12:00 PM ET, March 18, 2007
Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
PITTSBURGH -- Notre Dame had green uniforms, green fingernails and one of the greenest lineups in the NCAA Tournament. By the end of a tightly played game that tested the inexperienced Fighting Irish's nerves and composure, they looked liked veterans.Tulyah Gaines made two free throws with 16.5 seconds remaining after Notre Dame's Charel Allen scored a key basket and set up another, and the Fighting Irish rallied for a 62-59 victory over California in the NCAA Tournament Sunday. The eighth-seeded Irish (20-11) relied on Allen's 13 points and Melissa Lechlitner's 12 to advance to a second-round game Tuesday in the Dallas Regional against top-seeded North Carolina (31-3), also in Pittsburgh. The Irish reached the second round for the 11th time in 12 years despite having only two seniors -- a lack of experience that led to them being picked to finish 11th in the Big East. Maybe it was fitting they painted their fingernails green, a tradition any time the Irish play on or near St. Patrick's Day, and wore green uniforms for the first time since last year's NCAA Tournament. "A lot of people didn't think we'd make it to the NCAA Tournament because we lost some leadership from last year, but we overcame that and played really hard," senior Breona Gray said. "We're glad we have another day to play." Allen, a former Pittsburgh area high school star playing before a contingent of hometown fans, had an uneven game. She missed 10 shots on 6-of-16 shooting, turned the ball over four times and did little offensively for a long stretch of the second half as Cal (23-9) rallied from a 36-25 deficit to take four separate leads. Almost all the Bears' offense came from sophomore inside players Ashley Walker (20 points) and Devanei Hampton (13 points). "The game was tough, very intense because we haven't really played two post players like that," Notre Dame freshman Erica Williamson said. "It was a struggle for our team." But after Walker missed two free throws, Crystal Erwin scored on a feed in the lane from Allen, and Allen then scored herself after Ashley Barlow's steal to make it 56-51. Williamson scored from the lane to up the Irish's lead to seven points, but the Bears had one more comeback left in them. Lauren Greif hit a 3-pointer and Natasha Vital scored on a four-player fast break -- Walker went down at midcourt with a knee injury on the play -- to cut it to 58-56. Walker was not seriously hurt and returned after a timeout. Lechlitner, one of the Irish's four freshmen, gave the Bears another chance by missing the front end of a one-and-one with 31 seconds to go. But Hampton dribbled the ball out of bounds off her foot with 19 seconds remaining, and Gaines took advantage by making her two free throws. Greif made three free throws after unwisely being fouled on a 3-point attempt with seven seconds remaining, but the Irish dribbled the clock down to a half-second remaining. Lechlitner then made two more free throws to seal it and end Notre Dame's three-game losing streak. The Irish played at the Petersen Events Center earlier this season -- a 71-62 loss to Pitt on Jan. 31 -- and they clearly looked more comfortable at the start in opening a 12-2 lead. The noon start also couldn't have helped the Golden Bears, who looked to still be on Pacific time in their first game in two weeks. "I was thinking there was so much excitement in the locker room, I was afraid we were too loose," coach Muffet McGraw said. "We were almost giddy for getting to the tournament. This is the way this team's been with the freshmen because everything's new to them." What helped the Irish was the 6-foot-3 Hampton -- the Pac-10 player of the year -- getting into foul trouble and having to sit out 12 minutes in the first half. She drew her third foul with about 5½ minutes remaining, shortly after returning. "It was frustrating," Hampton said. "Coach said we should just play, you know, physical. I don't know." The 6-1 Walker, Cal's other strong sophomore inside player, kept the Bears from getting too far down by going 10-of-10 from the foul line and scoring 12 of their 23 first-half points as the Irish led 32-23 at halftime. "Were we scared? Were we intimidated? Were we tentative? I don't know," Cal coach Joanne Boyle said. "We put ourselves in a situation this year against a couple of teams and we've come from behind and we've been able to pull games out." California is 1-5 in NCAA play and hasn't won since beating Kansas in 1993.
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||24-58 (.414)||19-51 (.373)|
|3P Made-Attempted||4-18 (.222)||4-11 (.364)|
|FT Made-Attempted||10-16 (.625)||17-24 (.708)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||17 (0/0)||17 (0/0)|