June 1, 2009
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The two most successful women's basketball programs in BIG EAST Conference history will match up twice during the 2009-10 season, as Notre Dame and Connecticut square off in a home-and-home series that highlights next year's conference schedule matrix that was released Monday. In addition to the defending NCAA national champion Huskies, the Irish also will welcome NCAA Sweet 16 participant Pittsburgh and WNIT champion South Florida to the newly-renovated Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center as part of their 16-game conference slate, which features eight home and eight road contests, with schools playing every other institution once and one team twice.
A charter member of the BIG EAST, Connecticut currently owns the top all-time regular-season winning percentage in conference history at .805 (347-84). Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96, building up the second-best regular-season winning percentage in the league's record books at .759 (176-56). However, since the conference expanded to 16 schools four years ago (and introduced its current scheduling format), the Irish and Huskies have faced off just one per season, with the exception of 2005-06 when the two sides also tangled in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Connecticut leads the all-time series with Notre Dame, 22-4, and has won six in a row against the Irish. However, last year's 76-66 win by the Huskies in Hartford turned out to be their closest margin of victory all season, with Notre Dame also being the only team to own a second-half lead on Connecticut (43-41 with 16:11 remaining) during its 39-0 campaign.
"I'm very excited about playing UConn twice next season," Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. "Not only will this extra matchup add another boost to our RPI and strength of schedule figures, but it also will be good preparation for the NCAA tournament."
All told, Notre Dame will play seven of its eight conference home games next year against teams that advanced to the postseason in `08-09, led by Connecticut, Pittsburgh and USF. The other visitors to Purcell Pavilion next season will be: DePaul (NCAA first round), Marquette (WNIT third round), Providence, Villanova (NCAA first round) and West Virginia (NCAA first round).
Likewise, six of Notre Dame's eight road contests in BIG EAST play next season will come against `08-09 postseason qualifiers. The featured BIG EAST road trip for the Irish next season will be Louisville, with the Cardinals coming off a trip to the `09 NCAA Women's Final Four in St. Louis (where Louisville fell to Connecticut in the title game, 76-54 at the Scottrade Center). Notre Dame also will travel to Cincinnati, Georgetown (WNIT quarterfinals), Rutgers (NCAA Sweet 16), St. John's (WNIT third round), Seton Hall and Syracuse (WNIT second round) during the coming year.
The rationale in determining the repeat opponents for the upcoming season was as follows: providing additional television inventory, competitive issues/RPI implications and geographic rivalries/minimizing travel costs. Due to the change in Notre Dame's repeat opponent from past season (the Irish had faced DePaul in home-and-home matchups since '05-06), the location of two other conference games (Seton Hall and West Virginia) will remain the same as last year, while the lone encounter with DePaul will take place at Purcell Pavilion.
Monday's BIG EAST schedule release comes on the heels of last month's announcement that Notre Dame would be competing in the 2009 Paradise Jam on Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 26-28) in Charlotte Amalie, U.S. Virgin Islands. The Irish will take on San Diego State, South Carolina and Oklahoma, respectively, with the final game against the Sooners meaning Notre Dame will take on three of the four participants from last year's NCAA Women's Final Four. Special travel packages for this fall's Paradise Jam are now on sale through the tournament organizer, Basketball Travelers, by clicking here.
The full 2009-10 schedule for the Irish will be announced at a later date, following approval from the University's Faculty Board on Athletics. A complete list of dates and tip times for all of Notre Dame's games next season also will be released at that point.
In addition, for the second consecutive season (and the seventh time in school history), Notre Dame will be playing host to NCAA Championship first- and second-round games at Purcell Pavilion in 2010. The first two rounds of the tournament will be played in South Bend on March 21 & 23, 2010, with tip times and television coverage to be released by the NCAA during the week prior to the games. Next year's NCAA Women's Final Four is slated to take place April 4 & 6 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
The Irish are coming off a 2008-09 season that saw them post a 22-9 record and make the program's 14th consecutive NCAA Championship appearance (and 16th overall), while being ranked 23rd in the final Associated Press poll. In addition, Notre Dame recorded its 15th 20-win season in the past 16 years, while also finishing among the top 50 teams in the nation in eight NCAA statistical categories, including scoring offense (27th - 71.5 ppg) and assist-to-turnover ratio (29th - 0.94).
The Irish, who recently returned from a 10-day European tour during which they won all three of their games against foreign competition, will have all five starters and all 12 monogram winners back in uniform next season. Notre Dame also welcomes two talented freshman guards to the program this fall in consensus national high school player of the year Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) and Illinois all-state selection Kaila Turner (Joliet, Ill./Marian Catholic), with the duo making up the nation's No. 9 incoming class (according to All-Star Girls Report) -- it's the 13th consecutive year Notre Dame has signed a top-20 rookie group.
The Irish already have received some early notice from the national media for the upcoming season, with ESPN.com's Charlie Creme ranking Notre Dame fifth in his article entitled 64 teams to watch in 2009-10.
Notre Dame Women's Basketball -- 2009-10 BIG EAST Conference Schedule Home (Overall, BIG EAST Record) '08-09 ND Result *Connecticut (39-0, 16-0) L, 66-76 @ UConn (Hartford) *DePaul (23-10, 10-6) W, 86-62 @ DPU/W, 62-59 @ ND ^Marquette (17-16, 7-9) L, 65-75 at MU *Pittsburgh (25-8, 12-4) L, 70-82 @ UP Providence (10-20, 4-12) W, 65-56 @ PC ^South Florida (27-10, 8-8) W, 86-79 @ USF *Villanova (19-14, 10-6) L, 48-55 @ VU/L, 47-58 in BE Qtrs @ Hartford ^West Virginia (18-15, 5-11) W, 72-66