Junior forward Ariel Braker is averaging 9.0 points and 5.7 rebounds in three games since moving into Notre Dame's starting lineup, including 10 points and eight rebounds in last week's win at Central Michigan.

#5 Irish Host #3 Baylor Wednesday In NCAA Title Game Rematch

Dec. 4, 2012

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2012-13 ND Women’s Basketball: Game 6

#5/5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-0 / 0-0 BIG EAST) vs. #3/3 Baylor Bears (6-1 / 0-0 Big 12)

DATE: December 5, 2012
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. – Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
SERIES: BU leads 3-0 (First meeting at ND)
1ST MTG: BU 76-65 (12/1/10)
LAST MTG: BU 80-61 (4/3/12)
TV: ESPN2 (live) (Dave O’Brien, p-b-p / Doris Burke, color / Rebecca Lobo, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
TICKETS: (574) 631-7356 / UND.com/tickets


  • Notre Dame will face its third ranked opponent in six games this season, and play host to its first top-five team since Jan. 7, 2012, when the Fighting Irish downed No. 2 Connecticut in overtime, 74-67.
  • Notre Dame and Baylor are playing the first NCAA national championship game rematch since Dec. 30, 2010, when Stanford defeated visiting Connecticut, 71-59, to end the Huskies’ NCAA Division I-record 90-game winning streak.

No. 5 Irish Host No. 3 Baylor Wednesday In NCAA Title Game Rematch
Eight months after they tangled with the national championship at stake, No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 3 Baylor will square off once again, this time at 7 p.m. (ET) Wednesday at Purcell Pavilion when the Bears make their first-ever visit to South Bend for a nationally-televised contest on ESPN2.

The Fighting Irish (5-0) closed out November as they started it — with a victory — turning back a gritty Central Michigan squad, 72-63 on Nov. 29 in Mount Pleasant, Mich. Senior guard Skylar Diggins scored 17 of her season-high 25 points in the first half, while junior forward Natalie Achonwa turned in her third consecutive double-double (and fourth this season) with 11 points and game-high 10 rebounds, as Notre Dame held CMU to a .258 field goal percentage in the second half to secure the win.


  • Notre Dame is No. 5 in this week’s Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.
  • Baylor is No. 3 in this week’s Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.

Quick Hitters

  • With its No. 5 ranking in this week’s Associated Press poll, Notre Dame has appeared in the media poll for 101 consecutive weeks, extending a program record that dates back to the 2007-08 preseason poll. In fact, every current Fighting Irish player has competed for a ranked Notre Dame squad throughout her career, with the vast majority of that time (51 of 62 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
  • The Fighting Irish also held down the No. 7 spot in the preseason AP poll, making the first media poll in 13 of the past 14 years (since 1999-2000), something only six other schools in the country can match.
  • Senior guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner have helped Notre Dame win 100 games to date, narrowly holding the most victories by a Fighting Irish class in its first 118 games, surpassing the one-player 2001-02 senior class of Ericka Haney, who was a part of 99 wins in the same number of career games, which came midway through her senior year (a run that was highlighted the 2001 national championship).
  • With 596 victories in her 26 seasons at Notre Dame, head coach Muffet McGraw ranks second on the Fighting Irish athletics all-time coaching wins list (across all sports), trailing only men’s/women’s fencing coach Michael DeCicco (774-80 from 1962-95).
  • McGraw also is 16 wins away from becoming the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and should she do so within the next 59 games, she would be the 11th to compile 700 victories in less than 1,000 games coached). What’s more, when McGraw reaches the 700-win milestone, she will be the third BIG EAST Conference skipper to hit that landmark, along with C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers) and Geno Auriemma (Connecticut), both of whom are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Other Notre Dame Notables

  • Notre Dame is among the nation’s winningest programs during the past 17 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking fourth with 414 victories.
  • Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in average attendance annually since 2000-01 (including top-five rankings the past three years), and is off to another hot start at the box office this year, averaging 8,720 fans per game. Last season, the Fighting Irish ranked fifth in the nation (8,571), setting a school record for average attendance for the third consecutive season. The Fighting Irish also have drawn at least 5,000 fans to 178 of their last 180 home games (including an active streak of 21 consecutive contests with 8,000 fans), logging 26 Purcell Pavilion sellouts, including 20 in the past four seasons (a school-record eight in 2011-12). Notre Dame tipped off this year with its first home-opening sellout, packing the house for its Nov. 18 win over Massachusetts.
  • The Fighting Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as nine Notre Dame players have been selected in the past 12 seasons. Devereaux Peters and Natalie Novosel were the most recent Fighting Irish players to be chosen, with both going in the first round (Peters third overall to Minnesota; Novosel eighth overall to Washington) of the 2012 WNBA Draft. Last year’s draft marked the first time Notre Dame has had two first-round picks in the same year, while Peters was the highest-drafted player (and first lottery selection) in program history. Ruth Riley (Chicago) was active in the league during the ’12 season, helping the Sky contend for a playoff berth into the final weeks of the season. Three of Notre Dame’s 10 all-time WNBA alums have won a total of four league championships — Riley won a pair of crowns with the Detroit Shock (2003 Finals MVP, 2006), Coquese Washington toiled for the 2000 Houston Comets, while Jacqueline Batteast was Riley’s teammate on the 2006 title-winning squad in Detroit. Peters nearly joined that list in 2012, helping Minnesota return to the WNBA Finals, but the Lynx could not defend their title, falling to Indiana in four games.
  • For the sixth year in a row, the Fighting Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October. What’s more, Notre Dame was one of only four schools in the previous five years to record a 100-percent GSR and play for a national championship in the same season (and the only program to do it twice, pulling off that feat in 2011 and 2012).

Scouting Baylor
Although its 42-game winning streak has now ended, No. 3 Baylor (6-1) remains a prime contender to defend its national championship in 2012-13. The Bears have all five starters back from last year’s club that went 40-0, capped by a win over Notre Dame in the title game.

Since its 71-69 loss to Stanford on Nov. 16 in Honolulu (a game that saw junior All-America guard Odyssey Sims sidelined after less than five minutes with a hamstring injury), Baylor has won four in a row, most recently thumping Rice, 89-49 on Nov. 27 in Houston. Senior All-America center and reigning National Player of the Year Brittney Griner tallied 35 points (on 16-of-19 shooting) and nine rebounds, while graduate student forward Brooklyn Pope added 17 points off the bench and redshirt junior forward Destiny Williams chipped in a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds).

The 6-foot-8 Griner sets the pace for the Bears with 21.0 points and 2.1 blocks per game and a .656 field goal percentage, while Williams is second in scoring (10.9 ppg.) and field goal percentage (.625), and tops in rebounding (7.0 rpg.). Prior to her injury, Sims was averaging 10.7 points and a team-high 4.7 assists per game.

Head coach Kim Mulkey is in her 13th season at Baylor with a 344-80 (.811) record in Waco, including a 3-0 mark against Notre Dame.

The Notre Dame-Baylor Series
Notre Dame and Baylor will be meeting for the fourth time, all within the past three seasons, with the Bears having won the previous three games in the series. The teams played twice last year, with BU winning 94-81 in the Preseason WNIT championship game on Nov. 20 in Waco, Texas, and then 80-61 in the NCAA national championship game on April 3 in Denver.

Wednesday’s game will mark the first time Baylor has visited South Bend, and it’s the back half of a home-and-home series with the Bears that started in the 2010-11 season when BU posted a 76-65 victory on Dec. 1, 2010, in Waco.

The Last Time Notre Dame And Baylor Met
This was not the way the spectacular senior class that transformed Notre Dame’s program and shook up the BIG EAST wanted to end their college careers.

The school’s trio of senior starters went out on April 3, 2012, with an 80-61 loss to Baylor in the NCAA national championship game at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

Leading scorer Natalie Novosel didn’t make a basket and scored five points, 10 below her average and 23 fewer than she had against Baylor five months earlier.

Nor was it Devereaux Peters’ or Brittany Mallory’s.

Peters ended up a sideline spectator for most of the night because of foul trouble, finishing with just seven points and three rebounds while logging only 15 minutes.

Mallory, the shooting star in Notre Dame’s semifinal win over Connecticut, finished with just three points and then hit the floor so hard in the closing minutes that she, too, had to take a breather on the bench.

Indeed, the Fighting Irish went 35-4 and once again beat BIG EAST bully UConn in the national semifinals only to once again come up short of cutting down the nets.

They were hoping to deny the Lady Bears an unbeaten season and a shot at history; Baylor is the first team in NCAA history to go 40-0.

Instead, Notre Dame became the third team to lose in back-to-back championship games, joining Tennessee (2003 and `04) and Auburn, which dropped three straight from 1988-90.

In 2011, they let a late lead slip away in a 76-70 loss to Texas A&M.

Notre Dame’s senior class had 117 wins, but Baylor center Brittney Griner, with 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks, barely gave them a chance at No. 118.

The Fighting Irish hung tough for 25 minutes even as Griner was getting her buckets, boards and blocks in bunches. They had trimmed an early 14-point deficit to 42-39 when Peters picked up her fourth foul on a hard pick on Odyssey Sims and took a seat.

Baylor closed with a spectacular display of amazing athleticism by Griner and precise shooting by her supporting cast in a dominant 38-22 closing run.

Other Notre Dame-Baylor Series Tidbits

  • Notre Dame is 7-10 (.412) all-time against Texas schools, having lost its last four games against the Lone Star State since a 75-62 win over SMU in an NCAA Championship first-round game on March 23, 2008, in West Lafayette, Ind.
  • However, the Fighting Irish are 3-0 all-time against Texas schools at Purcell Pavilion, most recently doubling up Rice, 80-40, on Dec. 31, 2000 (in what was head coach Muffet McGraw’s 300th career win).
  • Notre Dame has had four players on its all-time roster from the state of Texas. Kelly Hicks (1977-80; Bandera) was the first Lone Star State product to suit up for the Fighting Irish, followed by Ellen Mauch (1987; Mineral Wells). More recently, two members of Notre Dame’s 2001 NCAA national championshp teams came from Texas — Imani Dunbar (1997-2001; San Angelo) and Amanda Barksdale (1999-2002; Friendswood). Barksdale has recently returned to Notre Dame, where she now serves as an assistant in the University’s office of Academic Services for Student-Athletes.
  • Notre Dame senior guard Skylar Diggins and Baylor junior guard Odyssey Sims were teammates on the 2011 USA World University Games Team that went 6-0 and hammered its opponents by a record-setting 45.0 points per game en route to the gold medal.
  • Diggins and Baylor redshirt senior forward Destiny Williams were part of the 2009 USA Basketball Under-19 World Championship Team that earned the gold medal in Thailand and was led by current Notre Dame associate head coach Carol Owens. Team USA went 8-1 in the tournament, with two of those wins coming over a Canadian team that was led by current Fighting Irish junior forward Natalie Achonwa.
  • Williams is a native of Benton Harbor, Mich., and attended Benton Harbor High School, located less than 40 miles from the Notre Dame campus.
  • Both former college point guards, Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw and Baylor’s Kim Mulkey are the only coaches to both play for and coach a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, and then also coach that same team to a national championship. McGraw played at Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) when it rose to No. 3 in 1977, while Mulkey was the floor general for top-ranked Louisiana Tech in 1982. McGraw then took Notre Dame to the 2001 national championship, while Mulkey did the same with Baylor in 2005 and 2012.
  • McGraw and Mulkey also are members of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, with McGraw being enshrined in June 2011, while Mulkey was a 2001 inductee.
  • Veteran Fighting Irish women’s soccer coach Randy Waldrum held a similar post at Baylor from 1996-98, starting the Bears’ program from scratch and leading BU to the school’s first Big 12 title (in any sport) in 1998 and the women’s soccer program’s first NCAA Championship berth before leaving in 1999 to come to Notre Dame (where he has led the Fighting Irish to a pair of national titles in 2004 and 2010). Waldrum also took the reins as head coach of the United States Under-23 Women’s National Team in 2011.
  • One of Waldrum’s first recruits at Baylor was goalkeeper Dawn Greathouse, who went on to be a three-time All-Big 12 selection and a second-team All-America choice in 1998. The holder of virtually every meaningful goalkeeping record in both school and Big 12 history when she departed, Greathouse graduated from Baylor in 2001, and recently completed her 10th season as an assistant coach at Notre Dame. In November 2011, Greathouse returned to Waco to be inducted into the Baylor Athletics Hall of Fame.
  • Notre Dame and Baylor are part of an elite group of 14 schools who have won NCAA national championships since the NCAA began sponsoring the Division I women’s basketball tournament in 1982. The defending champion Bears are one of at least four NCAA champions the Fighting Irish will face this season (along with seven-time champion Connecticut, 1999 champion Purdue and eight-time titleist Tennessee, and possibly a fifth in 2011 victor Texas A&M at the World Vision Classic later this month). Notre Dame has gone 37-87 (.298) all-time against other former or current national champions. Among that group, the Fighting Irish have a series record of .500 or better against USC (8-2), North Carolina (2-1) and Texas (1-1).

Play It Again, Sam
Wednesday’s game will mark the second time Notre Dame has taken part in a rematch of the previous year’s NCAA national championship game. On Dec. 6, 2001, Purdue avenged its two-point loss to the Fighting Irish in the 2001 title contest with a 70-57 victory over Notre Dame at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.

On a larger scale, the Notre Dame-Baylor clash is the first NCAA national championship game rematch of any kind since Dec. 30, 2010, when Stanford and Connecticut replayed their 2010 NCAA title game contest (won by the Huskies, 53-47 at the Alamodome in San Antonio). However, the rematch at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion belonged to the host Cardinal, who posted a 71-59 victory to snap Connecticut’s NCAA Division I-record 90-game winning streak.

Notre Dame vs. The Big 12 Conference
Notre Dame is 27-11 (.711) all-time against current Big 12 Conference members, including a 12-1 (.923) record at home. The vast majority of those results have come against West Virginia, which the Fighting Irish played annually when the Mountaineers were members of the BIG EAST Conference from 1996-2012.

In fact, WVU is responsible for Notre Dame’s only home loss to a current Big 12 school, edging the Fighting Irish, 65-63 on Feb. 12, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion.

If one removes Notre Dame’s record against both West Virginia and the other new Big 12 member, TCU, the Fighting Irish are 7-8 (.467) against the remainder of the Big 12, and won their only prior home game against that conference, defeating Iowa State, 69-58 on Feb. 6, 1983 (when the Cyclones were part of the Big Eight Conference, the forerunner to the Big 12).

It’s Easy Being (Lime) Green
Notre Dame has designated Wednesday’s game against Baylor as a “Lime Out”, with fans encouraged to wear the unique shade of green in support of the Fighting Irish.

Lime green has become the unofficial color of the Notre Dame women’s basketball program since the 2001 NCAA national championship game when head coach Muffet McGraw sported a blouse in that shade while leading the Fighting Irish to a thrilling 68-66 win over Purdue and their first national title.

Since then, Notre Dame has used that color as the basis for the omnipresent t-shirts it issues annually to its season ticket holders, who have become known as the “Spirit Patrol” and are easily recognizable in arenas around the country, both home and away.

Wait … Is That … Digger?????
Fans are invited to remain in their seats at halftime of Wednesday’s game, as the Southold Dance Theater offers a preview of its annual performance of the holiday classic, “The Nutcracker,” which will be performed Saturday and Sunday at the Morris Performing Arts Center in downtown South Bend.

The highlight of Wednesday’s preview will be the appearance of former Notre Dame men’s basketball coach, longtime ESPN analyst and South Bend resident Digger Phelps, who will be in full makeup and costume to play the role of Mother Ginger in SDT’s performances of “The Nutcracker” for the seventh consecutive year.

And for those wondering — yes, Digger plans to have one of his ubiquitous color-coordinated highlighters hidden beneath the garish Mother Ginger costume.

Yes We Can
At Wednesday’s game against Baylor, Notre Dame will hold its annual Food for Friends canned food drive to benefit the St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Joseph County. Fans attending the game are asked to bring canned good or non-perishable food items to Gates 8-10 at Purcell Pavilion, where volunteers will be collecting the donations for later delivery.

Last year, Notre Dame fans rose to the challenge and donated more than 2,000 pounds of food to St. Vincent de Paul, which was enough to feed more than 500 Michiana residents during the holiday season.

Game #5 Recap: Central Michigan
After getting an up-close look at Skylar Diggins, Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara knew she made the right decision in voting the Notre Dame star an All-American.

Diggins scored 17 of her 25 points in the first half, and the No. 5 Fighting Irish pulled away for a 72-63 victory over the Chippewas on Nov. 29 at McGuirk Arena in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

“I’m on the All-American committee, and I voted for (Diggins),” Guevara said simply when asked about Diggins’ performance. “Skylar takes the game over.”

Diggins also added six steals and played a huge role in a defensive turnaround in the second half. Four of those takeaways came in the final seven minutes to help thwart a Central Michigan comeback.

Ariel Braker added 10 points and eight rebounds to help the Fighting Irish (5-0) close November undefeated for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

Jessica Green scored 19 points and Niki DiGuilio had 12 points for Central Michigan.

Green scored 12 points in the first 20 minutes, and Crystal Bradford grabbed seven of the team’s 21 first-half rebounds to help keep the Chippewas within reach of the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame opened the second half on a 7-0 run but Central Michigan pulled within one with under 12 minutes to play. The Fighting Irish led the entire second half but didn’t truly pull away until Diggins hit a free throw for a 70-60 lead with 45 seconds to play.

Beyond The Box Score: Central Michigan

  • Notre Dame goes undefeated in the month of November for the first time since the 2009-10 season, when the Fighting Irish went 6-0 in November — Notre Dame is 76-14 (.844) when playing in the month of November since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96.
  • The Fighting Irish had four double-figure scorers for the fourth consecutive game; since the start of the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 56-4 (.933) when it has at least four double-figure scorers, including an active 26-game winning streak.
  • Notre Dame had a season-high 24 free throws made and 31 free throw attempts.
  • Central Michigan’s nine three-pointers were the most by a Notre Dame opponent since March 7, 2011, when No. 9/13 DePaul also made nine treys, but the No. 10/8 Fighting Irish prevailed, 71-67 in the BIG EAST semifinals at Hartford, Conn.
  • Diggins scored a season-high 25 points and posted her 34th career 20-point game.
  • Diggins matched her career high with 12 free throws made, having also done so at home against West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012.
  • Diggins’ season-best six steals (one off her career high) moved her into third place on Notre Dame’s all-time steals list with 284 thefts.
  • Achonwa registered her third consecutive double-double and fourth in five games this season — she is the second Fighting Irish player in as many years with a run of three consecutive double-doubles, following in the footsteps of Devereaux Peters, who had a similar surge from Jan. 23-30, 2012.

Mix And Match
Notre Dame is off to a 5-0 start in a very unique way this season, with the Fighting Irish rolling out five different starting lineups in their five victories. It’s the first time in Notre Dame’s 36-year women’s basketball history that the Fighting Irish have had a different starting five in each of their first five games, with one having to go back to 1991-92 to find the last time Notre Dame had four unique lineups in five games.

Everyone Pitches In
With the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-Americans (and 2012 WNBA first-round draft picks) Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame entered this season searching to find a way to make up for the talented duo’s 27.0 points and 13.4 rebounds per game.

Thus far in 2012-13, it would appear the Fighting Irish are making this mission truly a team effort. On the scoring side, seven of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double figures at least once in the first five games of the season, including freshman guards Jewell Loyd (three times) and Michaela Mabrey (once), and junior forward Ariel Braker (twice, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined).

On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa ranks third in the BIG EAST at 9.6 rebounds per game and has piled up four of her six career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading four double-doubles in her first five games (including each of the past three contests) after logging one double-double in her career prior to this season.

The Best Things In Life Are Free
Though it’s early in the 2012-13 season, Notre Dame already is displaying an early penchant for making opponents pay at the free throw line.

Through their first five games, the Fighting Irish lead the BIG EAST and rank fifth in the nation, shooting a remarkable .805 (91-of-113) from the charity stripe, including a season-high .905 (19-of-21) in their Nov. 18 home-opening win over Massachusetts. On average, Notre Dame is getting to the line more than 22 times per game, converting better than 18 free throws a night.

Last year, Notre Dame set a school record by connecting at a .763 clip from the foul line, leading the BIG EAST with a stellar .807 percentage during conference play.

Junior guard Kayla McBride has had the most success cashing in on this strategy during the past two seasons, shooting .872 from the stripe last year (a league-leading .919 in BIG EAST games) and making nine of 10 free throws (.900) so far this season.

For her career, McBride has logged an .872 free throw percentage, matching Alicia Ratay’s school-record mark from 1999-2003.

Diggins Challenging School Records
Throughout the 2012-13 season, senior guard Skylar Diggins will continue to close the gap that separates her from the highest eschelon of Notre Dame women’s basketball players in a number of the program’s top career categories. Here’s a look at just a few of the notable milestones Diggins will have a shot to reach this season:

  • Diggins (448 rebounds) is 52 rebounds away to become the first women’s basketball player in school history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in her career. Only one Notre Dame men’s basketball player has ever compiled that impressive combination of statistics (Chris Thomas from 2001-05).
  • Diggins (1,796 points) is 204 points away from becoming the fourth 2,000-point scorer in school history, and she needs 551 points to catch current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham as the program’s all-time leading scorer. On Nov. 23 at No. 19/22 UCLA, Diggins moved into the top five on the Notre Dame career scoring list, passing sharpshooting All-America guard Alicia Ratay (1999-2003).
  • In addition, Diggins (284 steals) is 64 steals away from assistant coach Niele Ivey’s school record for career thefts. On Nov. 29 at Central Michigan, Diggins moved into third place on the Fighting Irish all-time steals list, passing the prior co-holders of the No. 3 spot — Mary Gavin (1984-88) and Ashley Barlow (2006-10).
  • Diggins (544 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Gavin, needing 234 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 183 ahead of Diggins). Diggins also is nearing the top five in this category, currently ranking sixth, just 10 behind Coquese Washington (1989-93).

The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 100-18 (.847) record in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), a mark that can be traced in no small part to the arrival of guard Skylar Diggins. The South Bend native has helped lead the Fighting Irish to a spot in the 2011 and 2012 NCAA national championship games and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 21-11 record against AP Top 25 teams (10-9 vs. the AP Top 10) and a 71-1 record against unranked opponents (not appearing in the AP poll), including a 63-game winning streak from the start of the 2009-10 season before falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012.

Upon closer examination, Notre Dame’s 18 losses in Diggins’ career primarily have been ones that could have gone either way, with 11 decided by single digits (six were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.

With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted three of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 78.9 ppg. last year, after logging 77.0 ppg. in 2010-11, and 77.2 ppg. in her freshman season of 2009-10.

In addition, thanks to Diggins’ penchant for steals (she has a 2.41 spg. career mark that is fourth-best in school history), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top three single-season steal marks in program history with 502 thefts last year, 495 steals in 2010-11, and 450 thefts in 2009-10.

The past two years also have seen Notre Dame post two of the four best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing a school-record 52.9 ppg., last season (well ahead of the previous mark of 55.1 ppg., in 1981-82) and giving up just 56.2 ppg., in 2010-11.

Celebrity Sighting
Southern California is known for its frequent celebrity sightings. So it came as no surprise on Nov. 23 when a luminary was spotted in the post-Thanksgiving crowd at Pauley Pavilion watching Notre Dame defeated No. 19/22 UCLA.

Renowned rapper, actor, author, poet, model and activist (and Chicago native) Common was on hand to witness the 76-64 Fighting Irish victory, and then stopped by the Notre Dame locker room after the game to greet and take photos with the Fighting Irish players and coaches.

Anchors Aweigh
Notre Dame made a bit of women’s basketball history on Nov. 9, joining with Ohio State to play the first women’s game ever on the deck of an aircraft carrier, as the teams squared off outdoors in the second annual Carrier Classic aboard the decommissioned USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C. (on the shores of Charleston Harbor).

The game was played to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project, which aids returning veterans who have been injured while in the service of our country, and the Fighting Irish were exceptionally proud and honored to have former Notre Dame guard, U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (`00) join the team on the bench for their historic game against Ohio State. Green, who lost her left (shooting) hand in May 2004 during a rocket-propelled grenade attack while on patrol on the roof of a police station in Baghdad, Iraq, delivered an inspiring pre-game speech to the current Fighting Irish squad before they came out to face Ohio State.

Notre Dame won this year’s Carrier Classic game, 57-51, behind the second career double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) from junior forward Natalie Achonwa and 16 points from junior guard Kayla McBride. After the game, head coach Muffet McGraw said the victory was dedicated to Green.

Polling Station
Notre Dame is ranked No. 5 in the latest Associated Press poll, its 31st consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and its 101st consecutive week in the AP poll.

The Fighting Irish reached a milestone on Nov. 26 with their No. 5 ranking, which was their 100th consecutive AP poll appearance. It not only extended the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001), but it made the Fighting Irish are one of six teams in the nation with an active streak of 100 consecutive AP poll appearances.

What’s more, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career (62 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (51) of those appearances in the AP Top 10 (and never lower than 18th).

Notre Dame started the year at No. 7 in the preseason AP poll, representing the 13th time in the past 14 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the initial AP poll, something only seven schools in the nation have done — Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee have shown up in all 14 during that span, while Georgia, Oklahoma and Stanford join the Fighting Irish with 13 preseason AP poll berths.

Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 240 weeks during the program’s 36-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks ninth among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and 20th all-time in that category.

In addition, the Fighting Irish are holding steady at No. 5 for the third consecutive week in the latest ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches’ poll, after starting the season at No. 6 for the first two weeks.

Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches’ poll for 101 of the past 102 weeks (and 65 in a row), falling just outside the Top 25 in the final poll of the 2008-09 season. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish have appeared in the coaches’ poll for a total of 234 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw’s tenure).

This marks the fifth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 11 of the past 15 campaigns (1998-99 to present).

More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 32 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 240 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 32 people on this list, 15 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart), with McGraw and Baylor’s Kim Mulkey are the only active skippers to play for and coach a team in the AP poll, and coach that team to a national title (McGraw in 2001, Mulkey in 2005 and 2012).

Half And Half
During the past 12 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 252-19 (.930) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 180 of their last 193 such contests (.933).

What’s more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 89-2 (.978) when leading at the half, with the only losses coming on April 5, 2011, in the NCAA national championship game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (Notre Dame led Texas A&M, 35-33 at intermission before falling 76-70), and Feb. 12, 2012, against West Virginia (Fighting Irish led 33-30 at the break before the visiting Mountaineers rallied to win in the closing seconds, 65-63).

The Best Offense Is A Good Defense…
During the past 18 seasons, Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season (Notre Dame’s first in the BIG EAST Conference), the Fighting Irish have an amazing 261-15 (.946) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including three outings so far this season.

…But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 18 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 170-6 (.966) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are three overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995 and UCLA (86-83 in double OT) in 2010, as well as a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008, and a 94-81 setback at Baylor in 2011.

In the past four years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 47-2 (.959) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level twice this season.

Now That’s A Home Court Advantage
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame’s success has been its stellar play at home. In fact, the Fighting Irish have been virtually untouchable at home in recent years, winning 223 of their last 251 games (.888) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51, 25 and 20 games in that span (the latter from 2011-12, ending Feb. 12 vs. West Virginia).

Since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 50-4 (.926) — including wins in 26 of their last 27 home games — and three of the four Fighting Irish losses in their refurbished facility have come by three points or fewer (two in overtime).

Notre Dame also has a 120-20 (.857) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the former Joyce Center, sporting a program-record 31-game league winning streak at home before it ended with a 48-45 loss to Villanova in the `02 home finale.

The Fighting Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 105 of their last 113 non-BIG EAST contests (.929) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the eight losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents (four by 12 points or less) — Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT), Indiana in 2006 (54-51) and Minnesota in 2009 (79-71) — with the other defeats coming to Tennessee in 2005 (62-51) and 2008 (87-63), and to UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT). The Purdue loss also snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak which began after the UW setback.

Since its inaugural season in 1977-78, Notre Dame has played all of its games at the former Joyce Center, posting a 373-89 (.807) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Fighting Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, which was the school record for home victories in a season prior to the 2009-10 campaign, when Notre Dame went 16-1, a mark that lasted only two seasons before the Fighting Irish posted a 17-1 record at Purcell Pavilion last year.

Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
The past three seasons have seen an unprecedented surge in fan support for Notre Dame women’s basketball, as the Fighting Irish set new program records for the highest year-end NCAA attendance ranking (fourth in 2009-10), highest average attendance (8,571 fans per game in 2011-12) and most sellouts in a single season (eight in 2011-12). And, as the old saying goes — “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

For the fourth consecutive preseason, Notre Dame fans all but exhausted the program’s season ticket packages (approximately 7,500) and have snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish already sell out Wednesday’s game against Baylor and the March 4 Connecticut game.

Notre Dame got its home slate off to a fine start at the box office on Nov. 18, welcoming the first home-opening sellout in school history for its victory over Massachusetts. That capacity crowd also was the 26th in the program’s 36-year tenure, including the 20th in the past four years alone.

The Fighting Irish currently are averaging 8,720 fans through their first two home games of 2012-13.

While some individual tickets may be made available on the day or week of the game for selected contests this season (depending on returned inventory by visiting teams and other constituencies), it’s entirely possible that, for the second consecutive season, Notre Dame will flirt with a sellout for every one of its home games.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Senior guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner are serving as Notre Dame’s team captains for the 2012-13 season. Both players received the captain’s honor for the first time in their respective careers following a preseason vote by their teammates.

Coming Soon: Irish in the ACC
On Sept. 12, 2012, the University of Notre Dame announced that it had accepted an offer of admission into the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for all sports except football (the league does not offer championships in ice hockey or fencing).

The change in conference affiliation (for which a timetable has not yet been established) will be the first for Notre Dame since 1995, when the Fighting Irish moved from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) to the BIG EAST Conference.

In its 18 seasons in the BIG EAST, the Notre Dame women’s basketball program has been the one of the conference’s best, winning two BIG EAST regular-season titles (2001 and 2012) and compiling a 216-64 (.771) record in league play that remains the second-best regular-season winning percentage in BIG EAST women’s basketball history.

Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
Now in its sixth season, Notre Dame’s wildly-successful “Big Mac” promotion will once again look to send fans home with full bellies, offering a coupon for a free Big Mac from South Bend-area McDonald’s restaurants if the Fighting Irish score at least 88 points in a home game.

In the six-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 37 times, most recently on Nov. 20 against Mercer.

Junior forward Ariel Braker, senior guard Kaila Turner and sophomore forward Markisha Wright are the leaders among current Fighting Irish players, with all three players having registered three “Big Mac baskets” during their respective careers.

And for those tracking such things (or perhaps falling under the heading of “the media relations director has way too much time on his hands”), 20 different players have converted the “burger ball”, including seven current members of the Fighting Irish roster.

What’s more, of the 37 Big Mac games, 17 have been reached on two-point baskets, 13 on free throws, and seven on three-pointers.

Next Game: Utah State
Notre Dame will play its last game before the final exam break at noon (ET) Saturday when it welcomes Utah State (2-5) to Purcell Pavilion for the first-ever meeting between the schools.

The Aggies, whose program was restarted in 2003 following a 16-year absence due to statewide budget cuts, have been largely living out of suitcases this season, playing six of their first seven games away from their Logan, Utah, campus.

USU was scheduled to visit BYU Tuesday night before making the trip east to South Bend this weekend.

— ND —