Junior guards Ashley Barlow (left) and Melissa Lechlitner (right) will anchor a veteran Notre Dame backcourt as they face a rugged 2008-09 schedule that was announced Monday afternoon.
Sept. 8, 2008
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Building on its seventh trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 in the past 12 seasons, the Notre Dame women's basketball team will play 20 games against teams that advanced to postseason play last year, including 11 against NCAA Tournament qualifiers (and six against NCAA Sweet 16 participants), as part of a challenging 2008-09 schedule that was released Monday following approval by the University's Faculty Board on Athletics.
Among the featured games on this year's Irish schedule are visits to 2008 NCAA Women's Final Four participants LSU (Nov. 16) and Connecticut (Feb. 22), and NCAA Sweet 16 qualifiers Vanderbilt (Dec. 30) and Pittsburgh (Feb. 3), as well as home contests with '08 NCAA Elite Eight participant Rutgers (Jan. 27) and NCAA Sweet 16 combatant Louisville (Feb. 11). The latter two matchups highlight Notre Dame's 13-game regular-season schedule at the Joyce Center, with the Irish also playing host to first- and second-round games in the 2009 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship (March 22 and 24).
A handful of tip times for Notre Dame's road schedule have yet to be determined by the host school. In addition, the Irish are expected to make several appearances on national and regional television this season, although the complete BIG EAST Conference television package has not yet be released by the conference office. Notre Dame already knows it will make at least one national TV appearance in 2008-09, with its Nov. 16 opener at LSU in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic airing live on ESPN2 (1:30 p.m. CT).What's more, for the second consecutive season, Notre Dame's official athletics web site (www.UND.com) has plans for live broadcasts of all home games that are not selected for commercial television coverage.
The Irish also begin their 13th season of full-time commercial radio coverage, as the LeSEA Broadcasting Network and Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) will air every Notre Dame women's basketball game live to more than 1.35 million listeners in the Michiana area and worldwide on UND.com, with veteran broadcaster Bob Nagle returning to the microphone he initially manned from 1996-97 through 1998-99.
"This may be one of the toughest schedules we've ever put together," 22nd-year head coach Muffet McGraw said. "You start with the conference schedule. The BIG EAST is already coming off probably its best across-the-board season ever, and now you're adding in some young up-and-coming teams that are going to make it even tougher. Then, you look outside of the conference and we're going to face a difficult test right off the bat with LSU at their place, not to mention trips to Vanderbilt and Boston College along with Purdue and Michigan State coming in here.
"We always try to build our schedule so that we use the non-conference season to help prepare us for the BIG EAST, and then play the BIG EAST schedule to get us ready for the NCAA Tournament," McGraw continued. "I think this kind of schedule helps us and probably explains why we've had such a tradition of success in the NCAAs. We get a chance to play just about every different kind of team, with every different style of play, during the regular season. We also learn a lot about ourselves and what our weaknesses are, so that when the NCAA Tournament rolls around, we're ready and we haven't built up a false sense of confidence from beating up on teams that aren't very good. We believe it's important to challenge our players, and I think they like that and get excited about playing good teams."
Notre Dame returns seven monogram winners, including three starters, from last year's squad that went 25-9 overall (11-5 in the BIG EAST) and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 with victories over SMU (75-62) and Oklahoma (79-75, OT) before dropping a hard-fought 74-64 decision to eventual national champion Tennessee in the regional semifinals at Oklahoma City's Ford Center. The Irish finished the season ranked 13th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and 15th in the Associated Press poll (the latter survey was taken before the NCAA Tournament), and also were ranked among the top 25 in six NCAA statistical categories, including scoring offense (8th - 76.2 ppg.) and scoring margin (10th - plus-14.6 ppg.).
At least one media outlet already have placed Notre Dame in its preseason Top 25 poll. ESPN.com women's basketball analyst Charlie Creme ranked Notre Dame 17th in the nation in his early preseason poll published back in April, shortly after the Women's Final Four. The Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls will not unveil their preseason rankings until late October.
Notre Dame's 2008-09 schedule opens with a single exhibition game against NCAA Division II member Gannon (Nov. 5) at the Joyce Center. The Irish then tip off the regular season with the State Farm Tip-Off Classic, with Notre Dame making its first-ever appearance in the event. Notre Dame then returns home for four of its next six games, opening the '08-'09 Joyce Center slate with a matchup against Missouri Valley Conference regular-season co-champion Evansville (Nov. 19), before Georgia Southern (Nov. 25), Michigan State (Nov. 29) and Purdue (Dec. 7) all come to South Bend.
Sprinkled within that early spate of home games are a pair of trips to Eagles' nests -- Boston College (Nov. 23) and Eastern Michigan (Dec. 2). The Irish making their first visit to BC since the Eagles' final season in the BIG EAST (2004-05), while Notre Dame's journey to EMU also will be noteworthy, as it's the first time the Irish will take on the Eagles since Nov. 30, 1984 (a 70-59 victory in Ypsilanti).
A month-long stretch from mid-December to mid-January will bring on perhaps the most grueling span of games Notre Dame has seen in many years, with six out of seven contests on the road. A Dec. 10 junket to Michigan starts the run, with the always-dangerous trip down the Indiana Toll Road to Valparaiso looming three days later. After a brief return home to face former Midwestern Collegiate Conference sister Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 20), the Irish will return from the Christmas holiday with a rare two-game in-season road swing, starting in Charlotte (Dec. 28) before moving on to Vanderbilt (Dec. 30). The first stop will be a homecoming for junior center Erica Williamson (Charlotte, N.C./South Mecklenburg), while the latter game will mark Notre Dame's first matchup with the Commodores since the 2001 NCAA Midwest Regional final in Denver (won by the Irish, 72-64, en route to their first national championship).
The BIG EAST sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season in 2007-08, with a conference-record five squads (including Notre Dame) advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16. The conference road could be even more arduous for the Irish in '08-'09, as they open the league slate with trips to Seton Hall (Jan. 3) and DePaul (Jan. 6). A stopover at the Joyce Center to take on Georgetown (Jan. 10) sets the table for three consecutive games against '08 WNIT qualifiers -- tournament champion Marquette (road, Jan. 13), WNIT quarterfinalist St. John's (home, Jan. 17) and third-round participant Villanova (road, Jan. 24).
The heart of the conference schedule brings Notre Dame home for four out of five games, spotlighted by four games against NCAA Tournament qualifiers (three of which advanced to the Sweet 16 or beyond). Returning NCAA Elite Eight squad Rutgers (Jan. 27) and Cincinnati (Jan. 31) open that stretch, before a trip to Sweet 16 participant Pittsburgh (Feb. 3). The Irish then come back to the Joyce Center for the second of two meetings with DePaul (Feb. 8) and a Feb. 11 tussle with another Sweet 16 team, Louisville.
After trips to South Florida (Feb. 17) and Connecticut (Feb. 22 at the XL Center in Hartford), Notre Dame plays two of its final three games at home, welcoming Syracuse (Feb. 24) to town, heading off to face Providence (Feb. 28) and then returning for its regular-season finale on March 2, an unusual midweek matinee against West Virginia (the 3:30 p.m. ET tip-off time necessitated by the Irish men's basketball team playing later that night on ESPN's "Big Monday" against Villanova).
The 2009 BIG EAST Championship is scheduled for March 6-10 at the XL Center, marking the sixth consecutive season the conference tournament will be held at a neutral site. This year's tournament will have a new feel, as all 16 BIG EAST teams will participate in the event, with the top eight teams earning a first-round bye, and the top four seeds garnering a second-round bye.
Season ticket packages for the complete 14-game Notre Dame women's basketball home schedule (exhibition and regular season), as well as the NCAA Tournament first- and second-round games to be played at the Joyce Center, are currently available by contacting the Notre Dame Athletics Ticket Office at (574) 631-7356, visiting the ticket windows on the second floor of the Joyce Center (via Gate 1) or by clicking here and ordering on-line at www.UND.com/tickets with a major credit card. Packages are $58 per person for individuals and $46 per person for full-time Notre Dame faculty/staff, while four-ticket "Fan Packs" are $162 for individuals and $130 for faculty/staff. Notre Dame, Saint Mary's and Holy Cross students are admitted free for all regular-season home games.
Season ticket holders will receive numerous benefits, including a complimentary copy of the official `08-'09 Irish women's basketball media guide (available in November), the official Notre Dame women's basketball season ticket holder t-shirt, invitations to several special events tailored exclusively for season ticket holders, four issues of the official Irish women's basketball fan newsletter, and more.
Single-game tickets for the 2008-09 Notre Dame women's basketball season will go on sale Oct. 7. Standard processing fees and service charges will apply.
2008-09 IRISH SCHEDULE NOTES: Seven of Notre Dame's opponents were ranked in either the Associated Press or ESPN/USA Today polls at the end of last season (#1/3 Connecticut, #6/4 LSU, #7/6 Rutgers, #17/20 West Virginia, #19/12 Louisville, #21/15 Vanderbilt and #rv/16 Pittsburgh) ... five opponents (Connecticut, Eastern Michigan, Evansville, LSU and Purdue) won the regular-season or tournament title in their respective conferences ... in addition to the rigorous schedule in the BIG EAST (ranked the nation's second-toughest conference, according to CollegeRPI.com prior to '08 NCAA Tournament), Notre Dame will face teams from eight different conferences (all in the top 18 nationally) during non-league play: #3 ACC, #4 SEC, #5 Big Ten, #9 Missouri Valley, #10 Atlantic 10, #16 Mid-American, #17 Horizon League and #18 Southern ... all told, 22 of the 27 regular-season opponents on Notre Dame's schedule had a record of .500 or better last season, with 13 posting 20-win seasons (two more ended up with 19 victories) and six registering 25-win campaigns (another had 24 victories) ... this year's Irish opponents amassed a combined record of 537-341 (.612) last season.