Feb. 1, 2013
2012-13 ND Women’s Basketball: Game 21
#2/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (19-1 / 7-0 BIG EAST) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (8-12 / 0-7 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 2, 2013
TIME: 2:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. – Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
SERIES: ND leads 8-0
1ST MTG: ND 67-58 (2/13/82)
LAST MTG: ND 76-50 (1/14/12)
VIDEO: UND.com (live)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
TICKETS: (574) 631-7356 / UND.com/tickets
- Notre Dame plays host to its fifth annual Pink Zone (Play4Kay) game, part of a national women’s basketball initiative designed to raise funds for breast cancer research.
- The Fighting Irish have won their last 19 games against teams from the state of Ohio, a streak that dates back more than 16 years.
No. 2/3 Irish Host Cincinnati Saturday In Annual Pink Zone/Play4Kay Game
Following a notable non-conference win on the road at No. 9 Tennessee, No. 2/3 Notre Dame now returns to BIG EAST Conference action, reaching the halfway mark in the league slate at 2 p.m. (ET) Saturday when it plays host to Cincinnati at Purcell Pavilion. The game, which is the annual Fighting Irish Pink Zone contest to raise money for breast cancer research, will be streamed live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com.
The Fighting Irish (19-1, 7-0) extended their winning streak to 14 games and picked up their sixth victory in seven tries this season with Monday’s 77-67 win at Tennessee. Notre Dame took control with a 19-6 run early in the second half, then turned back a late Lady Vol rally for its first-ever win over UT in Knoxville.
Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins had a career-high 33 points (22 in the second half), along with five assists and four steals. Freshman guard Jewell Loyd continued her steady play with 10 points, and junior guard Kayla McBride added a season-high 10 rebounds.
- Notre Dame is No. 2 in this week’s Associated Press poll and No. 3 in this week’s ESPN/USA Today poll.
- Cincinnati is not ranked.
- Notre Dame is off to a 19-1 start for the third time in four seasons and fourth time in school history (all beginning in 2000-01).
- The Fighting Irish are 6-1 against ranked opponents this year, defeating No. 19/21 Ohio State (57-51), No. 19/22 UCLA (76-64), No. 22 Texas A&M (83-74), No. 11 Purdue (74-47), No. 1 Connecticut (73-72) and No. 9 Tennessee (77-67), while falling to No. 3 Baylor, 73-61 (a game Notre Dame led 50-49 with less than eight minutes left).
- The Fighting Irish made history with their win at Tennessee, becoming the first program ever to defeat both Connecticut and UT in three consecutive seasons, as well as the first in the NCAA era (since 1981-82) to defeat both the Huskies and Lady Vols on the road in the same season.
- Notre Dame is in the midst of a 14-game winning streak, the sixth time in school history (and third in four years) the Fighting Irish have posted a win streak of that length.
- In those 14 games since its only loss of the season (Dec. 5 vs. third-ranked Baylor), Notre Dame has averaged 85.1 points per game (winning by 27.7 ppg.), shot .470 from the field (.366 from three-point range), posted a rebound margin of +13.1 per game, and forced opponents into an average of 21.0 turnovers per night.
- The Fighting Irish have won a school-record 17 consecutive regular season road games and 22 of their last 27 overall (Notre Dame’s last regular season road loss came on Nov. 20, 2011 – 94-81 at No. 1 Baylor in the Preseason WNIT championship game).
- Notre Dame also has won a school-record 11 consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular season games, dating back to Feb. 28, 2011 (a 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul). It’s also the third-longest regular season conference road win streak in program history, and longest since a 12-game run in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now Horizon League) from 1992-95.
- According to Friday’s NCAA statistical report, the Fighting Irish are ranked in the top 10 in seven categories — free throw percentage (1st – .810), scoring offense (2nd – 82.2 ppg.), assists (3rd – 19.8 apg.), scoring margin (4th – +25.3 ppg.), rebounding margin (6th – +11.3 rpg.), assist/turnover ratio (7th – 1.22) and field goal percentage (9th – .461).
- Notre Dame has shown remarkably balanced offensive production this season, with 10 of the 11 players on the roster having scored in double figures at least once, including five different players who have scored 20 points in a game.
- The Fighting Irish have set a school record with three 100-point games this season. The highlight came on Dec. 31 at home against Saint Francis (Pa.) in a 128-55 victory, marking the highest offensive output by any NCAA Division I team this season (and matching the highest by any D-I program since 2002 – Notre Dame also scored 128 points last year at Mercer).
- With its No. 2 ranking in this week’s Associated Press poll, Notre Dame has appeared in the media poll for 109 consecutive weeks, extending a program record that dates back to the 2007-08 preseason poll. In fact, every current Fighting Irish player has competed for a ranked Notre Dame squad throughout her career, with the vast majority of that time (59 of 70 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
- With 610 victories in her 26 seasons at Notre Dame, head coach Muffet McGraw ranks second on the Fighting Irish athletics all-time coaching wins list (across all sports), trailing only men’s/women’s fencing coach Michael DeCicco (774-80 from 1962-95).
- McGraw also is two wins away from becoming the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and should she do so within the next 44 games, she would be the 11th to compile 700 victories in less than 1,000 games coached). What’s more, when McGraw reaches the 700-win milestone, she will be the third BIG EAST Conference skipper to hit that landmark, along with C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers) and Geno Auriemma (Connecticut), both of whom are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Other Notre Dame Notables
- Notre Dame is among the nation’s winningest programs during the past 17 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking fourth with 428 victories.
- Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in average attendance annually since 2000-01 (including top-five rankings the past three years), and is well on its way again this year, ranking fifth in the nation at 8,988 fans per game. Last season, the Fighting Irish ranked fifth in the nation (8,571), setting a school record for average attendance for the third consecutive season. The Fighting Irish also have drawn at least 5,000 fans to 186 of their last 188 home games (including an active streak of 29 consecutive contests with 8,000 fans), logging 33 Purcell Pavilion sellouts, including 27 in the past four seasons. Notre Dame already has tied last year’s school record with eight sellouts in 10 home games this year, including each of its last six contests at Purcell Pavilion.
- The Fighting Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as nine Notre Dame players have been selected in the past 12 seasons. Devereaux Peters and Natalie Novosel were the most recent Fighting Irish players to be chosen, with both going in the first round (Peters third overall to Minnesota; Novosel eighth overall to Washington) of the 2012 WNBA Draft. Last year’s draft marked the first time Notre Dame has had two first-round picks in the same year, while Peters was the highest-drafted player (and first lottery selection) in program history. Ruth Riley (Chicago) was active in the league during the ’12 season, helping the Sky contend for a playoff berth into the final weeks of the season. Three of Notre Dame’s 10 all-time WNBA alums have won a total of four league championships — Riley won a pair of crowns with the Detroit Shock (2003 Finals MVP, 2006), Coquese Washington toiled for the 2000 Houston Comets, while Jacqueline Batteast was Riley’s teammate on the 2006 title-winning squad in Detroit. Peters nearly joined that list in 2012, helping Minnesota return to the WNBA Finals, but the Lynx could not defend their title, falling to Indiana in four games.
- For the sixth year in a row, the Fighting Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October. What’s more, Notre Dame was one of only four schools in the previous five years to record a 100-percent GSR and play for a national championship in the same season (and the only program to do it twice, pulling off that feat in 2011 and 2012).
Plain old-fashioned bad luck has hampered Cincinnati (8-12, 0-7 BIG EAST) this season, with eight different players having entered the starting lineup due to injuries and the Bearcats seeing six of their 12 losses come by single digits, including two in overtime.
UC has lost seven in a row, all in conference play, since the start of the new year, most recently dropping a narrow 54-52 decision at Georgetown on Tuesday night. Sophomore guard Alyesha Lovett scored a career-high 17 points, and redshirt junior guard Dayeesha Hollins added 10 points and nine assists for the Bearcats, who had a pair of shots at the tying basket in the closing seconds, but neither fell.
Hollins ranks 11th in the BIG EAST with a team-high 15.4 points per game, while Lovett is second on the squad in scoring (7.9 ppg.). Junior forward Tiffany Turner adds a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game (10th in BIG EAST) and .558 field goal percentage (third in BIG EAST).
Head coach Jamelle Elliott is in her fourth season at Cincinnati with a 45-65 (.409) record, including an 0-3 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Cincinnati Series
Notre Dame and Cincinnati will play for the ninth time in a series that has largely been contested since the Bearcats joined the BIG EAST Conference in 2005-06. The Fighting Irish are 8-0 all-time against UC, winning four times each at home and on the road, with the past seven victories coming in BIG EAST play.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Cincinnati Met
Natalie Novosel scored 21 points and Skylar Diggins steadied Notre Dame’s balanced offense with 11 assists, leading the Fighting Irish to a 76-50 victory over Cincinnati on Jan. 14, 2012, at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati.
Devereaux Peters added 17 points as Notre Dame emphasized going inside against the overmatched Bearcats. The Fighting Irish led the nation with 84.2 points per game entering the contest at UC, getting a lot of baskets against the Bearcats off jumpers and turnovers.
Novosel made back-to-back three-pointers and a pair of free throws midway through the first half as Notre Dame quickly pushed the lead to 15 points. She had 18 points in the first half, which ended with Notre Dame ahead 42-21.
With Diggins flipping no-look passes inside, the Fighting Irish scored 40 of their points in the paint. Peters had nine points during a 16-2 run that opened the second half, pushed the lead to 35 points and prompted head coach Muffet McGraw to rest her starters.
Dayeesha Hollins had 14 for UC, which had 11 assists as a team, matching Diggins’ total.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Cincinnati Met At Purcell Pavilion
Becca Bruszewski made sure it was a sweet Senior Day in South Bend.
Bruszewski scored 12 points in her final home game, and No. 8 Notre Dame cruised past Cincinnati 66-48 on Feb. 26, 2011, before a sellout crowd at Purcell Pavilion.
Devereaux Peters posted her seventh double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Skylar Diggins scored 12 points for Notre Dame, which jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first 2 1/2 minutes, pushed it to 15-6 with 8:24 remaining in the first half and then started the second half with a 21-0 run that put the game away.
Kayla Cook had 18 points for Bearcats, while Shareese Ulis added 14 points.
Cincinnati trailed only 28-20 at halftime before the Fighting Irish went on their big run. The Bearcats’ bench was hit with a technical foul with 17:19 remaining, and Kaila Turner hit back-to-back three-pointers that made it 61-30 with about nine minutes left as the rout was on.
Other Notre Dame-Cincinnati Series Tidbits
- The first three series games were decided by 11 points or fewer, but the past five have featured margins of at least 16 points per game.
- Among current BIG EAST members, Cincinnati (8-0) and Providence (21-0) are the only conference opponents Notre Dame has never lost to. The Fighting Irish defeated the Friars, 89-44 on Jan. 26 at Purcell Pavilion, and will visit Providence on March 2.
- Notre Dame is 76-16 (.826) all-time against Ohio schools, with a 38-9 (.809) record at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish also have won their last 19 games against teams from the Buckeye State, dating back to Jan, 4, 1997, when Notre Dame dropped a 74-67 decision at Ohio State.
- The Fighting Irish also have an active 18-game home winning streak against the state of Ohio since a 78-74 loss to Dayton on March 8, 1993, at Purcell Pavilion in the quarterfinals of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (Horizon League) tournament.
- Cincinnati is the second of two Ohio schools on the 2012-13 Fighting Irish regular season schedule Notre Dame earned a 57-51 win over No. 19/21 Ohio State on Nov. 9 in the season-opening Carrier Classic aboard the USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
- The city of Cincinnati remains home to one of the landmark moments in Notre Dame women’s basketball history, as the Fighting Irish played in their first NCAA Women’s Final Four on March 29, 1997, at Riverfront Coliseum, falling to eventual national champion, Tennessee, 80-66 (the last time Notre Dame lost in the Queen City).
- Ten Ohio natives have suited up for Notre Dame in its 36-year history, the most recent being Perry resident Amanda Tsipis (Byrne), who was a four-year monogram winner from 2004-08 and co-captain on Notre Dame’s 2008 NCAA Sweet 16 team.
- Sixth-year Fighting Irish assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Niele Ivey got her start in the coaching ranks as an administrative assistant at Xavier from 2005-07, working on the staff of Kevin McGuff, an assistant coach at Notre Dame from 1995-2002 and Xavier’s head coach from 2002-11 before he took the reins at Washington in the summer of 2011.
In The (Pink) Zone
On Saturday, Notre Dame will play host to its fifth annual Pink Zone game (now known nationally as Play4Kay), with the driving focus being to raise funds for breast cancer research. The Fighting Irish players will wear special white uniforms with pink and navy blue trim, as well as pink sneakers, while the Notre Dame coaching staff also will be outfitted in various pink items.
The Fighting Irish are 3-1 in Pink Zone games and have raised more than $450,000 in donations during those four seasons, including a school-record $204,682 last year (among the most in the nation by a Division I program).
On Saturday, Notre Dame will hold a luncheon in Club Naimoli at Purcell Pavilion to recognize members of the College of Science who are on the front lines in the fight to find a cure for cancer (the keynote speaker is Mary Hesburgh Flaherty (’79), who herself is a cancer survivor and the niece of Notre Dame President Emeritus Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C.), while there will be a gameday silent auction in the Monogram Room at Purcell Pavilion, featuring numerous Notre Dame women’s basketball items including a variety of memorabilia from the program’s recent NCAA Women’s Final Four appearances in 2011 and 2012.
Once again this year, all funds raised by Notre Dame during its Pink Zone campaign will be divided between a local recipient (the Foundation of St. Joseph Regional Medical Center) and a national charity (the Kay Yow Cancer Fund).
Peaking When It Counts
When the regular season enters its stretch run in the month of February, Notre Dame historically seems to raise its level of play. Since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, the Fighting Irish are 99-28 (.780) in February games, including a 56-6 (.903) mark at home.
In the 26-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present), the Fighting Irish are 147-43 (.774) in the month of February, including a 78-12 (.867) home record. In that time, Notre Dame has never posted a losing record in February, and only once did the Fighting Irish end the month at .500 (4-4 in 1988-89, McGraw’s second season in South Bend).
The Rare Air Up There
With its 77-67 win at No. 9 Tennessee on Jan. 28, Notre Dame made NCAA Division I history in two ways. The Fighting Irish not only became the first school ever to defeat both Connecticut and Tennessee in three consecutive seasons, but they also were the first program in the NCAA era (since 1981-82) to defeat both the Huskies and Lady Vols on the road in the same season (the latter victory was Notre Dame’s first in nine games against UT in Knoxville).
Starting with its 2011 NCAA Elite Eight win over Tennessee in Dayton, Ohio, Notre Dame has gone a combined 8-1 against Connecticut and Tennessee, with no other senior class at any school having compiled that many wins against those two traditional powers since 1988-89 (when Connecticut made its first NCAA postseason appearance).
A Class Like None Other
Led by its two-player senior class of guards/co-captains Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, Notre Dame has amassed the second-most victories (114) in a four-year span in school history, and just three back of the total (117) compiled by last year’s senior class.
Prior to the 2011-12 season, the highest four-year win total by a senior class was 109, set by the Class of 2001 that included (among others) consensus national player of the year and 12-year WNBA veteran Ruth Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey.
Start Me Up
For the third time in four years, and the fourth time in school history (all starting with the 2000-01 season), Notre Dame has posted a 19-1 record or better through its first 20 games.
This year’s start (as well as those in 2009-10 and 2011-12) matches the second-best 18-game debut in program history, exceeded only by the 2000-01 squad that opened with a school-record 23 consecutive wins on the way to a 34-2 record and the program’s first NCAA national championship.
Nearing The Halfway Mark
Notre Dame is off to a 7-0 start in BIG EAST Conference play for the second consecutive season and the fifth time since it joined the league in 1995-96. Prior to last year, the Fighting Irish had not opened their league slate with seven wins in a row since 2000-01.
The past two times Notre Dame has started 7-0 in the BIG EAST, it has gone on to win the conference regular season title (shared in 2000-01, outright in 2011-12).
The school record for the best start to a BIG EAST season is 15-0, set back in 1999-2000.
Notre Dame’s current 14-game winning streak is the sixth-longest success string in program history, and it’s the third time in four seasons the Fighting Irish have posted a winning streak of 14 games or longer.
Notre Dame also has strung together 13 double-digit winning streaks in the program’s 36-year history, with 11 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
Notre Dame has won a school-record 17 consecutive regular season road games and 22 of its last 27 overall, including all five contests this season. The Fighting Irish last tasted defeat on the road in the regular season on Nov. 20, 2011, a 94-81 setback at No. 1 Baylor in the Preseason WNIT championship game.
The highlight of this current run came on Jan. 5, 2013, when Notre Dame edged No. 1 Connecticut, 73-72, in Storrs, Conn., earning its fourth all-time win over a top-ranked opponent and first-ever victory on the road.
Prior to the past two years, the school record for consecutive regular season road wins was held by Notre Dame’s 2000-01 national championship team that won its first 10 road outings before a 54-53 loss at No. 11/14 Rutgers on Feb. 17, 2001.
The Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 11 consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular season road games, with their last loss coming on Feb. 28, 2011 (a last-second 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul).
The previous school record for consecutive BIG EAST regular season road wins was seven, set numerous times, most recently crossing between the 2001-02 and 2002-03 campaigns.
The Notre Dame record for consecutive regular season road victories in any conference is 15, which the Fighting Irish set from Feb. 25, 1989-Feb. 14, 1991 during their time in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League).
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 13 games this year. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 65-4 (.942) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 35-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul).
Everyone Pitches In
With the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-Americans (and 2012 WNBA first-round draft picks) Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame entered this season searching to find a way to make up for the talented duo’s 27.0 points and 13.4 rebounds per game.
Thus far in 2012-13, it would appear the Fighting Irish are making this mission truly a team effort. On the scoring side, 10 of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including junior forward Ariel Braker (six times, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined), sophomore guards Madison Cable (three times) and Whitney Holloway (once – the first double-digit games of both Cable and Holloway’s careers) and freshman guards Jewell Loyd (14 times) and Michaela Mabrey (three times).
On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.2 rebounds per game and has piled up 11 of her 13 career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading 11 double-doubles (five against ranked opponents, four in conference play) after logging one double-double in her career prior to this season.
The Best Things In Life Are Free
Throughout the 2012-13 season, Notre Dame has displayed a penchant for making opponents pay at the free throw line.
Through their first 20 games, the Fighting Irish lead the nation in free throw percentage, shooting a remarkable .810 (370-of-457) from the charity stripe, including a season-high .941 (16-of-17) on Jan. 23 in a victory at Pittsburgh.
On average, Notre Dame is getting to the line nearly 23 times per game, converting better than 18 free throws a night. At the same time, the Fighting Irish have made almost 30 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (370 made, 287 opponent attempts).
Last year, Notre Dame set a school record by connecting at a .763 clip from the foul line, leading the BIG EAST with a stellar .807 percentage during conference play.
Junior guard Kayla McBride has had the most success cashing in on this strategy during the past two seasons, shooting .872 from the stripe last year (a league-leading .919 in BIG EAST games) and making 47 of 50 free throws (.940) to lead the conference. She also would rank fourth in the nation, but she is three made foul shots away from the minimum needed for qualification (2.5 FTM/game).
McBride is one of four Notre Dame players who appear among the top 10 in the current BIG EAST free throw rankings, with senior guard Skylar Diggins ranking third (.848; also 14th in nation), freshman guard Jewell Loyd standing seventh (.803) and junior forward Natalie Achonwa tied for ninth (.800).
For her career, McBride has logged an .891 free throw percentage, putting her ahead of Alicia Ratay’s school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.
With her layup four seconds into Notre Dame’s win over Providence on Jan. 26, senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins reached a major career milestone, become the fourth Notre Dame women’s basketball player to score 2,000 career points (and the first since March 26, 2001, when Ruth Riley did so against Vanderbilt in the NCAA Midwest Regional final at the Pepsi Center in Denver).
Diggins joins Riley (2,072 points from 1997-2001), Katryna Gaither (2,126 points from 1993-97) and current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham (2,322 points from 1993-97) as the only players to reach the 2,000-point milestone in a Fighting Irish uniform.
Two other interesting side notes — Diggins is the first Fighting Irish women’s basketball player to score her 2,000th point at home, and she is the third Indiana native among Notre Dame’s four 2,000-point scorers (Cunningham hails from Bloomington, Ind.; Riley comes from Macy, Ind.; Gaither grew up in Mt. Vernon, N.Y.).
Diggins Challenging School Records
Throughout the 2012-13 season, senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins will continue to close the gap that separates her from the highest eschelon of Notre Dame women’s basketball players in a number of the program’s top career categories. Here’s a look at just a few of the notable milestones Diggins will have a shot to reach this season:
- Diggins (2,053 points) needs 269 points to catch current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham as the program’s all-time leading scorer. She also is just 19 points away from catching Ruth Riley (2,072 points from 1997-2001) for third place on the Fighting Irish career scoring chart.
- Diggins (490 rebounds) is 12 rebounds away to become the first women’s basketball player in school history with 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in her career. Only one Notre Dame men’s basketball player has ever compiled that impressive combination of statistics (Chris Thomas from 2001-05).
- In addition, Diggins (328 steals) is 20 steals away from assistant coach Niele Ivey’s school record for career thefts. With one steal on Jan. 8 at South Florida, Diggins moved into second place on Notre Dame’s career steals list, passing Coquese Washington (307 from 1989-93).
- Diggins (632 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Gavin, needing 146 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 95 ahead of Diggins). Diggins also has moved into the top five in this category, and with her career-high 14 assists on Dec. 31 against Saint Francis (Pa.), she passed Karen Robinson for fourth place in school history (579 from 1987-91) (and posted the fourth-most assists by an NCAA Division I player in a game this season).
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 114-19 (.857) record in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), a mark that can be traced in no small part to the arrival of guard Skylar Diggins. The South Bend native has helped lead the Fighting Irish to a spot in the 2011 and 2012 NCAA national championship games and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 25-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (12-10 vs. the AP Top 10) and an 81-1 record against unranked opponents (not appearing in the AP poll), including a 63-game winning streak from the start of the 2009-10 season before falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012.
Upon closer examination, Notre Dame’s 19 losses in Diggins’ career primarily have been ones that could have gone either way, with 11 decided by single digits (six were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.
With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted three of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 78.9 ppg. last year, after logging 77.0 ppg. in 2010-11, and 77.2 ppg. in her freshman season of 2009-10. Notre Dame is on pace to mirror those figures this season, currently averaging 82.2 ppg. (which ranks second nationally).
In addition, thanks to Diggins’ penchant for steals (she has a 2.47 spg. career mark that is fourth-best in school history), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top three single-season steal marks in program history with 502 thefts last year, 495 steals in 2010-11, and 450 thefts in 2009-10. And again, Notre Dame is in position to challenge those totals this season, currently averaging 12.0 spg. (which would put the Fighting Irish around 350 steals by the end of the regular season).
The past two years also have seen Notre Dame post two of the four best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing a school-record 52.9 ppg., last season (well ahead of the previous mark of 55.1 ppg., in 1981-82) and giving up just 56.2 ppg., in 2010-11. The Fighting Irish aren’t far off those marks so far this year, presently allowing 57.0 points per game.
According to the time-honored adage, “there’s no substitute for experience.” In the case of Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa, that experience was second to none and it’s paid off exceptionally well for the veteran Fighting Irish frontliner this season.
During the summer of 2012, Achonwa was a key contributor on Canada’s Senior National Team, helping leading her country to its first Olympic appearance in 12 years. Not content to merely qualify, Canada then earned two hard-fought wins in the group stage to reach the Olympic quarterfinals (medal round) for the first time since 1984.
As the second-youngest player in the London Olympic Basketball Tournament at the tender age of 19, Achonwa averaged 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, highlighted by a 14-point, eight-rebound effort against eventual Olympic silver medalist France during the preliminary round.
Parlaying her Olympic experience, Achonwa has moved seamlessly into Notre Dame’s starting lineup this season after spending her first two years as an important reserve. The Guelph, Ontario, native was expected to take on a larger role this year with the graduation of two-time All-American Devereaux Peters, but Achonwa has taken that growth to a whole new level, nearly doubling her averages in scoring (7.6 to 13.5 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.2 rpg.), while scoring in double figures 16 times and grabbing double-digit rebounds on 11 occasions (including a career-best 17 rebounds on Dec. 29 against No. 11 Purdue).
What’s more, Achonwa came into this season with one career double-double and a career scoring high of 20 points. This year, she leads the BIG EAST in double-doubles (11, including five in six games against ranked teams and four against conference foes) and has four 20-point games to her credit (career-high 23 vs. Utah State on Dec. 8). She also ranks among the top 20 in the BIG EAST in scoring (20th – 13.5 ppg.), rebounding (2nd – 9.2 rpg.), field goal percentage (6th – .540; also 21st nationally) and free throw percentage (tied-9th – .800).
Achonwa’s development has not gone entirely unnoticed, as she was named to the World Vision Classic All-Tournament Team, helping to lead the Fighting Irish to the title with 22 points and a (then) career-high 14 rebounds in the championship game win over No. 22 Texas A&M. Achonwa also is one of three Notre Dame players (along with senior guard Skylar Diggins and junior guard Kayla McBride) to make the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll at least twice this season, earning a spot on the Dec. 10 and Jan. 14 rundowns.
The Erie Warrior
Along with her classmate Natalie Achonwa, junior guard (and Erie, Pa., native) Kayla McBride has been a major reason for Notre Dame’s success this season, capably stepping into a larger role within the Fighting Irish system following the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-America wing Natalie Novosel.
McBride currently is tied for 16th in the BIG EAST in scoring (13.9 ppg.) and leads the conference in free throw percentage (.940). In both areas, she is posting career-high marks, including a nearly 20-percent improvement in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).
McBride also is among the team leaders this season with 15 double-figure scoring games, including at least 16 points in six of Notre Dame’s seven games against ranked opponents to date (17.0 ppg.) and a career-high 21 points at No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 5.
In fact, in her last 22 games against Top 25 opponents, McBride is averaging 14.3 points per game, scoring in double figures 19 times and posting both of her career double-doubles (10 points, career-high 12 rebounds vs. No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 7, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion; 13 points, 10 rebounds at No. 13/14 Rutgers on Jan. 31, 2012).
Freshman guard Jewell Loyd is rapidly making her presence felt as one of the top rookies, not only in the BIG EAST Conference, but around the country.
The Lincolnwood, Ill., native has appeared in all 20 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 19 times), scoring in double figures 14 times, earning her first career double-double (18 points/13 rebounds at South Florida on Jan. 8) and posting two “5-5-5” games (at least “5” in three of the five main statistical categories – points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals).
Loyd currently ranks among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (24th – 12.6 ppg.) and free throw percentage (7th – .803), and would be fifth in the conference in three-point percentage (.400), but she is two made three-pointers shy of the minimum (1.0 3FGM/game).
She also is a three-time BIG EAST Rookie of the Week selection, first earning that honor on Nov. 26 after averaging 19.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists with a .727 field goal percentage in wins over Mercer (19 points/six rebounds/five assists) and at No. 19/22 UCLA (19 points/seven rebounds/five assists).
Loyd then became the first repeat honoree of the BIG EAST Rookie of the Week award this season when she was tapped for the designation on Dec. 10 after averaging 19.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals with a .481 field goal percentage (.556 three-point percentage) against No. 3 Baylor and Utah State.
Loyd made it three rookie honors this year with last week’s award, averaging 16.0 points and 9.0 rebounds in wins over USF and Rutgers.
Loyd opened eyes on the national scene with a season- (and game-) high 24 points and team-best seven rebounds in the 73-61 loss to Baylor on Dec. 5 at Purcell Pavilion. The 5-foot-10 guard connected on her first four three-point attempts of the evening (finishing 4-of-5 from beyond the arc) on the way to notching the most points by a Fighting Irish rookie against a ranked opponent since Jan. 26, 2002, when Jacqueline Batteast scored 26 points in Notre Dame’s 64-57 win over No. 16/17 Virginia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.
What’s more, Loyd also scored the most points by a Notre Dame freshman against an opponent ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll since Feb. 19, 2000, when Alicia Ratay netted 26 points (including a school-record 7-for-7 three-pointers) in a 78-74 overtime win at No. 8/11 Rutgers.
Game #20 Recap: Tennessee
Skylar Diggins wouldn’t allow Notre Dame to lose.
On a night when Tennessee was honoring one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history, Diggins delivered one of the best performances of her brilliant career. The senior guard scored a career-high 33 points as No. 2 Notre Dame beat the ninth-ranked Lady Vols 77-67 Monday for its 14th straight victory.
Diggins’ big performance spoiled Tennessee’s celebration of former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, who had a banner raised in her honor at Thompson-Boling Arena before the game.
Diggins took over the game early in the first half to put the Fighting Irish ahead. She dominated on both ends of the floor again early in the second half as Notre Dame built a 19-point lead. After Tennessee cut the margin to five in the closing minutes, Diggins responded again.
Bashaara Graves had 19 points and 13 rebounds for UT, which had won its previous nine. Taber Spani added 12 points and Meighan Simmons had 11 points. Jewell Loyd had 10 points for Notre Dame, while Kayla McBride had nine points and season-high 10 rebounds.
Beyond The Box Score: Tennessee
- Notre Dame earns its third consecutive series win over Tennessee (all by double digits) and posts its first victory over UT in nine trips to Knoxville.
- Notre Dame has won nine of its last 10 games against Southeastern Conference opponents (2-0 this season after also defeating Texas A&M, 83-74 on Dec. 21 in the World Vision Classic championship game in Las Vegas).
- The Fighting Irish earn their first road win over an SEC opponent since Dec. 30, 2008, when they rallied from 18 points behind in the second half to edge No. 20/19 Vanderbilt, 59-57 at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn.
- Diggins’ 33 points were not only a career high, but tied for the 10th-highest single-game scoring total by a Notre Dame player in the program’s 36-year history — and most since March 25, 2008, when Charel Allen scored 35 points in a 79-75 overtime win over Oklahoma in the second round of the NCAA Championship (Oklahoma City Region) in West Lafayette, Ind.
- Diggins’ 33 points are tied for the third-most by a Fighting Irish player in a road game, and most since Jan. 30, 1999, when Ruth Riley scored a school-record 41 points in a 97-59 win at Providence.
- Diggins posted her third career 30-point game, becoming the seventh Notre Dame women’s basketball player to top 30 points in a game at least three times in her career (first since Alicia Ratay’s trio of 30-point games from 1999-2003).
- Diggins topped 20 points for the fifth time this season and 38th time in her career, passing Riley for third place in school history.
- In three career games against Tennessee, Diggins is averaging 28.0 points, 4.7 assists and 4.0 steals per game with a .533 field goal percentage, .545 three-point percentage and 1.40 assist/turnover ratio.
- For the third time this year, the Fighting Irish made a season-high seven three-pointers.
- Conversely, Notre Dame (which entered play as the nation’s best free throw shooting team at .821, shot a season-low .571 against Tennessee, just the third time all season the Fighting Irish failed to connect on at least 70 percent of their free throw attempts.
- Notre Dame went undefeated in the month of January for the second consecutive season and the sixth time in the McGraw era.
The Benefits Of Leadership
Notre Dame is in the unique position of essentially having three head coaches on its bench, with current Fighting Irish skipper Muffet McGraw enjoying the expertise of two former head coaches on her staff — associate head coach Carol Owens (who guided her alma mater Northern Illinois from 2005-10) and associate coach Beth Cunningham (who piloted VCU from 2003-12).
Collectively, the Notre Dame staff has 45 seasons of head coaching experience, which ranks fifth among Division I schools behind only Stanford (52), Villanova (50), Ohio State (48) and Rutgers (46).
Notre Dame made a bit of women’s basketball history on Nov. 9, joining with Ohio State to play the first women’s game ever on the deck of an aircraft carrier, as the teams squared off outdoors in the second annual Carrier Classic aboard the decommissioned USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C. (on the shores of Charleston Harbor).
The game was played to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project, which aids returning veterans who have been injured while in the service of our country, and the Fighting Irish were exceptionally proud and honored to have former Notre Dame guard, U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (`00) join the team on the bench for their historic game against Ohio State. Green, who lost her left (shooting) hand in May 2004 during a rocket-propelled grenade attack while on patrol on the roof of a police station in Baghdad, Iraq, delivered an inspiring pre-game speech to the current Fighting Irish squad before they came out to face Ohio State.
Notre Dame won this year’s Carrier Classic game, 57-51, behind the second career double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) from junior forward Natalie Achonwa and 16 points from junior guard Kayla McBride. After the game, head coach Muffet McGraw said the victory was dedicated to Green.
An added postscript — Green recently accepted a job with the South Bend Veterans Administration Clinic and will be relocating from her hometown of Chicago.
Notre Dame is ranked a season-best No. 2 for the fourth consecutive Associated Press poll last week, its 39th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 109 consecutive weeks in the AP poll.
The Fighting Irish reached a milestone on Nov. 26 with their No. 5 ranking, which was their 100th consecutive AP poll appearance. It not only extended the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001), but it made the Fighting Irish are one of six teams in the nation with an active streak of 100 consecutive AP poll appearances.
What’s more, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career (70 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (59) of those appearances in the AP Top 10 (and never lower than 18th).
Notre Dame started the year at No. 7 in the preseason AP poll, representing the 13th time in the past 14 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the initial AP poll, something only seven schools in the nation have done — Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee have shown up in all 14 during that span, while Georgia, Oklahoma and Stanford join the Fighting Irish with 13 preseason AP poll berths.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 248 weeks during the program’s 36-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks ninth among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and 20th all-time in that category.
In addition, the Fighting Irish held steady at a season-best No. 3 for the fourth consecutive week in the latest ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches’ poll, after spending the previous seven weeks in the No. 5 spot.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches’ poll for 109 of the past 110 weeks (and 73 in a row), falling just outside the Top 25 in the final poll of the 2008-09 season. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish have appeared in the coaches’ poll for a total of 242 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw’s tenure).
This marks the fifth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 11 of the past 15 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 31 people in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Besides her 248 AP poll appearances while coaching at Notre Dame, McGraw was the starting point guard at Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) as a senior in 1977, helping the Hawks to No. 3 in the nation.
Of the 31 people on this list, 16 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart), with McGraw and Baylor’s Kim Mulkey are the only active skippers to play for and coach a team in the AP poll, and coach that team to a national title (McGraw in 2001, Mulkey in 2005 and 2012).
Half And Half
During the past 12 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 265-19 (.933) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 193 of their last 206 such contests (.937).
What’s more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 102-2 (.981) when leading at the half, with the only losses coming on April 5, 2011, in the NCAA national championship game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (Notre Dame led Texas A&M, 35-33 at intermission before falling 76-70), and Feb. 12, 2012, against West Virginia (Fighting Irish led 33-30 at the break before the visiting Mountaineers rallied to win in the closing seconds, 65-63).
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense…
During the past 18 seasons, Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season (Notre Dame’s first in the BIG EAST Conference), the Fighting Irish have an amazing 269-15 (.947) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 11 outings this season.
…But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 18 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 176-6 (.967) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are three overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995 and UCLA (86-83 in double OT) in 2010, as well as a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008, and a 94-81 setback at Baylor in 2011.
In the past four years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 53-2 (.964) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level eight times this season.
Now That’s A Home Court Advantage
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame’s success has been its stellar play at home. In fact, the Fighting Irish have been virtually untouchable at home in recent years, winning 230 of their last 259 games (.888) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51, 25 and 20 games in that span (the latter from 2011-12, ending on Feb. 12, 2012, vs. West Virginia).
Since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 57-5 (.919) — including wins in 33 of its last 35 home games — and three of the five Fighting Irish losses in their refurbished facility have come by three points or fewer (two in overtime).
Notre Dame also has a 124-20 (.861) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the former Joyce Center, sporting a program-record 31-game league winning streak at home before it ended with a 48-45 loss to Villanova in the ’02 home finale.
The Fighting Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 108 of their last 117 non-BIG EAST contests (.923) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the nine losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents (four by 12 points or less) — Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT), Indiana in 2006 (54-51) and Minnesota in 2009 (79-71) — with the other defeats coming to Tennessee in 2005 (62-51) and 2008 (87-63), UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT) and Baylor in 2012 (73-61). The Purdue loss also snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak which began after the UW setback.
Since its inaugural season in 1977-78, Notre Dame has played all of its games at the former Joyce Center, posting a 380-90 (.809) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Fighting Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, which was the school record for home victories in a season prior to the 2009-10 campaign, when Notre Dame went 16-1, a mark that lasted only two seasons before the Fighting Irish posted a 17-1 record at Purcell Pavilion last year.
Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
The past three seasons have seen an unprecedented surge in fan support for Notre Dame women’s basketball, as the Fighting Irish set new program records for the highest year-end NCAA attendance ranking (fourth in 2009-10), highest average attendance (8,571 fans per game in 2011-12) and most sellouts in a single season (eight in 2011-12). And, as the old saying goes — “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
For the fourth consecutive preseason, Notre Dame fans all but exhausted the program’s season ticket packages (approximately 7,500) and snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish produce two advanced sellouts (Dec. 5 vs. Baylor; March 4 vs. Connecticut).
Notre Dame is setting records at the box office again this season, already tying last year’s school record with eight sellouts in 10 home games (including the past six contests), and the Nov. 18 game against Massachusetts marking the first home-opening sellout in school history. All told, the Fighting Irish have welcomed 33 sellout crowds in the program’s 36-year tenure, including 27 in the past four years alone (2009-10 to present).
The Fighting Irish currently rank fifth in the nation in average attendance, drawing 8,988 fans per game, which is 400 fans more than last year’s school record and factors to better than 98 percent of Purcell Pavilion’s listed capacity of 9,149.
Coming Soon: Irish in the ACC
On Sept. 12, 2012, the University of Notre Dame announced that it had accepted an offer of admission into the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for all sports except football (the league does not offer championships in ice hockey or fencing).
The change in conference affiliation (for which a timetable has not yet been established) will be the first for Notre Dame since 1995, when the Fighting Irish moved from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) to the BIG EAST Conference.
In its 18 seasons in the BIG EAST, the Notre Dame women’s basketball program has been the one of the conference’s best, winning two BIG EAST regular season titles (2001 and 2012) and compiling a 223-64 (.777) record in league play that remains the second-best regular season winning percentage in BIG EAST women’s basketball history.
Next Game: Villanova
Notre Dame will play four of its next five games on the road, beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) Tuesday when it travels to suburban Philadelphia for a matchup with Villanova. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience by CBS Sports Network, the second of three appearances for the Fighting Irish on that network this season.
Villanova (16-4, 5-2 BIG EAST) has been receiving votes in the polls for the past six weeks, even rising to No. 25 in last week’s ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll. However, the Wildcats have lost two of their last three games, most recently a 76-43 defeat at No. 3/2 Connecticut on Tuesday night. VU will visit Rutgers Saturday before returning home next week to face Notre Dame.
— ND —