Sophomore forward Markisha Wright scored a season-high 20 points in Notre Dame's win over Saint Francis (Pa.) on Monday afternoon to close out the pre-conference schedule for the Fighting Irish.

#5 Irish Open BIG EAST Play At #1 Connecticut Saturday

Jan. 4, 2013

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2012-13 ND Women’s Basketball: Game 13

#5/5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-1 / 0-0 BIG EAST) vs. #1/1 Connecticut Huskies (12-0 / 0-0 BIG EAST)

DATE: January 5, 2013
TIME: 4 p.m. ET
AT: Storrs, Conn. – Gampel Pavilion (10,167)
SERIES: UCONN leads 29-8
1ST MTG: UCONN 87-64 (1/18/96)
LAST MTG: ND 83-75, ot (4/1/12)
TV: CBS (live) (Don Criqui, p-b-p / Mary Murphy, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
TWITTER: @ndwbbsid


  • Notre Dame will be facing its sixth ranked opponent of the season (4-1 record), including its third in four games.
  • The Fighting Irish are 13-4 (.765) in conference openers since joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96. Notre Dame also has won 11 of its last 13 league lidlifters, including the past six in a row.

No. 5 Fighting Irish Open BIG EAST Play At No. 1 Connecticut Saturday
After a highly-successful pre-conference slate that featured four wins over ranked teams and an electric offense that has reached triple digits three times, No. 5 Notre Dame steps into the crucible of BIG EAST play as the Fighting Irish take on No. 1 Connecticut at 4 p.m. (ET) Saturday at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. The game will be televised live to a national audience on CBS as part of its annual weekend of women’s basketball coverage.

Notre Dame (11-1) is coming off a record-setting performance in its last outing, a 128-55 win over Saint Francis (Pa.) on New Year’s Eve at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish tied the school record (and broke the arena mark) for points in a game, while also matching the most points by any NCAA Division I team since 2002.

Sophomore forward Markisha Wright led six Notre Dame players in double figures with 20 points, while junior guard Kayla McBride added 19 points and senior guard Skylar Diggins dished out a career-high 14 assists.


  • Notre Dame is No. 5 in this week’s Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.
  • Connecticut is No. 1 in this week’s Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.

Quick Hitters

  • Notre Dame is off to a 11-1 start for the fifth time in six seasons and the seventh time in school history (all beginning in 2000-01).
  • The Fighting Irish are 4-1 against ranked opponents this year, defeating No. 19/21 Ohio State (57-51), No. 19/22 UCLA (76-64), No. 22 Texas A&M (83-74) and No. 11 Purdue (74-47), while dropping a 73-61 decision to No. 3 Baylor (a game Notre Dame led 50-49 with less than eight minutes remaining).
  • In six games (all wins) since its only loss of the season (Dec. 5 vs. third-ranked Baylor), Notre Dame is averaging 96.8 points per game (winning by 39.8 ppg.), posting a rebound margin of +19.3 per game, and has forced opponents into an average of 26.0 turnovers per night (15.2 of those coming on Fighting Irish steals).
  • According to the new NCAA statistical report (issued Monday before Notre Dame played Saint Francis), the Fighting Irish ranked in the top 20 in nine categories — assists (4th – now 21.2 apg.), free throw percentage (4th – .813), scoring offense (5th – 86.2 ppg.), scoring margin (8th – +29.6 ppg.), rebound margin (8th – +13.1 rpg.), assist/turnover ratio (13th – 1.32), steals (14th – 13.9 spg.), field goal percentage (15th – .471) and turnover margin (17th – +8.25).
  • Notre Dame has shown remarkably balanced offensive production this season, with 10 of the 11 players on the roster having scored in double figures at least once.
  • The Fighting Irish already have set a school record with three 100-point games this season (all within the past six games). The highlight of this stretch came on Dec. 31 at home against Saint Francis (Pa.) in a 128-55 victory, marking the highest offensive output by any NCAA Division I team this season (and matching the highest by any D-I program since 2002 – Notre Dame also scored 128 points last year at Mercer).
  • With its No. 5 ranking in this week’s Associated Press poll, Notre Dame has appeared in the media poll for 105 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 (55 of 66 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
  • Senior guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner have helped Notre Dame win 106 games to date, matching the most victories by a Fighting Irish class through 125 games, first set by the one-player 2001-02 senior class of Ericka Haney, who was a part of 106 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 602 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 10 wins away from becoming the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and should she do so within the next 52 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 420 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 8,881 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 182 of their last 184 home games (including an active streak of 25 consecutive contests with 8,000 fans), logging 29 Purcell Pavilion sellouts, including 23 in the past four seasons (a school-record eight in 2011-12). Notre Dame already has four sellouts in six home games this season, most recently for the Dec. 31 win over Saint Francis (Pa.).
  • 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 Connecticut
Behind four returning starters from last year’s Final Four squad and a strong freshman class, Connecticut (12-0) has risen to No. 1 in the latest national polls. The Huskies took over the top spot in the rankings this week after going on the road to knock off previously-unbeaten (and No. 1-ranked) Stanford, 61-35 on Dec. 30, ending the Cardinal’s 82-game home winning streak.

Like Notre Dame, UConn last played on New Year’s Eve, completing its two-game West Coast road swing with a 95-51 win at Oregon. Sophomore forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led six Huskies in double figures with a game-high 19 points, making 5-of-9 three-pointers. Junior center Stefanie Dolson added 16 points, while redshirt senior guard Caroline Doty flirted with a triple-double, ending up with 14 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and seven assists.

Mosqueda-Lewis is averaging a team-high 16.9 points per game with a BIG EAST-leading .532 three-point percentage. Freshman forward Breanna Stewart is second on the team in scoring (15.2 ppg.) and tied with Dolson (11.9 ppg.) for the lead in rebounding (6.7 rpg.), with all three players shooting better than 56 percent from the field.

Head coach Geno Auriemma is in his 28th year at Connecticut with an 816-129 (.863) record, including a 29-8 mark against Notre Dame.

The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
Notre Dame and Connecticut will square off for the 38th time on Saturday, and the 12th time since the start of the 2009-10 season. The Huskies lead the all-time series, 29-8 (including an 18-2 record on their various home floors), but the Fighting Irish come in having won four of the past five meetings between the teams.

The Last Time Notre Dame And Connecticut Met
Notre Dame is back in the national championship thanks to Skylar Diggins’ steady leadership and Brittany Mallory’s clutch shooting.

Diggins scored 19 points, Mallory hit two big three-pointers in overtime and the Fighting Irish beat Connecticut 83-75 in the NCAA Women’s Final Four national semifinals on April 1, 2012, at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

The two hooked up for a game-turning play in overtime when Diggins stood her ground on a fast break, blocked the shot to prevent the Huskies from retaking the lead, then fed Mallory at the other end for her second important three, fueling a critical 8-0 Fighting Irish run.

The game was tied at 67 after regulation following an 8-2 run by UConn that was fueled by a series of hustle plays from Kelly Faris, who had a steal and a basket and four free throws in the final 90 seconds.

The Huskies, who were led by Stefanie Dolson’s 20 points despite foul trouble, stretched their run to 11-3 when Bria Hartley opened the extra period with a three-pointer.

The Huskies had the ball again after a missed free throw but Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis fired up an off-target three-pointer early in the shot clock and UConn never recovered.

Natalie Novosel led the Fighting Irish with 20 points, including her offensive rebound and reverse layup with 4.6 seconds left in regulation that tied it after Diggins’ shot was off.

Devereaux Peters added 17 points and 12 rebounds for Notre Dame, which also knocked out UConn in the semifinals in 2001, when the Fighting Irish won their first national title. Hartley had 18 points for the Huskies.

The Last Time The Fighting Irish And Huskies Met In Connecticut
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 19 points, and Bria Hartley added 18 to help No. 4 UConn beat third-ranked Notre Dame, 63-54 on March 6, 2012, at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., and win its fifth straight BIG EAST tournament title.

Skylar Diggins led the Fighting Irish with 16 points.

UConn was trailing 36-33 early in the second half, when its top scoring pair netted all 10 points during a 10-1 run. Mosqueda-Lewis had a floater and a jump shot. Hartley finished it off with the last six points, the final two coming after she stole the ball at midcourt and then made an acrobatic layup.

Notre Dame closed to 46-43 with 8:46 left on Kayla McBride’s three-pointer, but couldn’t complete the comeback.

Mosqueda-Lewis and Hartley hit back-to-back baskets and UConn held Notre Dame without a field goal for 5 1/2 minutes after Diggins’ lay-in made it 50-45 with 7:05 left. Diggins finally ended the drought with 1:35 remaining, but UConn hit its free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

Other Notre Dame-Connecticut Series Tidbits

  • Saturday’s game is the 38th in the series, making it the most frequent series in Notre Dame history (one more than the Fighting Irish rivalries with Midwestern schools/BIG EAST members DePaul and Marquette).
  • In the eight series games covering the past two seasons, six of those contests have been decided by single digits, including the first two in series history to go to overtime (both won by the Fighting Irish last year).
  • All eight of Notre Dame’s wins in the series have come since the start of the 2000-01 season, including three in as many meetings in the NCAA Women’s Final Four national semifinals (2001, 2011, 2012).
  • With their three wins last year, the Fighting Irish became the first team since 1992-93 (Miami-Fla.) to defeat Connecticut three times in one season.
  • This will mark the 15th time both teams have been ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll at tipoff, with the series knotted at 7-7 in these games.
  • Notre Dame is 5-4 all-time against Connecticut when both teams are ranked in the top five of the AP poll, with this marking the fifth consecutive series meeting that both the Fighting Irish and Huskies are ranked fifth or higher by the media at tipoff.
  • Saturday’s game will be the 27th time in the 38-game series that both teams will be ranked at tipoff. At least one team has been ranked in every game of the series.
  • Notre Dame and Connecticut 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 seven-time Huskies are one of five NCAA champions the Fighting Irish will face this season (along with defending champion Baylor, 2011 winner Texas A&M, 1999 champion Purdue and eight-time titleist Tennessee). Notre Dame has gone 39-88 (.307) all-time against other former or current national champions, including a 2-1 record this season (wins over Texas A&M and Purdue). 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).
  • Connecticut is one of three BIG EAST Conference opponents to hold a series edge over Notre Dame, leading the Fighting Irish, 29-8. The only other league foes with winning records vs. Notre Dame are Rutgers (16-12) and DePaul (19-18; ND leads 9-5 since Blue Demons joined BIG EAST in 2005-06).
  • Since the start of the 1998-99 season, Connecticut has lost by 15-plus points seven times, with nearly half (three) of those losses coming to Notre Dame (twice in 2000-01, once in 2003-04).
  • With eight victories over the Huskies since 2000-01, Notre Dame is the only team in the nation to defeat Connecticut at least eight times in the past 13 seasons. Rutgers has five wins over the Huskies during that span, while Tennessee (4), North Carolina (3) and Stanford (3) are the only other schools with at least three victories against Connecticut since the start of the new century.
  • Notre Dame senior guard Skylar Diggins and Connecticut senior guard Kelly Faris finished 1-2 in the 2009 Indiana Miss Basketball voting and were teammates on the 2009 Indiana All-Star Team that swept a two-game series from its Kentucky counterpart.
  • Diggins and Faris were teammates on the 2009 USA Basketball U19 National Team that won the gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships in Thailand. The American squad (which was led by current Notre Dame associate head coach Carol Owens) went 8-1 at the tournament, with co-captain Diggins averaging 11.6 points per game and Faris adding 3.4 ppg.
  • Diggins and Connecticut junior guard Bria Hartley were teammates (along with former Huskies’ guard Ann Strother and Stanford junior forward Chiney Ogwumike) on this past summer’s USA Basketball 3×3 National Team that went 9-0 and earned the gold medal at the inaugural FIBA 3×3 World Championships in Athens, Greece. It was Diggins’ fifth USA Basketball gold medal and fourth in international competition during the past five years.
  • Diggins also was a teammate of Connecticut redshirt senior guard Caroline Doty on the White Team at the 2007 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs. The trio helped the White squad to a 5-0 record and the gold medal that weekend.
  • Notre Dame freshman guard Michaela Mabrey was a member of the 2012 USA Basketball U18 National Team, playing alongside three Connecticut freshmen (guard Moriah Jefferson and forwards Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck) and helping the Americans to a 5-0 record and the gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. When healthy, that quartet comprised the majority of the starting lineup in the tournament, with the United States winning all five contests by an average of 47.4 points per game. One other tie-in on that team — Fighting Irish athletic trainer Anne Marquez filled that same role for the USA U18s this past summer.
  • Notre Dame sophomore forward Markisha Wright (Des Moines, Iowa/Des Moines East) and Connecticut sophomore center Kiah Stokes (Marion, Iowa/Linn-Mar) were unquestionably the top two players in the state of Iowa in 2010-11. Stokes was named the state’s Player of the Year, while Wright was the Most Valuable Player of the state tournament and led her Des Moines East side to a perfect 26-0 record and the Class 4A state title (the first by the school since 1979).
  • Two of Saturday’s assistant coaches have seen the Notre Dame-Connecticut rivalry from the perspective of both a coach and a player. Sixth-year Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey and fifth-year UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph saw their teams meet 14 times during their respective five-year careers from 1996-2001 (both sat out a season with knee injuries — Ivey in 1996-97, Ralph in 1997-98), with Connecticut winning 12 times before Ivey led Notre Dame to two victories in three tries during her final season (2000-01).

The Brains Of The Operation
Saturday’s two head coaches — Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma — have more than a few connections. Both are from the Philadephia metro area (McGraw from West Chester, Auriemma from Norristown), both cut their coaching teeth at Saint Joseph’s under current Ohio State head coach Jim Foster (McGraw replaced Auriemma on Foster’s staff in 1980 when Auriemma left to take an assistant position at Virginia), and both are members of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, with McGraw having been enshrined in June 2011.

McGraw also is the only coach in the nation with eight wins against Auriemma since the start of the 2000-01 season. What’s more, McGraw is one of just five coaches all-time (three that are active head coaches) to have eight or more victories against Auriemma on his/her resume.

Eye On The Fighting Irish
Saturday’s game will be televised live to a national audience on CBS, marking the sixth time in Notre Dame women’s basketball history (and third consecutive season) that the Fighting Irish have appeared on that network since it first began televising NCAA women’s basketball games back in 1982 (including the first NCAA Women’s Final Four from Norfolk, Va.).

Notre Dame is 1-4 all-time on CBS, falling at Ohio State (74-67) in 1997, then dropping home games against Purdue (71-54) in 2003, Tennessee (87-63) in 2008 and Connecticut (79-76) in 2011 before earning its first-ever win on the Tiffany Network last year (74-67 in overtime against Connecticut at Purcell Pavilion).

Despite the 1997 loss at OSU, All-America forward Katryna Gaither was named the CBS/Chevrolet Player of the Game after chalking up 25 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.

Start Me Up
For the fifth time in six years, and the seventh time in school history (all starting with the 2000-01 season), Notre Dame has posted a 11-1 record or better through its first 12 games.

Twice in their history, the Fighting Irish opened with at least 12 consecutive wins, doing so in their 2000-01 national championship season (school-record 23-game winning streak) and again in 2009-10 (15-0).

Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in nine of its 12 games this year. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 61-4 (.938) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 31-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul).

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

Thus far in 2012-13, it would appear the Fighting Irish are making this mission truly a team effort. On the scoring side, 10 of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including junior forward Ariel Braker (five times, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined), sophomore guards Madison Cable (twice) and Whitney Holloway (once – the first double-digit games of both Cable and Holloway’s careers) and freshman guards Jewell Loyd (seven times) and Michaela Mabrey (twice).

On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.3 rebounds per game and has piled up seven of her nine career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading seven double-doubles after logging one double-double in her career prior to this season.

The Best Things In Life Are Free
Through the first two months of the 2012-13 season, Notre Dame is displaying a penchant for making opponents pay at the free throw line.

Through their first 12 games, the Fighting Irish lead the BIG EAST and rank fourth in the nation (as of Monday), shooting a remarkable .813 (230-of-283) 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 nearly 24 times per game, converting more than 19 free throws a night. At the same time, the Fighting Irish have made close to 40 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (230 made, 165 opponent attempts).

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

Junior guard Kayla McBride has had the most success cashing in on this strategy during the past two seasons, shooting .872 from the stripe last year (a league-leading .919 in BIG EAST games) and making 21 of 22 free throws (.955) so far this season — in fact, she would be leading the conference in free throw percentage, but she is three made foul shots shy of the minimum required for ranking (2.0 per game).

Still, four other Notre Dame players do qualify for the BIG EAST free throw rankings, and all appear among the top nine in the league with senior guard Skylar Diggins standing second (.882), freshman guard Jewell Loyd placing seventh (.800), junior forward Natalie Achonwa ranking eighth (.798) and sophomore forward Markisha Wright in ninth (.788).

For her career, McBride has logged an .883 free throw percentage, putting her ahead of Alicia Ratay’s school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.

Canadian Ace
According to the time-honored adage, “there’s no substitute for experience.” In the case of Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa, that experience was second to none and it’s paid off exceptionally well for the veteran Fighting Irish frontliner this season.

During the summer of 2012, Achonwa was a key contributor on Canada’s Senior National Team, helping leading her country to its first Olympic appearance in 12 years. Not content to merely qualify, Canada then earned two hard-fought wins in the group stage to reach the Olympic quarterfinals (medal round) for the first time since 1984.

As the second-youngest player in the London Olympic Basketball Tournament at the tender age of 19, Achonwa averaged 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, highlighted by a 14-point, eight-rebound effort against eventual Olympic silver medalist France during the preliminary round.

Parlaying her Olympic experience, Achonwa has moved seamlessly into Notre Dame’s starting lineup this season after spending her first two years as an important reserve. The Guelph, Ontario, native was expected to take on a larger role this year with the graduation of two-time All-American Devereaux Peters, but Achonwa has taken that growth to a whole new level, doubling her averages in scoring (7.6 to 14.4 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.3 rpg.), while scoring in double figures 10 times and grabbing double-digit rebounds on seven occasions (including a career-best 17 rebounds on Dec. 29 against No. 11 Purdue).

What’s more, Achonwa came into this season with one career double-double and a career scoring high of 20 points. This year, she leads the BIG EAST in double-doubles (7, including four in five games against ranked teams) and has three 20-point games to her credit (career-high 23 vs. Utah State on Dec. 8). She also ranks among the top 20 in the BIG EAST in scoring (16th – 14.2 ppg.), rebounding (2nd – 9.3 rpg.), field goal percentage (8th – .561) and free throw percentage (8th – .781).

Achonwa’s development has not gone unnoticed, as she was named to the World Vision Classic All-Tournament Team, helping to lead the Fighting Irish to the title with 22 points and a (then) career-high 14 rebounds in the championship game win over No. 22 Texas A&M. Achonwa also is one of three Notre Dame players to make the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll at least once this season, earning her spot on the Dec. 10 rundown.

The Erie Warrior
Along with her classmate Natalie Achonwa, junior guard (and Erie, Pa., native) Kayla McBride has been a major reason for Notre Dame’s success this season, capably stepping into a larger role within the Fighting Irish system following the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-America wing Natalie Novosel.

McBride currently ranks 11th in the BIG EAST in both scoring (team-high 15.3 ppg.) and steals (2.2 spg.), and would be leading the conference in free throw percentage (.955), but she is three made foul shots short of the minimum needed for qualification. In all three areas, she is posting career-high marks, including a better than 30-percent improvement in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).

McBride also shares the team lead (with Achonwa) this season with 10 double-figure scoring games, including at least 16 points in all five of Notre Dame’s games against ranked opponents to date (17.8 ppg.).

In fact, in her last 20 games against a Top 25 opponent, McBride is averaging 14.2 points per game, scoring in double figures 18 times and posting both of her career double-doubles (10 points, career-high 12 rebounds vs. No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 7 at Purcell Pavilion; 13 points, 10 rebounds at No. 13/14 Rutgers on Jan. 31).

Crown Jewell
Freshman guard Jewell Loyd is rapidly making her presence felt as one of the top rookies, not only in the BIG EAST Conference, but around the country.

The Lincolnwood, Ill., native has appeared in all 12 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 11 times), scoring in double figures seven times and posting two “5-5-5” games (at least “5” in three of the five main statistical categories – points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals).

Loyd currently ranks among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (21st – 12.8 ppg.), three-point percentage (3rd – .462) and free throw percentage (7th – .800).

Loyd also is a two-time BIG EAST Rookie of the Week selection, first earning that honor on Nov. 26 after averaging 19.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists with a .727 field goal percentage in wins over Mercer (19 points/six rebounds/five assists) and at No. 19/22 UCLA (19 points/seven rebounds/five assists).

She then became the first repeat honoree of the BIG EAST Rookie of the Week award this season when she was tapped for the designation on Dec. 10 after averaging 19.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals with a .481 field goal percentage (.556 three-point percentage) against No. 3 Baylor and Utah State.

Loyd opened eyes on the national scene with a season- (and game-) high 24 points and team-best seven rebounds in the 73-61 loss to Baylor on Dec. 5 at Purcell Pavilion. The 5-foot-10 guard connected on her first four three-point attempts of the evening (finishing 4-of-5 from beyond the arc) on the way to notching the most points by a Fighting Irish rookie against a ranked opponent since Jan. 26, 2002, when Jacqueline Batteast scored 26 points in Notre Dame’s 64-57 win over No. 16/17 Virginia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.

What’s more, Loyd also scored the most points by a Notre Dame freshman against an opponent ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll since Feb. 19, 2000, when Alicia Ratay netted 26 points (including a school-record 7-for-7 three-pointers) in a 78-74 overtime win at No. 8/11 Rutgers.

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 (462 rebounds) is 38 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 (1,900 points) is 100 points away from becoming the fourth 2,000-point scorer in school history, and she needs 422 points to catch current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham as the program’s all-time leading scorer. On Dec. 21 against No. 22 Texas A&M, Diggins moved into fourth place on the Notre Dame career scoring list, passing All-America forward (and another South Bend Washington High School graduate) Jacqueline Batteast (1,874 points from 2001-05).
  • In addition, Diggins (303 steals) is 45 steals away from assistant coach Niele Ivey’s school record for career thefts. With two steals on Dec. 29 against No. 11 Purdue, Diggins became just the third player in school history to record 300 thefts in her career. She also is four away from catching Coquese Washington for second place on Notre Dame’s all-time list (307 from 1989-93).
  • Diggins (592 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Gavin, needing 186 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 135 ahead of Diggins). Diggins also has moved into the top five in this category, and with her career-high 14 assists on Dec. 31 against Saint Francis (Pa.), she passed Karen Robinson for fourth place in school history (579 from 1987-91).

The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 106-19 (.848) 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 23-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (10-10 vs. the AP Top 10) and a 75-1 record against unranked opponents (not appearing in the AP poll), including a 63-game winning streak from the start of the 2009-10 season before falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012.

Upon closer examination, Notre Dame’s 19 losses in Diggins’ career primarily have been ones that could have gone either way, with 11 decided by single digits (six were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.

With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted three of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 78.9 ppg. last year, after logging 77.0 ppg. in 2010-11, and 77.2 ppg. in her freshman season of 2009-10. Notre Dame is on pace to mirror those figures this season, currently averaging 86.2 ppg. (which ranks fifth nationally as of Monday).

In addition, thanks to Diggins’ penchant for steals (she has a 2.42 spg. career mark that is fourth-best in school history), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top three single-season steal marks in program history with 502 thefts last year, 495 steals in 2010-11, and 450 thefts in 2009-10. And again, Notre Dame is in position to challenge those totals this season, currently averaging 13.9 spg. (which would put the Fighting Irish close to 400 steals by the end of the regular season).

The past two years also have seen Notre Dame post two of the four best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing a school-record 52.9 ppg., last season (well ahead of the previous mark of 55.1 ppg., in 1981-82) and giving up just 56.2 ppg., in 2010-11. The Fighting Irish aren’t far off those marks so far this year, presently allowing 56.6 points per game.

Game #12 Recap: Saint Francis (Pa.)
Notre Dame saved its biggest performance for the end of the year.

The fifth-ranked Fighting Irish closed out 2012 and their pre-BIG EAST season with a 128-55 rout of Saint Francis (Pa.) on Monday at Purcell Pavilion, tying their largest point total in school history and setting an arena record for points in a game.

Whatever the Fighting Irish tried, worked, and it was that way from the opening tip. Natalie Achonwa and Kayla McBride sank easy baskets in the low post, many off give-and-go’s from point guard Skylar Diggins.

Diggins set a career mark for assists with 14, part of her team’s school record-tying 38 assists against just 10 turnovers.

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw had her reserves into the game with 13 minutes left in the first half. Markisha Wright, who played the most minutes of any Fighting Irish player, came off the bench to lead all scorers with a season-best 20 points, followed by McBride with a season high-tying 19, reserve Michaela Mabrey with a career-best 18 and Achonwa with 17.

Notre Dame (11-1) dominated on both ends of the floor, forcing 32 turnovers and turning them into 49 points. They shot 62 percent from the field, compared to just 36 percent by Saint Francis, outscored them 70-20 in the paint, and outrebounded them 46-25.

The Fighting Irish led 63-25 at the break, and little changed after halftime, with Notre Dame jumping out to a 18-2 run over the first five minutes of the second half.

Alexa Hayward led Saint Francis (5-6) with 13 points, the only Red Flash player in double digits.

Beyond The Box Score: Saint Francis (Pa.)

  • Notre Dame tied the school record for points in a game, first set on Dec. 30, 2011, at Mercer (128-42 victory) and posted the most points by any NCAA Division I team in a game this season (previous was a 118-96 win by Troy against Furman on Nov. 18).
  • The Fighting Irish set a Purcell Pavilion record for points in a game, topping the old mark of 120 set on Jan. 17, 2012, against Pittsburgh (120-44 win).
  • Notre Dame set a school record with its third 100-point game of the season.
  • Notre Dame tied the school and arena records for assists in a game, first set on Dec. 21, 1990, against Marquette.
  • The 73-point margin of victory is the fifth-largest in school history, and third-largest at home (both the largest since last year’s win over Pittsburgh).
  • The margin of victory also is the second-largest by a NCAA Division I team this season, topped only by Murray State’s 110-28 home win over NAIA member Mid-Continent University on Dec. 6.
  • The 38-point halftime lead was Notre Dame’s largest of the season.
  • Diggins’ career-high 14 assists are the most by a Fighting Irish player since Feb. 28, 1987, when Mary Gavin had a school-record 17 assists at Marquette.
  • Diggins’ 14 assists are one off Gavin’s arena record, set against Northern Illinois on Dec. 15, 1985.
  • Notre Dame logged season bests for field goal percentage (.618), free throws (30; ties for 10th on the school’s single-game list) and steals, and had a season-high six players score in double figures.
  • Wright scored a season-high 20 points, her second career 20-point game, and first since last year’s Mercer game (career-high 24).
  • Freshman guard Jewell Loyd went 6-for-6 from the field, but was one field goal attempt shy of qualifying for the Notre Dame record books (Diggins went 8-for-8 in last year’s win at Mercer).
  • Sophomore guard Madison Cable collected her second double-figure scoring game of the season, while adding a career-high five steals for her first-ever “5-5-5” game.
  • The Fighting Irish are 7-2 all-time when playing on New Year’s Eve.
  • Notre Dame welcomed its second sellout in three days, fourth in six home games this season, 23rd in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present) and 29th in school history.

Tournament Tested
Notre Dame has felt right at home in tournament situations during the past 17 years. Starting with the 1996-97 season, the Fighting Irish have won 34 of their last 38 regular-season tournament games (multi-game events only), including three in a row to claim this year’s World Vision Classic, and similar runs to the title in four other tournaments since 2009-10 — 2009 Paradise Jam (Island Division), 2010 WBCA Classic, 2010 State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic and 2011 Junkanoo Jam (Freeport Division).

The only Notre Dame losses during this current stretch were three defeats to teams ranked in the top three nationally during the Preseason WNIT semifinals (72-59 vs. No. 3/2 Tennessee at Ruston, La., in 1996; 75-59 at No. 3 Maryland in 2007) or championship (94-81 at No. 1 Baylor in 2011), and a 67-63 overtime setback at No. 20 Colorado on Nov. 15, 2003, in the finals of the WBCA Classic — a game that saw the Buffaloes sink a desperation 30-footer at the end of regulation to force the extra session.

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.

An added postscript — Green recently accepted a job with the South Bend Veterans Administration Clinic and will be relocating from her hometown of Chicago.

Polling Station
Notre Dame is ranked No. 5 in this week’s Associated Press poll, its 35th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 105 consecutive weeks in the AP poll.

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

What’s more, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career (66 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (55) 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 244 weeks during the program’s 36-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks ninth among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and 20th all-time in that category.

In addition, the Fighting Irish held steady at No. 5 for the seventh consecutive week in the current 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 105 of the past 106 weeks (and 69 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 238 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw’s tenure).

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

More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 31 people in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Besides her 244 AP poll appearances while coaching at Notre Dame, McGraw was the starting point guard at Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) as a senior in 1977, helping the Hawks to No. 3 in the nation.

Of the 31 people on this list, 16 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart), with McGraw and Baylor’s Kim Mulkey are the only active skippers to play for and coach a team in the AP poll, and coach that team to a national title (McGraw in 2001, Mulkey in 2005 and 2012).

Half And Half
During the past 12 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 258-19 (.931) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 186 of their last 199 such contests (.935).

What’s more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 95-2 (.979) 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 265-15 (.946) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including seven outings this season.

…But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 18 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 175-6 (.967) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are three overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995 and UCLA (86-83 in double OT) in 2010, as well as a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008, and a 94-81 setback at Baylor in 2011.

In the past four years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 52-2 (.963) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level seven times this season.

Now That’s A Home Court Advantage
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame’s success has been its stellar play at home. In fact, the Fighting Irish have been virtually untouchable at home in recent years, winning 226 of their last 255 games (.886) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51, 25 and 20 games in that span (the latter from 2011-12, ending on Feb. 12, 2012, vs. West Virginia).

Since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 53-5 (.914) — including wins in 29 of their last 31 home games — and three of the five Fighting Irish losses in their refurbished facility have come by three points or fewer (two in overtime).

Notre Dame also has a 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 108 of their last 117 non-BIG EAST contests (.923) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the nine losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents (four by 12 points or less) — Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT), Indiana in 2006 (54-51) and Minnesota in 2009 (79-71) — with the other defeats coming to Tennessee in 2005 (62-51) and 2008 (87-63), UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT) and Baylor in 2012 (73-61). The Purdue loss also snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak which began after the UW setback.

Since its inaugural season in 1977-78, Notre Dame has played all of its games at the former Joyce Center, posting a 376-90 (.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 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 39 times, most recently on Dec. 31 against Saint Francis (Pa.).

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”), 21 different players have converted the “burger ball”, including eight current members of the Fighting Irish roster.

What’s more, of the 39 Big Mac games, 17 have been reached on two-point baskets, 14 on free throws, and eight on three-pointers.

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

For the fourth consecutive preseason, Notre Dame fans all but exhausted the program’s season ticket packages (approximately 7,500) and snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish produce two advanced sellouts (Dec. 5 vs. Baylor; March 4 vs. Connecticut).

Notre Dame has gotten its home slate off to a fine start at the box office with four sellouts in six home games, and the Nov. 18 game against Massachusetts marking the first home-opening sellout in school history. All told, the Fighting Irish have welcomed 29 sellout crowds in the program’s 36-year tenure, including 23 in the past four years alone (2009-10 to present).

The Fighting Irish currently are averaging 8,881 fans through their first five home games of 2012-13.

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.

Next Game: South Florida
Following Saturday’s game, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team will join the Fighting Irish football squad in the Sunshine State (with the latter currently in Miami, finalizing preparations for Monday’s BCS National Championship Game against Alabama), as the Notre Dame women turn their focus to a BIG EAST matchup against South Florida at 7 p.m. (ET) Tuesday from the Sun Dome in Tampa.

USF (11-2, 0-0 BIG EAST) will be coming off a nine-day break since its last outing, a 74-60 win at home over Detroit on New Year’s Eve. The Bulls, who have earned votes in the national polls at various times during the season, are off to one of their best starts in several years, with their only losses thus far coming to current No. 25/19 Nebraska (62-52 at home on Dec. 16) and Creighton (91-74 on Dec. 22 in Cancun, Mexico).

— ND —