Dec. 29, 2008
#12/6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-1 / 0-0 BIG EAST) vs. #20/19 Vanderbilt Commodores (11-2 / 0-0 SEC)
DATE: December 30, 2008
#12/6 Irish Set To Visit #20/19 Vanderbilt Tuesday Night
Notre Dame (10-1) shook off the rust from the Christmas holiday to push past a determined Charlotte club, 68-61 on Sunday. The Irish used a 13-2 run midway through the second half to take command, then hit six of seven free throws down the stretch to keep the 49ers at bay.
For the sixth time this year, Notre Dame had at least four players score in double figures, led by senior guard Lindsay Schrader, who tallied a season-high 19 points. Junior guard Melissa Lechlitner added 13 points, while freshman guard Natalie Novosel and sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski chipped in 12 points each.
A Quick Look At The Fighting Irish
Notre Dame has three starters and seven monogram winners returning this season from a squad that ranked among the top 10 in the country in scoring offense (8th - 76.2 ppg) and scoring margin (10th - +14.6 ppg) a year ago. The Irish also have many of the pieces back from the '07-08 club that led the BIG EAST in steals for the second consecutive year (school-record 397, 11.68 per game) and forced an opponent-record 737 turnovers.
Perhaps it's no surprise that Notre Dame's present upward mobility has coincided with the arrival of its current junior class, including guards and co-captains Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner. Barlow earned honorable mention all-BIG EAST status last year and is the team's top returning scorer (12.1 ppg), while also setting the defensive tone with a team-high 68 steals last season. Meanwhile, Lechlitner (5.5 ppg, 2.6 apg) assumes the mantle of leadership from the point guard position after two consistent years as a reliable understudy to Tulyah Gaines.
The Irish also should benefit from the veteran experience and guidance of senior guard and co-captain Lindsay Schrader, who joined Barlow on last year's BIG EAST honorable mention squad after logging 10.3 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game. She earned similar status this fall in preseason voting by the conference coaches and gives Notre Dame a unique blend of toughness and determination that has become the common thread running through the team's recent resurgence.
The Irish sophomore class proved to be an exceptional complement to their predecessors last season, led by forward Devereaux Peters (9.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.0 bpg), who was a BIG EAST All-Freshman Team choice despite missing the final 11 games of the year with a knee injury. Guard Brittany Mallory (6.3 ppg, 34 3FG) joined Peters on the conference's all-rookie squad, while forward Becca Bruszewski (5.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg) may be the team's most improved player heading into this season after a scintillating three-game NCAA Tournament performance that included a season-high 16 points against both SMU and Tennessee.
Potent Notables About The Irish
A Quick Look At Vanderbilt
Senior guard/forward Christina Wirth leads Vanderbilt in scoring (15.6 ppg.) and three-point percentage (.429). Sophomore forward Hannah Tuomi is second in scoring (13.0 ppg.) and tied for the team lead in rebounding (5.8 rpg.), while also sporting a .600 field goal percentage.
Head coach Melanie Balcomb is in her seventh season at Vanderbilt with a 157-54 (.744) record. She also has a 16-year career record of 320-158 (.669), with Tuesday being her first-ever matchup against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Vanderbilt Series
The Last Time ND And Vanderbilt Met
Riley scored a season-high 32 points as top-seeded Notre Dame beat third-seeded Vanderbilt, 72-64, on March 26, 2001, in the NCAA Midwest Regional final at the Pepsi Center in Denver. The victory propelled the Irish to their second NCAA Final Four.
Riley, a first-team All-America center, had 22 of her points in the second half as Vanderbilt's Chantelle Anderson, a second-teamer, sat out much of the period.
Abandoning the sharp passing game she exhibited in a regional semifinal win over Utah two days earlier, Riley was intent on scoring -- and forcing Anderson into foul trouble in the process.
Anderson, saddled with four fouls for much of the second half, fouled out with 6:22 left and the Commodores trailing 61-52. Vandy could get no closer than eight points after that.
Zuzana Klimesova led the Commodores (24-10) with 27 points and 12 rebounds. Anderson had 14 points, and guard Ashley McElhiney added 12.
Following a 40-40 halftime tie, the Fighting Irish outscored Vandy 32-24 in the second half, shooting 48 percent in the half compared to Vandy's 29 percent. Notre Dame finished just under 56 percent for the game, while the Commodores shot 41.7 percent from the floor.
Other ND-Vanderbilt Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Southeastern Conference
The most recent Notre Dame victory over an SEC opponent came just last month (Nov. 16, 2008), when the Irish picked up a 62-51 win over No. 24/22 LSU in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.
That victory also was a landmark in that it was Notre Dame's first-ever win over an SEC school on its home floor. The Irish did win twice in an SEC arena at the 1997 NCAA East Regional (played at South Carolina's old home, the Frank McGuire Center). That weekend, Notre Dame downed Alabama, 87-71, and George Washington, 62-52, to advance to the program's first NCAA Final Four.
Besides the aforementioned wins over LSU, Alabama and George Washington, the other Irish win over an SEC opponent outside of South Bend came on March 26, 2001, when Notre Dame defeated Tuesday's opponent, Vanderbilt, 72-64, in the NCAA Midwest Regional final at Denver's Pepsi Center.
That 2000-01 campaign also marks the only time Notre Dame has defeated multiple SEC opponents in the same season. In addition to the Vanderbilt win, the Irish also edged Georgia, 75-73, on Nov. 24, 2000, in Madison, Wis., to claim the Coaches vs. Cancer Challenge title.
Novosel Named BIG EAST Freshman Of The Week
This also marks the first time since 2001-02 that Notre Dame has had multiple players receive the BIG EAST Freshman of the Week award -- that season, Jacqueline Batteast claimed the honor a school-record-tying six times, while Katy Flecky garnered it twice.
Novosel played a pivotal role in Sunday's 68-61 win at Charlotte, coming off the bench to score 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, while adding five rebounds (four offensive) and a season-high four steals in 30 minutes. She also came up with four points and a crucial defensive rebound in the final 30 seconds to help thwart a late 49er rally and secure the victory.
Calling Our Travel Agent
This year's stretch includes four consecutive road games beginning this past Sunday at Charlotte and continuing through Jan. 6. The last time Notre Dame played four consecutive road games in the regular season was Nov. 29-Dec. 11, 2002, when the Irish went 3-1 at USC (69-57 win), Valparaiso (74-68 win), Arizona State (81-52 win) and DePaul (75-59 loss).
Notre Dame's current two-game trip to Charlotte and Vanderbilt also represents a rare two-city swing for the Irish (unusual since Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST Conference, which primarily focuses on a Wednesday-Saturday league scheduling format). In fact, the Irish haven't made a two-city road trip since Nov. 21 & 24, 2001, when they dropped games at Colorado State (72-66) and Arizona (72-70) in the opening week of the season following Notre Dame's 2001 national title.
Piping Hot Turnovers
The majority of those turnovers have come via Irish steals, with Notre Dame registering 131 thefts (11.9 per game) after leading the BIG EAST Conference in that category each of the past two seasons.
Long Distance Defense
Notre Dame is ranked eighth in the country as of Dec. 22 (and first in the BIG EAST) in three-point percentage defense this season, holding opponents to a .242 percentage (36-of-149) from long range. What's more, in the first 11 games, the best any Irish opponent has managed to connect from outside of the 19-9 arc was the 35.7-percent efficiency posted by Charlotte (5-of-14) on Sunday afternoon.
Notre Dame was particularly prolific from the arc in a four-game stretch from Nov. 19-29, making a combined 29 treys in that span (seven each in wins over Evansville and Boston College, six against Georgia Southern and nine vs. Michigan State).
One has to go back seven years to find the last time Notre Dame made more than 29 combined three-pointers in a four-game span. From Nov. 21-Dec. 2, 2001, Notre Dame was lights-out from the arc at Colorado State (7), at Arizona (7), home vs. Army (10) and at a neutral site vs. Michigan (8).
In addition, the nine three-pointers and 25 attempts against Michigan State on Nov. 29 were the most for Notre Dame in a single game since March 3, 2002, when the Irish went 10-for-26 from beyond the arc in an 84-79 loss to Syracuse in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at Piscataway, N.J.
Spreading The Wealth
For the season, 10 of the 12 players on Notre Dame roster have scored in double figures at least once, with freshman guard Fraderica Miller aiming to join that club (along with walk-on junior guard Alena Christiansen, who was added to the Irish roster on Dec. 19).
More On The Balance Beam
At the same time, only one Irish player is appearing in the top 50 of the 10 NCAA individual statistical rankings -- junior guard Ashley Barlow stands 22nd in the nation in steals (as of Dec. 22) with 3.0 per game.
Just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, the Irish posted two of the larger winning margins in the program's record books, rolling to a 48-point victory at Boston College (102-54), followed by a 49-point win at home over Georgia Southern (85-36).
In fact, the only time Notre Dame logged a larger combined margin of victory in consecutive games than its Thanksgiving Eve 97-point spread was Nov. 24-25, 1989, at the UCF Rotary Classic in Orlando, Fla., when the Irish downed Liberty (113-35) and host Central Florida (81-61) by a combined 98 points.
A Start We Can Believe In
The only time a Notre Dame squad started better than this year's club was 2000-01, when the Irish opened the season with a school-record 23 consecutive wins en route to the program's first No. 1 ranking and eventually, its first national championship.
Three of Notre Dame's wins this season have come against ranked opponents, marking just the second time in school history the Irish notched three Top 25 victories in their opening seven contests. In 1998-99, Notre Dame knocked off No. 6 UCLA (99-82), No. 6/4 Duke (84-57) and No. 25/23 Illinois (101-93) in its first four games on the way to a 26-5 record.
Notre Dame also now has been ranked in the AP poll for 167 weeks during the program's 32-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 stands 25th all-time in that category.
In addition, the Irish earned their 27th consecutive ranking in last week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, moving up one spot to a season-high sixth. It was the highest ranking for Notre Dame in the coaches poll since the week of Jan. 12, 2005, when the Irish also checked in at No. 6. The Irish have appeared in the coaches' poll for 158 weeks during its history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
More Polling Data
Besides her 167 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 24 people on this list, 13 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart).
Game #11 Recap: Charlotte
Junior guard Melissa Lechlitner added 13 points, and freshman guard Natalie Novosel and sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski had 12 each for the Fighting Irish (10-1), who led by as many as nine points midway through the second half in winning their third in a row.
Aysha Jones scored 15 points, Danielle Burgin 13 and Erin Floyd 11 for the 49ers (8-4), who committed 24 turnovers in losing their second consecutive game.
Down two points with less than 14 minutes left in the second half, Notre Dame went on a 13-2 run. Bruszewski's short jumper with 13:28 left tied the score at 39, and Schrader's layup with 9:36 remaining put the Fighting Irish ahead 50-41.
Charlotte managed to pull within five points five times in the final minutes, but Schrader tipped out an offensive rebound off Bruszewski's missed free throw with 16 seconds left, and junior guard Ashley Barlow hit a pair of free throws with four seconds remaining to seal the win.
Noting The Charlotte Game
Peters, Mallory Out For Season
Peters had played in only three games at the time of her injury, while Mallory had seen action in seven games. Thus, both players appear to meet the guidelines for the NCAA's hardship waiver (Rule 14.2.4; sometimes informally referred to as a "medical redshirt") that stipulates a petitioning student-athlete may not have played in more than 30 percent of a team's scheduled number of regular-season games (Notre Dame is slated to play 28 regular-season games in 2008-09).
Both players are expected to petition for the NCAA hardship waiver. If granted, both Peters and Mallory will maintain three years of athletic eligibility beginning with the 2009-10 season.
Christiansen Joins Irish Roster
A supplemental biographical sketch on Christiansen can be found in the players' section of the PDF version of these game notes.
Half And Half
This season, Notre Dame is 9-1 when up at the break, doing so in its last 10 games (losing only in OT at Michigan on Dec. 10).
Last year, the Irish went 22-2 when they led at the break, failing only to do so in their two postseason losses (BIG EAST quarterfinal vs. Pittsburgh, NCAA Oklahoma City Regional semifinal vs. Tennessee), although the UT lead marked the first time Notre Dame was up on the Lady Vols at the half in 20 series games.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
Notre Dame has added six more wins to that ledger this year with wins over LSU, Boston College, Georgia Southern, Purdue, Valparaiso and Loyola-Chicago.
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Notre Dame has scored at least 80 points in five games this year, winning each time. Last season, the Irish won 14 of 15 games when reaching the 80-point mark.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
The Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 76 of their last 82 non-BIG EAST contests (.927) at the Joyce Center, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Four of the losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents -- Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT) and Indiana in 2006 (54-51) -- 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 Joyce Center, posting a 317-82 (.794) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, setting a school record for home wins in a season.
Last year, Notre Dame sold out its games against Tennessee and Connecticut, and nearly did the same for the Michigan contest, drawing 10,825 fans for that game.
A full rundown of the top crowds in Joyce Center history can be found in the sidebar on page 9 of the PDF version of this notes package.
Irish Have New Home On The Dial
LeSEA now originates all Notre Dame women's basketball games, with those events carried on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), marking the first time since the 1998-99 season that the Irish are heard on an FM station. 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 new 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 (UND.com) through the Fighting Irish All-Access multimedia package.
The new agreement includes extensive Notre Dame athletics promotion aired on a combination of the LeSEA stations.
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 as the play-by-play voice of the Irish this season.
Notre Dame On The Small Screen
In addition, Notre Dame continues to expand its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. All 11 Irish regular-season home games not selected for commercial TV coverage will air live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com, via the site's free multimedia package, Fighting Irish All-Access.
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, Notre Dame has played in 124 televised games, including 74 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Irish In The Pink (Zone) All Season Long
Throughout the 2008-09 season, the Irish will take part in several activities centered around the Pink Zone initiative, including:
Proceeds from all of Notre Dame's Pink Zone events this season will go to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund, as well as three local charities -- Women's Task Force, Young Survivors Group and Secret Sisters Society. For more information on the WBCA's Pink Zone initiative, log on to the WBCA's official web site at www.wbca.org.
ND To Host NCAA Tourney Games in 2009
All-session tickets for this year's NCAA Championship games at the Joyce Center are available by contacting the Notre Dame athletics ticket office (574-631-7356).
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 tourney play at the Joyce Center, winning six in a row since an 81-76 first-round loss to Minnesota in 1994.
Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
It hasn't take long for the burger watch to fire back up again this year, as Notre Dame has topped the 88-point mark three times -- in its lone exhibition game (96-30 over Gannon on Nov. 5), as well as regular season games against Evansville (96-61 on Nov. 19) and Loyola-Chicago (89-45 on Dec. 20).
Last year, the Irish reached the magic number eight times, doing so in both exhibition wins, along with regular-season victories over Miami (Ohio), Boston College, Canisius, Valparaiso, Marquette and South Florida.
It should come as no surprise that in the short history of the promotion, the Notre Dame player with the most "Big Mac" baskets shares the same initials with the tasty burger -- sophomore guard Brittany Mallory, who was sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) four times.
This season, it's been the Irish freshmen who have taken on the "Big Mac" mantle of responsibility, with guard Natalie Novosel doing the honors in the Gannon exhibition and Loyola-Chicago game, and forward Erica Solomon putting Notre Dame over the top against Evansville.
Joyce Center Arena Renovation Underway
The first phase of the project, that began in September 2008, involves construction of a new three-story structure at the south end of the arena. That structure will include a new three-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 existing 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 entire 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 basketball season and the end of the volleyball season.
The University announced in October 2007 that this $26.3 million project had received a $12.5 million leadership gift from Notre Dame alumnus and Trustee Philip J. Purcell III, the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Morgan Stanley.
Exterior changes to the Joyce Center that began taking shape in September include a new, three-story addition on the south end of the current structure. The third floor area will include the stadium club/hospitality area. The first-floor addition will include almost 4,500 square feet for ticket offices (including four exterior and 10 interior tickets windows), 3,000 square feet for the varsity shop, as well as a completely new main entrance and lobby situated between Gates 8 and 10. The new entrance will feature graphics and theming that highlight Notre Dame's competing athletic programs.
Changes to the interior of the Joyce Center arena include:
Next Game: Seton Hall
The Pirates (10-1) are off to their best start since 1994-95, with one remaining non-conference game (Wednesday afternoon at home vs. Norfolk State) before facing the Irish this weekend.