March 27, 2008
#15/19 [#5 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-8 / 11-5 BIG EAST) vs. #3/3 [#1 seed] Tennessee Lady Volunteers (32-2 / 13-1 Southeastern)
DATE: March 30, 2008
TIME: 8:30 p.m. CT
AT: Oklahoma City, Okla. - Ford Center (19,599)
SERIES: UT leads 19-0
NCAA: UT leads 2-0
1ST MTG: 11/25/83 (UT 71-56)
LAST MTG: 1/5/08 (UT 87-63)
RADIO: ESPN Radio 1490 AM (Sean Stires, p-b-p)
TV: ESPN2HD (live) (Pam Ward, p-b-p/Nancy Lieberman, color/Holly Rowe, sideline)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (405) 235-8288
Irish Set For Sweet 16 Matchup With Tennessee Sunday In Oklahoma City
For the first time in four years, Notre Dame will be playing on the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, as the fifth-seeded (No. 15/19) Irish prepare to take the floor Sunday night at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City against top-seeded (and third-ranked) Tennessee. Tipoff time for the Oklahoma City Regional semifinal is set for approximately 8:30 p.m. CT (9:30 p.m. ET in South Bend), with the game to be televised live on ESPN2HD.
Notre Dame punched its ticket for the Sweet 16 with a hard-fought 79-75 overtime victory over fourth-seeded (No. 14/13) Oklahoma on Tuesday night in West Lafayette, Ind. The Irish used a 12-2 run midway through the extra period to take control of the back-and-forth contest that featured seven ties and 10 lead changes.
A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Behind a high-octane offense and an aggressive defense, Notre Dame has battled its way back to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Championship for the seventh time in the past 12 seasons, but the first time since 2004.
The Irish have been a fixture in the national polls this season, appearing every week (except for the preseason ESPN/USA Today poll) and having been ranked in the top 20 for the past 16 weeks, rising as high as ninth in the March 3 AP poll.
Notre Dame also ranks in the top 25 in seven NCAA statistical categories, including scoring offense (8th, 76.6 ppg.), scoring margin (9th, +15.4 ppg.) and assist/turnover ratio (17th, 1.06), with 40 percent of its 25 wins by at least 30 points. The Irish also lead the BIG EAST (and rank 13th nationally) in steals (11.75 spg.) and have forced 20 turnovers on 21 occasions.
Senior guard Charel Allen, a two-time first-team all-BIG EAST and 2007 WBCA honorable mention All-America pick, is setting the pace for a balanced Notre Dame attack, averaging a team-high 15.1 points per game (12th in BIG EAST), including a career-high 35 points against Oklahoma on Tuesday night in the second round of the NCAA Championship.
Sophomore guard Ashley Barlow earned honorable mention all-BIG EAST status this year, ranking second on the team in scoring (12.1 ppg.) and seventh in the BIG EAST with a team-high 67 steals (2.03 spg.).
Junior guard Lindsay Schrader also was an honorable mention all-conference pick this season after a strong return from a torn ACL last year. Schrader is third on the squad in scoring (10.2 ppg.) and tops in rebounding (6.1 rpg.) as one of the cornerstones of Notre Dame's unique Princeton-based four-guard lineup.
While Schrader is back from her ACL injury, BIG EAST All-Freshman Team forward Devereaux Peters had her season end early with a torn ACL in her left knee, suffered Feb. 10 vs. Pittsburgh. Peters provided a strong spark off the bench, averaging 9.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.96 blocks per game. She also scored in double figures 14 times, including a season-high 15 points vs. Villanova and her first career double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds) against top-ranked Connecticut.
Potent Notables About The Irish
A Quick Look At Tennessee
Tennessee made quick work of its first two NCAA Championship opponents this year, dispatching Oral Roberts (94-55) and Purdue (78-52) last weekend at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.
UT (32-2) has lost only to Pac-10 champion Stanford (73-69 on the road in OT) and SEC regular-season champion LSU (78-62 at home). The latter loss was avenged when the Lady Vols edged the Tigers, 61-55 to win the SEC tourney title and the league's automatic NCAA bid.
Junior All-American Candace Parker leads Tennessee in most categories, including scoring (21.1 ppg), rebounding (8.2 rpg) and blocked shots (2.4 bpg). Senior guard Alexis Hornbuckle is second in scoring (10.2 ppg) and tops in assists (3.7 apg), steals (2.8 spg) and three-point percentage (.435).
Head coach Pat Summitt has a 979-182 (.843) career record in 34 seasons at Tennessee. She is 19-0 all-time against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Tennessee Series
In a series that dates back to the early Reagan administration, Notre Dame and Tennessee have met 19 times with the Lady Vols winning each previous matchup. Sunday's Sweet 16 contest also will mark the third time the teams have played in the NCAA Championship, with UT winning at the 1997 Final Four in Cincinnati (80-66) and in the second round of the 2002 tournament in Knoxville (89-50).
Notre Dame and Tennessee first played on Nov. 25, 1983, at the Joyce Center as part of the first Notre Dame Thanksgiving Classic, with UT winning by a 71-56 score. The teams would face off annually for the next 11 seasons (through 1993-94) before the regularly-scheduled series ended.
However, it wouldn't be the end of the rivalry, as the Irish and Lady Vols played twice in the 1996-97 season. In mid-November, the teams met in the semifinals of the Preseason WNIT in Ruston, La., (UT winning 72-59) before the aforementioned rematch at the '97 Final Four.
That would be the last time the schools battled on the hardwood until that 2002 NCAA tournament contest in Knoxville. The following season, Notre Dame and Tennessee tipped off a five-year series with a neutral-site game in Indianapolis, with the two sides meeting every season since then except for 2004-05.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Tennessee Met
Senior guard Charel Allen scored a team-high 17 points, and freshman forward Devereaux Peters added 10 points and a season-high eight rebounds, but 14th-ranked Notre Dame saw its 10-game winning streak snapped with an 87-63 loss to No. 3 Tennessee on Jan. 5, 2008 at a sold-out Joyce Center.
Angie Bjorklund matched a career-high with seven three-pointers for 21 points and Candace Parker added 20 points to lead UT.
The Lady Vols (12-1) took control from the start, forcing the Irish (12-2) out of their normally pressing defense by making their first four three-pointers, three of them by Bjorklund. Tennessee used a 22-2 run midway through the first half to open a 30-10 lead and were in control throughout. Nicky Anosike added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Lady Vols and Alexis Hornbuckle had 10 points.
Bjorklund had two three-pointers during the early run and Shannon Bobbitt capped the run with a three to give Tennessee a 20-point lead with 9:22 left in the first half. The Irish battled back with a 10-2 run, including three buckets from Peters, and trailed just 32-20 after sophomore guard Ashley Barlow's baseline floater with 4:54 left in the half. However, Notre Dame shot only 27 percent in the period and UT closed the half on a 9-2 run of its own to take a 41-22 lead at intermission.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Tennessee Met In The NCAA Championship
Kara Lawson scored 16 points, and Brittany Jackson added 10 as sixth-ranked Tennessee beat Notre Dame 89-50 on March 17, 2002, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. The loss ended the defending national champions' season in the second round of the NCAA Midwest Region.
Tennessee came out with its usual aggressive offense and defense and with a relentless intensity and domination not shown in any other game this season.
Two big runs put the Lady Vols ahead 53-27 at halftime. They led by 30 points just 2:15 into the second half and never slacked off.
The seventh-seeded Irish (20-10), who hardly resembled the club that won the NCAA title a year earlier with six freshmen on their roster, couldn't match Tennessee's pressure or quick shooting. The loss was Notre Dame's worst of the season.
After Brittany Jackson hit a 3-pointer to give the Lady Vols a 5-4 lead, Tennessee never looked back. Le'Tania Severe's basket for Notre Dame cut it to 15-8 with 14:02 to go before halftime.
Gwen Jackson's jumper started a 13-6 Tennessee run that ended with Ashley Robinson's three-point play to put the Lady Vols ahead 28-14. The Irish got as close as 11 on Severe's two free throws with seven minutes left, but Notre Dame then went scoreless the next three minutes. Tasha Butts made a shot at the halftime buzzer for a 26-point lead, Notre Dame's biggest halftime deficit of the season.
UT harassed Notre Dame into 25 turnovers and grabbed 16 steals. When their shots didn't fall, the Lady Vols were 27-for-35 from the foul line. Notre Dame was led by Kelsey Wicks' 10 points while Jacqueline Batteast, the Irish's second-leading scorer was held to just five.
Michelle Snow scored 11 points in reserve for Tennessee, which got points from 11 players. Snow, who dunked three times in her career, nearly capped the game with her fourth -- and first at home. LaToya Davis got a loose ball and passed it to Snow on the fastbreak with 1:59 to go, but the ball got caught under the rim as she jumped to put it in.
Other Notre Dame-Tennessee Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Southeastern Conference
The Irish are 6-29 (.171) all-time against the Southeastern Conference, although they are 3-6 in their last eight meetings with SEC schools. The most recent Irish win over a SEC opponent also came on a neutral floor on Nov. 14, 2003 at the WBCA Classic in Boulder, Colo., when Notre Dame defeated No. 22/25 Auburn, 77-64.
Sunday's game will mark the sixth time the Irish have faced a SEC school in the NCAA Championship. Notre Dame is 2-3 against the conference in the postseason, with its last victory coming on March 26, 2001 --a 72-64 win over Vanderbilt in the Midwest Regional final at the Pepsi Center in Denver, sending the Irish to their second Final Four in five years.
Notre Dame also has previously played an SEC team in the Sweet 16. On March 22, 1997, the Irish defeated Alabama, 87-71 in Columbia, S.C., in an East Regional semifinal matchup that featured a regional-record 36 points from Beth Morgan.
Podcenter: Tidbits From Oklahoma City
Notre Dame In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is in the midst of its 15th appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 13th in a row, as it takes the court Sunday night against Tennessee in the regional semifinals. The Irish have a .658 winning percentage (25-13) in NCAA tournament play, which ranks 10th all-time (minimum of 20 games played).
In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 13 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances ranks eighth in the record books.
Here are some other facts about the Irish in the "Big Dance" (see page 6 sidebar for Notre Dame's year-by-year NCAA Championship results and check pp. 150-164 in the Notre Dame media guide for box scores and records):
Sowing The Seeds
Notre Dame has been seeded fifth for the third time in 15 NCAA Championship appearances. It's the program's highest seed since 2005, when the Irish were seeded fourth in the Tempe Region and split games with No. 13 seed UC Santa Barbara (won 61-51) and fifth-seeded Arizona State (lost 70-61) at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif.
The first time the Irish were a No. 5 seed was 1999, when they defeated 12th-seeded Saint Mary's (Calif.), 61-57 in a West Region first-round game at Baton Rouge, La., before losing in round two to No. 4 seed LSU, 74-64.
The last time Notre Dame was a No. 5 seed was 2004, when they hosted East Region first and second-round games at the Joyce Center. That year, the Irish outlasted No. 12 seed Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State, 69-65 in overtime, before downing 13th-seeded Middle Tennessee, 59-46 in the second round to make the program's sixth trip to the Sweet 16.
The Irish have played 20 NCAA tournament games as a lower seed and have posted a 10-10 record, most recently taking a 79-75 overtime win vs. fourth-seeded Oklahoma on Tuesday night in the second round of the NCAA Championship.
It Hinges On Defense
Notre Dame's success in the NCAA tournament can be directly traced to its performance at the defensive end of the floor. In 15 NCAA Championship appearances (38 games), the Irish are 14-2 (.875) when holding the opposition to 60 points or less. The two losses both came at the hands of top-seeded squads -- Penn State (55-49) in the 2004 East Regional semifinals, and North Carolina (60-51) in the second round of the 2007 Dallas Region.
Notre Dame Against The Sweet 16
Notre Dame has played seven games this season against teams that have advanced to the regional semifinals in the 2008 NCAA Championship, registering a 2-5 (.286) record vs. the rest of this year's Sweet 16 field.
A BIG EAST Bonanza
Notre Dame is one of five BIG EAST Conference schools that have advanced to the regional semifinals in this year's NCAA Championship, joining Connecticut, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Louisville in that group. It's the most schools the BIG EAST has ever sent to the Sweet 16, topping the old mark of four set back in 2003, and it's the first time any conference has sent five teams to the regionals since 2002, when the Big 12 pulled off that feat.
The Irish also were one of eight BIG EAST squads that earned invitations to the 2008 NCAA Championship, as for the second consecutive year, the BIG EAST tied its own record for the highest number of teams from one conference invited to a single NCAA tournament (also 2004). The Southeastern Conference first set that record in 1999, and duplicated it in 2002, while the Big 12 hit that total for the first time this season.
The BIG EAST also had four teams -- Marquette, St. John's, South Florida and Villanova -- selected for this year's Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT), meaning a conference-record 12 schools advanced to postseason play. That's one more than the 2006 record of 11, which included seven NCAA and four WNIT qualifiers.
Don't Mess With Tradition
The Irish have developed some traditions that should be quite evident at this weekend's Oklahoma City Regional.
Hitting The Books
Notre Dame is one of 12 schools in this year's NCAA Championship field to post a perfect 100-percent graduation rate, according to a study released this week by Richard Lapchick, head of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. The study looked at student-athletes in freshman classes from 1997-2001, allowing six years for graduation.
The other 2008 NCAA tournament participants with spotless graduation rates named in this survey were: Bucknell, Marist, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Robert Morris, San Diego, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas and Vanderbilt.
Game #33 Recap: Oklahoma
Senior guard 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 on Tuesday night at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.
After spending the first half of Sunday's first-round win over SMU in foul trouble, Allen responded with the biggest performance of her life against the Sooners. She hit 10 of 21 shots, all three 3-pointers, 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, the Irish's biggest advantage Sunday -- inside play -- was their biggest weakness Tuesday.
They struggled against Courtney Paris, last year's national player of the year. She finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds for her 92nd straight game with a double-double. OU forward Amanda Thompson had 19 points, and guard Jenna Plumley finished with 18, all on 3s.
But nobody was better than Allen, who almost single-handedly erased a seven-point deficit with a little more than eight minutes to go in regulation. Allen 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. Allen had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but the shot bounced on the rim twice before falling off.
In overtime, Allen again brought the Irish back after Oklahoma scored the first five points. This time, Allen hit a 3, stole the ball and made the outlet pass that led to sophomore guard Ashley Barlow's layup to tie it at 70.
The Irish finally regained the lead when Barlow and senior guard 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.
Noting The Oklahoma Game
Game #32 Recap: SMU
Sophomore guard 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 on Sunday in 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, while junior guard Lindsay Schrader and senior guard Charel Allen each had six.
SMU (24-9), the Conference USA tournament champs, rallied several times but eventually wore down inside. 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 unique "five-point play." That made it 66-57, and the Mustangs never challenged again.
Freshman forward Becca Bruszewski came off the bench to score a career-high 16 points for Notre Dame and Allen had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Irish, who opened up a 25-8 lead midway through the first half.
Noting The SMU Game
Pieces Of Silver
The Irish collected their 25th win of the season Tuesday with a 79-75 overtime victory vs. No. 14/13 Oklahoma in the second round of the NCAA Championship. It's the sixth time in program history (all in the past 12 seasons) that Notre Dame has registered at least 25 wins in a campaign, and the first since posting a 27-6 record in 2004-05.
Notre Dame reached the 20-win mark for the 14th time in the past 15 seasons with a 79-67 victory at Syracuse on Feb. 16. The Irish now have registered 20-or-more wins 18 times in the 21-year Muffet McGraw era and 22 times in the program's 31-year history.
Notre Dame is peppered throughout the latest NCAA statistical rankings (as of March 26). The Irish among the top 25 in the nation in seven categories, led by a No. 8 ranking for scoring offense (76.6) and a No. 9 ranking for scoring margin (+15.4 ppg). Notre Dame also is 13th in steals (11.8 spg), 17th in assist/turnover ratio (1.06), 20th in field goal percentage (.448), 21st in free throw percentage (.759) and 23rd in assists (15.9 apg).
A full recap of Notre Dame's positions on the NCAA statistics charts (and its relation to the national leaders) can be found on page 13 of this notes package.
The Irish are 10-4 on the road this year, gaining their 10th win with a 66-64 victory at DePaul on Feb. 24. It's the first time Notre Dame has posted double-digit road wins in a season since 2004-05, when it went 11-2 on opponent's home floors. The school record for road wins in a season was set in 1996-97, when the Irish went 13-4 on the road as part of their first NCAA Final Four run.
Forty percent (10) of Notre Dame's 25 wins this season have come by at least 30 points, while the Irish have held 30-point leads late in the second half against Western Kentucky, Richmond and Marquette.
Notre Dame's 10 30-point wins this year have tied the school record originally set during the 2000-01 national championship season. However, in that campaign, only eight of those 30-point victories came in the first 30 games.
What's more, the Irish had a streak of four consecutive 30-point wins from Nov. 20-Dec. 2. The last time Notre Dame did that was Jan. 20-30, 1999, when the Irish had four straight 30-point victories, all during BIG EAST Conference play -- at Seton Hall (87-47), home vs. St. John's (99-60), at Syracuse (94-61) and at Providence (97-59).
Put A Tiger In Your Tank
Less than two seasons after posting the program's lowest scoring output (64.5 ppg) since 1980-81 (its first as a Division I program), Notre Dame has reversed that trend in a big way.
The Irish currently rank third in the BIG EAST Conference in scoring (and eighth in the nation as of March 26) at 76.6 points per game, having tallied at least 80 points 15 times this season. What's more, Notre Dame also is on pace for the sixth-highest scoring average in program history, and highest since the 1998-99 squad set the single-season school scoring record (81.0 ppg).
What's more, Notre Dame has scored at least 90 points seven times this season, tying the school record first set in the 1996-97 NCAA Final Four season, and later matched in 1998-99. In fact, during the six seasons prior to the current one (2001-02 through 2006-07), Notre Dame had a combined total of four 90-point games.
Notre Dame also ranks second in the conference (and ninth in the nation) in scoring margin at +15.4 points per game. If it holds up, that margin would go down as the third-largest in school history for an entire season. The 2000-01 team won by a record-setting average of 21.4 points per game during its 34-2 run to the national title.
McGraw's Shock Troops
During his coaching tenure with the Notre Dame football team in the 1920s, the legendary Knute Rockne was at the forefront of the two-platoon system, using his "shock troops" -- a full team of second stringers -- at the start of most games.
While Irish women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw may not quite be following Rockne's philosophy to the letter, she could easily rotate in much of her second unit and not see much decline in productivity. In fact, Notre Dame's bench is averaging 27.4 points per game (compared to 49.2 ppg. by the starters) and has outscored 30 of 33 opponent benches this season (all but the second DePaul and Pittsburgh games, and St. John's contest) by an average of +13.5 points per night.
Prior to her season-ending knee injury on Feb. 10 vs. Pittsburgh, freshman forward Devereaux Peters was leading the way for this year's Irish "shock troops". The Chicago native averaged 9.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.96 blocks per game with a .522 field goal percentage. Peters came off the bench in 21 of 23 games this year, piling up a season-high 15 points and seven steals vs. Villanova before collecting her first career double-double (10 points, season-high 12 rebounds) on Jan. 27 against top-ranked Connecticut.
Last year's Irish rookie class (aka the "BMW" trio of guards Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner and center Erica Williamson) became the first threesome from one school ever to be named to the BIG EAST Conference All-Freshman Team in the same season. Following on the heels of that success, Notre Dame has a new freshman trio that is aiming to make an early splash at the college level -- the "BBD" lineup of guard Brittany Mallory and forwards Becca Bruszewski and Devereaux Peters.
All three Irish rookies have done their part to help Notre Dame to its 25-8 record, with each one averaging at least 12 minutes and having scored in double figures at least five times. Before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 10 vs. Pittsburgh, Peters was fourth on the team in scoring (9.0 ppg) and scored in double digits 14 times, while also leading the team in blocked shots (1.96 bpg). Mallory is averaging 6.4 points per game with a team-high 34 three-pointers and tossed in 14 points (season-high 4-5 3FG) on Feb. 27 vs. South Florida. Bruszewski is logging 4.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game, and is coming off a career-high 16 points in 27 minutes against SMU last Sunday in the first round of this year's NCAA Championship.
Both Peters and Mallory were honored by the BIG EAST coaches with their selections to this year's BIG EAST All-Freshman Team. Notre Dame now has had five players named to the squad in the past two years, the most by any school during that span.
Spreading The Wealth
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame's squad this season is its balance and depth. That's been particularly evident, as six different players from all five floor positions and all four classes have led the team in scoring at least once. Senior point guard Tulyah Gaines became the latest new scoring leader for the Irish with 13 points vs. No. 15 Pittsburgh (Feb. 10) and a season-high 22 points vs. Marquette (Feb. 13).
Notre Dame's balance this season can best be seen in its point distribution. No fewer than 10 of the 11 Irish players on this year's roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, with only senior guard Amanda Tsipis yet to crack the 10-point mark.
Notre Dame also has had at least three double-figure scorers in 26 of 33 games this year, with a season-high seven in double digits at Georgetown (the most in one game for the Irish since Feb. 6, 1997 vs. Syracuse).
What's more, the Irish fielded five double-figure scorers in three consecutive games from Nov. 20-27. It's believed to be the first time in school history (and certainly the first time in the Muffet McGraw era) the Irish have pulled off that feat of three straight games with five double-digit scorers, although records are incomplete prior to the 1983-84 season.
Protecting The Pill
Notre Dame has been sharp at the offensive end this season, thanks in large part to its ability to take care of the basketball. The Irish rank 29th in the nation with just 15.0 turnovers per game and have been charged with 20 or more turnovers just three times in the past 49 games (20 at Louisville on Jan. 8; 23 vs. Marquette on Feb. 13; 20 vs. Pittsburgh on March 9).
The Irish took ball protection to a new level in their loss at No. 3 Maryland on Nov. 16. Notre Dame set a school record with only three turnovers against the Terrapins, with two of those giveaways coming on offensive fouls. The previous school record for fewest turnovers was six, set on Feb. 12, 2006 at DePaul.
With only three turnovers, it probably comes as no surprise that Maryland did not register a steal against Notre Dame. However, what is surprising is that it was the first time in the 31-year history of the Irish program that an opponent did not record a steal against Notre Dame. Several opponents had only one steal vs. the Irish, with the most recent being Boston College on March 19, 2006 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (played at West Lafayette, Ind.).
Piping Hot Turnovers
Notre Dame is forcing 21.9 turnovers per night and currently leads the BIG EAST with a +6.88 turnover margin, nearly three takeaways better than second-place Connecticut. The Irish have caused at least 20 turnovers in 21 games this season (including both NCAA Championship games to date), and logged a season-high 33 takeaways against Boston College on Nov. 24.
All told, Notre Dame has harassed its opponents into 722 turnovers, putting the Irish within striking distance of the school record in that category. The 1996-97 Final Four club holds the program high-water mark with 731 takeaways, but that occurred in a 38-game season.
Notre Dame has made even the strongest ball-handling teams struggle this season. In fact, Villanova came into its Jan. 16 game at the Joyce Center leading the nation with only 11.2 turnovers per game. However, the Wildcats left town with 24 turnovers, their highest single-game giveaway mark in more than six years (Dec. 1, 2001 at Temple).
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame leads the BIG EAST Conference and ranks 13th nationally in steals, averaging 11.76 thefts per game (11.0 in conference play), including eight games this season where the Irish had at least 15 steals. What's more, Notre Dame's season-high 23 steals vs. Providence on Jan. 30 were the most for the Irish in a single game since Jan. 28, 1995 (23 vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee at the Joyce Center), and only one off the BIG EAST record.
As a team, the Irish have piled up 388 steals, which currently is the third-highest single-season total in school history. The 1990-91 Notre Dame squad holds the record with 397 thefts.
Individually, the Irish have five players with at least 40 steals this season (and injured forward Devereaux Peters ended her year with 39). Sophomore guard Ashley Barlow holds the team lead with 67 steals (her second consecutive 60-steal season), also ranking seventh in the BIG EAST (2.03 spg).
For the second consecutive year, Notre Dame has tied for the BIG EAST title in steals, sharing this season's crown with Marquette. Last year's trophy was split with Connecticut (9.69 spg. in league play; 10.47 overall), marking the first time the Irish won a conference steals crown since 1989-90, when they led the Horizon League with 10.93 steals per game.
Keeping It On The Plus Side
Notre Dame has registered a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in 17 games this season and ranks fourth in the BIG EAST (17th nationally) with a 1.06 assist-to-turnover ratio. Notre Dame also has assisted on 56.3 percent of its field goals this year (526 assists on 935 baskets), ranking fifth in the conference and 23rd in the land with 15.94 assists per game.
Clutch When It Counts
Notre Dame is 104-of-127 (.818) from the free throw line in the final two minutes (plus overtime) this season, including a combined 10-for-11 display in the first two games of this year's NCAA Championship.
Among those with a minimum of 10 attempts, sophomore guard Ashley Barlow leads the way with an .833 free throw percentage (20-of-24) in crunch time, including a perfect 4-of-4 foul shots in the final 38 seconds of overtime to close out Tuesday's NCAA second-round win over Oklahoma.
Off And Running
Notre Dame has wasted little time in jumping ahead of its opponents this season. In 11 of their wins, the Irish have opened up a double-digit lead less than 12 minutes into the game, while other first-half runs vs. Central Michigan (20-0), Bowling Green (18-3), Villanova (16-6), Georgetown (15-3) and Marquette (21-1) aided those wins.
Even in its defeat at third-ranked Maryland on Nov. 16, Notre Dame made a statement early with a 10-0 run in the first five minutes of action and led by as many as five points in the first half before the Terrapins rallied back for the win.
Boldly Going Where No Irish Player Has Gone Before
Senior guard Charel Allen has done something no other player has done in the 31-year history of Notre Dame women's basketball. With three steals vs. Seton Hall, Allen became the first Irish women's cager to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 200 steals in her career. The closest any player in program history had previously come to that all-around feat was in 2001, when current Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey had 1,430 points, 482 rebounds, 727 assists and 348 steals.
By comparison, the Irish men's basketball program has had only two players reach this milestone -- Chris Thomas (2001-05) and David Graves (1998-2002). However, steals were first kept as a statistic in 1978-79, while individual assists were first kept in 1983-84.
Allen Climbing Irish Points Ladder
Senior guard Charel Allen continues to make her way up Notre Dame's all-time scoring list, ranking eighth with 1,550 points. Allen got her milestone 1,500th point on March 9 vs. Pittsburgh in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals, canning a baseline jumper with 3:08 left. She now resumes chasing Trena Keys, who scored 1,589 points from 1982-86.
Notre Dame was ranked 15th in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, marking the eighth time in program history (first since 2004-05) that the Irish have appeared in the year-end media poll. Rising as high as ninth on March 3, Notre Dame now has reached the AP Top 10 in eight of the past 12 seasons (1996-97 to present).
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 159 weeks during the program's history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era. McGraw ranks 14th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also stands 25th all-time in that category.
The Irish also are in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll for the 19th consecutive week, placing No. 19 for the second poll in a row. Notre Dame has risen to 14th four times this season, most recently on Feb. 26.
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 23 people in NCAA Division I women's basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Besides her 159 AP poll appearances while coaching at Notre Dame, McGraw was the starting point guard at Saint Joseph's (Pa.) as a senior in 1977, helping the Hawks rise to No. 3 in the nation. Of the 23 people on this elite list, 11 are currently NCAA Division I head coaches.
A Six-Figure Season
For the second consecutive year, and the third time in school history, Notre Dame welcomed more than 100,000 fans at home. The Irish drew a school-record 112,253 fans to their 16 games at the Joyce Center, topping the old school mark of 109,549 set in 2001-02.
Notre Dame also finished with an average attendance of 7,016 fans per game, its highest since the 2002-03 campaign (7,132 per game). The school record for average attendance is 7,825 in 2001-02.
The Jan. 27 game vs. Connecticut was the fifth women's basketball sellout (11,418) in school history and second this season (also Jan. 5 vs. Tennessee). It also is the second time in school history Notre Dame has posted multiple sellouts in one season, having also done so in 2000-01 (Connecticut and Georgetown).
In addition, the Jan. 27 audience marked the first time the Irish have attracted three crowds of 10,000 fans in the same season, as 10,825 fans took in the Dec. 2 win over Michigan.
Start Me Up
Notre Dame's 13-2 start matched the second-best 15-game mark in the program's 31-year history. In 2000-01, the Irish opened with 23 consecutive victories, en route to their first-ever No. 1 ranking and eventually, the program's first national championship.
The last time Notre Dame got off to a 13-2 start was the 2004-05 season, when the Irish won their first seven games (including the Preseason WNIT title) before a Dec. 2 overtime loss to 15th-ranked Michigan State. Notre Dame (which rose as high as third in the national polls that season) then reeled off six more wins before suffering consecutive loss at Villanova (59-54) and home vs. No. 16 Connecticut (67-50). However, the Irish rebounded with a 10-game win streak, finishing the year at 27-6 and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Notre Dame posted a 13-2 record on three other occasions, also doing so in 1999-2000 (27-5, NCAA Sweet 16), 1998-99 (26-5, NCAA second round) and 1977-78 (13-4, program's first varsity season when playing at AIAW Division III level).
We're Going Streaking!
Notre Dame's 10-game win streak from Nov. 20-Jan. 2 was its longest since a similar 10-game run from Jan. 16-Feb. 15, 2005. The Irish now have amassed 10 double-digit win streaks in program history (eight in the Muffet McGraw era), led by the school-record 23-game success string to open the 2000-01 national championship season.
Notre Dame also won six consecutive road games earlier this season (Nov. 20-Jan. 2). That was the longest run for the Irish away from the Joyce Center since a 10-game run from Nov. 17, 2000 to Feb. 14, 2001, a streak that ended with a 54-53 loss at No. 11/14 Rutgers (one of only two defeats for the Irish on their run to the NCAA title).
Half And Half
During the past eight seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Irish are 146-13 (.918) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 74 of their last 81 such contests. This season, Notre Dame has won 22 of 23 games after taking the lead to the locker room. The lone loss came in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals, when the Irish couldn't hold on to a 22-21 halftime lead over Pittsburgh.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 13 seasons, Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season (Notre Dame's first in the BIG EAST Conference), the Irish have a 184-12 (.939) record when they hold their opponents to less than 60 points in a game.
Notre Dame is 16-2 this year when holding opponents below 60 points, with losses at No. 16 West Virginia (56-50 on Jan. 13) and No. 5/4 Rutgers (57-51 on Feb. 19) the exceptions.
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 13 seasons (1995-96 to present), the Irish are 114-4 (.966) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are a pair of overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995, a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, and a 81-80 loss to DePaul earlier this year (Jan. 22). Notre Dame has won 14 of 15 games this season when it reaches the 80-point mark.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Senior guards Charel Allen, Tulyah Gaines and Amanda Tsipis are team captains for the 2007-08 season. Gaines is in her second year as a captain for the Irish, while Allen and Tsipis are first-time captains. All three players received the captain's honor through a vote of their teammates prior to the season.
Joyce Center Arena Renovation On Tap
On Oct. 3, 2007, Notre Dame announced that construction on the Joyce Center arena addition and renovation will begin in September 2008. The University has selected the architects for the project, and they currently are in the process of completing final design plans.
The first phase of the project, to begin this September, involves construction of a new three-story structure at the south end of the arena. That structure will include a new two-story lobby, the Notre Dame ticket operations (approximately 4,500 square feet) and a varsity shop to sell apparel and souvenirs (approximately 3,000 square feet), in addition to a new club seating and hospitality area.
Replacement of the Joyce Center arena seating, including installation of chair-back seating throughout the arena, is expected to take place after the University's Commencement Exercises in May 2009. The project is scheduled for completion in January 2010. The arena is expected to re-open by mid-October 2009, in time for the start of the men's and women's basketball seasons and the end of the women's volleyball season.
The University announced last October that this $26.3 million project had received a $12.5 million leadership gift from Notre Dame alumnus and Trustee Philip J. Purcell III. A month later, another major gift of $5 million from Notre Dame graduate Vincent J. Naimoli was announced.
The arena will be named Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center -- and the new club/hospitality area and two outdoor patios will be named for the Naimoli family.
ND To Host NCAA Tourney Games In '09, '10
Notre Dame's Joyce Center has been selected as a host site for first- and second-round games in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, it was announced Feb. 13. This selection comes on the heels of last summer's announcement that the Irish also would play host to early-round action in the 2010 NCAA tournament.
Notre Dame has played in the NCAA Championship on its home floor five times before, most recently defeating Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) and Middle Tennessee in 2004 to make the program's sixth NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. All told, the Irish are 6-1 in NCAA play at the Joyce Center, winning six in a row since an 81-76 first-round loss to Minnesota in 1994.
Irish Fans Crave A Big Mac Attack
Notre Dame introduced a new promotion this season, offering fans a coupon for a free Big Mac from South Bend-area McDonald's restaurants if the Irish scored at least 88 points in a game.
This season's burger watch ended at eight, as the Irish hit the 88-point mark in both exhibition wins, along with regular-season victories over Miami (Ohio), Boston College, Canisius, Valparaiso, Marquette and USF.
It's probably not a surprise that the Notre Dame player with the most "Big Mac baskets" this season has the same initials as that of the tasty burger -- freshman guard Brittany Mallory, who sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) four times.
Next Game: NCAA Regional Final
With a victory over Tennessee, Notre Dame would advance to the NCAA Oklahoma City Regional final on Tuesday against either second-seeded Texas A&M or third-seeded Duke. It would be the program's third Elite Eight appearance and first since the Irish won the 2001 national championship.
Notre Dame has faced Texas A&M just once before, with the Aggies pulling out an 88-84 overtime victory on Dec. 3, 1995 at the Kona Women's Basketball Classic in Kona, Hawaii.
The Irish are 4-1 all-time against Duke, most recently taking a 76-65 decision over the Blue Devils in the Preseason WNIT semifinals on Nov. 17, 2004 at the Joyce Center.