rebounds.
Notre Dame was ranked seventh in the final Associated Press poll of the season that was released March 15, marking the fourth time in program history that the Irish have finished in the top 10 of the year-end AP poll (and first since a three-year run from 1999-2001, capped with a No. 2 ranking).
Earlier this season, Notre Dame had a run of 15 consecutive weeks in the top five -- it was the second-longest run in the AP Top 5 in program history, and the longest for the Irish since the 2000-01 season, when Notre Dame was a top-five fixture for the final 17 weeks.
Notre Dame's current poll appearance run of 58 consecutive weeks is the second-longest in school history behind a 59-week stretch from 1998-2002). The Irish also spent a total of seven weeks this year at a season-high No. 3 ranking, which was Notre Dame's highest poll position since the week of Nov. 29, 2004, when the Irish also were ranked third.
What's more, Notre Dame's No. 4 preseason ranking on Oct. 30 was its the highest ever, topping its No. 6 debut in the 2000-01 poll.
With this week's poll position, the Irish now have appeared in the top 10 of the AP poll during 10 of the past 14 seasons (1996-97 through 2009-10), with their current 19-week stint being the second-longest in program history behind a 31-week stretch from 1999-2001.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 197 weeks during the program's 33-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 13th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also is 22nd all-time in that category.
In addition, the Irish are ranked seventh in the current ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll. Notre Dame reached its season high in the ESPN/USA Today poll for eight weeks earlier this year with a No. 3 ranking, which also was the highest it has been ranked in the coaches' survey since the 2004-05 season, when the Irish were third for two separate weeks (Nov. 30 and Jan. 5) during the year.
What's more, it was the first time Notre Dame was in the top three in consecutive weeks since the final 14 weeks of the 2000-01 season (capped by a No. 1 ranking in the final poll after winning the national championship).
This marks the second consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as eight of the past 12 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
Notre Dame was ranked in the coaches' survey for 38 consecutive weeks before falling just outside the Top 25 in the final poll of last season. With their current No. 7 ranking, the Irish have appeared in the coaches' poll for 189 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 28 people in NCAA Division I women's basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Besides her 197 AP poll appearances while coaching at Notre Dame, McGraw was the starting point guard at Saint Joseph's (Pa.) as a senior in 1977, helping the Hawks rise to No. 3 in the nation.
Of the 28 people on this list, 16 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart), including former Irish point guard and assistant coach Coquese Washington ('92), who helped Notre Dame to its first-ever AP poll ranking in 1990-91, and is in her third season as head coach at Penn State, guiding the Lady Lions into the Jan. 25 AP poll at No. 23.
Six of the 16 active coaches in this group -- including McGraw -- led their teams to this year's NCAA Championship, while McGraw and Baylor's Kim Mulkey are the only active skippers to play for and coach a team in the AP poll, and also coach that team to a national title (McGraw in 2001, Mulkey in 2005).
Game #34 Recap: Vermont (NCAA Championship - Second Round)
The NCAA tournament jitters didn't last long for Skylar Diggins.
After making one basket on four attempts, both season lows, in Notre Dame's opening round victory against Cleveland State, the 5-foot-9 freshman guard bounced back with a season-high 31 points and seven steals to lead second-seed Notre Dame to an 84-66 victory over 10th-seeded Vermont in the second round on Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion.
Diggins, who admitted to being a bit nervous to start the first game, looked calm against the Catamounts. She flashed a smile as she went in for a fastbreak basket a half minute into the game.
"I was smiling because we want to play with a lot of positive emotion. Last game I think we were a little uptight. We weren't having as much fun as we usually do. We just wanted to make sure we were having fun with each other. We had a great crowd out there. I think that's why you saw a lot of raw emotion. Positive emotion."
Diggins scored Notre Dame's first eight points and 15 of its first 20 as the Irish started slow. Then she began passing the ball, finishing with a team-high six assists.
"She is wise beyond her years. I think she recognized she was doing a lot of scoring, then you saw her try to drive and dish and really look for the post players and really get everybody involved," coach Muffet McGraw said. "That was an incredible performance."
She also set the tone defensively for the Irish (29-5) as they finished with 19 steals and forced the Catamounts (27-7) into a season-high 25 turnovers. Diggins also helped slow down Vermont's two high-scoring guards as May Kotsopoulos finished with 12 points and Courtnay Pilypaitis had 11, but also turned the ball over 10 times. Kostopoulos said the pressure by Diggins was key.
"She's a great, strong player but I think we just turned the ball over too much," she said.
Vermont coach Sharon Dawley said while the Irish defense was tough, the Catamounts were sloppy.
"Big stage, big game. A lot of nerves going on," she said. "It doesn't matter whether you're a freshman or a senior. I think a lot of nerves showed."
Lindsay Schrader had 14 points and 11 rebounds and Melissa Lechlitner added 12 points as Notre Dame advanced to the Kansas City Regional semifinal, their eighth trip to the round of 16 in last 14 years. Alissa Sheftic and Kendra Seto added 14 points each for Vermont, which lost for just the second time in 13 games.
Notre Dame fell behind 20-10 as the Catamounts hit nine of their first 13 shots with just two turnovers. But then Brittany Mallory had two quick steals, Devereaux Peters blocked a shot by Kostopoulos and the momentum quickly changed.
The Irish ended the half on a 32-13 run and Vermont could never mount a serious challenge in the second half.
Noting The Vermont Game
Getting The Jump
At 15-0, Notre Dame got off to the second-best start in the program's 33-year history. The only time the Irish opened with a better record that this season was in 2000-01, when they reeled off a school-record 23 consecutive wins en route to a 34-2 final record and the program's first national championship.
Notre Dame's season-opening 15-game winning streak tied for the third-longest success string in program history (at any time), and it was the longest since the school-record 23-game run to begin the 2000-01 season.
McGraw Earns 600th Career Win
Irish head coach Muffet McGraw reached her second important career milestone of the season on Jan. 19, as she became the 19th Division I coach to record 600 career wins when the Irish posted a 78-60 victory at Louisville.
McGraw earned the milestone win in her 839th career game (she now has a 28-year mark of 613-243, .716), tying her with former Saint Peter's coach Mike Granelli as the 10th-fastest to the 600-win plateau in Division I history.
In honor of the historic 600th victory, Notre Dame fans at Purcell Pavilion held up signs with the number "600" on them when McGraw and her staff took the floor prior to the Jan. 24 win over No. 16/11 West Virginia. The visibly-moved Irish coach later called the scene "one of the top five moments" of her Notre Dame career.
McGraw Joins Elite Notre Dame Club
With a 84-79 win over No. 23/24 San Diego State on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 26) at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Irish head coach Muffet McGraw reached a personal milestone, becoming the fourth coach in school history (in any sport) to register 500 victories while coaching under the Golden Dome. McGraw now has a record of 525-202 (.722) in 23 seasons at Notre Dame (1987-88 to present) and a 613-243 (.716) record in 28 seasons overall -- including a five-year stint at Lehigh from 1982-87.
Fencing's Michael DeCicco (680-45 from 1962-86) and Yves Auriol (525-33 from 1986-2002), and baseball's Jake Kline (558-449-5 from 1934-75) are the only other members of the "Fighting Irish Five Hundred Club," with one able to connect 75 years of Notre Dame athletics history and success via just four degrees of separation (Kline to DeCicco to Auriol to McGraw).
McGraw reached two other mileposts on Dec. 2 vs. Eastern Michigan, as she coached her 700th game at Notre Dame, as well as her 300th at Purcell Pavilion.
As it turned out, that EMU game also saw the school honor McGraw with an on-court post-game celebration for her 500th win, capped by a visit from her 19-year-old son, Murphy, who secretly drove four hours from his college campus at Indiana University in Bloomington to surprise his mother with a bouquet of flowers and the game ball from her milestone win.
Keeping It Close To Home
Although Notre Dame has traditionally had a national reputation in recruiting circles, in recent seasons, the Irish have found their strongest talent comes from right in their own backyard. In fact, of the 13 players on this year's Notre Dame roster, four are from Indiana, while five others are from states that border Indiana (including sophomore forward Erica Solomon, who lived in Oak Park, Mich., and graduated from Detroit Country Day School in 2008 before her family moved back to her birthplace of Charleston, W.Va., this past summer).
What's more, of the five most common Notre Dame starters this season, four are from the state of Indiana -- senior guard Ashley Barlow (Indianapolis), junior forward Becca Bruszewski (Valparaiso) and the all-South Bend backcourt of senior guard Melissa Lechlitner and freshman guard Skylar Diggins -- while the fifth starter (fifth-year senior guard Lindsay Schrader) is from Bartlett, Ill., located right outside Chicago.
As if that weren't enough, the quartet of Barlow, Lechlitner, Bruszewski and Schrader have been mainstays in the Irish lineup for the past two seasons and have a combined total of 345 career starts between them.
Schrader reached a personal milestone on Dec. 12 against Valparaiso, becoming the 12th player in school history with 100 starting assignments in her career. Schrader now is third in school history with 123 career starts, trailing only Alicia Ratay (129 from 1999-2003) and Ruth Riley (124 from 1997-2001). Schrader also had a streak of 73 starts in a row from Jan. 16, 2008-Feb. 14, 2010 (sixth-best in school history) before missing the Feb. 16 game at St. John's with an ankle injury.
For the first time in Notre Dame women's basketball history, four players have hit the 100 games played mark in the same season. Senior guards/tri-captains Ashley Barlow, Melissa Lechlitner and Lindsay Schrader, along with senior center Erica Williamson, all reached the century mark during the Thanksgiving weekend at the Paradise Jam (Lechlitner and Williamson on Nov. 26 vs. San Diego State, Barlow and Schrader on Nov. 27 vs. South Carolina).
Current Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey holds the school record with 132 games played from 1996-2001, while the current Irish senior quartet is intent on crashing the top 10 in that category. Lechlitner presently is tied for fourth at 130 (along with Alicia Ratay [1999-2003] and Julie Henderson [1996-2000]), while Barlow and Williamson are in a seventh-place tie at 129 (joining former teammate Charel Allen [2004-08] and Ericka Haney [1998-2002]), and Schrader isn't far behind at 127.
Two of Notre Dame's senior guards and tri-captains -- Ashley Barlow and Lindsay Schrader -- are already members of the program's 1,000-Point Club, and will spend this season trying to work their way up the Irish all-time scoring ladder.
Barlow currently ranks ninth in school history with 1,479 career points, while Schrader is 13th with 1,410 points. They could be joined by their fellow senior guard and tri-captain, Melissa Lechlitner, who has 983 points to date.
Only one other time in program history has Notre Dame fielded three 1,000-point scorers on its roster at the same time -- and it literally happened for less than one game. Ruth Riley, Niele Ivey and Kelley Siemon all reached the millennium mark and played on the 2000-01 Irish national championship squad, with Siemon reaching the milestone in her final collegiate contest after scoring 10 points in Notre Dame's 68-66 title-game victory over Purdue in St. Louis.
Lechlitner Named Second-Team Academic All-District
Senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner has been named to the 2010 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District V Second Team, it was announced Feb. 4 by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
It's the first time Lechlitner has earned the award, and she is the first Fighting Irish player to garner academic all-district status since 2006, when former Notre Dame point guard Megan Duffy received her second consecutive district award and parlayed that into first-team Academic All-America honors. What's more, Lechlitner becomes the eighth Fighting Irish women's basketball player in the past 12 seasons to be an academic all-district selection.
Lechlitner currently maintains a 3.377 cumulative grade-point average (GPA) in the College of Arts and Letters, where she is pursuing her bachelor's degree in psychology. She earned dean's list honors in the spring of 2007 with a 3.75 semester GPA, and is coming off a stellar fall 2009 term that saw her post a 3.583 GPA. In addition, she is a three-time BIG EAST All-Academic Team selection and is a prime candidate to make that squad again this year.
Pomp And Circumstance
On Jan. 3, senior center Erica Williamson received her bachelor's degree in film, television & theater from Notre Dame's College of Arts and Letters. Williamson, who also serves as the president of the school's Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), graduated a full semester early and started graduate studies at Notre Dame this spring.
She subsequently has earned admission into the graduate program at Syracuse University's prestigious S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, where she anticipates continuing her pursuit of a sports broadcasting career in the fall of 2010.
With Williamson collecting her diploma, all 58 Notre Dame women's basketball student-athletes who have completed their athletic and academic eligibility under head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-present) have earned their degrees.
Half And Half
During the past decade, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 188-17 (.917) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 116 of their last 127 such contests.
Notre Dame has led at the break in 25 games this season and has gone on to earn victories each time.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 15 seasons, Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season (Notre Dame's first in the BIG EAST Conference), the Irish have an amazing 208-15 (.933) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including a 13-1 record this season.
The lone loss? A 59-44 setback to top-ranked Connecticut in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals on March 8 in Hartford, Conn.
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 15 seasons (since 1995-96), the Irish are 140-4 (.972) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are a pair of overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995, a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, and an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008.
This season, Notre Dame is 17-0 when it scores at least 80 points, including four games when it topped the 90-point mark.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame's success has been its stellar play at home. In fact, the Irish have been virtually untouchable at home in recent years, winning 189 of their last 214 games (.883) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span. Notre Dame also has a 106-18 (.855) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the former Joyce Center, sporting a 31-game league winning streak at home before it ended with a 48-45 loss to Villanova in the '02 home finale.
The Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 85 of their last 92 non-BIG EAST contests (.924) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the seven losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents (four by 12 points or less) -- Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT), Indiana in 2006 (54-51) and Minnesota in 2009 (79-71) -- with the other two defeats coming to Tennessee in 2005 (62-51) and 2008 (87-63). The Purdue loss also snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak which began after the UW setback.
Since its inaugural season in 1977-78, Notre Dame has played all of its games at the former Joyce Center, posting a 339-86 (.798) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, which was the school record for home victories in a season prior to this year, when Notre Dame went 16-1, capped by an 84-66 triumph over Vermont on March 23 in the second round of the NCAA Championship.
It's Fan-Demonium At Notre Dame
If the preseason was any indication, Notre Dame women's basketball is easily the hottest ticket in South Bend. For the first time in school history, all Irish women's basketball season ticket packages (close to 7,500) were sold, including more than 1,000 packages to first-time season ticket purchasers when they went on sale Aug. 14. Furthermore, fans were waiting in line at the Purcell Pavilion ticket office as early as 4:30 that morning, more than four hours before the ticket windows opened. Those early birds were rewarded with a visit from Irish head coach Muffet McGraw, who delivered coffee and bagels, courtesy of McGraw and athletics director Jack Swarbrick.
It didn't take long for this heightened enthusiasm to come to fruition, as the crowd of 9,080 for the Nov. 15 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff was the largest season-opening audience in program history, more than 1,100 higher than the old mark set in 2001-02 (7,960 vs. Valparaiso).
This season, Notre Dame averaged a school-record 8,377 fans per game, good for fourth in the nation and putting the Irish more than 1,200 fans ahead of last year's average (7,168), not to mention more than 500 fans ahead of their previous school-record attendance average of 7,825 fans per game, also set in 2001-02.
Notre Dame also has posted 12 sellouts in program history, with half of those capacity crowds coming this season in the newly-renovated arena -- including four of the final six home games and six of the past eight (all during BIG EAST Conference play).
The most recent sellout came on March 1, when the Irish drew 9,149 fans to Purcell Pavilion for their matchup with top-ranked Connecticut.
A full rundown of the top women's basketball crowds in arena history, as well as a detailed history of the Purcell Pavilion/Joyce Center renovation and expansion, can be found in the sidebar on page 12 of the PDF version of this notes package.
Irish On Your Radio Dial
Beginning with the 2008-09 athletics year, the Notre Dame athletics department announced it had partnered with the LeSEA Broadcasting Network, making Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) the new radio home of Notre Dame women's basketball in the South Bend market.
LeSEA originates all Notre Dame women's basketball games, with those events carried on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), marking a return to the FM side of the dial for the first time since the 1998-99 season. Combined, these two stations blanket the nation's No. 89 media market (South Bend-Elkhart), covering a 21-county area in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan that contains more than 1.35 million listeners (better than 800,000 in the greater South Bend area alone). All told, Notre Dame's women's basketball network stretches from Kalamazoo, Mich., to the north, North Judson, Ind., to the west, Macy, Ind., (home of former Irish All-America center Ruth Riley) to the south, and LaGrange, Ind., to the east.
Women's basketball game broadcasts also continue to be streamed live and free of charge on Notre Dame's official athletics web site (www.UND.com) through the Fighting Irish All-Access multimedia package.
Bob Nagle, the voice of Notre Dame women's basketball from 1996-97 through 1998-99 (including the program's first NCAA Final Four berth in 1997), returns for his second season in his second stint as the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Irish.
Notre Dame On The Small Screen
Notre Dame will have at least 25 games televised during the 2009-10 season. Highlighting this year's broadcast schedule are 16 nationally-televised Irish women's basketball contests, including at least 10 games on the ESPN family of networks (three on ESPN2's "Big Monday" package) and four others on CBS College Sports.
In addition, Notre Dame continues to expand its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. All Irish regular-season home games not selected for commercial TV coverage (with the exception of the Nov. 15 game vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff) were webcast live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, www.UND.com, via the site's free multimedia package, Fighting Irish All-Access.
What's more, the Thanksgiving weekend Paradise Jam was webcast in its entirety through Fox College Sports Broadband on a pay-per-view basis.
This year's TV slate continues a recent trend that has seen the Irish become a regular fixture on television. Beginning with the NCAA championship season of 2000-01 and continuing through this year (not counting Sunday's NCAA Kansas City Regional semifinal game vs. Oklahoma), Notre Dame has played in 166 televised games, including 112 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Fifth-year senior guard Lindsay Schrader and senior guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner all return for their second year as team captains for the 2009-10 season. All three players received the captain's honor following a vote of their teammates prior to the season.
This marks the first time in program history that the same players are serving as captains in consecutive seasons.
Irish Sign Three For 2010-11 Season
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw announced Nov. 13 that three of the country's top high school student-athletes have chosen to continue their academic and athletic careers with the Fighting Irish, each signing a National Letter of Intent to attend Notre Dame beginning in the fall of 2010.
Natalie Achonwa (last name pronounced uh-CHAWN-wuh), a 6-3 forward from Guelph, Ontario (St. Mary's Catholic Secondary School/National Elite Development Academy), Ariel Braker, a 6-1 forward from Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. (Grosse Pointe North High School) and 2010 McDonald's All-American Kayla McBride, a 5-11 guard from Erie, Pa. (Villa Maria Academy) all made their official commitments to the Fighting Irish during the early signing period, which ended Nov. 18.
All three student-athletes are rated among the top 50 players in the country by various national recruiting services. As a group, this trio is ranked as the No. 10 recruiting class in the country by All-Star Girls Report (and a consensus top-16 class by other recruiting services), giving Notre Dame a Top 25 recruiting class for the 14th consecutive year, a streak only two other schools in the country (Connecticut and Tennessee) can match. It's also the third consecutive top-10 recruiting class for the Fighting Irish.
"I'm very excited about the class that we're signing this year," McGraw said. "I think we really addressed our needs, with three very good players coming in. They're going to change the way we do some things at both ends of the floor next year. We're going to be able to be more aggressive on defense because we're adding athleticism, length and speed, and on offense, we'll look at ways that we can take advantage of the size that we're going to have. It will probably be a whole new look, going from the more guard-oriented team that we have now, to next year when we'll have some depth in the post as well."
"Notre Dame emphasized strengthening their perimeter game and did so with size, athleticism and versatility," said Dan Olson, director of the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.
The full press release, with a complete look at the newest members of the Notre Dame women's basketball program, is available on-line at http://www.und.com/sports/w-baskbl/spec-rel/111309aab.html.
Irish Signee Kayla McBride Named McDonald's All-American
Notre Dame incoming freshman guard Kayla McBride (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy) is one of 24 student-athletes who have been named to the 2010 McDonald's Girls' High School All-America Team, it was announced Feb. 11. With the selection, McBride will compete for the East team in the McDonald's High School All-America Game, which is scheduled to take place at 5:30 p.m. (ET) on March 31 and will be televised live to a national cable audience by ESPNU from Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
"This is an incredible honor and we are so proud of Kayla," Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. "She put in so much time and effort during the off-season to improve her game, and it's such a thrill to see that kind of hard work and dedication pay off. We're looking forward to following Kayla throughout the rest of her high school career, and excited to have her joining us next season."
The 5-foot-11 McBride is the sixth future Notre Dame women's basketball player, and third in four seasons, to earn McDonald's High School All-America recognition since the girls' team was first created in 2002. Other incoming Fighting Irish cagers who played in the McDonald's game have included Courtney LaVere (2002), Crystal Erwin (2003), and a trio of current Notre Dame players -- Lindsay Schrader (2005), Devereaux Peters (2007) and Skylar Diggins (2009). Diggins shared Most Valuable Player honors at last year's McDonald's game in Coral Gables, Fla., after collecting a game-high 18 points, five rebounds and three steals for the East team in a 69-68 loss to the West squad.
McBride, who also earned a spot on the ESPN Hoopgurlz All-Star Team that likewise was released Feb. 11, has been ranked as one of the top 25 players in the nation in the Class of 2010 by both ESPN Hoopgurlz (20th) and All-Star Girls Report (22nd). She recently became the all-time scoring leader in Villa Maria Academy history and has helped VMA -- the defending Pennsylvania Class AA state champion -- to a No. 1 ranking in the state in Class AA. The Victors also have been ranked among the top 15 teams in the East Region by several national media outlets this year.
Notre Dame Lends A Hand For Haiti Earthquake Relief
Fundraising efforts held in conjunction with two University of Notre Dame home basketball games have resulted in more than $250,000 in donations that will go toward relief efforts in Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit the island nation on Jan. 12.
Through the generosity of fans and alumni, as well as contributions from the University and the Notre Dame Monogram Club, the money was raised at the men's and women's basketball games that were played Jan. 23 and 24, respectively, at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame donated full gate receipts and net concession revenue from both games to the relief effort. In addition, a collection organized by the Notre Dame Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) -- led by president and current Irish women's basketball senior center Erica Williamson, as well as baseball player Ryan Connolly and rower Emily Crosby -- raised more than $25,000 from fans and alumni who contributed during the games. The Monogram Club added a $10,000 matching gift to the student total.
Money raised will benefit short-term needs and long-term rebuilding efforts in Haiti and will be distributed to the Notre Dame Haiti Program, which works to eradicate the debilitating mosquito-borne disease lymphatic filariasis; the Congregation of Holy Cross, which has served in Haiti since 1944 and was heavily affected by the earthquake; and Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.
Next Game: NCAA Regional Final
The winner of Sunday's NCAA Kansas City Regional semifinal game between Notre Dame and Oklahoma will advance to a regional final contest against either No. 1 seed Nebraska or fourth-seeded Kentucky on Tuesday (March 30) at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. The game will tip off at 8:07 p.m. CT (9:07 p.m. ET) and will be televised live to a national cable audience on ESPN.
The Irish are 1-1 all-time against Nebraska, last facing the Huskers in the 2004 Preseason WNIT quarterfinals at Purcell Pavilion (a 73-57 Notre Dame win).
Meanwhile, the Irish have yet to face Kentucky on the hardwood.