NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Nearly 80 years ago, a talented young British filmmaker named Alfred Hitchcock directed the classic thriller, “The 39 Steps.” And while one doesn’t expect Muffet McGraw to be perched in a director’s chair behind a camera, the Hall of Fame head coach will look to help the University of Notre Dame women’s basketball team create its own suspenseful 2014-15 season, one that could last — coincidentally enough — 39 games.
As the complete Fighting Irish schedule was released Tuesday morning, following approval by the University’s Faculty Board on Athletics and in conjunction with the announcement of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) regular season slate, it’s clear that, much like the legendary Hitchcock, McGraw is following a tried-and-true formula for success.
The 2014-15 Notre Dame women’s basketball schedule could be one of the most challenging in the program’s 38 seasons, as the Fighting Irish play half their regular season games (15) against 14 teams that advanced to last year’s NCAA Championship, including return encounters with both of their opponents at the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four (defending national champion Connecticut and Maryland, which departed the ACC this summer for its new home in the Big Ten Conference).
What’s more, Notre Dame will play 12 games against teams that were ranked or receiving votes in the final Associated Press and/or Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA)/USA Today polls last year, highlighted by six games against teams ranked in the top 10 of one or both major national polls at season’s end.
“We believe that it’s important to play a tough non-conference schedule in order to prepare us for the ACC season,” McGraw said. “We want to be challenged and pushed against teams with different styles of play and by going into hostile environments because it will show us what we need to work on as the season progresses and it’s only going to make us better.
“We know that when we get to conference play, we will be tested every single night by playing in the ACC,” she added. “It’s one of the nation’s best conferences with eight teams going to the NCAA tournament last year, including two to the Final Four. Now you add Louisville, an Elite Eight team last year, to the mix, and you have a league that’s going to be among the strongest in women’s basketball for a long time to come.
“Between our non-conference and ACC schedules, we’re going to have dealt with most of the challenges we will see in the postseason,” McGraw concluded. “Our belief is that by setting up the schedule this way, we’ll be growing and developing throughout the season and peaking when the conference and NCAA tournaments come around in March and April.”
While the matchups with Connecticut and Maryland certainly draw one’s eye, there will be no shortage of entertaining games on this year’s Notre Dame schedule, both home and away. The Fighting Irish will welcome reigning Southeastern Conference tournament champion Tennessee to town on Jan. 19, while visits from regional rival Michigan and a pair of strong mid-major programs in Chattanooga and Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) and a challenging four-game stretch in the Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge tournament, will sharpen Notre Dame’s mettle during the non-conference slate.
In ACC play, the Fighting Irish once again will tackle a 16-game schedule that home-and-home series with two “rival partners” — Boston College and Georgia Tech. Notre Dame played BC twice last year, while the Yellow Jackets replace Duke as the second repeat opponent on the Fighting Irish schedule. Notre Dame will face the remaining 12 ACC schools once next season, playing host to conference newcomer Louisville as well as fellow NCAA tournament participants Duke and Florida State, while making the program’s first-ever trips to North Carolina and Clemson.
Notre Dame also continues to be one of the top draws on television, whether through commercial means or through the growing Internet live-streaming market. That will continue to be the case in 2014-15, as the Fighting Irish make a minimum of 18 TV appearances, including eight games on the ESPN family of networks and four others on the ACC-Regional Sports Networks (RSN) package.
ESPN will televise Notre Dame’s Dec. 6 game against Connecticut in the 13th annual Jimmy V Women’s Classic at Purcell Pavilion, while the Fighting Irish also will play three home games on the ESPN2 “Big Monday” package — Tennessee (Jan. 19), Duke (Feb. 16) and Louisville (Feb. 23). The Fighting Irish have won all eight “Big Monday” games they have played in the past three seasons, winning three times over Tennessee, and twice each against Connecticut and Louisville. Four additional Notre Dame games (home vs. Georgia Tech and Virginia, away at Virginia Tech and North Carolina State) will air on ESPN3, and other ESPN3 broadcasts could be added at a later date.
When Notre Dame takes the floor in slightly less than two months, it will have two starters and 10 monogram recipients back from last season’s 37-1 squad that advanced to the NCAA Women’s Final Four for the fourth consecutive season and made the program’s third NCAA national championship game appearance in four years (fourth overall).
The Fighting Irish, who were ranked No. 2 in the final AP and WBCA/USA Today polls, also are coming off a sweep of the ACC regular season and tournament titles in their inaugural season in that conference (after a similar sweep in the BIG EAST Conference in 2012-13), posting a combined 19-0 record in ACC play while earning their third consecutive conference regular season crown (11th overall) and second consecutive conference tournament trophy (seventh overall).
Of the 10 players back for Notre Dame this season, six have starting experience at the college level, headlined by junior All-America guard Jewell Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West), who averaged 18.6 points per game last year (second among returning ACC players), and sophomore point guard Lindsay Allen (Mitchellville, Md./St. John’s College), who earned Full Court Press Freshman All-America honors last year after starting all 38 games for the Fighting Irish and leading the ACC with a 2.24 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Along with its sizeable group of veterans, Notre Dame adds a three-player freshman class ranked as high as third in the nation by multiple outlets. All three rookies were ranked in the top 20 nationally in the Class of 2014 by at least one recruiting service, led by the nation’s No. 1 player, 2013-14 Gatorade National High School Athlete of the Year and McDonald’s High School All-America forward Brianna Turner (Pearland, Texas/Manvel). Turner is one of six McDonald’s High School All-Americans on this year’s Notre Dame roster, and one of two in the freshman class along with fellow forward Kathryn Westbeld (Kettering, Ohio/Kettering Fairmont), while two-time West Virginia Gatorade High School Player of the Year, guard Mychal Johnson (Huntington, W.Va./Huntington St. Joseph) rounds out this year’s crop of promising newcomers.
Following a nearly 90-percent renewal rate among season ticket holders, a limited number of 2014-15 Notre Dame women’s basketball season ticket packages have been freed up and went on sale Tuesday morning — they are available by contacting Notre Dame’s Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office at (574) 631-7356 or visiting the ticket windows inside Gate 9 (Rosenthal Atrium) at Purcell Pavilion. Tickets also can be ordered on-line 24 hours a day with a major credit card atUND.com/buytickets.
Packages start as low as $65 per person for individuals and $52 per person for full-time Notre Dame faculty/staff, while four-ticket “Fan Packs” are as low as $220 ($180 for faculty/staff). Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students are admitted free for all home games (while supplies last), with advanced pickup recommended due to limited seating availability. These season ticket packages do include admission to the Dec. 3 game against Maryland in Fort Wayne, as well as additional exclusive opportunities (contact the ticket office for details).
Single-game tickets for the 2014-15 Notre Dame women’s basketball home schedule will go on sale Oct. 21 (season ticket holders) and Oct. 23 (general public) for as little as $8 for adults and $5 for youths 21 and under/seniors 55 and older (adult ticket prices will be slightly higher for Connecticut, Tennessee, Duke and Louisville games). In addition, a limited number of tickets for each home game may become available during the week prior to, or the day of, that contest due to visiting team returns and other considerations.