Nov. 12, 2007
Preseason WNIT -- Quarterfinal
#23/rv Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1-0 / 0-0 BIG EAST) vs. Western Kentucky Lady Toppers (1-0 / 0-0 Sun Belt East)
DATE: November 13, 2007
No. 23 Irish Take On Western Kentucky In Preseason WNIT Quarterfinals
The Irish tipped off their season with a resounding 98-50 win over Miami (Ohio) at home last Friday night. All 11 players scored for Notre Dame, which grabbed a 36-8 lead in the first 12 minutes and never looked back en route to its biggest win since the 2001 NCAA Tournament.
Playing her first meaningful game in nearly 20 months, junior guard Lindsay Schrader set the tone for the Irish, scoring a game-high 20 points (on 10-of-12 shooting) in only 17 minutes. Sophmore guard Ashley Barlow added 19 points for Notre Dame, which connected on a Preseason WNIT-record 41 field goals.
WKU opened its season with a 90-73 win over East Tennessee last Friday, getting a game-high 23 points from sophomore guard Kenzie Rich (including 4-of-5 three-pointers).
A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Last year, the Irish learned quickly that respect is something that isn't handed to you, but rather earned on the court. It's also a quality that takes time to develop and doesn't come from trophy cases or record books. So although Notre Dame doesn't appear in the preseason ESPN/USA Today coaches poll (it's currently 23rd in the AP poll), and was tabbed fifth in the preseason BIG EAST Conference balloting, it's not a great concern to McGraw and her charges. Instead, they focus on the things they can control and prefer to let the outside world judge them when the season is over.
This year could prove to be unlike any in recent memory for Notre Dame. For one, the Irish will roll out some impressive depth, going virtually two-deep at every floor position. In addition, Notre Dame's new offensive system (a Princeton-based set with four guards and a post) continues to evolve, building upon last year's 70.1 point-per-game average that was its highest since the 2000-01 NCAA national championship season.
Senior guard Charel Allen is the top returning scorer and rebounder for the Irish, leading the team in both categories last year (17.0 ppg., 6.2 rpg.). She also was a first-team all-BIG EAST and WBCA honorable mention All-America selection, and was a finalist for the 2007 USA U21 World Championship Team that struck gold this past summer in Moscow.
Allen's backcourt partner and classmate is point guard Tulyah Gaines. Now in her second full season at the helm of the Notre Dame offense, the speedy Gaines averaged 9.6 points per game along with team highs of 3.9 assists and 2.0 steals per contest. She also is a two-year team captain who commands instant respect from teammates, coaches and opponents.
The Irish will benefit from the return of junior guard Lindsay Schrader, who missed the entire 2006-07 season with a torn ACL in her right knee. Schrader, who retains three years of athletic eligibility, was Notre Dame's second-leading scorer (10.5 ppg.) and top rebounder (5.4 rpg.) as a rookie in 2005-06 and will look to regain that form this season.
Last year saw Notre Dame break new ground by becoming the first school ever to put three players on the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team. Guards Ashley Barlow (10.3 ppg., 5.4 rpg.) and Melissa Lechlitner (6.3 ppg., 2.7 apg.) will provide a superb complement to the veteran Allen-Gaines tandem, while center Erica Williamson (6.1 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 1.3 bpg.) showed flashes of potential throughout her rookie season and is poised for increased development this year.
Headlining a three-player freshman class (ranked 11th nationally by Blue Star Basketball) is Devereaux Peters, a smooth 6-2 forward who was a consensus All-American as a senior last year at national powerhouse Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Ill. Fellow post Becca Bruszewski (Valparaiso, Ind.) finished third in last season's Indiana Miss Basketball voting and was a perennial all-state pick. And, guard Brittany Mallory (Baltimore, Md.) offers a perimeter shooting threat, as well as a cerebral player who will mesh well in the Irish offensive system.
A Quick Look At Western Kentucky
WKU opened this season with a 90-73 home victory over East Tennessee State last Friday night. Sophomore guard Kenzie Rich scored a game-high 23 points, junior forward Dominique Duck added 17 points, nine rebounds, six assists and four blocks, while senior All-America forward Crystal Kelly logged a double-double with 15 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Kelly is poised to claim both the school and Sun Belt records for career points this season. In three years at WKU, she never has averaged less than 19 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and has yet to shoot below 60 percent from the floor in a season. Fellow 2007 all-SBC selection Duck averaged career bests of 11.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game with a .480 field goal percentage. Rich provides exceptional punch from the perimeter, having ranked eighth in the Sun Belt in three-point percentage as a rookie last season (.357).
Head coach Mary Taylor Cowles is in her sixth season at her alma mater, sporting a 113-49 (.698) record. She will be coaching against Notre Dame for the first time Tuesday night.
The Notre Dame-Western Kentucky Series
Other Notre Dame-Western Kentucky Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Sun Belt Conference
The Irish played their first-ever Sun Belt opponent on Dec. 19, 1999, downing Florida International, 68-62 in Miami. Notre Dame then played host to Middle Tennessee on March 23, 2004 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, downing the Lady Raiders, 59-46. The last time the Irish faced a Sun Belt school was Dec. 17, 2005, when Notre Dame toppled Arkansas State, 77-54 in a first-round Gray Division game at the Duel in the Desert in Las Vegas.
Current Irish players who saw action in that ASU contest include: senior center Melissa D'Amico (20 points on 10-12 FG, six rebounds), senior guard Tulyah Gaines (five points, three assists), senior guard Charel Allen (four points, five rebounds), senior guard Amanda Tsipis (did not score in five minutes) and junior guard Lindsay Schrader (six points, eight rebounds, four assists).
Guess Who's Back ... Back Again?
Prior to the Miami game, Schrader's last outing was a career-high 29-point performance against Boston College in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 19, 2006. She went 12-for-23 from the field in that game, meaning that in her last two games, Schrader is averaging 24.5 points per game and shooting .629 (22-of-35) from the floor.
The only Notre Dame losses during this current stretch were a 72-59 defeat at the hands of No. 3/2 Tennessee in the 1996 Preseason WNIT semifinals (Nov. 19, 1996 in Ruston, La.), and a 67-63 overtime setback at No. 20 Colorado on Nov. 15, 2003 in the finals of the WBCA Classic -- a game that saw the Buffaloes sink a desperation 30-footer at the end of regulation to force the extra session.
Preseason WNIT Rewind
Notre Dame last played in the Preseason WNIT in 2004, winning the championship with victories over Illinois State (92-73), Nebraska (73-57), No. 6 Duke (76-65) and No. 10/9 Ohio State (66-62), all at the Joyce Center. Jacqueline Batteast was named the event's Most Valuable Player after scoring a career-high 32 points in the final against OSU. Megan Duffy also earned a place on the all-tournament team. On the strength of their WNIT crown, the Irish moved as high as third in the national polls, finished as the BIG EAST Conference runner-up, and made a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Notre Dame also participated in the 1996 Preseason WNIT, advancing to the semifinals after defeating Kent State (66-41) and No. 6 Iowa (61-50). Following a 72-59 loss to No. 3/2 Tennessee in the semifinals at Ruston, La., the Irish bounced back to defeat No. 8/12 North Carolina State, 64-53 in the third-place game (which no longer exists). Katryna Gaither was named to the all-tournament team after making a tournament-record 42 field goals in the four-game set (a record that still stands). Notre Dame went on to log a 31-7 record in 1996-97, advancing to its first NCAA Final Four.
The Irish will be looking to continue the BIG EAST's run of success in the Preseason WNIT. BIG EAST teams have reached the tournament championship game four times in the past six years and six times in the event's 13-year history. In addition to Notre Dame's 2004 crown, Connecticut won titles in 1997, 2001 and 2005, while Rutgers has been the tourney runner-up in 1998 and 2003. Purdue is the defending Preseason WNIT champion, taking a 69-55 win at Baylor in last year's title game.
Notre Dame now has been ranked in the AP poll for 141 weeks during the program's history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era. McGraw now ranks 14th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and is poised to break into the top 25 all-time in that category, trailing retired Colorado mentor Ceal Barry by just one week.
Next Game: Preseason WNIT
If Notre Dame falls to Western Kentucky, the Irish would be placed in a pool with the three other losing teams from the quarterfinal round of the Preseason WNIT (Evansville, TCU and the Maryland-Delaware loser). Those squads will be paired up for a single consolation-round game (matchups TBA based upon geographic considerations and preventing matchups vs. '07-08 regular-season opponents) to be played either Friday or Saturday.