for this game

Cleveland St.-Notre Dame Preview

Mar 21, 2010 - 2:58 AM By ALAN FERGUSON STATS Writer

Cleveland State (19-13) at Notre Dame (27-5), 2:30 p.m. EDT

Notre Dame senior Lindsay Schrader says she's more excited entering her final NCAA tournament than in any of her previous appearances. That might be because the Irish open this year's tournament with perhaps their best squad since their run to the 2001 national championship.

Second-seeded Notre Dame begins its quest to return to the Final Four for the first time since that title run Sunday on its home floor against 15th-seeded Cleveland State in the Kansas City Regional.

Notre Dame got off to its best start since that 2000-01 campaign by winning each of its first 15 games and 23 of its first 24. The Irish (27-5) split their final eight, but two of those losses came while Schrader was out with a sprained ankle. All three of their other defeats this season came against No. 1 Connecticut.

With Schrader healthy, the Irish are hoping to earn a rematch with the currently undefeated Huskies, who are on the opposite side of the bracket.

"My final goal is if I make it to San Antonio," Schrader said. "Everything beyond there is a gift. I just want to make it to San Antonio. If I can do that, I would say I had a very successful year."

Notre Dame opened its 14th straight tournament appearance at the Joyce Center last year, getting upset 79-71 by No. 10 seed Minnesota. The difference for the Irish this time might be freshman Skylar Diggins.

The guard from South Bend, Ind., led a balanced offense with 13.6 points per game. Her presence also led to a change for Schrader, who was able to play more on the inside though she's still listed as a guard.

Schrader led the Irish with 6.8 rebounds per game while averaging 11.0 points. Senior guard Ashley Barlow, one of seven Notre Dame players averaging at least 6.9 points, also chipped in 11.0 per game.

Notre Dame limited opponents to 61.9 points and 40.8 percent shooting on the season, and it held Connecticut to its lowest point total of the season in its last game, a 59-44 loss in the Big East tournament semifinals.

The Irish will next have to contend with Cleveland State's "five-out" motion offense.

Vikings coach Kate Peterson Abiad implemented the style of play, which features no true posts, over the last five years because she wanted to put the best five players on the court. In three years, it's helped Cleveland State to its only two NCAA tournament appearances.

Senior guard Kailey Klein leads the way with 18.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Five other players contribute at least 6.0 points per game, but junior guard Shawnita Garland is the only other Viking averaging in double figures at 13.0.

After splitting its first 24 games, Cleveland State (19-13) enters the tournament having won seven of eight, including a run to the Horizon League title. The Vikings finished fourth in the conference during the regular season but upset the top two teams during their championship run, which was punctuated by a 66-57 win over Butler in the title game.

Notre Dame, which is 5-0 all-time against Cleveland State, recorded a 107-65 win in the most recent matchup Nov. 26, 2002, at the Joyce Center.