ND preseason basketball to tip off at WNIT

Published 10:58 pm Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Notre Dame women’s basketball team will tip off the 2011-12 season by competing in two high-profile tournaments, head coach Muffet McGraw announced Monday. The Fighting Irish open up with their fourth appearance in the Preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT), where they could play as many as four games, before heading to the Caribbean for the second time in three years, this time visiting the Bahamas to participate in the Junkanoo Jam.


Notre Dame already has learned its first-round opponent for the Preseason WNIT, as the tournament’s operator and manager, Triple Crown Sports, announced in June that the Fighting Irish would play host to Mid-American Conference foe Akron in its tournament opener at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11 inside Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center. The Zips posted a 14-16 record last season (6-10 in the MAC East Division), but lose just one starter off that club while returning five of their top six scorers from the 2010-11 campaign.
This year’s matchup will be the first between Notre Dame and Akron in women’s basketball, although the Fighting Irish sport a 35-14 (.714) all-time record against current MAC schools and have won their last 18 games against that conference. Notre Dame last faced a MAC opponent on Dec. 2, 2009, defeating Eastern Michigan, 69-59 at Purcell Pavilion to improve to 21-4 (.840) at home against the MAC. The Fighting Irish also have opened two of their previous three Preseason WNIT appearances by playing host to a Mid-American Conference opponent, defeating Kent State (66-41) in 1996 and ousting Miami-Ohio (98-50) in 2007.
Should Notre Dame defeat Akron in its Preseason WNIT opener, it would move on to face the winner of the Indiana State-Detroit first-round contest that will be played in Terre Haute, Ind., also on Nov. 11. That Preseason WNIT quarterfinal game likely would take place on Nov. 13 (time to be determined), with Notre Dame expected to play host to that game as well. On the other hand, an opening-round loss to Akron would drop the Fighting Irish into the consolation bracket, with matchups and sites to be determined at a later date.
The tournament semifinals are slated for Nov. 16-17, with Notre Dame also expected to serve as a host site if it advances to that round. The Preseason WNIT title game is scheduled for Nov. 20 at a campus site to be determined. Other notable teams competing in this year’s tournament include reigning Big 12 Conference champion and 2011 NCAA Elite Eight participant Baylor, last year’s Pac-12 Conference runner-up (and NCAA Championship second-round qualifer) UCLA, and longtime America East Conference power Hartford.
Notre Dame last played in the Preseason WNIT in 2007, earning victories at home over Miami and Western Kentucky (78-59) in the first two rounds before dropping a 75-59 decision at Maryland in the semifinals. The Fighting Irish won the tournament title in 2004 with four consecutive wins at Purcell Pavilion, including victories over No. 6 Duke (76-65) and No. 10/9 Ohio State (66-62) in its final two contests.
The first time Notre Dame competed in the Preseason WNIT came in 1996, when the Fighting Irish took third-place honors on the strength of wins over Kent State at home, at No. 6 Iowa (61-50) and vs. No. 8/12 North Carolina State (64-53) in the consolation final after losing to No. 3/2 Tennessee (72-59) in the semifinals, with the last two rounds played at the Thomas Assembly Center in Ruston, La.
Following the Preseason WNIT, Notre Dame will play a tournament on Thanksgiving weekend for the third consecutive year, as the Fighting Irish head to Freeport, Bahamas (located on Grand Bahama Island), for the first time in school history to compete in the Junkanoo Jam, hosted by Basketball Travelers. Notre Dame will take on USC in the opening round of the tournament on Nov. 25 (time to be determined) at St. Georges High School. The other first-round contest will see perennial powerhouse Duke and reigning Big South Conference champion Gardner-Webb square off, with the winners and losers matching up on Nov. 26.
The Fighting Irish will play USC for the 10th time in series history, with Notre Dame holding a 7-2 edge on the Trojans. The teams have not met since Nov. 24, 2006, when USC earned a 69-58 win over the Fighting Irish at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, snapping Notre Dame’s seven-game series winning streak.
On the other side of the bracket, the Fighting Irish are 4-1 all-time against Duke, most recently defeating the Blue Devils in the 2004 Preseason WNIT semifinals (76-65) at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame has not faced Gardner-Webb in women’s basketball to date.
Travel packages for fans wishing to attend this year’s Junkanoo Jam are available by going on-line to the Basketball Travelers web site (www.basketballtravelers.com).
This year’s trip to the Bahamas marks the second time in three years the Fighting Irish have ventured to the Caribbean for a Thanksgiving weekend tournament. In 2009, Notre Dame competed at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, defeating No. 23/24 San Diego State (84-79), South Carolina (78-55) and No. 20/17 Oklahoma (81-71) to win the Island Division championship.
Notre Dame will have four starters and nine monogram winners returning this fall from last year’s club that posted a 31-8 record, advancing to its third NCAA Women’s Final Four and second national championship game. The Fighting Irish also welcome a three-player freshman class that has been ranked as high as eighth in the country, marking the 15th consecutive season in which Notre Dame has attracted a top-20 incoming class.