Senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel scored a game-high 28 points (including an NCAA tournament record 18-of-20 from the free throw line) in Notre Dame's 73-62 second-round win over California on Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion.

#4 Irish To Face #21/25 St. Bonaventure Sunday In NCAA Sweet 16

March 22, 2012

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2011-12 ND Women’s Basketball: Game 36

NCAA Championship — Raleigh Regional Semifinal
#4/4 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (32-3 / 15-1 BIG EAST) vs. #21/25 [#5 seed] St. Bonaventure Bonnies (31-3 / 14-0 Atlantic 10)

DATE: March 25, 2012
TIME: 2:30 p.m. ET
AT: Raleigh, N.C. – PNC Arena (19,722)
SERIES: First meeting
TV: ESPN2/ESPN3 (live) (Pam Ward, p-b-p / Rebecca Lobo, color / Allison Williams, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1)/ (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
TWITTER: @ndwbbsid


  • Notre Dame will be playing its 15th ranked opponent of the season, having posted a 12-2 record against Top 25 teams this year.
  • The Fighting Irish last faced a first-time opponent in the NCAA Championship back in 2007, defeating California, 62-59 in the first round.

No. 4 Fighting Irish To Face No. 21/25 St. Bonaventure Sunday In NCAA Sweet 16
For the third consecutive season and fourth time in five years, No. 4 Notre Dame will be playing on the second weekend of the NCAA Championship, as the top-seeded Fighting Irish prepare to take on No. 21/25 (and fifth-seeded) St. Bonaventure at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday in the semifinals of the NCAA Raleigh Regional at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.

Notre Dame (32-3) advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 73-62 victory over on Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish broke away from the pesky Bears by opening the second half on a 23-6 run and Cal never got closer than nine points the rest of the way.

Senior guard Natalie Novosel scored a game-high 28 points (including an NCAA tournament record 18-of-20 from the foul line), and junior guard Skylar Diggins added 21 points for Notre Dame.


  • Notre Dame was No. 4 in the final Associated Press poll and is No. 4 in the current ESPN/USA Today poll.
  • St. Bonaventure was No. 21 in the final Associated Press poll and is No. 25 in the current ESPN/USA Today poll.

Quick Hitters

  • Notre Dame has advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season (a first in program history), as well as the fourth time in five years and 10th overall.
  • 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 15 of 10 different NCAA statistical categories, including seven top-10 appearances (as of Thursday). The Fighting Irish rank second in scoring offense (79.2 ppg.), while placing third in scoring margin (+27.1 ppg.) and steals (13.1 spg.), fourth in field goal percentage (.471) and assists (18.0 apg.), fifth in turnover margin (+6.74), eighth in scoring defense (52.1 ppg.), 11th in assist/turnover ratio (1.12), 12th in rebounding margin (+9.0 rpg.) and 14th in free throw percentage (.764).
  • Notre Dame is 12-2 against Top 25 opponents this season (8-2 away from home), including five victories in seven outings against teams in the top 10. The 12 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).
  • 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).
  • Nine of the 12 Fighting Irish victories against Top 25 opponents this season have been by double digits, including four by at least 25 points — notably 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 back-to-back 30-win seasons for the first time in school history while reaching that mark for the fourth time in school history (31-7 in 1996-97; 34-2 in 2000-01; 31-8 in 2010-11). The Fighting Irish also notched their 30th win prior to the NCAA Championship for the first time ever.
  • Of the 32 Fighting Irish wins, 21 have come by 20+ points, and a school record-tying 12 by at least 30 points. In 26 victories this year, Notre Dame has held its opponent to 60 points or fewer, with a school-record 18 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. 4 in the latest Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls, marking the 19th consecutive week the Fighting Irish appeared in the top five of both major national polls. That’s the longest uninterrupted streak of consensus top-five poll appearances in school history, topping the previous standard set during the final 18 weeks of the 2000-01 season (Notre Dame was sixth in the preseason AP poll that year).
  • With its No. 4 ranking in the final AP poll of the season, Notre Dame has appeared in the media rankings for 96 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 (58 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
  • With 588 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 406 victories.
  • Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in attendance annually since 2000-01 (including top-five rankings the past three years). This season, the Fighting Irish ranked fifth in the nation with 8,571 fans per home game, setting a school record for average attendance for the third consecutive season. The Fighting Irish also have drawn 5,000-or-more fans to 176 of their last 178 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-St. Bonaventure Series
Notre Dame and St. Bonaventure will be playing for the first time on Sunday afternoon.

Other Notre Dame-St. Bonaventure Series Tidbits

  • St. Bonaventure will be the sixth first-time opponents on this year’s Notre Dame schedule. The Fighting Irish opened the season with win over new foes Akron (81-61), Indiana State (99-34) and Hartford (98-43) in the first three rounds of the Preseason WNIT, before ousting Longwood (92-26) on Dec. 28 and winning at Mercer (128-42) on Dec. 30.
  • The Bonnies will be the 193rd different opponent in the 35-year history of Notre Dame women’s basketball.
  • Notre Dame and St. Bonaventure have played seven times in men’s basketball, with the Fighting Irish holding a 5-2 in the series. Those programs last met on Dec. 22, 1994, with Notre Dame earning a 57-54 victory at Purcell Pavilion.
  • The Fighting Irish and Bonnies also played once on the gridiron, with the Notre Dame football team getting three touchdowns from Joe Pliska to spark a 34-0 win over St. Bonaventure slightly more than a century ago (Nov. 11, 1911, at Cartier Field in South Bend). Also of note — one of the sophomore left ends for the Fighting Irish that afternoon was a Chicago resident (and Norwegian immigrant) named Knute Rockne, who would gain a bit more fame as head coach at Notre Dame from 1918-30 (105-12-5 record, three consensus national championships).
  • Through the years, Notre Dame has faced St. Bonaventure in men’s lacrosse (23-4 Fighting Irish win in only prior meeting on March 1, 1992, at Notre Dame) and baseball (5-2 Notre Dame win on March 18, 1989, in Durham, N.C.; 6-4 Fighting Irish win on March 2, 2008, at Palm Beach Challenge in Santaluces, Fla.).
  • Notre Dame is 51-7 (.879) against first-time opponents since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, including a 31-3 (.912) mark vs. new teams since the start of the 2000-01 season.
  • In the past 11 years, the Fighting Irish are 10-3 (.769) when playing a first-time opponent away from home, with a 6-0 record at neutral sites (3-0 in the NCAA Championship, most recently taking a 62-59 win over California in the first round of the 2007 tournament at Pittsburgh, Pa.).
  • The Fighting Irish will be playing in the state of North Carolina for the sixth time in school history (4-1 record) and first since Dec. 28, 2008, when they earned a 68-61 victory at Charlotte. Senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel is the only current Notre Dame player who saw action in that win over the 49ers, coming off the bench as a freshman to tally 12 points, five rebounds and four steals.
  • Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw and St. Bonaventure head coach Jim Crowley are two of the four finalists for the 2012 Naismith Coach of the Year award. It’s the fifth time McGraw has been a finalist for the honor, while Crowley is a first-time finalist.

Notre Dame vs. The Atlantic 10 Conference
Notre Dame is 69-18 (.793) all-time against the current members of the Atlantic 10 Conference, including a 37-10 (.787) record away from home (road and neutral site games combined).

The Fighting Irish also have an active 14-game winning streak against that league’s present alignment, including victories in seven of the past eight seasons (Dayton in 2003-04 and 2004-05; Richmond in 2006-07 and 2007-08; Charlotte in 2008-09 and 2009-10; Temple in 2010-11).

The last time Notre Dame lost to a current A-10 school was on Feb. 18, 1995, when La Salle defeated Notre Dame, 84-68, in Philadelphia, when both schools were then part of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League).

St. Bonaventure will be the third Atlantic 10 school the Fighting Irish have played in the NCAA Championship. Notre Dame defeated George Washington twice in NCAA play, toppling the Colonials in the 1997 East Regional final (62-52 in Columbia, S.C.) and again in a 2000 Mideast Region second-round game (95-60 at Purcell Pavilion). Then, just last season, the Fighting Irish won a second-round matchup with Temple, 77-64, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

New York State Of Mind
Notre Dame is 52-5 (.912) all-time against New York-based teams, including a 25-5 (.833) record away from home and wins in 10 of their last 11 games overall (only loss a 76-71 setback at St. John’s on Feb. 16, 2010).

The Fighting Irish are facing their third New York school this season, having already earned victories on the road at St. John’s (71-56 on Jan. 28) and Syracuse (74-55 on Feb. 7).

Coincidentally, St. John’s and Syracuse account for all five New York wins over Notre Dame (three for the Red Storm, two for the Orange — four road, one neutral site).

Irish In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is making its 19th appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 17th in a row, as it takes the Purcell Pavilion court Sunday afternoon for its NCAA Raleigh Regional semifinal game against St. Bonaventure. The Fighting Irish have a .667 winning percentage (34-17) in NCAA Championship play, ranking ninth all-time in that category (minimum of 20 games played).

In addition, Notre Dame’s current streak of 17 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances ranks sixth in the record books (and eighth-longest at any time in tournament history).

Here are some other facts about the Fighting Irish in the “Big Dance” (see pp. 160-178 in this year’s regular season media guide for box scores, results and records):

  • Each of Notre Dame’s 19 NCAA tournament appearances have come during the tenure of 25th-year head coach Muffet McGraw.
  • Counting this year’s win over Liberty, the Fighting Irish now have won their NCAA tournament opener in 15 of the past 17 seasons, dating back to the start of their membership in the BIG EAST Conference (1995-96 to present).
  • Notre Dame is one of seven schools in the country to have advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 10 times in the past 16 years (1997-2012).
  • Notre Dame is one of 11 schools to make three trips to the NCAA Women’s Final Four and come away with at least one national championship, going to the semifinals in 1997, the title game in 2011, and winning it all in 2001. Of the others in this elite club, seven were selected for this year’s tournament — Notre Dame, Connecticut, Maryland, Purdue, Stanford, Tennessee and Texas (all but Purdue and Texas have advanced to the Sweet 16).
  • Including this year’s two victories, Notre Dame is 10-2 (.833) all-time in NCAA tournament play at Purcell Pavilion. Between first-round losses to Minnesota in 1994 and 2009, the Fighting Irish won six consecutive NCAA tourney games at home, and they have reached the Sweet 16 five times from Purcell Pavilion (2000, 2001, 2004, 2010, 2012).

Sowing The Seeds
For the second time in program history, Notre Dame has earned a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Championship.

In 2001, the top-seeded Fighting Irish opened the tournament with victories at Purcell Pavilion over 16th-seeded Alcorn State (98-49) and No. 8 seed Michigan (88-54), before moving on to defeat fifth-seeded Utah (69-54) and No. 3 seed Vanderbilt (72-64) in the NCAA Midwest Regional at the Pepsi Center in Denver (site of this year’s NCAA Women’s Final Four).

Notre Dame went on to win its first NCAA national championship, defeating fellow No. 1 seed Connecticut in the national semifinals (90-75) and third-seeded Purdue (68-66) in the title game.

Notre Dame has been awarded a top-eight seed for the 13th time in its 19 NCAA Championship visits (and a top-four seed for the sixth time). The Fighting Irish are 21-5 (.808) all-time as the higher seed in NCAA tournament play.

It Hinges On Defense
Notre Dame’s success in the NCAA Championship can be directly traced to its performance at the defensive end of the floor. In its 19 NCAA tournament trips (50 games), the Fighting Irish are 19-2 (.905) when holding their opponent to 60 points or fewer, adding to that mark with a 74-43 victory over Liberty in their first-round game on March 18 at Purcell Pavilion.

Notre Dame’s two losses to teams scoring 60 points or fewer both came at the hands of top-seeded clubs — Penn State (55-49) in the 2004 East Regional semifinals, and North Carolina (60-51) in the second round of the 2007 Dallas Region.

Re-Stoking The Offensive Fires
Prior to the 2008 NCAA Championship, Notre Dame had gone 13 consecutive games without scoring more than 61 points in a regulation NCAA tournament contest, dating back to its 2001 national championship game win over Purdue (68-66 at the Savvis (now Scottrade) Center in St. Louis).

However, that 2008 tournament saw the Fighting Irish offense roar to life, as Notre Dame topped the 70-point mark in its first two games (75-62 over SMU and 79-75 in overtime over Oklahoma) before a hard-fought 74-64 loss to Tennessee at the regional semifinals at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.

The back-to-back 70-point outings were the first for the Fighting Irish in the NCAA Championship since their Midwest Regional final and Final Four games in 2001, as they downed Vanderbilt (72-64) and Connecticut (90-75), respectively.

Notre Dame has reached the 70-point mark in 13 of its last 15 NCAA tournament games, with the 2010 first-round win at home over Cleveland State (86-58) representing the highest point production by the Fighting Irish in the NCAA Championship since that 2001 NCAA national semifinal win over Connecticut in St. Louis.

Bonus Basketball
Notre Dame is 2-1 all-time when going to overtime in the NCAA tournament, following its 2010 regional semifinal loss to Oklahoma (77-72 in Kansas City). The Fighting Irish had previously beaten the Sooners in OT in the NCAA tournament (79-75 in a 2008 second-round game at West Lafayette, Ind.), and also defeated Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), 69-65, in extra time in their 2004 NCAA opener.

Notre Dame is 17-17 (.500) all-time when going to overtime, including a 5-4 record in its last nine contests. This season, the Fighting Irish won their lone overtime game, a 74-67 thriller over No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 7 at Purcell Pavilion.

Don’t Mess With Tradition
The Notre Dame women’s basketball program has developed some traditions that should be quite evident during this weekend’s NCAA Raleigh Regional games at PNC Arena:

  • Green nails — each of the Fighting Irish players and female coaches wear green nail polish throughout the NCAA Championship. This tradition started during the 1997 tourney, when the Fighting Irish added the green polish to their fingers prior to their second-round St. Patrick’s Day game at Texas, which Notre Dame won 86-83. The Fighting Irish ended up going to their first NCAA Final Four that season and the green nail polish was here to stay. As a show of solidarity, the male members of the travel party usually paint their left pinky green, and some (including associate head coach Jonathan Tsipis) have even gone so far as to shave their heads for the tournament.
  • Green uniforms — though not limited exclusively to NCAA tournament play, Notre Dame’s distinctive kelly green road uniforms have become a staple of the postseason in keeping with the St. Patrick’s Day holiday, which often falls during the early rounds of the tournament (and came this year on the day before Notre Dame took the floor for its first-round game against Liberty). The Fighting Irish most recently wore the alternate green road threads in the NCAA Championship for last year’s national championship game against Texas A&M (a 76-70 loss) — Notre Dame is 8-8 (.500) all-time in the NCAA tournament when featuring the “wearing o’ the green.” The Fighting Irish also have broken out their alternate home whites with green trim for early-round games the past five seasons, posting a 7-1 (.875) record in those uniforms (2008 – a 75-62 win over SMU in West Lafayette, Ind.; 2009 – a 79-71 home loss to Minnesota; 2010 – an 86-58 home win over Cleveland State and 84-66 home win over Vermont; 2011 – a 67-54 win at Utah and 77-64 win over Temple in Salt Lake City; 2012 – a 74-43 win at home over Liberty and 73-62 home win over California), the first time they have been worn in NCAA tournament play.
  • Irish jig — this unique pre-game ritual has become one of the widely-recognized traditions of Notre Dame women’s basketball. Just prior to the introduction of the starting lineups, the Fighting Irish players will circle up in the lane with a basketball at their feet. As the Notre Dame pep band plays, the team will perform the Irish Jig (a popular step with Notre Dame fans, especially the student body) with the ball bouncing around in the midst of their dance. This tradition is believed to have started during the 1999-2000 season, but picked up steam during Notre Dame’s 2000-01 national championship run and has been part of the Fighting Irish pre-game ritual ever since.

And Don’t Forget The Lime Green Shirts
The ever-present lime green t-shirts you might see many Notre Dame fans wearing around Raleigh this week are given out annually to Fighting Irish women’s basketball season ticket holders, a group affectionately known as the “Spirit Patrol”. Created by coordinator of basketball operations Stephanie Menio, the shirts are based on one of head coach Muffet McGraw’s favorite colors, which she sported on the sidelines during the 2001 national championship game win over Purdue.

Turn It Up To Eleven
It was clear to many who watched Notre Dame’s second-round win over California on Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion that the raucous Fighting Irish faithful were a big reason for Notre Dame’s success, and a record-setting 17th home win of the season.

In fact, during the second half of that 73-62 Fighting Irish victory, Josh Flynt (a blogger for Notre Dame’s official web site, measured the noise level in the arena with an iPhone app and came up with a n unofficial peak reading of 99 decibels — nearly equivalent to the noise produced by a motorcycle or snowmobile and loud enough that sustained exposure to it could cause hearing damage.

Notre Dame averaged 6,648 fans for its two NCAA Championship home games this year, the highest average from any of the 16 first/second-round host sites. What’s more, the two single-game attendance figures (6,777 for round one; 6,519 for round two) were the two highest single-game marks in the first two rounds of the 2012 NCAA Championship, as well as the third- and fourth-largest crowds for an NCAA postseason game in program history. The record is 9,597, set on March 19, 2001, for a second-round win over Michigan (prior to the renovation of Purcell Pavilion that reduced the seating capacity to its current figure of 9,149).

Thirty Deeds
The 73-45 win over No. 25 West Virginia in the BIG EAST Championship semifinal on March 5 was Notre Dame’s 30th victory of the season, marking the fourth time in program history the Fighting Irish have reached the 30-win mark, and the second consecutive season. Notre Dame also logged that milestone in 1996-97 (31-7), 2000-01 (34-2) and 2010-11 (31-8).

Not only does this represent the first time the Fighting Irish have posted back-to-back 30-win seasons, but it also is the first time they have ever registered their 30th win prior to the NCAA Championship.

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 139 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 Feb. 27, 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).

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.

Lessons Learned
Since its Nov. 20 loss at No. 1 Baylor, Notre Dame has won 12 of its last 13 games against ranked opponents (including five against top-10 teams), earning nine of those victories by double digits (and four 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 13 Top 25 opponents to just 58.9 points per night, including nine games when the opposition scored 60 points or fewer.

Notre Dame also has held its ranked foes to a .369 field goal percentage (.246 from the three-point line), and posted a +3.2 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).

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 14 games this year, the Fighting Irish have charged to a 20-point lead inside the opening 14 minutes of the game, going on to win all 14 of those contests by an average of 47.9 points per game.

Overall, Notre Dame is outscoring its opponents in the first half this season by a wide margin (1,451-858), with an average halftime score of 42-24.

Born To Run
According to Thursday’s NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame ranks second in the nation in scoring offense (79.2 ppg.) and third in scoring margin (+27.1 ppg.). Those are just two of six NCAA offensive categories in which the Fighting Irish rank among the top 15, along with field goal percentage (third at .471), assists (fourth at 18.0 apg.), assist/turnover ratio (11th at 1.12) and free throw percentage (14th at .764).

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 21 20-point wins, and 12 victories by at least 30 points (tying the school record set 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 15 in the nation in four NCAA defensive statistical categories — steals (third at 13.1 spg.), turnover margin (fifth at +6.74), scoring defense (eighth at 52.1 ppg.) and rebound margin (12th at +9.0 rpg.).

The Fighting Irish have held 26 opponents to 60 points or fewer, with a school-record 18 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 59 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 52.5 percent of the time (31 halves), including 30.5 percent of the time (18 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 21 games thus far, with Fighting Irish foes averaging 22.8 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +6.74 turnover margin that is fifth-best in the nation (as of Thursday).

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 were especially hard on opponents in their 18 home games this season, forcing 25.7s turnovers per game and collecting at least 17 in each Purcell Pavilion contest.

The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into Sunday’s game ranked third in the nation in steals with 13.1 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 26 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 (74 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 70 thefts for the second consecutive year), led by junior guard Skylar Diggins, who is averaging a BIG EAST-best 2.6 steals per game, and fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Brittany Mallory, who is tied for seventh at 2.1 spg.

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

In Thursday’s NCAA statistics report, the Fighting Irish are fourth in the nation (second in the BIG EAST) at 18.0 assists per game, including a season-high 33 assists against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17 (one of 14 games with 20-or-more assists this year, including seven with 25 assists).

Individually, junior guard Skylar Diggins is 16th in the nation in assists (BIG EAST-best 5.7 apg.) and 15th in the country with a 2.12 assist/turnover ratio (also tops in the conference).

What’s more, Notre Dame has assisted on 62.8 percent of its field goals this season (630 of 1,003), 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 35 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 369 games in their careers (Diggins-103, Novosel-78, Peters-77, Mallory-75, McBride-36). That total includes 37 NCAA Championship starts between the group (Diggins-11, Mallory-8, Novosel-8, Peters-8, McBride-2).

Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has featured a balanced offense thus far, with at least three players scoring in double figures in 30 games, and at least four double-digit scorers in 16 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 50-4 (.926) 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 (including four different high scorers in the past five games, all in the postseason). 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 29 games, the Fighting Irish are averaging 41.6 rebounds a night, with an average +10.9 rpg. margin. Furthermore, Notre Dame has grabbed at least 40 rebounds 21 times in the past 29 games after not reaching that mark once in its first six contests.

This improvement on the glass was never more apparent than in the first two rounds of this year’s NCAA Championship, when the Fighting Irish faced two of the nation’s top three teams (in terms of rebounding margin). Liberty came into its first-round matchup with Notre Dame owning a national-best +16.4 rpg. margin, but the Fighting Irish posted a 38-29 edge on the boards. Two days later, California had the country’s No. 3 rebounding margin figure (+13.1 rpg.), but the Fighting Irish again won the battle on the glass by a 40-35 count. In both cases, it was just the second time all season the Lady Flames and Golden Bears had not finished on the positive side of the rebounding ledger.

According to Thursday’s NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame ranks 12th in the country in rebounding margin (+9.0 rpg.) this year.

Fighting Irish Trio Nabs All-Region Honors
For the third consecutive year (and the third time in school history), three Notre Dame women’s basketball players have earned all-region status in the same season and now are in position to contend for places on the 2012 State Farm Coaches’ All-America Team, it was announced March 15 by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The Fighting Irish are one of only three programs in the country (along with Baylor and St. John’s) to field three all-region honorees this season, and Notre Dame is the only school in the land to have three all-region selections each of the last three years.

Junior guard Skylar Diggins earned her third all-region citation in as many seasons, while senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel and fifth-year senior forward/tri-captain Devereaux Peters both garnered all-region honors for the second time in their respective careers. All told, 11 Fighting Irish players have collected all-region laurels a total of 23 times in the program’s 35-year history.

Diggins’ selection is particularly noteworthy, as she becomes just the third Notre Dame player to collect three all-region citations in her career, joining Ruth Riley (1999-2001) and Jacqueline Batteast (2002, 2004-05) in that elite sorority. All three of those players also made the 10-member State Farm Coaches All-America Team at some point during their careers, with Riley making the 2001 squad, Batteast doing likewise in 2005 and Diggins the most recent Fighting Irish All-America choice in 2011.

This announcement is the latest in a recent spate of awards for all three Fighting Irish players, each of whom was tabbed for first-team all-BIG EAST Conference honors earlier this month. Diggins — who also was named the BIG EAST Player of the Year and is a finalist for both the Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award — was a unanimous choice (her third consecutive all-league award and second unanimous honor), while Novosel and Peters were first-team all-BIG EAST selections for the second year in a row. What’s more, Peters was chosen as the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, becoming just the fourth player in conference history to earn that award twice, along with Rutgers’ Essence Carson (2006-08), Riley (1999-2001) and Connecticut’s Nykesha Sales (1997-98).

From this year’s list of 52 all-region nominees, a group of 40 will be chosen by the State Farm Coaches’ All-America Team selection committee to remain in the running for spots on the 2012 State Farm Coaches’ All-America Team, which will be unveiled at 1:05 p.m. MT (3:05 p.m. ET) on March 31 in Denver during events surrounding the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

The 30 finalists not chosen for the 10-member State Farm Coaches’ All-America Team will be designated as State Farm Coaches’ All-America Honorable Mentions, a status earned by 11 Fighting Irish players, all in the past two decades — Karen Robinson (1991), Katryna Gaither (1996, 1997), Beth Morgan (1996, 1997), Riley (1999, 2000), Batteast (2002, 2004), Megan Duffy (2005, 2006), Charel Allen (2007), Diggins (2010), Lindsay Schrader (2010), Novosel (2011) and Peters (2011).

Windy City Warrior
Fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters is winding down her college career in the best way possible — at the top of her game. In her last 15 outings (beginning with the Jan. 23 win over No. 7/9 Tennessee), the Chicago native is averaging 12.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game with a .524 field goal percentage (75-of-143) and eight double-doubles.

Here’s a closer look at some of the rare feats Peters (the two-time BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year and first-team all-BIG EAST pick) has been accomplished in the past two months:

  • 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, 17 rebounds and six blocks on Feb. 12 against West Virginia, 17 points and a 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 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).
  • Most recently, Peters packed the stat sheet with 11 points, a game-high 14 rebounds, a career-high seven blocks and a game-high five assists in Tuesday’s NCAA second-round win over California at Purcell Pavilion. It was Peters’ fourth career double-double in NCAA Championship play, all within the past seven games.

The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 92-17 (.844) 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 berths in the 2010 and 2012 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 16-10 record against AP Top 25 teams (8-8 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 68-1 vs. unranked teams).

Upon closer examination, Notre Dame’s 17 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 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 2.34 spg. career mark that is fourth-best in school history), 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 10th in school history with 1,514 points, while Peters became the 30th member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club and presently stands 19th with 1,282 points.

Together with junior guard Skylar Diggins (sixth with 1,657 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 957 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 (11th 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 147), topping the total of her former teammate and co-captain Becca Bruszewski, who played in 136 games from 2007-11 (a mark senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel also now has passed with 140 games played).

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.”

McGraw Is Naismith Coach Of Year Finalist
For the fifth time in her storied career, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw has been selected as a finalist for the Naismith National Coach of the Year award, it was announced March 16 by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. McGraw previously was chosen as a finalist for the Naismith Award in 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2005, and she was accorded the honor in ’01 when the Fighting Irish won their first NCAA national championship.

Joining McGraw on this year’s list of Naismith National Coach of the Year finalists are Jim Crowley (St. Bonaventure), Kim Mulkey (Baylor) and Tara VanDerveer (Stanford). The finalists were determined by the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s National Voting Academy, comprised of leading basketball journalists, coaches and administrators from around the country. The academy based its criteria on coaching performances this season.

Now in its 25th year, the Naismith Award is among the most prestigious national honors presented annually to the women’s college basketball coach of the year. This year’s recipient will be announced in early April.

Polling Station
Notre Dame is ranked No. 4 in the final 2011-12 Associated Press poll, its school-record 19th consecutive week in the top five of the media balloting (old mark was the final 18 weeks in 2000-01). 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.

The No. 4 final ranking marks the 96th 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 (58) of those appearances in the AP Top 10.

This also signals the third consecutive season and sixth time overall that Notre Dame has been ranked in the top five of the final AP poll. The Fighting Irish were second in 2000-01, fifth in 1999-2000, seventh in 2009-10, eighth in 1998-99 and ninth last year.

Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 235 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. 4 in the last regular-season 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 96 of the past 97 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 228 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 235 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, 14 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 245-19 (.928) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 173 of their last 186 such contests (.930).

What’s more, in the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 82-2 (.976) 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 256-15 (.945) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 26 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.

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 Regional Final
Should Notre Dame defeat St. Bonaventure in Sunday’s NCAA Raleigh Regional semifinals, the Fighting Irish would advance to the Raleigh Regional final at 9 p.m. (ET) Tuesday against either second-seeded Maryland or third-seeded Texas A&M at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. — ESPN will televise the game live to a national cable audience.

Notre Dame is 1-4 all-time against Maryland, last facing the Terrapins on Nov. 16, 2007 (a 75-59 UM victory in the Preseason WNIT semifinals at the Comcast Center in College Park, Md.).

The Fighting Irish are 0-2 all-time against Texas A&M, including a 76-70 loss to the Aggies in last year’s NCAA national championship game (April 5, 2011, at Conseco (now Bankers Life) Fieldhouse in Indianapolis).

— ND —