Jan. 27, 2013
2012-13 ND Women’s Basketball: Game 20
#2/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (18-1 / 7-0 BIG EAST) vs. #9/9 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (16-3 / 7-0 SEC)
DATE: January 28, 2013
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Knoxville, Tenn. – Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678)
SERIES: UT leads 20-2
1ST MTG: UT 71-56 (11/25/83)
LAST MTG: ND 72-44 (1/23/12)
TV: ESPN2 / WatchESPN (live) (Pam Ward, p-b-p / Rebecca Lobo, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
- Notre Dame will face its seventh ranked opponent of the season, having gone 5-1 against Top 25 teams to date.
- The Fighting Irish will be making the first of three ESPN2 “Big Monday” appearances this season, with a pair of “Big Monday” home games against Louisville (Feb. 11) and Connecticut (March 4) on the horizon.
No. 2/3 Fighting Irish Play At No. 9 Tennessee On ESPN2 Big Monday
As the month of January comes to a close, No. 2/3 Notre Dame will step out of conference play one final time, traveling to Knoxville, Tenn., on Monday night for a 7 p.m. (ET) game with No. 9 Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena. The matchup will be televised live to a national cable audience on ESPN2 as part of the network’s “Big Monday” package and on-line through WatchESPN.
The Fighting Irish (18-1, 7-0) earned their 13th consecutive win and remained unbeaten in BIG EAST Conference play on Saturday with an 89-44 win over Providence at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame led by double figures less than six minutes into the game and never looked back.
Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins scored a game-high 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting, starting with her 2,000th career point on a layup four seconds into the game. Junior forward Natalie Achonwa added her BIG EAST-leading 11th double-double of the season (14 points, 12 rebounds) to pace the Fighting Irish.
- Notre Dame was No. 2 in last week’s Associated Press poll and No. 3 in last week’s ESPN/USA Today poll.
- Tennessee was No. 9 in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls last week.
- Notre Dame is off to an 18-1 start for the third time in four seasons and fourth time in school history (all beginning in 2000-01).
- The Fighting Irish are 5-1 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) and No. 1 Connecticut (73-72), while dropping a 73-61 decision to No. 3 Baylor (a game Notre Dame led 50-49 with less than eight minutes remaining).
- Notre Dame is in the midst of a 13-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 13 games since its only loss of the season (Dec. 5 vs. third-ranked Baylor), Notre Dame has averaged 85.8 points per game (winning by 29.2 ppg.), shot .474 from the field (.356 from three-point range), posted a rebound margin of +14.2 per game, and forced opponents into an average of 21.2 turnovers per night.
- The Fighting Irish have won a school-record 16 consecutive regular season road games and 21 of their last 26 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 were ranked in the top 10 in seven categories — free throw percentage (1st – now .821), scoring offense (2nd – 82.5 ppg.), assists (3rd – 19.9 apg.), scoring margin (5th – +26.0 ppg.), rebounding margin (6th – +12.0 rpg.), assist/turnover ratio (8th – 1.22) and field goal percentage (10th – .463).
- 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 last week’s Associated Press poll, Notre Dame has appeared in the media poll for 108 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 (58 of 69 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
- Senior guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner have helped Notre Dame win 113 games to date, already the second-most wins by a Fighting Irish senior class and only four back of the school record set by last year’s seniors (117) with six weeks remaining in the regular season.
- With 609 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 three wins away from becoming the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and should she do so within the next 45 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 427 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 fourth 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).
In its first season following the retirement of legendary head coach Pat Summitt, Tennessee hasn’t missed a beat, as the No. 9 Lady Vols (16-3) are in the midst of a nine-game winning streak and stand alone atop the Southeastern Conference standings with a 7-0 record.
Tennessee is coming off an 83-75 win at conference (and in-state) rival Vanderbilt on Jan. 24. Senior guard/forward Taber Spani scored 24 points, while junior guard Meighan Simmons added 23 points (both went 3-for-5 from three-point range), as the Lady Vols opened a double-digit lead, then fought off several second-half challenges from Vanderbilt.
Simmons leads UT in scoring (17.6 ppg.) and three-point percentage (.386), while freshman forward/center Bashaara Graves is second in scoring (14.5 ppg.) and tops in both rebounding (8.8 rpg.) and field goal percentage (.513).
Holly Warlick is in her first season as the head coach at her alma mater. A 1981 Tennessee graduate and longtime Lady Vol assistant coach, Warlick will face Notre Dame for the first time as head coach on Monday night.
The Notre Dame-Tennessee Series
Notre Dame and Tennessee will square off for the 23rd time on Monday night, with the Lady Vols holding a 20-2 series edge, including an 8-0 record in Knoxville (where the teams will play for the first since the 2006-07 season). However, the Fighting Irish have won the past two meetings in the series, both by double-digit margins.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Tennessee Met
Notre Dame lost the first 20 times it played Tennessee. Now the Fighting Irish have carved out a modest but impressive two-game winning streak against the Lady Vols.
It wasn’t so much how second-ranked Notre Dame won but how easily the Fighting Irish did it, routing the Lady Vols 72-44 at Purcell Pavilion on Jan. 23, 2012, and holding No. 7 Tennessee to the lowest-scoring game and second-worst margin of defeat in the school’s modern history.
Diggins had 17 of her points after the half and Notre Dame quickly expanded a 10-point lead into runaway mode. Diggins hit a three-pointer and Peters worked inside for three baskets in an 11-3 run that put the Fighting Irish up 18 and ended any chance of a Lady Vols’ comeback.
Tennessee got 13 points from Meighan Simmons, but the Lady Vols shot just 27.9 percent from the field in the lopsided loss.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Tennessee Met In Knoxville
Candace Parker had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Shannon Bobbitt had a season-high 17 points to lead No. 4 Tennessee to a 78-54 victory over Notre Dame on Dec. 30, 2006, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.
Sidney Spencer added 17 points for the Lady Vols. Notre Dame was led by Charel Allen with 16 points.
Bobbitt was 5-of-7 from three-point range. The Lady Vols also had 12 blocks, including five by Parker.
Tennessee led the entire first half but never by more than eight points. Alexis Hornbuckle hit a 15-footer in transition with 4:11 left to give the Lady Vols a 27-19 lead, but Notre Dame finished the half with an 8-2 run, closing to within 29-27.
Tennessee then opened the second half with an 11-2 run, taking a 40-29 lead on Spencer’s two free throws with 16:25 left.
Bobbitt hit four three-pointers in the first 10 minutes of the second half, and also scored eight consecutive points during one 26-second span, as part of a 22-2 run by the Lady Vols, who rolled to the victory in the final 10 minutes.
Other Notre Dame-Tennessee Series Tidbits
- Tennessee is one of only six teams to have earned at least 10 victories over Notre Dame (the others are Connecticut – 29, DePaul – 19, Rutgers – 16, Purdue – 14 and Villanova – 10).
- Notre Dame and Tennessee are part of an elite group of 14 schools who have won NCAA national championships since the NCAA began sponsoring the Division I women’s basketball tournament in 1982. The eight-time champion Lady Vols are one of five NCAA champions the Fighting Irish will face this season (along with defending champion Baylor, 2011 winner Texas A&M, 1999 champion Purdue and seven-time titleist Connecticut). Notre Dame has gone 40-88 (.313) all-time against other former or current national champions, including a 3-1 record this season (wins over Texas A&M, Purdue and Connecticut). Among that group, the Fighting Irish have a series record of .500 or better against USC (8-2), North Carolina (2-1) and Texas (1-1).
- Notre Dame senior guard Skylar Diggins and Tennessee senior guard/forward Taber Spani helped lead the United States to the gold medal at the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championships for Women in Thailand. Notre Dame associate head coach Carol Owens served as the head coach for that victorious USA Basketball squad.
- Notre Dame freshman guard Michaela Mabrey and Tennessee freshman forward/center Bashaara Graves were teammates this past summer on the USA Basketball Under-18 National Team that went 5-0 and won the gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Puerto Rico. Mabrey started four of five games, averaging 12.8 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game with a .500 three-point percentage, while Graves made an impact off the bench, averaging 7.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game with a .520 field goal percentage. One other tie-in with that team — the U18 squad’s athletic trainer this past summer was current Notre Dame athletic trainer Anne Marquez.
- Mabrey and Graves also played alongside one another for the East Team at the 2012 McDonald’s High School All-America Game, while another Fighting Irish rookie guard, Jewell Loyd, suited up for the West Team in that same game. The East Team won the all-star contest, 79-78, on Graves’ free throw with less than one second remaining.
- Some of the top high school players to come out of the Chicagoland area in recent seasons will be on hand Monday night. Notre Dame has three natives of the Windy City and surrounding area — senior guard/co-captain Kaila Turner (Joliet/Marian Catholic HS), sophomore guard Whitney Holloway (Plainfield/Montini Catholic HS) and freshman guard Jewell Loyd (Lincolnwood/Niles West HS) — while Tennessee has a pair of graduates from Bolingbook (Ill.) High School in sophomore guard Ariel Massengale and freshman center Nia Moore.
Notre Dame vs. The Southeastern Conference
Notre Dame is 15-33 (.313) all-time against the current Southeastern Conference membership, although it should be noted that 20 of those losses have come to one opponent (Tennessee). The Fighting Irish also are 11-8 in their last 19 meetings with SEC opponents, including wins in eight of their last nine games against that conference (not including the 2011 NCAA national championship game matchup with Texas A&M, which came before the Aggies joined the SEC this past summer).
Notre Dame is 1-0 against the SEC this season, having defeated Texas A&M, 83-74 in the World Vision Classic championship game on Dec. 21 in Las Vegas.
The Fighting Irish are 10-22 (.313) all-time against SEC teams away from home (at either road or neutral sites). Notre Dame will be playing its first true road game against SEC opponent since Nov. 21, 2010, when the Fighting Irish lost at No. 9/10 Kentucky, 81-76.
The Rare Air Up There
Notre Dame has a chance to make NCAA Division I history on Monday by becoming the first school ever to defeat both Connecticut and Tennessee in three consecutive seasons (the Fighting Irish downed Connecticut, 73-72 on Jan. 5 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.).
Along with Notre Dame, North Carolina is the only other program to defeat those two traditional powers in consecutive seasons, doing so in 2005-06 (77-54 at UConn; 75-63 vs. UT in Cleveland) and 2006-07 (82-76 vs. UConn at home; 70-57 vs. UT at home).
Starting with their 2011 NCAA Elite Eight win over Tennessee, Notre Dame has gone a combined 7-1 against Connecticut and Tennessee, with no other senior class at any school having compiled that many wins against those two programs since 1985-86 (when Geno Auriemma took over as head coach at Connecticut).
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 18-1 record or better through its first 19 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 13-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 13 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 16 consecutive regular season road games and 21 of its last 26 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 (13 times) and Michaela Mabrey (three times).
On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.3 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 19 games, the Fighting Irish lead the nation in free throw percentage, shooting a remarkable .821 (358-of-436) 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 close to 19 free throws a night. At the same time, the Fighting Irish have made 35 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (358 made, 265 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 and rank fourth in the nation (as of Friday).
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 second (.876; also 14th in nation), freshman guard Jewell Loyd standing seventh (.818) and junior forward Natalie Achonwa tied for eighth (.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 Saturday’s win over Providence, 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).
Now with 2,020 career points, 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 (2,020 points) needs 302 points to catch current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham as the program’s all-time leading scorer. She also is just 52 points away from catching Ruth Riley (2,072 points from 1997-2001) for third place on the Fighting Irish career scoring chart.
- Diggins (488 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 (324 steals) is 24 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 (627 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Gavin, needing 151 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 100 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 third-most assists by an NCAA Division I player in a game this season).
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 113-19 (.856) 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 24-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (11-10 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 82.5 ppg. (which ranks second nationally).
In addition, thanks to Diggins’ penchant for steals (she has a 2.45 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 11.9 spg. (which would put the Fighting Irish close to 400 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 56.5 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 13.8 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.3 rpg.), while scoring in double figures a team-high 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 (18th – 13.8 ppg.), rebounding (2nd – 9.3 rpg.), field goal percentage (6th – .541; also 21st nationally) and free throw percentage (tied-8th – .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 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 ranks 16th in the BIG EAST in scoring (14.2 ppg.) and leads the conference (and ranks fourth nationally) in free throw percentage (.940). In both areas, she is posting career-high marks, including a nearly 25-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 all six of Notre Dame’s games against ranked opponents to date (18.3 ppg.) and a career-high 21 points at No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 5.
In fact, in her last 21 games against Top 25 opponents, McBride is averaging 14.5 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 19 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 18 times), scoring in double figures 13 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 – 12.7 ppg.) and free throw percentage (7th – .818), and would be fifth in the conference in three-point percentage (.409), but she is one made three-pointer 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 #19 Recap: Providence
Skylar Diggins scored 21 points, all in the first half when she was 9-of-9 shooting, to lead No. 2 Notre Dame to an 89-44 victory over Providence on Saturday, becoming the fourth Fighting Irish player to ever score 2,000 career points.
It didn’t take Diggins long to get started Saturday. She took a pass from Kayla McBride on the opening tip-off to score an easy layup four seconds in, to pass the milestone.
Diggins then quickly got started on moving to her next landmark, hitting from inside, mid-range and behind the three-point line as Providence (6-13, 1-5 BIG EAST) could do nothing to slow her. The only mistake Diggins made in the first half was to miss a free throw as the Fighting Irish (18-1, 7-0) jumped to a 46-15 lead.
Diggins had a 10-0 run on her own, starting with a free throw to give the Fighting Irish an 11-4 lead. She then scored on a pair of layups 12 seconds apart and added another layup and a three-pointer as Notre Dame took a 20-4 lead.
Tori Rule led the Friars with 12 points, all in the second half. Symone Roberts, Providence’s leading scorer at 15.3 points a game, made her first shot, but finished with just those two points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Notre Dame outshot the Friars 51 percent to 31 percent, scoring 56 points in the paint. The Fighting Irish also had a 51-26 rebounding advantage.
Meanwhile, Diggins didn’t miss a shot until five minutes into the second half, when the Fighting Irish led 54-19. The Friars didn’t have more points than Diggins until Lexi Sells hit a three-pointer with 12:00 left to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 62-24, and by then Diggins was watching from the bench.
Beyond The Box Score: Providence
- Diggins became the first Notre Dame women’s basketball player to reach the 2,000-point mark since Ruth Riley did so on March 26, 2001, against Vanderbilt in the NCAA Midwest Regional final at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
- Diggins is the first Notre Dame women’s basketball player to score her 2,000th career point at home.
- Including South Bend native Diggins, three of the four Fighting Irish players to top 2,000 career points hail from the state of Indiana (current associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham is from Bloomington, while Riley is from Macy).
- Diggins notched her 37th career 20-point game, tying Riley for third on the Notre Dame all-time list.
- The Fighting Irish improve to 21-0 all-time against Providence (11-0 at home).
- Notre Dame’s 21-game winning streak against PC is its longest active string against a BIG EAST opponent.
- Notre Dame now has scored at least 80 points in more than half (11) of its 21 series games against Providence, including six of 11 in South Bend.
- The Fighting Irish have won 18 of their 21 games against the Friars by double figures, with this margin being the second-largest in the series behind a 109-60 victory on Jan. 24, 1998, at Purcell Pavilion.
- Notre Dame held the Friars to 15 first-half points, tying its second-best defensive performance in a half this season.
- The Fighting Irish posted a +25 rebounding margin for the sixth time this season, and topped the 50-rebound mark for the fourth time this year.
- Achonwa posted her BIG EAST-leading 11th double-double of the season (fourth in conference play), tying for the seventh-most double-doubles in one season by a Fighting Irish player.
- Sophomore guard Whitney Holloway dished out a career-high five assists (all in the first half), while McBride tied her career high with five assists and sophomore forward Markisha Wright did likewise with her four assists.
- Freshman guard Hannah Huffman tied her season highs with six points and five rebounds.
- Freshman guard Michaela Mabrey grabbed a season-high five rebounds.
- Senior guard/co-captain Kaila Turner tied her season high with three three-pointers.
- Notre Dame tied last year’s school record with its eighth sellout of the season (and sixth in a row).
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 was ranked a season-best No. 2 for the third consecutive Associated Press poll last week, its 38th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 108 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 (69 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (58) 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 247 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 third consecutive week in last week’s 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 108 of the past 109 weeks (and 72 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 241 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 247 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 in PDF version of this notes package), 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 264-19 (.933) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 192 of their last 205 such contests (.937).
What’s more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 101-2 (.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 are 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 fourth 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: Cincinnati
Notre Dame opens the month of February and reaches the midpoint of its BIG EAST Conference schedule at 2 p.m. (ET) Saturday when it welcomes Cincinnati to Purcell Pavilion.
The game has been chosen as the annual Fighting Irish Pink Zone Game (known nationally under its current label of Play4Kay) as part of the national women’s basketball initiative to raise funds for breast cancer research. In the past four years, Notre Dame has raised more than $450,000 for local charities, as well as the national Kay Yow Cancer Fund, in support of this worthy cause.
— ND —