Irish roll to No. 5 ranking, top of Big East
By KERRY SMITH
Assistant Sports Editor
Every team has a weakness, but finding a weak link when the Notre Dame women's basketball team steps onto the court is becoming an increasingly harder task with each notch the Irish put in the win column.
At 14-2, Notre Dame sits atop the Big East rankings with a 5-0 conference record.
Now, the Irish are riding a 10-game winning streak. They broke a University record Saturday against Syracuse with their 16th consecutive home win, and secured with an on-the-road win over Pittsburgh Tuesday.
Ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll, the Irish — enjoying their highest ranking in school history — showed no signs of contentment as they put away Big East Rival Pittsburgh, 67-53.
Freshman guard and leading scorer Alicia Ratay led the Irish squad against the Panthers with 17 points from the backcourt. Junior forward Kelly Siemon was nipping at Ratay's heels as she added 14 points for the Irish.
Junior center Ruth Riley knocked in 12 points from the paint and came up big on defense with three blocked shots. Led by Riley's presence on the inside, the Irish allowed the panthers to shoot only 37 percent from the field.
Led by guard Gina Montesaro, the Panthers came within 9 points at the half, 31-22, but were unable to overcome a tough Irish defense in the second half, losing by 14.
The Irish led by 20 points when Siemon knocked in a jumper for the 45-25 lead midway through the second half. The Panthers, after calling a timeout to stop Irish momentum, scored six unanswered points but could not close the gap as the Irish went on a 13-4 run, leading with a 23-point cushion.
The Irish dominated on the boards, out-rebounding the Panthers 42-26.
With their third straight loss, the Panthers fell to 11-6 on the season and 2-4 in the Big East.
The Panthers will have one more chance to unseat the Irish during the regular season when they travel to Notre Dame in February. History is not on their side, however, as the Irish hold an undefeated record over the Panthers.
Fresh legs on the court from freshman guard Alicia Ratay has been just as important to the so-far successful Irish season as the experience provided by junior Ruth Riley and senior Niele Ivey.
The leading scorer on the Irish squad, Ratay earned her third Big East rookie of the week honor last week after impressive outings against West Virginia and Georgetown. Ratay averages 15.8 points and five rebounds per game.
The Big East also honored Ivey with player of the week honors this week after recording her fourth double-double of the season in the Irish win over Seton Hall.
Riley, despite a slow start to the season, has turned on the heat and played a pivotal role for the Irish under the basket. Battling injury and foul trouble early on, Riley was held scoreless for the first time in her career in the season opener against Toledo. The All-American candidate overcame her scoring draught nearly as quickly as it started, however, and has scored in double figures in 14 of her last 16 outings.
Tuesday's win over the Panthers marks the first of three straight away contests for the Irish. The squad travels to Miami on Saturday to take on the unranked Hurricanes in their sixth conference test of the season before taking on the Red Storm of St. John's next week.
All Sports Stories for Wednesday, January 19, 19100