Prior to Tuesday night's game vs. No. 22/18 Syracuse, Notre Dame will honor senior guards/co-captains Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner (pictured), who have helped the Fighting Irish to a 120-19 (.863) record to date during their four-year careers.

#2/3 Irish Travel To Villanova Tuesday Night

Feb. 4, 2013

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2012-13 ND Women’s Basketball: Game 22

#2/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (20-1 / 8-0 BIG EAST) vs. Villanova Wildcats (16-5 / 5-3 BIG EAST)

DATE: February 5, 2013
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Villanova, Pa. – The Pavilion (6,500)
SERIES: ND leads 18-10
1ST MTG: VU 70-57 (1/6/81)
LAST MTG: ND 76-43 (1/21/12)
TV: CBS Sports Network (live) (Brent Stover, p-b-p / Debbie Antonelli, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
TWITTER: @ndwbbsid


  • Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw needs one win to become just the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to collect 700 career victories.
  • The Fighting Irish defense has been sharp in the past seven games, holding five opponents to 50 points or fewer.

No. 2/3 Irish Travel To Villanova Tuesday Night
After reaching the midpoint of the BIG EAST Conference schedule unbeaten for the second consecutive season, No. 2/3 Notre Dame opens the second half of league play at 7 p.m. (ET) Tuesday when it travels to Villanova, Pa., to face the Wildcats at The Pavilion. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience by CBS Sports Network.

The Fighting Irish (20-1, 8-0) turned in another sturdy defensive performance on Saturday, picking up their 15th consecutive win with a 64-42 conquest of Cincinnati at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame led from tip to buzzer, opening up a 30-point lead midway through the second half.

Junior guard Kayla McBride got the Fighting Irish going with a game-high 19 points, knocking down her first seven shots of the day. Senior guard/co-captain Kaila Turner tied her season high with 11 points (3-of-4 on three-pointers), while senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins dished out a game-high seven assists.


  • Notre Dame is No. 2 in this week’s Associated Press poll and No. 3 in last week’s ESPN/USA Today poll (new rankings out Tuesday).
  • Villanova is receiving votes in the current Associated Press poll and received votes in last week’s ESPN/USA Today poll.

Quick Hitters

  • Notre Dame is off to a 20-1 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 15-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 15 games since its only loss of the season (Dec. 5 vs. third-ranked Baylor), Notre Dame has averaged 83.7 points per game (winning by 27.4 ppg.), shot .472 from the field (.376 from three-point range), posted a rebound margin of +13.1 per game, and forced opponents into an average of 20.7 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 Monday’s NCAA statistical report, the Fighting Irish are ranked in the top 10 in seven categories — free throw percentage (1st – .807), scoring offense (3rd – 81.4 ppg.), assists (3rd – 19.7 apg.), scoring margin (4th – +25.1 ppg.), rebounding margin (5th – +11.4 rpg.), assist/turnover ratio (7th – 1.21) and field goal percentage (8th – .462).
  • 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 110 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 (60 of 71 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
  • With 611 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 one win away from becoming the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and should she do so within the next nine games, she would be the eighth-fastest to reach the mark). 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 429 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 9,003 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 187 of their last 189 home games (including an active streak of 30 consecutive contests with 8,000 fans), logging 34 Purcell Pavilion sellouts, including 28 in the past four seasons. Notre Dame already has a school-record nine sellouts in 11 home games this year, including each of its last seven 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).

Scouting Villanova
Led by a strong returning core that includes four starters and nine letterwinners, Villanova (16-5, 5-3 BIG EAST) has been near the top of the conference standings, and has regularly received votes in both major polls throughout the season.

VU comes into Tuesday’s game having lost three of its last four (two in overtime), most recently dropping a 58-50 OT decision at Rutgers on Feb. 2. The Wildcats led by as many as eight points in the second half before RU rallied to force overtime and ultimately claim the win.

Despite fouling out in the extra period, senior forward Laura Sweeney posted her league-leading fifth double-double of the BIG EAST season (11 points, 10 rebounds), while senior guard Rachel Roberts added 10 points.

Sweeney leads Villanova in almost all categories including scoring (12.7 ppg.), rebounding (7.0 rpg.), blocks (1.9 bpg.) and steals (2.5 spg.), while Roberts is second in scoring (10.9 ppg.) and tops in assists (2.5 apg.) and three-point percentage (.410).

Head coach Harry Perretta is in his 35th season at Villanova with a 633-398 (.614) record, including a 10-18 mark against Notre Dame.

The Notre Dame-Villanova Series
Notre Dame and Villanova will square off for the 29th time on Tuesday night, with the Fighting Irish holding an 18-10 edge in the series, including wins in the past three meetings. The series is much closer at Villanova, with Notre Dame maintaining a slim 7-6 advantage against the Wildcats at The Pavilion.

The Last Time Notre Dame And Villanova Met
From the opening tip, when Devereaux Peters broke loose for a layup four seconds into the game and converted a three-point play, it was another dominant performance by No. 2 Notre Dame, which defeated Villanova, 76-43 on Jan. 21, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion.

Peters singlehandedly outscored VU, 17-16 in the first half — the Fighting Irish led 44-16 — and finished with 19 points. Skylar Diggins led the Fighting Irish with 20 and Notre Dame had only nine turnovers, while forcing 20 against the outmatched Wildcats.

Rachel Roberts scored 14 to lead Villanova, which was without head coach Harry Perretta because of a death in the family. Associate head coach Joe Mullaney, Jr. ran the team in his absence.

In the first half, Peters scored 17 points, Notre Dame had only two turnovers and Villanova went 7 of 23 from the field as the Fighting Irish built a 28-point lead at the break. Notre Dame shot 52 percent in the half.

The rout was on early, with the Fighting Irish making 12 of 17 shots for a 32-11 lead. During the same 12-minute span, the overmatched Wildcats connected on just 5 of 13 shots and turned the ball over seven times, thanks to the Notre Dame press.

Peters opened 5 of 6 from the field and Diggins was 4 of 6 with three early assists.

The Last Time Notre Dame And Villanova Met At The Pavilion
Not only had Notre Dame been winning, but the high-scoring Fighting Irish were blowing opponents out.

It wasn’t quite as easy at Villanova, but the result was the same as Devereaux Peters scored 20 points to lead No. 9 Notre Dame to a 58-43 victory over the Wildcats on Jan. 29, 2011, at The Pavilion in Villanova, Pa.

Skylar Diggins added 13 points, Natalie Novosel had 11 and Becca Bruszewski contributed a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish won despite scoring a (then) season low in points — nearly 25 points under their scoring average coming into the game (82.9 ppg).

Laura Sweeney scored 14 points to pace Villanova, which twice sliced Notre Dame’s 12-point halftime lead in half early in the second half, but the Wildcats never got closer than six.

Villanova led by five points early, but the Fighting Irish took control midway through the first half and led 32-20 at the break.

Other Notre Dame-Villanova Series Tidbits

  • Nearly half (12) of the 28 games in the series have been decided by eight points or fewer, with the teams splitting those 12 contests.
  • Since 2002, eight of the past 13 series games have been decided by a grand total of 35 points (4.4 ppg.) and seven of those eight were in doubt inside the final minute of play.
  • Notre Dame is 14-1 all-time against Villanova when scoring at least 60 points (only loss was a 69-65 overtime decision in 2006 at Purcell Pavilion).
  • The Fighting Irish have forced 145 Villanova turnovers in the past seven series games, averaging 20.7 takeaways in that time, including 34 in a 2010 win at Purcell Pavilion. In the past seven series games, the Wildcats came into the contest ranked among the top five in the nation for fewest turnovers committed (Villanova enters Tuesday’s game leading the nation at 11.4 turnovers per game).
  • Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is a native of West Chester, Pa., is a 1977 graduate of Saint Joseph’s University, before spending two years as head coach at Archbishop Carroll High School in Radnor, Pa. (50-3 record), and two years as an assistant coach at SJU under Jim Foster (now the head coach at Ohio State) from 1980-82. She also is a member of four halls of fame in the Philadelphia area — the SJU Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (inducted 1986), the Philadelphia Big Five Hall of Fame (inducted 1990), the SJU Athletics Hall of Fame (inducted 2002) and the Chester County Sports Hall of Fame (inducted 2010).
  • Villanova senior forward Laura Sweeney has her own ties to Notre Dame. Her father, Bob, was an offensive tackle for the Fighting Irish football team in 1973-74, helping the program win a national championship in 1973 and earning a monogram in 1974 (the final season at Notre Dame for legendary head coach Ara Parseghian).

McGraw’s Milestone Moment
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw enters Tuesday’s game at Villanova needing one win to become the 13th NCAA Division I coach to register 700 career victories. McGraw currently has a 31-year record of 699-257 (.731), including a 611-216 (.739) record in 26 seasons with the Fighting Irish.

McGraw also is poised to become the eighth-fastest Division I coach to reach the 700-win milestone, hitting the mark quicker than several other notable coaches such as North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell (966 games), Ohio State’s Jim Foster (973), former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan (998) and two now-deceased Hall of Fame coaches — Sue Gunter (1,004, most notably at LSU) and Kay Yow (1,021, primarily at North Carolina State).

Solitary Confinement
In its last seven games, Notre Dame has done a remarkable job in locking down the opposition’s top scorer, holding those players to an average of nearly 10 points per game below their season scoring average coming into the matchup with the Fighting Irish (with just one of those seven players coming within five points of her season average).

What’s more, Notre Dame has held these top scorers to a combined .229 field goal percentage (19-of-83), with only one of the past seven opponent scoring leaders shooting better than 35 percent against the Fighting Irish.

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 100-28 (.781) in February games, including a 57-6 (.905) mark at home.

In the 26-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present), the Fighting Irish are 148-43 (.775) in the month of February, including a 79-12 (.868) 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 year in South Bend).

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 (115) in a four-year span in school history, and just two 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 20-1 record or better through its first 21 games.

This year’s start (as well as those in 2009-10 and 2011-12) matches the second-best 21-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.

At The Halfway Mark
Notre Dame is off to a 8-0 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 eight wins in a row since 2000-01.

The past two times Notre Dame has started 8-0 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.

Streak Stats
Notre Dame’s current 15-game winning streak is tied for the fourth-longest success string in program history, and it’s the third time in four seasons the Fighting Irish have posted a winning streak of 15 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).

Road Warriors
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).

Twenty Questions
Notre Dame reached the 20-win mark for the 19th time in 20 seasons (and seventh consecutive season) with its 64-42 victory over Cincinnati on Feb. 2 at Purcell Pavilion.

The Fighting Irish now have registered 20-or-more wins 23 times in the 26-year Muffet McGraw era and 27 times in the program’s 36-year history.

McGraw herself has coached 25 20-win seasons (adding in two during her five-year tenure at Lehigh from 1982-87), placing her ninth all-time among NCAA Division I coaches, and seventh among active coaches.

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).

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 9.0 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 21 games, the Fighting Irish lead the nation in free throw percentage, shooting a remarkable .807 (380-of-471) 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 better than 223 times per game, converting more 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 (380 made, 293 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 third in the nation, but she is six 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 fourth (.850; also 14th in nation), freshman guard Jewell Loyd standing eighth (.806) and junior forward Natalie Achonwa ranking 10th (.798).

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.

Celebrating Sky-2K
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 (2,062 points) needs 260 points to catch current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham as the program’s all-time leading scorer. She also is just 10 points away from catching Ruth Riley (2,072 points from 1997-2001) for third place on the Fighting Irish career scoring chart.
  • Diggins (492 rebounds) is eight 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 (329 steals) is 19 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 (639 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Mary Gavin (1984-88), needing 139 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 88 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 115-19 (.858) 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 82-1 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 81.4 ppg. (which ranks third nationally).

In addition, thanks to Diggins’ penchant for steals (she has a 2.46 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 11.8 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 56.3 points per game.

Canadian Ace
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 13.3 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.0 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 25 in the BIG EAST in scoring (21st – 13.3 ppg.), rebounding (2nd – 9.0 rpg.), field goal percentage (tied-7th – .533; also 21st nationally) and free throw percentage (10th – .798).

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 ranks 13th in the BIG EAST in scoring (14.1 ppg.) and leads the conference in free throw percentage (.940). In both areas, she is posting career-high marks, including an improvement of better than 20 percent in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).

McBride also is among the team leaders this season with 16 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).

Crown Jewell
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 21 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 20 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.

Loyd currently ranks among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (24th – 12.3 ppg.) and free throw percentage (7th – .806), and would be fifth in the conference in three-point percentage (.400), but she is three 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 her Jan. 14 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 #21 Recap: Cincinnati
Kayla McBride broke out of a shooting slump by making her first seven shots and scoring 17 of her 19 points in the first half as No. 2 Notre Dame jumped to an early 23-point lead and beat Cincinnati 64-42 on Saturday for their 15th straight win.

McBride had made just 4 of 18 shots against Tennessee on Monday and missed all five shots the previous game against Providence. However, she hit a mid-range jumper a minute in against UC and then started scoring in bunches.

McBride twice made three straight baskets for the Fighting Irish (20-1, 8-0 BIG EAST). The first time came as the Bearcats missed their first nine shots, falling behind 10-0 when McBride scored on a rebound and then hit a 17-foot jumper.

Lesha Dunn finally ended Cincinnati’s scoreless streak with a jumper, but McBride answered quickly with a backdoor layup on a pass from Skylar Diggins. After the Bearcats cut the lead to 14-8 on a pair of free throws by Dayeesha Hollins, McBride hit three straight jumpers to spark a 17-2 run, capped the spurt with a three-pointer that gave the Fighting Irish a 31-10 lead.

Kayla Cook led the Bearcats with 12 points. Hollins, UC’s leading scorer at 15.4 points game, was held to a season-low six points, going 2 for 9 from the field.

Kaila Turner, who didn’t attempt a shot in the first half, was 4-of-5 shooting in the second half with three three-pointers to add 11 points for Notre Dame.

The Bearcats opened the second half on an 8-2 run, cutting the lead to 39-23 on a baseline jumper by Dunn. But Turner hit a three-pointer to get the Fighting Irish going again, sparking a 14-0 run in which Notre Dame scored the last six from the free throw line. Cincinnati used a 12-2 run to close to 55-35 on a basket inside by Hollins with 4:10 left, but the Bearcats couldn’t get any closer.

Beyond The Box Score: Cincinnati

  • Notre Dame improves to 9-0 all-time against Cincinnati, with the Bearcats remaining one of two current BIG EAST schools the Fighting Irish have never lost to (the other is Providence at 21-0).
  • The Fighting Irish have won their last six games against Cincinnati by an average of 21.7 points per game and have not allowed more than 50 points during that span.
  • The 42 points were the second-fewest allowed by Notre Dame in its series with UC, exceeded only by a 73-41 victory exactly five years earlier in Cincinnati.
  • The Bearcats’ 15 first-half points tied for the fewest allowed by the Fighting Irish in BIG EAST play and were the second-fewest by a Notre Dame opponent in any half this season.
  • Turner tied her season highs with 11 points and three three-pointers.
  • Diggins chalked up seven assists in a game for the seventh time this season.
  • Part of the proceeds from the fifth annual Notre Dame Pink Zone/Play4Kay game will go to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund (as well as locally to the Foundation for St. Joseph Regional Medical Center), with the Fighting Irish now 4-1 all-time in Pink Zone games and having raised nearly $600,000 for breast cancer research.

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).

Polling Station
Notre Dame is ranked a season-best No. 2 for the fifth consecutive Associated Press poll last week, its 40th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 110 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 (71 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (60) 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 249 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 last week’s ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches’ poll (the new rankings come out Tuesday afternoon), 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 249 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 266-19 (.933) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 194 of their last 207 such contests (.937).

What’s more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 103-2 (.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 270-15 (.947) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 12 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 231 of their last 260 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 58-5 (.921) — including wins in 34 of its last 36 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 125-20 (.862) 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 381-90 (.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 with nine sellouts in 11 home games (including the past seven contests), topping last year’s record of eight sellouts. In addition, the Nov. 18 game against Massachusetts marking the first home-opening sellout in school history. All told, the Fighting Irish have welcomed 34 sellout crowds in the program’s 36-year tenure, including 28 in the past four years alone (2009-10 to present).

The Fighting Irish currently rank fifth in the nation in average attendance, drawing 9,003 fans per game, which is more than 400 fans better than last year’s school record and factors to 98.4 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 224-64 (.778) record in league play that remains the second-best regular season winning percentage in BIG EAST women’s basketball history.

Next Game: Seton Hall
Notre Dame returns to the East Coast on Saturday, as it heads to northern New Jersey for a 2 p.m. (ET) matchup against Seton Hall at Walsh Gymnasium in South Orange, N.J. It marks the fourth time in five series meetings (dating back to 2009) the Fighting Irish will play on the Pirates’ home court.

SHU (8-13, 3-5 BIG EAST) has made noise at times during conference play, and after being off last weekend, will travel to DePaul on Wednesday night prior to returning home for this weekend’s contest against Notre Dame.

— ND —