Notre Dame junior guard Skylar Diggins is the first Fighting Irish player since 2001 to earn Associated Press first-team All-America recognition, the AP announced Tuesday.

#3 Irish Head Back To Hartford For BIG EAST Championship

March 1, 2012

Full Notes Package in PDF FormatGet Acrobat Reader | 2012 BIG EAST Championship Central
Notre Dame BIG EAST Tournament Central

2011-12 ND Women’s Basketball: Game 31

BIG EAST Conference Championship — Quarterfinal
#3/3 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (28-2 / 15-1 BIG EAST) vs. #RV/23 [#8 seed] DePaul Blue Demons (21-9 / 9-7 BIG EAST) or [#9 seed] South Florida Bulls (16-14 / 8-8 BIG EAST) or [#16 seed] Pittsburgh Panthers (8-21 / 0-16 BIG EAST)

DATE: March 4, 2012
TIME: 2:00 p.m. ET
AT: Hartford, Conn. – XL Center (16,294)
SERIES: DPU leads ND 19-17 / ND leads USF 8-2 / ND leads PITT 20-3
TV: ESPNU (live) (Beth Mowins, p-b-p / Brooke Weisbrod, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
TWITTER: @ndwbbsid


  • Notre Dame has earned the top seed at the BIG EAST Championship for the second time, having reached the title game from that position in 2001.
  • The Fighting Irish last won a conference tournament in 1994, when they claimed their fifth Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now Horizon League) postseason crown.

No. 3 Fighting Irish Head Back To Hartford For BIG EAST Championship
After piling up a nearly-unblemished record through BIG EAST Conference play en route to its first outright BIG EAST title, No. 3 Notre Dame begins the second season at 2 p.m. (ET) Sunday when it takes the court at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., for a quarterfinal matchup in the BIG EAST Championship. The Fighting Irish are the No. 1 seed for this year’s tournament, with Sunday’s quarterfinal to be televised live on ESPNU.

Notre Dame (28-2, 15-1) clinched the BIG EAST regular season title Monday with a 72-59 win at No. 4 Connecticut, using a 13-2 run in the second half to take the lead for good.

Senior guard Natalie Novosel had a team-high 21 points, and junior guard Skylar Diggins added 20 points for the Fighting Irish.


  • Notre Dame is No. 3 in the latest Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.
  • DePaul is receiving votes in the latest Associated Press poll and is No. 23 in the latest ESPN/USA Today poll.
  • South Florida and Pittsburgh are not ranked.

Quick Hitters

  • Notre Dame earned its second BIG EAST title, and first outright championship (first in any league since the 1995 Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League crown).
  • Notre Dame appears in the top 20 of 11 different NCAA statistical categories, including nine top-10 appearances (as of Feb. 27). The Fighting Irish lead the nation in scoring offense (now 81.0 ppg.) and rank second in scoring margin (+29.1 ppg.), while placing third in field goal percentage (.480) and steals (13.4 spg.), fourth in assists (18.5 apg.), seventh in scoring defense (51.9 ppg.), eighth in turnover margin (+6.6), ninth in rebounding margin (+10.0 rpg.), 12th in assist/turnover ratio (1.11), 14th in free throw percentage (.766) and 20th in field goal percentage defense (.350).
  • Notre Dame is 10-1 against Top 25 opponents this season (6-1 away from home), including five victories in six outings against teams in the top 10. The 10 wins over ranked opponents is a school record for an entire season (2000-01), let alone in the regular season (previous was seven in 2003-04 and 2004-05).
  • The Fighting Irish also have five top-10 wins (AP poll) in the regular season for the first time in school history (they had four in 2000-01 and 2004-05).
  • Notre Dame is just the second school ever to defeat both Connecticut and Tennessee in consecutive seasons, matching the feat first pulled off by North Carolina in 2005-06 and 2006-07.
  • Notre Dame is the first school to win three consecutive series games against Connecticut since North Carolina (2004-07) and Tennessee (2005-07), and the first BIG EAST program to do so since Miami (1992-93).
  • Seven of the 10 Fighting Irish victories against Top 25 opponents this season have been by double digits, including a 30-point win at No. 13/14 Rutgers on Jan. 31 (Notre Dame’s largest margin of victory ever on the road at a ranked opponent) and a 28-point win over No. 7/9 Tennessee on Jan. 23 (the largest margin of victory ever and fewest points ever allowed by Notre Dame against a top-10 team).
  • Notre Dame has posted at least 25 wins for the third consecutive season, and the fourth time in five years. The only other time the Fighting Irish have had three consecutive 25-win seasons was 1998-99 (26-5), 1999-2000 (27-5) and 2000-01 (34-2).
  • The Fighting Irish set a school record with 28 regular-season wins (the 2000-01 club ended its regular season slate at 26-1).
  • Of the 28 Fighting Irish wins, 19 have come by 20+ points, and 11 by at least 30 points. In 24 victories this year, Notre Dame has held its opponent to 61 points or fewer, with a school-record 16 when the opponent had 50 points or fewer (and a school-record six of 40 or fewer).
  • The Fighting Irish have scored at least 100 points twice this year, while going over 90 points a school-record nine times (including a school-record four in a row from Dec. 18-30) and topping the 80-point mark 14 times.
  • Notre Dame is ranked No. 3 in the latest Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls, marking the 17th consecutive week the Fighting Irish appeared in the top five of both major national polls. That’s the second-longest uninterrupted streak of consensus top-five poll appearances in school history behind only the final 18 weeks of the 2000-01 season (Notre Dame was ranked sixth in the preseason AP poll that year).
  • With this week’s No. 3 ranking in the AP poll, Notre Dame has appeared in the media rankings for 94 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 more than half that time (56 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
  • With 584 victories in 25 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).

Other Notre Dame Notables

  • Notre Dame is among the nation’s winningest programs during the past 16 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking fourth with 402 victories.
  • Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in attendance each of the past 11 seasons. The Fighting Irish currently are averaging 8,811 fans per home game (good for fifth in the nation) after the program finished fifth in the NCAA attendance rankings with a school-record 8,553 fans a night. The Fighting Irish also have drawn 5,000-or-more fans to 174 of their last 176 home games, logging 25 Purcell Pavilion sellouts, including 19 in the past three seasons, and a school-record eight this year (most recently on Feb. 25 vs. USF).
  • The Fighting Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as seven Notre Dame players have been selected in the past 11 seasons. Charel Allen was the most recent Fighting Irish player to be chosen, going to the Sacramento Monarchs in the third round (43rd overall pick) of the 2008 WNBA Draft. Ruth Riley (San Antonio) was active in the league during the ’11 season, helping the Silver Stars return to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season (she recently signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Sky). Three of Notre Dame’s eight 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.
  • For the fifth 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, since Muffet McGraw became head coach in 1987, every Notre Dame women’s basketball player who has completed her athletic and academic eligibility at the University has earned her bachelor’s degree (a 64-for-64 success rate). The Fighting Irish also are one of only four schools in the past four years to record a 100-percent GSR and play for a national championship in the same season.

The Notre Dame-DePaul Series
Notre Dame and DePaul have played 36 times, with the Blue Demons holding a 19-17 edge in the series that dates back to 1979. The Fighting Irish have won six of the past seven against DePaul, while the teams have split four prior matchups at neutral sites.

The Last Time Notre Dame And DePaul Met
Notre Dame was nearly perfect on offense for a 16-minute stretch against No. RV/23 DePaul.

Yet after the game, coach Muffet McGraw was more concerned about the team’s defense in the second-ranked Fighting Irish’s 90-70 win over the visiting Blue Demons on Feb. 5.

The offense couldn’t get much better during that 16-minute stretch. Notre Dame didn’t miss many shots during its 56-point first half. The Fighting Irish shot a blistering 72 percent from the field. From the 13:54 mark of the first half to the 17:18 mark in the second half, they hit 22 of their 24 shots to build a 34-point lead.

McGraw started subbing liberally and the Blue Demons rallied behind Jasmine Penny’s 24 points and Katherine Harry’s 20.

DePaul was coming off an 86-61 rout of No. 14/12 Louisville earlier in the week. The Blue Demons, who are down to only seven healthy players because of injuries, had a much tougher time against Notre Dame.

Natalie Novosel scored 17 of her 21 points in the first half. Skylar Diggins had a double-double (11 points, 10 assists), Brittany Mallory scored a season-high 14, Devereaux Peters 11, and reserve Natalie Achonwa added 16.

Other Notre Dame-DePaul Series Tidbits

  • Eight of the 13 series games between Notre Dame and DePaul since the Blue Demons joined the BIG EAST (2005-06) have been decided by single digits, including six of the past nine.
  • Despite the long history of the Notre Dame-DePaul series (36 games since 1978-79), the aggregate point totals for the two teams are amazingly close, separated by a mere 13 points — the Blue Demons have scored 2,469 points (68.6 ppg.), while the Fighting Irish have tallied 2,456 points (68.2 ppg.).
  • In 13 of the past 17 series games, the winning team has scored at least 75 points. The only exceptions have been the second matchups in 2007-08 and 2008-09 (66-64 Notre Dame win in Chicago in 2008; 62-59 Fighting Irish win at Purcell Pavilion in 2009), as well as both games last year (70-69 DePaul win in Chicago; 71-67 Notre Dame win in BIG EAST semifinals at Hartford).
  • The Fighting Irish have held DePaul to fewer than 70 points in five of the past seven series games (the Blue Demons have had exactly 70 in the regular-season meetings the past two years) after not having held DePaul below that mark in the previous seven series contests (including the first six as members of the BIG EAST Conference).
  • At 36 games, the DePaul series is the second-longest in Notre Dame history. Only the rivalry with fellow BIG EAST member Marquette (37 games) is longer.
  • DePaul’s 19 series wins are the third-most by one Fighting Irish opponent, exceeded only by Connecticut (27) and Tennessee (20).
  • Combining their memberships in the North Star (1983-88) and BIG EAST (2005-present) conferences, Notre Dame is 12-9 all-time against DePaul in regular-season league games (7-4 in BIG EAST, 5-5 in North Star). The teams have split their two conference tournament games, with DePaul shading the Fighting Irish, 76-71 in the first round of the 2007 BIG EAST Championship in Hartford, Conn., and Notre Dame countering with a 71-67 victory in last year’s BIG EAST semifinals, also in Hartford.
  • Notre Dame has had 13 players come from the state of Illinois, including 12 from the Chicagoland area. Fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters (Chicago/Fenwick HS), junior guard Kaila Turner (Joliet/Marian Catholic HS) and freshman guard Whitney Holloway (Plainfield/Montini Catholic HS) are the latest additions to a list that includes NCAA career three-point percentage record holder Alicia Ratay (Lake Zurich/Lake Zurich HS), two-time honorable mention All-America guard Lindsay Schrader (Bartlett/Bartlett HS) and 1,000-point scorer/2004 Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (Chicago/Roosevelt HS).
  • Notre Dame will add another Chicagoland resident to its roster next season when Lincolnwood, Ill., native (and Niles West High School standout) Jewell Loyd arrives on campus. Loyd is a 5-foot-10 guard who is ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation and is a 2012 McDonald’s and WBCA High School All-America selection. For more information on Loyd (and the full Notre Dame Class of 2012), see the sidebar on page 12 of the PDF version of this notes package.
  • DePaul has its own tie to the South Bend area, as Blue Demons’ sophomore guard Kelsey Reynolds is a native of Mishawaka (located 10 minutes east of the Notre Dame campus). Reynolds, who transferred to DePaul from Boston College prior to last season, graduated from Penn High School in 2009 and emerged with Notre Dame junior guard Skylar Diggins as the top two players to come out of the South Bend-area prep ranks in 2008-09.
  • Both head coaches — Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw and DePaul’s Doug Bruno — have ties to the old Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) which existed from 1978-81; McGraw was a point guard for the California Dreams in 1979 (the franchise’s only year of existence), while Bruno was the head coach and director of player personnel for the Chicago Hustle throughout its incarnation from 1978-80.

The Notre Dame-USF Series
Notre Dame and USF have played 10 times previously, with the Fighting Irish leading the series, 8-2. Notre Dame has won its last five meetings with the Bulls, and also claimed their only prior neutral-court matchup (73-66 in the first round of the 2006 BIG EAST Championship).

The Last Time Notre Dame And USF Met
Nothing comes easy in the BIG EAST. That’s how Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw sees it and why clinching a tie for the conference title Feb. 25 was so satisfying.

The third-ranked Fighting Irish needed all their energy and talent in their final regular-season home game to beat a stubborn and relentless USF team 80-68 to earn at least a share of the league title.

Natalie Novosel scored a career-high 32 points and Devereaux Peters added 17 points and a career-high 18 rebounds for Notre Dame, giving McGraw her first league title in 11 years.

Skylar Diggins added 18 for the Fighting Irish, who set a school regular-season mark with their 27th win. But this one was not easy against the scrappy Bulls, who got 18 points apiece from Inga Orekhova and Jasmine Wynne.

The Fighting Irish, who trailed early in the second half, did not put the Bulls away until Novosel led a late spurt.

Peters had a three-point play and Novosel hit a three-pointer, added four free thows and then threw in a shot before the shot clock expired with about a minute left as Notre Dame finally pulled away with a 78-64 lead.

Other Notre Dame-USF Series Tidbits

  • For the most part, the seven series games played since USF joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06 have been wildly entertaining, with two regular season contests going to overtime (both won by the Bulls), and four other games won by the Fighting Irish by 12 points or fewer.
  • Notre Dame has scored at least 70 points in nine of the 10 series matchups to date, while USF has reached that mark twice, both in Tampa (87-78 USF win in OT in 2007; 86-79 Notre Dame win in 2009).
  • That 2007 game at the Sun Dome featured three entries into the Notre Dame record book — team fouls (33), opponent free throw attempts (45) and rebounds by a freshman (18 by Erica Williamson).
  • The 2007 contest in Tampa also saw three Notre Dame foul out of a game for the first time since Dec. 28, 2000 (a 70-61 win at USC where Ruth Riley, Niele Ivey and Kelley Siemon all were disqualified).
  • The Fighting Irish are 26-5 (.839) all-time against Florida schools, including a 15-2 (.882) record away from home, and a current seven-game winning streak. Notre Dame won both games against Florida teams this year, defeating both UCF (90-38 on Dec. 20) and USF (80-68 on Feb. 25) at Purcell Pavilion.
  • Notre Dame has had eight Florida natives suit up in the program’s 35-year history, with its most recent Sunshine State product being 2010 graduate Alena Christiansen (Fort Lauderdale/Cardinal Gibbons HS).
  • Vincent J. Naimoli, the managing general partner and chief executive officer of the 2008 American League champion Tampa Bay Rays, is a 1959 Notre Dame graduate and, in 2007, he and his family donated $5 million towards the Joyce Center arena renovation project, with the new Purcell Pavilion club/hospitality area (and two outdoor patios) — named the Naimoli Family Club Room (or informally called “Club Naimoli”) and overlooking the south side of the Purcell Pavilion court — making its debut in 2009-10. Two of Naimoli’s daughters also are Notre Dame graduates (Alyson ’94; Lindsey ’05).

The Notre Dame-Pittsburgh Series
Notre Dame and PIttsburgh have played one another 23 times, with the Fighting Irish maintaining a 20-3 lead in the series. Notre Dame has won the past three times it has faced the Panthers, while the teams have split their two neutral-site games, both during the BIG EAST Championship (the Fighting Irish won 73-65 in the 2003 first round at Piscataway, N.J.; Pittsburgh won 64-53 in the 2008 quarterfinals at Hartford).

The Last Time Notre Dame And Pittsburgh Met
Skylar Diggins loves to pass the ball, so this was a particularly fun night for her.

Diggins directed a record-breaking performance on Jan. 17, finishing with 11 points, nine assists and no turnovers in No. 2 Notre Dame’s 120-44 victory against overmatched Pittsburgh.

Devereaux Peters had 20 points and reserve Natalie Achonwa finished with 19 for the Fighting Irish, who had a season-high 33 assists on a BIG EAST-record 48 baskets in the win. Kaila Turner (14), Natalie Novosel (13), Kayla McBride (11), Brittany Mallory (11), and Markisha Wright (11) also scored in double figures.

The 76-point difference was the largest ever for Notre Dame against a BIG EAST opponent. The Fighting Irish passed 100 points for the second time this season and beat a conference opponent by more than 50 points for the second time.

Ashlee Anderson scored 14 for Pitt, which committed 26 turnovers and shot 35.4 percent from the field. The Panthers were without center Leeza Burdgess, who was on the bench due to a violation of team rules.

Peters made two free throws to spark an 18-2 run that gave Notre Dame a 30-9 lead with 8:27 to go in the first half. Pitt went 10:34 without a field goal as part of that streak.

Notre Dame led 54-19 at halftime. Peters led all scorers with 16 points while Diggins had eight assists. The second half was more of the same, as Notre Dame broke the 100-point barrier with 7:24 remaining on a 15-footer by Turner.

Other Notre Dame-Pittsburgh Series Tidbits

  • Ten of the first 11 series games were decided by double digits, before five of the next six games in the series featured single-digit victory margins by an average spread of 7.2 points per game. However, the past six contests have been double-figure wins for one of the participants, with the Fighting Irish four of those six games.
  • Notre Dame has scored at least 65 points in all but two of its 23 meetings with Pittsburgh, with both exceptions resulting in Panther victories (71-62 in 2007 and 64-53 at the 2009 BIG EAST Championship). Pittsburgh has reached that standard 10 times against the Fighting Irish, including eight of the past 12 games.
  • The two head coaches have faced one another on the sidelines 16 times during the past three decades. Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw is 13-3 in these head-to-head contests with Pittsburgh head coach Agnus Berenato, with the first five games coming when McGraw was at Lehigh and Berenato at Rider in the 1980s.
  • Notre Dame junior guard Kaila Turner and Pittsburgh redshirt sophomore guard Ashlee Anderson were key players in one of the more dramatic playoff games in Illinois girls’ high school basketball history. In the Class 4A St. Xavier Supersectional (one step from a trip to the state semifinals) on March 2, 2009, Turner scored a team-high 24 points and rallied her Marian Catholic squad from an early seven-point deficit, helping send the game to double overtime before Anderson’s Whitney Young team prevailed, 78-76 on a miraculous half-court shot at the buzzer. Anderson scored 21 points in the game.
  • Fighting Irish sophomore guard Kayla McBride is a resident of Erie, Pa., and graduated from Villa Maria Academy after helping the Victors to consecutive state titles her final two seasons (and a 106-15 record during her four-year career). McBride also was a two-time Pennsylvania Class AA Player of the Year (2009, 2010), as well as the Pennsylvania Gatorade High School Player of the Year in 2010 and a consensus high school All-American (including a McDonald’s All-America selection).
  • Notre Dame freshman guard Madison Cable is a native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Mt. Lebanon, and graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in 2011. The versatile rookie (who has not played this season with a stress fracture in her foot) led Mt. Lebanon to a 114-14 (.891) record and three Pennsylvania Class AAAA state titles during her storied career, capped off by her selection as a 2011 Parade Magazine All-American, the Pennsylvania Gatorade High School Player of the Year (assuming that mantle from current Fighting Irish teammate Kayla McBride, the 2010 recipient) and the Associated Press Pennsylvania Class AAAA Player of the Year.
  • Seventh-year Notre Dame coordinator of basketball operations Stephanie Menio graduated from Pittsburgh in 2004 with a degree in business administration. Menio spent two years as a marketing assistant with the Panthers’ women’s basketball program, and in conjunction with the debut of the Petersen Events Center, she aided in the program’s 114-percent increase in attendance from 2002-04, as well as the first sellout in program history (12,632 vs. Connecticut on Jan. 25, 2003).
  • Notre Dame associate director of operations & technology Angie Potthoff spent three seasons (2002-05) coaching the girls’ basketball team at Beaver (Pa.) Area High School, 45 minutes northwest of Pittsburgh; she was an assistant for two seasons before taking over as head coach during her final year.
  • Potthoff also was a three-year college assistant (1999-2002), spending her first year as a graduate aide at Indiana (Pa.), located 70 miles east of Pittsburgh, then two more seasons as a full assistant at Robert Morris in Moon Township, Pa. (located near Pittsburgh International Airport).

Irish In The BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame opens play in its 17th BIG EAST Championship this weekend, having compiled a 19-16 (.543) record in its 16 previous appearances. The Fighting Irish have reached the semifinals in nine of the past 16 years and advanced to the title game five times (1996, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2011). Ironically, four of Notre Dame’s five BIG EAST finals appearances came when the tournament was held in the state of Connecticut (1996, 1997 and 2001 on the UConn campus at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs; 2011 in Hartford).

Prior to joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96, Notre Dame was a member of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League). During its seven-year affiliation with that conference, the Fighting Irish won the MCC Tournament five times, with Notre Dame’s most recent conference tourney title (of any kind) coming in 1994, following a 72-63 championship game win over Xavier at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Other BIG EAST Championship Tidbits

  • Notre Dame is the No. 1 seed for the second time in 17 tournament appearances, but the first since 2001. That year, the Fighting Irish defeated both Georgetown (89-33) and Virginia Tech (67-49) to reach the title game before losing to second-seeded (and host) Connecticut, 78-76 on a last-second jumper by Sue Bird.
  • The Fighting Irish are 13-6 (.684) all-time at the BIG EAST Championship when playing as the higher seed.
  • Conversely, Notre Dame is 6-10 (.375) as the lower tournament seed, with its most recent “underdog” victory coming in the semifinals of last year’s Championship (71-67 over second-seeded DePaul).
  • Beginning with that classic 2001 BIG EAST title game against Connecticut, 15 of the past 19 Fighting Irish games in the conference tournament have been decided by 11 points or fewer, including eight by single digits. All three of last year’s games had margins of 11 points or fewer, the last two decided by single digits.
  • All told, more than half (20) of Notre Dame’s 35 career games in the BIG EAST Championship have featured margins of 11 points or fewer, with the Fighting Irish going 9-11 (.450) in those contests.

The Occasionally Friendly Confines
The Fighting Irish will be playing inside the XL Center for the 21st time, having posted an 8-12 (.400) record in the building formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center. However, take out a 1-7 record against Connecticut (which uses the building as one of its home courts during the regular season) and Notre Dame has a winning record (7-5, .583) all-time in Hartford.

Of the 20 previous games the Fighting Irish have played at the XL Center, 15 of them have come during BIG EAST Championship play, with Notre Dame sporting a 7-8 (.467) record since the tournament moved to Hartford in 2004.

The other five XL Center games include four regular season matchups with Connecticut (2000, 2002, 2009, 2012) and a 2004 NCAA Sweet 16 contest with Penn State (55-49 loss).

Start Me Up
For the second time in school history, Notre Dame has a 28-2 record through 30 games.

In their 2000-01 national championship season, the Fighting Irish opened with a school-record 23-game winning streak before losing 54-53 at Rutgers on Feb. 17, 2001. Notre Dame then would win its next five in a row before losing at Connecticut, 78-76 in the BIG EAST Championship title game (March 6, 2001), the only other time the Fighting Irish would fall during their 34-2 run to the national championship.

This year marks the first time Notre Dame has won 28 games in the regular season. During that 2000-01 campaign, the Fighting Irish closed out the regular season at 26-1.

Pieces of Silver
With its 66-47 win at home over Providence on Feb. 14, Notre Dame registered its 25th victory of the season, marking the third consecutive year (and fourth time in four years) the Fighting Irish have reached that level.

Notre Dame has recorded nine 25-win seasons in its 35 varsity campaigns, but only once before had the Fighting Irish done so in back-to-back-to-back years. From 1998-99 through 2000-01, Notre Dame topped that mark each season (26-5, 27-5 and 34-2), including a school-record 34 wins in the final year of that run, which culminated with the program’s first national championship.

Notre Dame’s current stretch of four 25-win seasons in five years (and 135 total wins in that time) bears similarities to the Fighting Irish stretch from 1996-97 through 2000-01, a span that started with a 31-7 record and NCAA Women’s Final Four berth in 1996-97. Notre Dame won a total of 140 games in that span, the most in a five-year period in school history.

One other note — current Fighting Irish fifth-year seniors/tri-captains Brittany Mallory and Devereaux Peters have been key contributors on all four of the latest 25-win campaigns for Notre Dame, missing only the majority of the 2008-09 season with knee injuries when the Fighting Irish went 22-9.

Conference Call
With its 72-59 victory at No. 4 Connecticut on Monday night, Notre Dame secured the outright 2012 BIG EAST Conference regular-season title. It’s the second championship for the Fighting Irish since they joined the conference in 1995-96 (they were co-champions in 2001), and their first outright BIG EAST championship. What’s more, it’s their first solo league crown since 1995, when the Fighting Irish won the last of their five regular-season titles in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League).

Also, for the 16th time in its 17-year membership in the BIG EAST, Notre Dame has posted double-digit league wins. With the exception of 2005-06 (when they went 8-8), the Fighting Irish have never posted fewer than 10 BIG EAST wins in a season, finishing among the top four in the conference 14 times.

This year’s 15 victories were the most for the Fighting Irish in BIG EAST play since 2000-01, when they finished 15-1 en route to a co-championship. Also, Notre Dame’s 8-0 road record marked the first time it completed a BIG EAST season without a road loss (first in any conference since a 6-0 mark during the 1993-94 MCC campaign).

Taking it a step further, Notre Dame now has registered double-digit conference wins in 22 of head coach Muffet McGraw’s 25 seasons under the Golden Dome, with the only other exceptions coming in 1987-88 (her first season when the Fighting Irish went 7-3 in the now-defunct North Star Conference) and 1991-92 (when Notre Dame went 8-4 in the MCC, then won three in a row at the conference tournament to earn the program’s first-ever NCAA Championship berth, despite a losing overall record of 14-16, becoming the first school ever to pull off that feat).

Lessons Learned
Since its Nov. 20 loss at No. 1 Baylor, Notre Dame has won its last 10 games against ranked opponents (including five against top-10 teams), earning seven of those victories by double digits (three by 25 points or more).

The major driving force in this turnaround has been the play of the Fighting Irish defense, which has held those last 10 Top 25 opponents to just 56.8 points per night, including seven games when the opposition scored 60 points or fewer.

Notre Dame also has held its ranked foes to a .348 field goal percentage (.246 from the three-point line), and posted a +6.1 rebounding margin after being outrebounded by 15 at Baylor.

The Rare Air Up There
With its 72-44 victory over Tennessee on Jan. 23 at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame became just the second school ever to defeat both Connecticut and Tennessee in consecutive seasons (the Fighting Irish downed Connecticut, 74-67 in overtime on Jan. 7, also at Purcell Pavilion).

North Carolina was the first program to pull off this feat, 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).

Streak Stats
Notre Dame’s 21-game winning streak from Nov. 25-Feb. 7 was the second-longest success string in program history, and the longest since the Fighting Irish opened their 2000-01 national championship season on a school-record 23-game winning streak.

Fighting Irish Scoring Early TKOs
Part of Notre Dame’s success this season can be traced to its penchant for jumping out to huge early leads and then keep its foot on the gas the rest of the way.

In 12 games this year, the Fighting Irish have charged to a 20-point lead inside the opening 13 minutes of the game, going on to win all 12 of those contests by an average of 50.9 points per game.

Overall, Notre Dame is outscoring its opponents in the first half this season by close to a 2-to-1 margin (1,271-732), with an average halftime score of 42-24.

Born To Run
In the latest NCAA statistics report released on Monday, Notre Dame leads the nation in scoring offense (now at 81.0 ppg.). That’s just one of six NCAA offensive categories in which the Fighting Irish rank among the top 15, along with scoring margin (second at +29.1 ppg.), field goal percentage (third at .480), assists (fourth at 18.5 apg.), assist/turnover ratio (12th at 1.11) and free throw percentage (14th at .766).

Notre Dame also has topped the 100-point mark twice (first time since 1998-99, second time in school history), and has scored at least 90 points in a game eight times this year, tying the school record set last season.

What’s more, Notre Dame has done an excellent job of putting teams away, recording 19 20-point wins, and 11 victories by at least 30 points (second-most in school history behind the 12 30-point wins last year).

Century City
Twice this season, Notre Dame has gone “over the top”, scoring 100 points in a game during victories at Mercer (128-42 on Dec. 30) and at home against BIG EAST Conference rival Pittsburgh (120-44 on Jan. 17).

Prior to this season, the Fighting Irish had never scored more than 113 points in a game (113-35 win over Liberty on Nov. 24, 1989, at the UCF Rotary Classic in Orlando, Fla.), and had scored in triple digits just 13 times in the program’s first 34 seasons.

What’s more, this marks just the second time Notre Dame has ever posted multiple 100-point games in the same season — in 1998-99, the Fighting Irish defeated No. 25/23 Illinois, 101-93, on Nov. 24 at Purcell Pavilion, before defeating West Virginia, 111-90, on Jan. 7, also at home.

As one might expect, Notre Dame’s two offensive explosions rank as the top two single-game point totals in the nation in 2011-12. Oklahoma is third with a 117-point night against visiting Sacramento State on Nov. 13.

Lock It Up
Notre Dame ranks among the top 20 in the nation in five NCAA defensive statistical categories — steals (third, now at 13.4 spg.), scoring defense (seventh at 51.9 ppg.), turnover margin (eighth at +6.6), rebound margin (ninth at +10.0 rpg.) and field goal percentage defense (20th at .350).

The Fighting Irish have held 24 opponents to 61 points or fewer, with a school-record 16 failing to score more than 50 points against Notre Dame — last year’s Fighting Irish squad had 14 games in which it allowed 50 points or fewer.

Notre Dame’s defensive effort has extended to smaller increments as well. In their last 49 halves of basketball (dating back to the second half against No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26), the Fighting Irish have held their opponents to 25 points or fewer 57.1 percent of the time (28 halves), including 34 percent of the time (16 halves) when the opposition didn’t crack 20 points.

Gimme Some Of That
Fueled by its aggressive defense, Notre Dame has been in the taking mood this year, forcing its opponents into at least 20 turnovers in 19 games thus far, with Fighting Irish foes averaging 23.3 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +6.6 turnover margin that is eighth-best in the nation (as of Monday).

The Fighting Irish wasted little time in setting the tone this season, forcing a combined 112 turnovers in their first three games, an average of 37.3 per night, and converting those into 142 points (47.3 ppg.). That run was highlighted by an opponent season-high 46 turnovers against Akron on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion, the third-most takeaways in school history, and second-most in the program’s Division I era (49 vs. New Hampshire on Nov. 12, 2010).

The Fighting Irish have been especially hard on opponents in their 16 home games this season, forcing 26.3 turnovers per game and collecting at least 17 in each Purcell Pavilion contest thus far.

The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into this weekend’s tournament ranked third in the nation in steals with 13.4 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 22 games this season, including three contests with 20-plus steals.

Highlighting this year’s takeaway brigade for Notre Dame was a season-high 29-steal performance in the opening night victory against Akron on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish followed that up two days later with 25 thefts in a win over Indiana State, and nabbed 26 steals in a Dec. 28 win over Longwood.

Prior to last season, Notre Dame had posted 23 steals in a game just seven times in the first 33 years (and 991 games) of the Fighting Irish women’s basketball program, and only three games with 25-plus steals in that time, none since a then-record tying 29 steals at Saint Louis on Jan. 31, 1991. What’s more, Notre Dame had not earned a conference steals title since 1989-90, when it led the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) with 10.9 spg.

Yet, in the past two years (69 games), the Fighting Irish have had eight 23-steal games, with five outings of at least 25 thefts, and they have earned the last two BIG EAST steals crowns with 11.8 spg. (2010-11) and 11.4 spg. (2011-12) during regular-season league play.

Individually, Notre Dame has 10 different players with double-digit steals this season (including three with at least 60 thefts), led by junior guard Skylar Diggins, who leads the BIG EAST at 2.6 steals per game, and fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, who is seventh at 2.3 spg.

Helping Hands
Continuing a trend from last season, Notre Dame has shared the basketball very well to date this year.

In the latest NCAA statistics report, the Fighting Irish were fourth in the nation (and second in the BIG EAST), currently at 18.5 assists per game, including a season-high 33 assists against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17 (one of 13 games with 20-or-more assists this year, including six with 25 assists).

Individually, junior guard Skylar Diggins is 14th in the nation in assists (BIG EAST-best 5.8 apg.) and 13th in the country with a 2.26 assist/turnover ratio (also tops in the conference).

What’s more, Notre Dame has assisted on 63.4 percent of its field goals this season (555 of 876), compared to last year when the Fighting Irish registered assists on 60.9 percent of their baskets (669 of 1,099), with 16 games of at least 20 assists.

Experience Matters
Notre Dame has benefited from an experienced lineup this season, using the same starting five (guards Skylar Diggins, Brittany Mallory, Kayla McBride and Natalie Novosel, and forward Devereaux Peters) for all but three games this year (Dec. 30 at Mercer, when senior guard and Atlanta-area native Fraderica Miller earned the nod in her homecoming game; Jan. 7 vs. No. 2 Connecticut; Feb. 25 vs. USF, when Miller again started for Senior Day).

The foundation of this stable lineup has been the quartet of Diggins, Mallory, Novosel and Peters, which has started all 30 games this year and also started 34 of 39 games last year (Mallory missed two games with an ankle injury and came off the bench for two more, while Diggins relinquished her starting spot for Senior Day last year to allow walk-on forward Mary Forr to make the start). In the four games Mallory was not in the lineup last year, McBride earned the first starts of her college career.

Collectively, the current Notre Dame lineup has started 344 games in their careers (Diggins-98, Novosel-73, Peters-72, Mallory-70, McBride-31).

Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has featured a balanced offense thus far, with at least three players scoring in double figures in 26 games, and at least four double-digit scorers in 14 games, including a season-high (and school record-tying) eight with at least 10 points against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17.

During the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 48-4 (.923) when it has at least four players score in double figures, with two of those losses coming in overtime (March 28, 2010 – 77-72 vs. Oklahoma in NCAA Sweet 16 at Kansas City; Nov. 18, 2010 – 86-83 in double overtime vs. UCLA at Purcell Pavilion) and a third by a single point (Feb. 28, 2011 – 70-69 at DePaul).

The Fighting Irish also have had six different players lead them in scoring this season. Five of the six leading scorers this year also have registered at least one 20-point game to date (two topping the 30-point mark), while 10 different Notre Dame players (of the 11 healthy Fighting Irish who have seen action to date) have scored in double figures at least once this year.

Improvement Continues On The Glass
After averaging 37.2 rebounds in its first six games (and holding the upper hand in that category only three times, with an aggregate minus-2 rebounding margin), Notre Dame has featured a marked improvement on the boards since its return from the Bahamas after the Thanksgiving weekend.

In their last 24 games, the Fighting Irish are averaging 42.5 rebounds a night, with an average rebounding margin of +12.6 rpg., winning or finishing even in the rebounding battle all but twice in that span (41-33 against West Virginia on Feb. 12; 35-28 at No. 16 Louisville on Feb. 20). Furthermore, Notre Dame has grabbed at least 40 rebounds 19 times in the past 24 games after not reaching that mark once in its first six contests.

According to the latest NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame ranked ninth in the country in rebounding margin (now +10.0 rpg.) this year.

Windy City Warrior
Fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters is in the midst of one of the best stretches of her college career, averaging 13.5 points, 14.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game with a .530 field goal percentage (53-of-100) and six double-doubles in her last 10 outings.

Here’s a look at some of the rare feats Peters (the Jan. 23 BIG EAST Player of the Week and a member of the Jan. 30 and Feb. 20 BIG EAST Weekly Honor Rolls) has been accomplished in the past six weeks:

  • Peters chalked up consecutive double-doubles against No. 7/9 Tennessee (16 points, 16 rebounds), at St. John’s (18 points, 15 rebounds), and at No. 13/14 Rutgers (10 points, then-career-high 17 rebounds) while adding a career high-tying six assists vs. UT and a season-best five blocks at St. John’s.
  • Peters was the first Notre Dame player with three consecutive 15-rebound games since Feb. 16-24, 1979, when Jane Politiski had four consecutive games with at least 15 rebounds during the program’s AIAW Division III era (21 at Marion, 15 vs. Valparaiso, 18 vs. Saint Mary’s-Ind., 16 vs. St. Joseph’s-Ind.).
  • Peters became the first Fighting Irish player with three consecutive double-doubles since the 2004 NCAA Championship, when Jacqueline Batteast did so against Missouri State (17p/11r), Middle Tennessee (22p/12r) and No. 5/7 Penn State (22p/12r) from March 21-27, 2004.
  • Peters then added a season-high 21 points and 16 rebounds on Feb. 7 in a win at Syracuse, a (then) career high-tying 17 rebounds and six blocks on Feb. 12 against West Virginia, 17 points and a new career-high 18 rebounds on Feb. 25 against USF, and 15 rebounds on Feb. 27 at No. 4 Connecticut, giving her seven 15-rebound games and four 15-point/15-rebound outings in this current nine-game span.
  • Peters has tied the school record with seven 15-rebound games in a single season, and she is the first to do so in Notre Dame’s Division I era. Jane Politiski is the only other player in this elite club — she had seven 15-rebound games during the program’s inaugural season of 1977-78, when the Fighting Irish were competing at the AIAW Division III level.
  • Peters also has tied the school record with four games of 15 points and 15 rebounds in a single season, becoming the first Fighting Irish player to manage that feat since 1996-97, when Katryna Gaither had four such outings, matching the marks first set by Jane Politiski (1977-78) and Shari Matvey (1979-80).

The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted an 88-16 (.846) record in the past three seasons, 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 NCAA national championship game and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 15-9 record against AP Top 25 teams (8-7 vs. the AP Top 10) and a 63-game winning streak against unranked opponents (not appearing in the AP poll) from the start of the 2009-10 season before falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12 (now 65-1 vs. unranked teams).

Upon closer examination, Notre Dame’s 16 losses in Diggins’ career primarily have been verdicts that could have gone either way, with 10 decided by single digits (six that were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.

With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted two of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 77.0 ppg. last year after logging 77.1 ppg. in her freshman season (and Notre Dame is on pace to go well beyond those figures this year).

In addition, thanks to Diggins’ penchant for steals (she has a 2.33 spg. career mark), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top two single-season steal marks in program history with 495 thefts last year and 450 steals the season before. Last season also saw Notre Dame post the third-best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing just 56.2 ppg. (the best since the 2000-01 Fighting Irish yielded 55.8 ppg. en route to the national championship).

A Rally To Remember
Notre Dame tied a school record by digging out of an 18-point second-half hole to defeat No. 7/6 Duke, 56-54 on Nov. 26 in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division championship game at St. Georges High School in Freeport, Bahamas.

Nearly three years earlier on Dec. 30, 2008, the Fighting Irish trailed 46-28 at No. 20/19 Vanderbilt with 15:56 left and came back to win, 59-57 at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn.

This year’s comeback victory over Duke marked the fourth time in program history Notre Dame has ralled from a deficit of 15 points or more to post a victory, with all four of these comebacks occurring in the past 11 seasons.

Beat The Clock
Senior guard Natalie Novosel hit a running bank shot at the foul line as the buzzer sounded to give Notre Dame a 56-54 win over No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26 in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division championship game at St. Georges High School in Freeport, Bahamas.

Novosel’s buzzer-beater was the first winning shot at the horn by a Notre Dame player since Jan. 10, 2006, when Megan Duffy scored the last of her career-high 32 points with an off-handed layup at the overtime siren to earn a 67-65 win over Marquette at Purcell Pavilion.

Notre Dame also has had several players nail winning shots in the final minute of games during recent seasons. Prior to Novosel, Ashley Barlow was the last Fighting Irish player to pull off such late-game heroics, canning a three-pointer with 34.2 seconds remaining to help Notre Dame take a 74-73 win at Syracuse on Jan. 30, 2010.

Another notable recent “beat-the-clock” moment for Notre Dame occurred on Dec. 5, 2007, when Charel Allen sank a foul-line jumper with 0.8 seconds remaining in overtime, lifting the Fighting Irish to an 86-84 win at Bowling Green.

A Grand Trio
Notre Dame has had two of its captains score their 1,000th career point this season — senior guard Natalie Novosel hit the milestone on a free throw with 14:20 remaining on Nov. 13 against Indiana State, while fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters reached the landmark on a layup 16:52 left on Dec. 28 vs. Longwood.

Novosel currently is 13th in school history with 1,432 points, while Peters became the 30th member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club and presently stands 20th with 1,227 points.

Together with junior guard Skylar Diggins (sixth with 1,592 points), Notre Dame has three active players in that elite Fighting Irish club for the third time in school history. In both 2000-01 and 2009-10, Notre Dame also had three 1,000-point players on the roster, with the third reaching that total in her final career game (Kelley Siemon in 2001 NCAA national championship game vs. Purdue, Melissa Lechlitner in 2010 NCAA Sweet 16 game vs. Oklahoma).

The Fighting Irish could have a fourth player reach the scoring millennium later this season — fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory has 932 career points. Should Mallory hit the 1,000-point mark, it would be the first time in the 35-year history of Notre Dame women’s basketball that a quartet of active 1,000-point scorers were on the roster at the same time.

What’s more, Peters became the seventh player from Notre Dame’s 2009-10 NCAA Sweet 16 team to reach the 1,000-point plateau during her career, along with Diggins, Novosel, Lechlitner, Ashley Barlow (10th at 1,492), Lindsay Schrader (15th at 1,429) and Becca Bruszewski (25th at 1,148) — and that doesn’t even include Mallory, who also was part of that season’s 13-player roster.

The Model Of Consistency
The Jan. 23 win over No. 7/9 Tennessee marked the end to a remarkable streak, as senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel was held to four points, her first single-digit point total since March 7, 2011, when she had eight points in Notre Dame’s 71-67 BIG EAST Championship semifinal win over No. 9/13 DePaul at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

Novosel’s 27-game double-digit scoring streak is the second-longest in school history, and was the longest by a Fighting Irish player in 15 seasons.

Katryna Gaither staked an ironclad claim to the school record with a remarkable 76-game double-figure scoring streak from 1994-97.

More Than Tough Enough
Fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Brittany Mallory reached a somewhat-overlooked and key career milestone on Feb. 7 at Syracuse, as she set a school record for career games played (currently at 142), topping the total of her former teammate and co-captain Becca Bruszewski, who played in 136 games from 2007-11.

Aside from the 2008-09 season that Mallory largely missed after injuring her knee in the seventh game at Michigan, she has missed only three other games in her career to date — one as a freshman in 2007-08 (at Richmond) due to an acute illness and two last season (at Kentucky, vs. IUPUI) following an ankle injury suffered against UCLA.

Not bad for a player who also was an All-America lacrosse standout coming from the McDonogh School in suburban Baltimore. In fact, head coach Muffet McGraw foreshadowed Mallory’s endurance at Notre Dame way back on Signing Day, when she said — “You know she’s going to be tough when she’s used to getting beat in the head with a lacrosse stick every day.”

Game #30 Recap: Connecticut
There are few things missing from Muffet McGraw’s impressive resume as coach of Notre Dame.

Skylar Diggins and Natalie Novosel filled one of the holes by guiding the third-ranked Fighting Irish to their first outright BIG EAST championship with a 72-59 victory over No. 4 Connecticut on Monday night at the XL Center in Hartford.

Novosel scored 21 points, and Diggins added 20 for the Fighting Irish (28-2, 15-1 BIG EAST), who will try and win their first BIG EAST conference tournament when they begin play on Sunday.

With the game tied at 51, Notre Dame went on an 11-2 run with Diggins scoring the first eight points. She hit two layups on the fast break then connected on a deep three-pointer. Dolson’s layup broke up the junior guard’s spurt. A free throw by Diggins and a three-pointer by Brittany Mallory made it 62-53 with 9:16 left.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who was scoreless in the first half, had five quick points to get UConn within four. That’s as close as the Huskies could get. Devereaux Peters followed up a free throw with a block on the other end that led to an easy lay-in by Diggins. Mallory hit another three-pointer with just under five minutes left that made it 69-59.

A three-pointer with 3:11 left by Novosel made it a 13-point game and capped the scoring, handing UConn its first double-digit home loss since Dec. 5, 2005, against North Carolina.

Tiffany Hayes scored 22 points and Stefanie Dolson added 18 for UConn (26-4, 13-3), which lost consecutive games at home for the first time in 19 years.

Beyond The Box Score — Connecticut

  • Notre Dame is the first BIG EAST opponent to earn three consecutive series wins against Connecticut since Miami (Fla.) won five in a row against the Huskies from 1992-93.
  • The Fighting Irish are the first opponent of any kind to win three in a row against Connecticut since Tennessee had a similar three-game run from 2005-07 (North Carolina also won their third in a row from UConn in 2007, a streak that started in 2004).
  • Notre Dame earns its first win over Connecticut in eight career matchups at the XL Center.
  • The Fighting Irish defeat Connecticut in its home state for only the second time in 19 series matchups, with the other victory a 65-59 verdict on Jan. 30, 2005, at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.

Polling Station
Notre Dame is ranked No. 3 in this week’s Associated Press poll, its 17th consecutive week in the top five of the media balloting. The Fighting Irish also earned a preseason No. 2 ranking that was their highest since the final 2000-01 poll (taken before the the NCAA Championship), and also was the highest Notre Dame had ever been ranked in the AP preseason poll, topping its No. 4 debut in 2009-10.

Notre Dame received six first-place votes in the 2011-12 AP preseason poll (and four the following week), the first time it received consideration for the top spot since March 11, 2001, when the Fighting Irish earned five first-place votes (they were ranked No. 2 after falling at Connecticut, 79-76 in the BIG EAST tournament final). The previous week, Notre Dame had 33 first-place votes in its sixth week with the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll.

This week’s No. 3 ranking marks the 94th consecutive AP poll appearance for the Fighting Irish, extending the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001). In fact, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career, spending more than half (56) of those appearances in the AP Top 10.

This year’s No. 2 preseason ranking also represents the 12th time in the past 13 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the initial AP poll, something only nine schools in the nation have done — Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee have shown up in all 13 during that span, while Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Stanford join the Fighting Irish with 12 preseason AP poll berths.

Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 233 weeks during the program’s 35-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 11th 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 are No. 3 in this week’s ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches’ poll, after being ranked as high as second for seven weeks earlier this season. Like the AP poll, Notre Dame earned its best-ever preseason ranking (second) in the coaches’ poll, topping its No. 5 placement to begin the 2000-01 campaign. The Fighting Irish also collected five first-place votes in this year’s preseason coaches’ survey (and two a week later), their first nods for the top spot since the final ’00-01 balloting, when they received all 40 first-place votes after winning the national championship.

Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches’ poll for 94 of the past 95 weeks, 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 226 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw’s tenure).

This marks the fourth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 10 of the past 14 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 233 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).

Half And Half
During the past 11 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 242-19 (.927) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 170 of their last 183 such contests (.929).

What’s more, in the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 79-2 (.975) 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 17 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 253-15 (.944) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 23 contests this year.

…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 17 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 166-6 (.965) 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 three years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 43-2 (.956) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level in 14 games this season and winning 13 times.

Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
The past two 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 (8,553 fans per game in 2010-11) and most sellouts in a single season (six in 2009-10). And, as the old saying goes — “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

For the third consecutive year, Notre Dame fans exhausted the program’s season ticket packages (7,500) and bought single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish sell out a school-record eight games this year (Dec. 18 vs. Kentucky, Dec. 28 vs. Longwood, Jan. 7 vs. Connecticut, Jan. 21 vs. Villanova, Jan. 23 vs. Tennessee, Feb. 5 vs. DePaul, Feb. 12 vs. West Virginia, Feb. 25 vs. USF).

What’s more, Notre Dame is averaging 8,811 fans per game (good for fifth in the nation), including those aforementioned eight sellouts (9,149). The Fighting Irish now have posted 19 sellouts in the past three seasons and 25 in program history.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, senior guard Natalie Novosel and fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters are serving as Notre Dame’s team captains for the 2011-12 season. Mallory is in her second season as team captain, while Novosel and Peters received the captain’s honor for the first time in their respective careers following a preseason vote by their teammates.

Next Game: NCAA Championship
Following this weekend’s BIG EAST Championship, Notre Dame will return home to await the announcement of the 64-team field for the 2012 NCAA Championship. The Fighting Irish are seeking their 17th consecutive tournament berth (and 19th overall).

The full NCAA tournament bracket will be unveiled at 7 p.m. (ET) March 12 live on ESPN, with the ESPN family of networks once again set to broadcast all 63 games of this year’s tournament. Official tip times also will be announced on Selection Monday.

— ND —