Dec. 30, 2009
DATE: December 31, 2009
No. 3 Irish Set For New Year's Eve Matinee Against No. 18/16 Vanderbilt
Notre Dame rode another frenetic defensive performance to an 85-52 win at UCF on Tuesday afternoon. The Irish forced the Knights into 36 turnovers (21 coming on steals) and shot 50.8 percent from the field to extend the second-best start in program history.
Junior guard Brittany Mallory made the most of her 18 minutes of court time at UCF, piling up a game-high 16 points and five steals. Senior guard Ashley Barlow added 15 points, including four in a 13-0 run to end the first half.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At Vanderbilt
The Commodores (11-1) carry a four-game winning streak into Thursday's contest, having most recently downed East Tennessee State, 96-83 on Monday night in Nashville. Freshman forward Tiffany Clarke racked up a career-high 27 points (10-13 FG) and 11 rebounds, as Vanderbilt shot 54.5 percent from the floor (36-of-66) and posted a season-high point total.
Senior guard Merideth Marsh leads the Commodores in scoring (14.4 ppg.) and three-point percentage (.397), while junior forward Hannah Tuomi is second in scoring (12.7 ppg.) and tops in rebounding (6.4 rpg.) and field goal percentage (.610).
Head coach Melanie Balcomb is in her eighth season at Vanderbilt with a 183-62 (.747) record at the school. She has a 17-year career record of 346-166 (.676), with an 0-1 record against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Vanderbilt Series
This year's game is the back end of a home-and-home series with Vanderbilt, after the schools played a similar two-game set in 1989 and 1990. The other game between the teams came on March 26, 2001 in Denver, when Notre Dame defeated the Commodores, 72-64 in the NCAA Midwest Regional final.
The Last Time Notre Dame and Vanderbilt Met
Vanderbilt (11-3) had a chance to tie, but Jessica Mooney's driving layup bounced off the rim as time expired.
The Fighting Irish trailed by 18 (46-28) with 15:56 to play but outscored the Commodores 22-0 over the next 8:52.
Bruszewski's layup with 8:36 left put Notre Dame (11-1) in front for the first time since it led 4-2 in the opening minutes.
The Irish led by as many as four five times in the closing minutes, but a turnover with four seconds left led to Mooney's last-second shot.
Notre Dame had a 27-13 rebounding advantage (10-5 at the offensive end) in the second half and 45-34 overall. Ashley Barlow led the team with a season-high nine, Lindsay Schrader had eight and Bruszewski and Erica Solomon each had seven.
The Irish went 4-for-7 from three-point range over the final 15:44 after missing their first eight from beyond the arc. Kellie Watson made two, and Melissa Lechlitner made one during the 22-0 run. Bruszewski made the last with 3:29 remaining after Vanderbilt pulled to 52-51.
Notre Dame pressured Vanderbilt into 10-of-29 shooting (34.5 percent) in the second half, and Christina Wirth, who made four three-pointers in the opening half, was held scoreless for the final 20 minutes.
Bruszewski and Schrader led Notre Dame with 12 points each and Lechlitner added 11.
Vanderbilt's Hannah Tuomi led all scorers with 20 points.
The Last Time Notre Dame and Vanderbilt Met At Purcell Pavilion
Karen Robinson added 18 points and a game-high four assists, while Lisa Kuhns came off the bench to chip in 14 points in 15 minutes for the Irish, who had lost to the Commodores by 22 points down in Nashville a year earlier.
Wendy Scholtens had a team-high 21 points and a game-best nine rebounds for Vanderbilt, while Kris Becker scored 15 points, hitting 6-of-8 shots from the floor (including all three of her three-point attempts) for the Commodores.
Notre Dame wound up shading its guests on the boards, 37-35, and forced 25 Vanderbilt turnovers. The game also featured a statistical oddity, as the teams combined to go a perfect 6-for-6 from three-point range (making three treys apiece).
Other Notre Dame-Vanderbilt Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Southeastern Conference
The Irish also are 6-7 in their last 13 meetings with SEC opponents, and are riding a program-best three-game winning streak against that conference, dating back to last season (wins at No. 24/22 LSU and No. 20/19 Vanderbilt).
Thursday marks the second of two games for Notre Dame against the SEC this season. The Irish defeated South Carolina 78-55 back on Nov. 27 at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Vanderbilt also is the first SEC opponent to visit Purcell Pavilion since Jan. 5, 2008, when third-ranked Tennessee dealt No. 14 Notre Dame an 87-63 defeat.
In those three ranked victories, the Irish held double-digit leads each time and never trailed by more than five points at any stretch (56-51 at MSU).
Ringing In The New Year
The Irish last played on New Year's Eve in 2005, dropping a 62-51 decision to top-ranked Tennessee before a sellout crowd at Purcell Pavilion. Prior to that loss, Notre Dame had won its previous five New Year's Eve contests.
Getting The Jump
Advantage, Notre Dame
What's more, in the nine games since that win at MSU, Notre Dame has not trailed by more than one possession (three points), and in the past four games, the Irish have led or been tied for all but 1:23 (21 seconds vs. IPFW on Dec. 8, 1:02 at UCF on Tuesday) and almost never past the midway point of the first half (actually 9:57 left in opening period vs. IPFW).
Spread The Wealth
That trend has been particularly evident in Notre Dame's last seven games, with a different player setting the pace in scoring six times, with junior guard Brittany Mallory the only repeat leading scorer for the Irish (Valparaiso and UCF).
Stat Sheet Stuffers
Junior guard Brittany Mallory (Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Oklahoma) and freshman guard Skylar Diggins (UAPB and Charlotte) each have two 5-5-5 outings, while senior guard Ashley Barlow (Iona) and sophomore guard Natalie Novosel (Eastern Michigan) have one apiece.
The Season For Taking
In the past two contests, Notre Dame has harassed its opponents into a combined 79 turnovers (43 by Charlotte on Dec. 20 and 26 at UCF on Tuesday).
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 have been particularly hard on opponents in six home games this season, forcing 31.7 turnovers per game (at least 29 in five of the six Purcell Pavilion contests) while holding visitors to 49.8 points a night and a .313 field goal percentage (106-of-339).
The Five-Finger Discount
What's more, Notre Dame has been particularly aggressive in the past four games, topping the 20-steal mark three times and averaging 21.0 steals per game during that span.
In addition, the past seven road losses for the Irish have been decided by an average of 8.4 points per game (all by 12 points or fewer), including all five road setbacks last season (average margin of 8.6 ppg.).
Notre Dame posted 10 wins on the road in each of the past two years, marking just the second time in school history the Irish have logged double-digit win totals away from home in consecutive seasons (11 wins in 1989-90; 10 wins in 1990-91).
Pomp And Circumstance
With Williamson collecting her diploma next week, 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.
This current ranking marks the 46th consecutive AP poll appearance for the Irish, with the No. 3 ranking not only matching a season high (Dec. 7 & 21), but also being Notre Dame's highest 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 their current 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).
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 186 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 23rd all-time in that category.
In addition, the Irish are spending a second consecutive week at a season-high No. 3 in the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll. It's the highest Notre Dame 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.
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. 3 ranking, the Irish have appeared in the coaches' poll for 178 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
More Polling Data
Besides her 186 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, 12 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart).
Barlow's layup as time expired in the first half highlighted a 13-0 run by the Fighting Irish that turned a tight game into a blowout, smothering the Knights with a full-court press that forced 36 turnovers.
Marshay White had 12 points, and D'Nay Daniels added 10 points for the Knights (3-6), who were going for one of the biggest wins in school history. Instead, they lost for the third time this season to a ranked opponent.
The sparse black and gold crowd were treated to a fast start by the Knights, with the home team trading baskets for most of the first half. White's 3-pointer cut Notre Dame's lead to 31-29. But the celebration was short-lived.
The relentless full-court pressure by the Fighting Irish overwhelmed the Knights. Notre Dame's backcourt caused errant passes, quick shots and turnovers.
Skylar Diggins had five points as the Fighting Irish scored 13 straight before intermission, including Barlow's layup that came at the buzzer.
Her team scored the next two baskets of the second half, going ahead 48-29 as some of the fans who traveled with Notre Dame for the holiday break cheered "Let's Go Irish."
Notre Dame also got a boost with the return of forward Devereaux Peters, who hadn't played since tearing a ligament in her left knee on Nov. 23, 2008. She scored two points in 10 minutes.
Noting The UCF Game
The only Notre Dame losses during this current stretch were a pair of defeats to third-ranked teams in the Preseason WNIT semifinals (72-59 vs. Tennessee at Ruston, La., in 1996; 75-59 at Maryland in 2007) 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.
High Value Freshman
Diggins, who also earned a spot on the BIG EAST Conference Weekly Honor Roll for her efforts, was the first Notre Dame rookie in a decade to collect all-tournament team honors in a regular-season event. Alicia Ratay was the last to do so, garnering a place on the 1999 Wachovia Women's Basketball Invitational all-tournament team after helping Notre Dame to wins over No. 9/12 North Carolina (99-86) and Liberty (85-68) in Richmond, Va.
Current Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey holds the school record with 132 games played from 1996-2001.
Schrader reached another endurance milestone on Dec. 12 against Valparaiso, becoming the 12th player in school history with 100 starting assignments in her career. Schrader now is tied with Letitia Bowen (1991-95) for ninth in school history with 102 career starts.
McGraw Joins Elite Notre Dame Club
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 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.
Barlow currently ranks 15th in school history with 1,243 career points, while Schrader is 20th with 1,174 points. They could be joined by their fellow senior guard and tri-captain, Melissa Lechlitner, who has 771 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 after scoring 10 points in her final collegiate contest -- Notre Dame's 68-66 title-game victory over Purdue in St. Louis.
Notre Dame also hit the century mark at home for the first time since Nov. 26, 2002, when the Irish toppled Cleveland State, 107-65 in the 2002-03 season opener.
Eight Is Enough (For Now)
Dishing Thirty-One Flavors
Leading the way for Notre Dame on that night was current Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey, who had a double-double with 14 points and 11 assists.
Irish Enjoy Successful '09 European Tour
The Irish also had the chance to play three exhibition games against international opponents on the tour, winning all three contests against the French Junior National Team (77-44) and Italian professional teams GEAS Sesto San Giovanni (78-68) and Roma Athena Basket (94-39). The win over the French side was particularly noteworthy, as it came only weeks before France won the gold medal at the European U20 Championships with much of the same team that faced the Irish in May.
Senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow led Notre Dame in scoring (13.0 ppg.) and three-point percentage (.727, 8-11) on the trip, while junior forward Becca Bruszewski was second in scoring (12.0 ppg.) and fourth in rebounding (5.7 rpg.). Other statistical leaders included: fifth-year senior guard Lindsay Schrader and sophomore forward Kellie Watson (6.3 rpg.), sophomore guard Natalie Novosel (3.3 spg.), senior guard Melissa Lechlitner (3.3 apg.) and sophomore forward Erica Solomon (2.5 bpg.).
Half And Half
Notre Dame has led at the break in all 11 games this season, and has gone on to earn victories each time.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
Notre Dame has added seven more wins to the ledger this season with victories over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Iona, South Carolina, Eastern Michigan, Valparaiso, Charlotte and UCF.
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Notre Dame already has added eight more wins to this ongoing record with its conquests of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Iona, No. 23/24 San Diego State, No. 20/17 Oklahoma, IPFW, Valparaiso and Charlotte.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
The Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 82 of their last 89 non-BIG EAST contests (.921) 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 329-85 (.795) 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.
It's Fan-Demonium At Notre Dame
While it's likely that some tickets will be made available for individual games during the weeks and days prior to the contests, there's a very real possibility that Notre Dame could approach a sell out for every one of its regular-season home games at the newly-refurbished 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion. In fact, 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).
Through six home games this season, Notre Dame is averaging 8,423 fans per game, putting the Irish nearly 600 fans above their school-record attendance average of 7,825 fans per game, also set in 2001-02.
Notre Dame has posted six sellouts in program history, the most recent coming on Dec. 7, 2008, for a 62-51 win over in-state rival Purdue. That capacity crowd not only was the first on-campus sellout in the 22-game series with the Boilermakers, but it also helped the Irish win the NCAA/BIG EAST Conference Pack The House Challenge for 2008-09.
Irish On Your Radio Dial
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
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) will be webcast live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, www.UND.com, via the site's free multimedia package, Fighting Irish All-Access. And, 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, Notre Dame has played in 148 televised games, including 95 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
This marks the first time in program history that the same players are serving as captains in consecutive seasons.
Purcell Pavilion Opens Its Doors
The UAPB game was part of the culmination of a two-year project to upgrade the home for Notre Dame basketball and volleyball.
The first (exterior) 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, which will house 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 arena seating footprint, including installation of single-color chair-back seating throughout the arena, began following the University's Commencement Exercises in May 2009 and was completed in time for the Irish volleyball team to play the first athletic event in the facility on Oct. 30 (a 3-1 win over Seton Hall). The entire project is scheduled for completion in January 2010.
The University announced in October 2007 that this ambitious arena renovation 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.
Additional cornerstone donations were made by: Vincent J. Naimoli ('59), whose $5 million contribution will lead to the creation of the new Naimoli Family Club Room, and South Bend-area auto dealership owner Mike Leep Sr., whose generous gift will be recognized with the naming of the Mike Leep Sr. Varsity Shop.
Irish Sign Three For 2010-11 Season
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 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 Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
In the three-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 17 times, including wins this season over Indianapolis (exhibition), Arkansas-Pine Bluff, IPFW, Valparaiso and Charlotte.
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 -- junior guard Brittany Mallory, who sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) four times during the promotion's inaugural run in 2007-08.
And for those tracking such things (or perhaps falling under the heading of "SID has way too much time on his hands"), 10 different players have converted the "burger ball", including nine current members of the Irish roster.
What's more, of the 17 Big Mac games to date, nine have been reached on two-point baskets, five on free throws, and three on three-pointers (including the past two home games).
Next Game: Purdue
Purdue (6-6) will play host to Big Ten foe Indiana on Thursday afternoon before welcoming the Irish to town next week.