Freshman guard (and Chicago-area native) Jewell Loyd ranks fourth on the team in scoring (11.8 ppg.) and second in rebounding (5.2 rpg.) and is a three-time BIG EAST Freshman of the Week selection this year.

Midwest Rivalry Rekindled As #2 Irish Visit DePaul Sunday

Feb. 22, 2013

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2012-13 ND Women’s Basketball: Game 26

#2/2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (24-1 / 12-0 BIG EAST) vs. DePaul Blue Demons (18-8 / 7-5 BIG EAST)

DATE: February 24, 2013
TIME: 2:30 p.m. CT/3:30 p.m. ET
AT: Chicago, Ill. – McGrath-Phillips Arena (3,000)
SERIES: DPU leads 19-18
1ST MTG: DPU 82-53 (1/30/79)
LAST MTG: ND 69-54 (3/4/12)
TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN (live) (Lou Canellis, p-b-p / Brooke Weisbrod, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
TWITTER: @ndwbbsid


  • In a series that dates back to 1978-79 and covers 37 games, Notre Dame and DePaul are separated by a mere two points in the aggregate scoring column (2,525 to 2,523).
  • Sunday’s game is an advanced sellout, marking the 13th time in 26 games this year the Fighting Irish will play before a capacity crowd, and the fourth away from home.

Midwest Rivalry Rekindled As #2 Irish Visit DePaul Sunday
Two of the Midwest’s premier women’s basketball programs will continue one of the nation’s most closely-contested series on Sunday when No. 2 Notre Dame travels 90 miles west to Chicago for a 3:30 p.m. ET (2:30 p.m. CT) matinee against DePaul at McGrath-Phillips Arena. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience by ESPNU (marking the third time in six weeks the Fighting Irish have played on that network) and worldwide on the WatchESPN mobile app.

Notre Dame (24-1, 12-0) is coming off a stretch in which it played just once in a 13-day period, that being an 87-49 victory at Marquette on Feb. 17. The Fighting Irish used a 21-0 run crossing over halftime and shot 65.6 percent from the floor in the second half in rolling to their 19th consecutive win.

Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins tallied a game-high 23 points and seven assists, while junior forward Natalie Achonwa picked up her 14th double-double of the season (17 points, game-high 10 rebounds) for Notre Dame.


  • Notre Dame is No. 2 in this week’s Associated Press poll and No. 2 in this week’s ESPN/USA Today poll.
  • DePaul is not ranked.

Quick Hitters

  • Notre Dame has matched the best start in school history (24-1), duplicating the 25-game records posted by the 2000-01 and 2011-12 teams.
  • The Fighting Irish are 7-1 against ranked opponents this year, defeating No. 19/21 Ohio State (57-51), No. 19/22 UCLA (76-64), No. 22 Texas A&M (83-74), No. 11 Purdue (74-47), No. 1 Connecticut (73-72), No. 9 Tennessee (77-67) and No. 10/11 Louisville (93-64), while falling to No. 3 Baylor, 73-61 (a game Notre Dame led 50-49 with less than eight minutes left).
  • The Fighting Irish made history with their Jan. 28 win at Tennessee, becoming the first program ever to defeat both Connecticut and UT in three consecutive seasons, as well as the first in the NCAA era (since 1981-82) to defeat both the Huskies and Lady Vols on the road in the same season.
  • Notre Dame is in the midst of a 19-game winning streak, the fourth time in school history (and second year in a row) the Fighting Irish have posted a win streak of that length.
  • In those 19 games since its only loss of the season (Dec. 5 vs. third-ranked Baylor), Notre Dame has averaged 82.3 points per game (winning by 26.6 ppg.), shot .476 from the field (.361 from three-point range), posted a rebound margin of +13.2 per game, and forced opponents into an average of 19.9 turnovers per night.
  • The Fighting Irish have won a school-record 20 consecutive regular season road games, including 14 in a row in BIG EAST play, and 25 of their last 30 overall (Notre Dame’s last regular season road loss came on Nov. 20, 2011 – 94-81 at No. 1 Baylor in the Preseason WNIT championship game).
  • Notre Dame also has won 16 consecutive BIG EAST regular season games, dating back to Feb. 12, 2012 (a 65-63 loss to West Virginia). It’s the second-longest BIG EAST regular season win streak in program history, and longest since an 18-game run from Feb. 17, 1999-Feb. 22, 2000.
  • According to Friday’s NCAA statistical report, the Fighting Irish are ranked in the top 10 in seven categories — free throw percentage (2nd – .796), scoring offense (3rd – 80.7 ppg.), assists (3rd – 19.8 apg.), rebounding margin (3rd – +11.8 rpg.), scoring margin (4th – +24.9 ppg.), field goal percentage (6th – .467) and assist/turnover ratio (6th – 1.26).
  • Notre Dame has shown remarkably balanced offensive production this season, with 10 of the 11 players on the roster having scored in double figures at least once, including five different players who have scored 20 points in a game.
  • The Fighting Irish have set a school record with three 100-point games this season. The highlight came on Dec. 31 at home against Saint Francis (Pa.) in a 128-55 victory, marking the highest offensive output by any NCAA Division I team this season (and matching the highest by any D-I program since 2002 – Notre Dame also scored 128 points last year at Mercer).
  • With its No. 2 ranking in this week’s Associated Press poll, Notre Dame has appeared in the media poll for 112 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 (62 of 73 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
  • With 615 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 became the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and the eighth-fastest to reach the mark, doing so in 957 career games), registering the milestone win on Feb. 5 at Villanova. McGraw also is the third BIG EAST Conference head coach 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 433 victories.
  • Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in average attendance annually since 2000-01 (including top-five rankings the past three years), and is well on its way again this year, ranking fifth in the nation at 8,950 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 188 of their last 190 home games (including an active streak of 31 consecutive contests with 8,000 fans), logging 34 Purcell Pavilion sellouts, including 28 in the past four seasons. Notre Dame already has a school-record nine sellouts this year, including seven of its last eight contests at Purcell Pavilion.
  • The Fighting Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as nine Notre Dame players have been selected in the past 12 seasons. Devereaux Peters and Natalie Novosel were the most recent Fighting Irish players to be chosen, with both going in the first round (Peters third overall to Minnesota; Novosel eighth overall to Washington) of the 2012 WNBA Draft. Last year’s draft marked the first time Notre Dame has had two first-round picks in the same year, while Peters was the highest-drafted player (and first lottery selection) in program history. Ruth Riley (Chicago) was active in the league during the ’12 season, helping the Sky contend for a playoff berth into the final weeks of the season. Three of Notre Dame’s 10 all-time WNBA alums have won a total of four league championships — Riley won a pair of crowns with the Detroit Shock (2003 Finals MVP, 2006), Coquese Washington toiled for the 2000 Houston Comets, while Jacqueline Batteast was Riley’s teammate on the 2006 title-winning squad in Detroit. Peters nearly joined that list in 2012, helping Minnesota return to the WNBA Finals, but the Lynx could not defend their title, falling to Indiana in four games.
  • For the sixth year in a row, the Fighting Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October. What’s more, Notre Dame was one of only four schools in the previous five years to record a 100-percent GSR and play for a national championship in the same season (and the only program to do it twice, pulling off that feat in 2011 and 2012).

Scouting DePaul
Much like it did last year, DePaul has been forced to battle through numerous injuries to key personnel. However, the Blue Demons have persevered and are in position to not only claim another upper-division BIG EAST finish, but yet another trip to the NCAA Championship.

Like Notre Dame, DePaul (18-8, 7-5) has been off all this week following an 81-55 loss at No. 10/11 Louisville last Sunday. Freshman guard Chanise Jenkins had 16 points and eight rebounds, and freshman guard/forward Megan Podkowa added 14 points and eight rebounds for the Blue Demons, who suffered from a tough shooting day (24.6 percent).

In the absence of senior guard Anna Martin (16.2 ppg.), who has been sidelined since mid-January with a knee injury, sophomore guard Brittany Hrynko leads DePaul in scoring (15.3 ppg.), assists (5.1 apg.) and steals (2.0 spg.), while junior forward Jasmine Penny adds 13.7 ppg. with a team-high .559 field goal percentage, and senior forward Katherine Harry leads the BIG EAST with 10.8 rebounds per game.

Head coach Doug Bruno is in his 27th season at the helm of his alma mater with a 528-290 (.645) record, including a 12-12 career mark against Notre Dame.

The Notre Dame-DePaul Series
For more than three decades, Notre Dame and DePaul have tangled regularly on the hardwood, with the Blue Demons currently holding a slim 19-18 edge in the series that dates back to 1979, although the Fighting Irish have won seven of the past eight meetings.

DePaul maintains an 11-6 series edge when the scene shifts to Chicago, including a last-second 70-69 win over Notre Dame the last time the teams played in the Windy City in the 2011 regular season finale.

The Last Time Notre Dame And DePaul Met
Devereaux Peters had 16 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks to lead No. 3 Notre Dame to a 69-54 win over No. RV/23 DePaul in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals on March 4, 2012, at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

Natalie Novosel also had 16 points and Kayla McBride added 14 for the top-seeded Fighting Irish. Katherine Harry had 10 of her 14 points in the first half for eighth-seeded DePaul.

Notre Dame took control of the game with a 14-0 run that began in the first half and ended three minutes into the second with a three-pointer from Novosel that gave the Fighting Irish a 48-26 lead.

The Blue Demons fought back, cutting the lead to 11 on a jumper by Jasmine Penny with 7:30 left in the game. But three straight layups from Peters, along with a blocked shot on the other end, stretched the lead back out to 17.

DePaul hit four of its first six shots and led 10-7 early on the strength of two three-pointers by Deanna Ortiz. But Notre Dame responded with an 11-2 run to take the lead for good.

Peters and Diggins scored the final two buckets of the half, and Notre Dame blocked three DePaul shots down the stretch to go into halftime with a 38-26 lead.

The Fighting Irish outrebounded DePaul 41-28 and Peters had six of the team’s seven blocks.

The Last Time Notre Dame And DePaul Met In Chicago
Felicia Chester took Taylor Pikes’ pass and put up a layup with 5.9 seconds left and No. 12 DePaul stunned visiting No. 7 Notre Dame 70-69 on Feb. 28, 2011, at McGrath-Phillips Arena.

Even after Chester’s layup, Notre Dame wasn’t quite finished. Skylar Diggins, who had a team-high 18 points, drove the lane for her own game-winning try, only to have the ball stripped away as time expired.

Chester scored 16 of her game-high 20 points in the second half as DePaul rallied from a nine-point deficit for a lead with 1:57 to play following Keisha Hampton’s layup.

Diggins hit two free throws with 1:49 to go, and Natalie Novosel followed with a three-pointer as Notre Dame pulled to 66-65. Pikes restored a three-point lead with 59 seconds to play, but Diggins’ layup closed the gap to 68-67 just 13 seconds later.

On the ensuing possession, Brittany Mallory got a steal and passed ahead to Novosel, who then found Devereaux Peters for a layup to give Notre Dame a 69-68 lead with 28 seconds left.

Hampton added 17 points for the Blue Demons while Novosel also had 17 for Notre Dame.

Other Notre Dame-DePaul Series Tidbits

  • Eight of the 14 series games between Notre Dame and DePaul since the Blue Demons joined the BIG EAST (2005-06) have been decided by single digits, including six of the past 10.
  • Despite the long history of the Notre Dame-DePaul series (37 games since 1978-79), the aggregate point totals for the two teams are amazingly close, separated by a mere two points — the Fighting Irish have scored 2,525 points (68.24 ppg.), while the Blue Demons have tallied 2,523 points (68.19 ppg.).
  • In 13 of the past 18 series games, the winning team has scored at least 75 points. The only exceptions have been the second matchups in 2007-08 and 2008-09 (66-64 Notre Dame win in Chicago in 2008; 62-59 Fighting Irish win at Purcell Pavilion in 2009), as well as both games in 2010-11 (70-69 DePaul win in Chicago; 71-67 Notre Dame win in BIG EAST semifinals at Hartford) and last year’s BIG EAST quarterfinal (a 69-54 Fighting Irish victory in Hartford).
  • The Fighting Irish have held DePaul to 70 points or fewer in the past eight series games after not having held DePaul to that mark only once in the previous seven series contests (including the first six as members of the BIG EAST Conference).
  • With Sunday’s tipoff, the DePaul series will join Notre Dame’s rivalries with Connecticut and Marquette as the most frequent in Notre Dame history, with this being the 38th game between the clubs. However, that three-way tie will last for only eight days, with the Fighting Irish set to meet Connecticut for the 39th time in their series (and second time this season) on March 4 at Purcell Pavilion.
  • DePaul’s 19 series wins are the third-most by one Fighting Irish opponent, exceeded only by Connecticut (29) and Tennessee (20).
  • Combining their memberships in the North Star (1983-88) and BIG EAST (2005-present) conferences, Notre Dame is 12-9 all-time against DePaul in regular-season league games (7-4 in BIG EAST, 5-5 in North Star). The Fighting Irish also are 2-1 against the Blue Demons in conference tournament games, with DePaul shading Notre Dame, 76-71 in the first round of the 2007 BIG EAST Championship in Hartford, Conn., and the Fighting Irish countering with wins at the same BIG EAST Championship the past two years (71-67 in the 2011 semifinals; 69-54 in the 2012 quarterfinals).
  • Notre Dame has had 14 players come from the state of Illinois, including 13 from the Chicagoland area. Senior guard/co-captain Kaila Turner (Joliet/Marian Catholic HS), sophomore guard Whitney Holloway (Plainfield/Montini Catholic HS) and freshman guard Jewell Loyd (Lincolnwood/Niles West HS) are the latest additions to a list that includes NCAA career three-point percentage record holder Alicia Ratay (Lake Zurich/Lake Zurich HS), two-time honorable mention All-America guard Lindsay Schrader (Bartlett/Bartlett HS) and 1,000-point scorer/2004 Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (Chicago/Roosevelt HS).
  • Notre Dame will add another Chicagoland resident to its roster next season when Wheaton, Ill., native (and Wheaton-Warrenville South High School standout) Diamond Thompson arrives on campus. Thompson is a 6-foot-4 center who was a former teammate of Holloway’s at Montini Catholic before transferring to Wheaton-Warrenville South last summer. For more information on Thompson (and the full Notre Dame Class of 2013), see the sidebars on pages 10-11 of the PDF version of this notes package.
  • Both head coaches — Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw and DePaul’s Doug Bruno — have ties to the old Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) which existed from 1978-81; McGraw was a point guard for the California Dreams in 1979 (the franchise’s only year of existence), while Bruno was the head coach and director of player personnel for the Chicago Hustle throughout its incarnation from 1978-80.

Peaking When It Counts
When the regular season enters its stretch run in the month of February, Notre Dame historically seems to raise its level of play. Since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, the Fighting Irish are 104-28 (.788) in February games, including a 58-6 (.906) mark at home.

In the 26-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present), the Fighting Irish are 152-43 (.779) in the month of February, including an 80-12 (.870) home record. In that time (and including this season), Notre Dame has never posted a losing record in February, and only once did the Fighting Irish end the month at .500 (4-4 in 1988-89, McGraw’s second year in South Bend).

A Class By Themselves
Led by its two-player senior class of guards/co-captains Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, Notre Dame has earned the most victories (119) in a four-year span in school history, topping the total (117) compiled by last year’s seniors.

Prior to the 2011-12 season, the highest four-year win total by a senior class was 109, set by the Class of 2001 that included (among others) consensus national player of the year and 12-year WNBA veteran Ruth Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey.

Start Me Up
For the second consecutive season and third time in school history, Notre Dame has matched its best 25-game start with a 24-1 record.

The 2000-01 Fighting Irish national championship squad opened with 23 consecutive wins before losing in game No. 24 (54-53 at No. 11/14 Rutgers on Feb. 17, 2001). They would then win their next five in a row before their second (and final) loss of that title-winning season (78-76 at No. 2 Connecticut in the BIG EAST Championship final on March 6, 2001).

Last season, Notre Dame was winding up a 21-game winning streak that helped boost the Fighting Irish to that 24-1 record. Notre Dame would drop game No. 26 (65-63 to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012), then chalk up six more wins before its next defeat (among just four losses the Fighting Irish suffered a year ago).

Making The Turn For Home
Notre Dame is off to a 12-0 start in BIG EAST Conference play for the fourth time since it joined the league 18 seasons ago, but the first time since the 2000-01 national championship campaign.

This year’s start matches the second-best record to open a BIG EAST season in school history, with both the 1996-97 and 2000-01 clubs also going 12-0 out of the gate.

The school record for the best start to a BIG EAST season is 15-0, set back in 1999-2000.

Streak Stats, Part I
Notre Dame’s current 19-game winning streak is the fourth-longest success string in program history, and it’s the second year in a row the Fighting Irish have posted a winning streak of 19 games or longer.

Notre Dame also has strung together 13 double-digit winning streaks in the program’s 36-year history, with 11 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).

Streak Stats, Part II
Notre Dame has won 16 consecutive BIG EAST regular-season games, its second-longest winning streak in league play since joining the loop in 1995-96. It’s also the longest BIG EAST winning streak in one season in school history, supplanting the 15-game run to open the 1999-2000 season.

The Fighting Irish last dropped a BIG EAST game on Feb. 12, 2012, falling 65-63 to West Virginia at Purcell Pavilion (on two free throws by WVU’s Brooke Hampton with 4.6 seconds left).

Notre Dame’s current streak is its longest in the BIG EAST since a school-record 18-game run from Feb. 17, 1999-Feb. 22, 2000 — that streak included wins in the final three conference games of the 1998-99 season, plus 15 in a row to start the 1999-2000 league slate.

Road Warriors
Notre Dame has won a school-record 20 consecutive regular season road games and 25 of its last 30 overall, including all eight contests this season. The Fighting Irish last tasted defeat on the road in the regular season on Nov. 20, 2011, a 94-81 setback at No. 1 Baylor in the Preseason WNIT championship game.

The highlight of this current run came on Jan. 5, 2013, when Notre Dame edged No. 1 Connecticut, 73-72, in Storrs, Conn., earning its fourth all-time win over a top-ranked opponent and first-ever victory on the road.

Prior to the past two years, the school record for consecutive regular season road wins was held by Notre Dame’s 2000-01 national championship team that won its first 10 road outings before a 54-53 loss at No. 11/14 Rutgers on Feb. 17, 2001.

The Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 14 consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular season road games, with their last loss coming on Feb. 28, 2011 (a last-second 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul).

The previous school record for consecutive BIG EAST regular season road wins was seven, set numerous times, most recently crossing between the 2001-02 and 2002-03 campaigns.

The Notre Dame record for consecutive regular season road victories in any conference is 15, which the Fighting Irish set from Feb. 25, 1989-Feb. 14, 1991 during their time in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League).

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

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

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

Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 16 games this year. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 68-4 (.944) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 38-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 (eight times, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined), sophomore guards Madison Cable (three times) and Whitney Holloway (once – the first double-digit games of Cable and Holloway’s careers) and freshman guards Jewell Loyd (16 times) and Michaela Mabrey (three times).

On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.2 rebounds per game and has piled up 14 of her 16 career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading 14 double-doubles (six against ranked opponents, seven in conference play) after logging one double-double in her career prior to this season.

The Best Things In Life Are Free
Throughout the 2012-13 season, Notre Dame has displayed a penchant for making opponents pay at the free throw line.

Through 25 games, the Fighting Irish rank second in the nation in free throw percentage, shooting a remarkable .796 (445-of-559) from the charity stripe, including a season-high .941 (16-of-17) on Jan. 23 in a victory at Pittsburgh.

On average, Notre Dame is getting to the line better than 22 times per game, converting nearly 18 free throws a night. At the same time, the Fighting Irish have made nearly 35 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (445 made, 330 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 58 of 63 free throws (.921) to lead the conference. She also would rank fourth in the nation, but she is five made free throws shy of the minimum for qualification (2.5 FTM/game).

Regardless, McBride is one of four Notre Dame players who appear among the top 10 in the current BIG EAST free throw rankings, with senior guard Skylar Diggins ranking third (.823), freshman guard Jewell Loyd standing eighth (.797) and junior forward Natalie Achonwa ranking 10th (.796).

For her career, McBride has logged an .888 free throw percentage, putting her ahead of Alicia Ratay’s school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.

McGraw’s Milestone Moment
With a 59-52 victory at Villanova on Feb. 5, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw became the 13th NCAA Division I coach to register 700 career victories. McGraw currently has a 31-year record of 703-257 (.732), including a 615-216 (.740) record in 26 seasons with the Fighting Irish.

McGraw also became the eighth-fastest Division I coach to reach the 700-win milestone, hitting the mark in 957 games and quicker than several other notable coaches such as North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell (966 games), Ohio State’s Jim Foster (973), former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan (998) and two now-deceased Hall of Fame coaches — Sue Gunter (1,004, most notably at LSU) and Kay Yow (1,021, primarily at North Carolina State).

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

  • Diggins (2,131 points) needs 191 points to catch current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham as the program’s all-time leading scorer. Diggins moved into second place on the Fighting Irish all-time scoring list with her 23 points on Feb. 17 at Marquette, passing Katryna Gaither (2,126 points from 1993-97).
  • With three rebounds on Feb. 17 at Marquette, Diggins (502 rebounds) became the first women’s basketball player in school history with 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in her career. Only one Notre Dame men’s basketball player has ever compiled that impressive combination of statistics (Chris Thomas from 2001-05).
  • Diggins (339 steals) is nine steals away from assistant coach Niele Ivey’s school record for career thefts. With one steal on Jan. 8 at South Florida, Diggins moved into second place on Notre Dame’s career steals list, passing Coquese Washington (307 from 1989-93).
  • Diggins (664 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Mary Gavin (1984-88), needing 114 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 63 ahead of Diggins). Diggins stands third in school history, having passed Mollie Peirick (651 from 1994-98) with her seven assists on Feb. 11 vs. No. 10/11 Louisville. Diggins’ charge this year has been led by her career-high 14 assists on Dec. 31 against Saint Francis (Pa.) that are the fourth-most assists by an NCAA Division I player in a game this season and most by a Notre Dame player in nearly 26 years.
  • Combining her points, rebounds, assists and steals, Diggins is one of just six NCAA Division I players since 1999-2000 to amass 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists and 300 steals in her career (see accompanying chart, with research courtesy of STATS, LLC, which began tracking women’s basketball career statistics in 1999-2000).
  • With the opening tip of the Feb. 9 win at Seton Hall, Diggins became Notre Dame’s all-time leader in career starts (now 132), passing Alicia Ratay (129 from 1999-2003).

The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 119-19 (.862) 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 26-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (13-10 vs. the AP Top 10) and an 85-1 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 80.7 ppg. (which ranks third nationally as of Friday).

In addition, thanks to Diggins’ penchant for steals (she has a 2.46 spg. career mark that is fourth-best in school history), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top three single-season steal marks in program history with 502 thefts last year, 495 steals in 2010-11, and 450 thefts in 2009-10. Notre Dame isn’t far off those marks this season, currently averaging 11.2 spg. (which would put the Fighting Irish around 325 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 are in position to challenge those totals again this year, presently allowing 55.8 points per game.

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

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

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

Parlaying her Olympic experience, Achonwa has moved seamlessly into Notre Dame’s starting lineup this season after spending her first two years as an important reserve. The Guelph, Ontario, native was expected to take on a larger role this year with the graduation of two-time All-American Devereaux Peters, but Achonwa has taken that growth to a whole new level, nearly doubling her averages in scoring (7.6 to 13.9 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.2 rpg.), while scoring in double figures 20 times and grabbing double-digit rebounds on 14 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 (14, including six against ranked teams and seven against conference foes) and has five 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 – 13.9 ppg.), rebounding (2nd – 9.2 rpg.), field goal percentage (5th – .538; also 21st nationally), free throw percentage (10th – .796) and blocked shots (tied-14th – 1.0 bpg.).

Achonwa’s development has not gone entirely unnoticed, as she was named to the World Vision Classic All-Tournament Team, helping to lead the Fighting Irish to the title with 22 points and a (then) career-high 14 rebounds in the championship game win over No. 22 Texas A&M. Achonwa also is one of three Notre Dame players (along with senior guard Skylar Diggins and junior guard Kayla McBride) to make the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll at least three times this season, earning a spot on the Dec. 10, Jan. 14 and Feb. 11 rundowns.

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

McBride currently is tied for 12th in the BIG EAST in scoring (14.1 ppg.) and leads the conference in free throw percentage (.921), and she would rank fourth in the nation in the latter category, but she is five made free throws shy of the minimum for qualification (2.5 FTM/game). In both scoring and foul shooting, she is posting career-high marks, including an improvement of better than 20 percent in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).

McBride also is among the team leaders this season with 20 double-figure scoring games, including at least 15 points in seven of Notre Dame’s eight games against ranked opponents to date (16.8 ppg.) and a career-high 21 points at No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 5.

In fact, in her last 23 games against Top 25 opponents, McBride is averaging 14.3 points per game, scoring in double figures 20 times and posting both of her career double-doubles (10 points, career-high 12 rebounds vs. No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 7, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion; 13 points, 10 rebounds at No. 13/14 Rutgers on Jan. 31, 2012).

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

The Lincolnwood, Ill., native has appeared in all 25 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 24 times), scoring in double figures 16 times, earning her first career double-double (18 points/13 rebounds at South Florida on Jan. 8) and posting three “5-5-5” games.

Loyd currently ranks among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (26th – 11.8 ppg.) and free throw percentage (8th – .797), and would be fourth in the conference in three-point percentage (.400), but she is five made three-pointers shy of the minimum (1.0 3FGM/game).

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

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

Loyd made it three rookie honors this year with her Jan. 14 award, averaging 16.0 points and 9.0 rebounds in wins over USF and Rutgers.

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

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

Game #25 Recap: Marquette
Skylar Diggins scored 23 points and Natalie Achonwa added 17 points and 10 rebounds as No. 2 Notre Dame rolled to its 19th consecutive victory with an 87-49 rout of Marquette on Feb. 17 at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee.

The Fighting Irish led by 19 at halftime and put the game away early in the second half as Notre Dame scored the first 12 points of the half to grab a 46-15 lead when Diggins scored on a layup. Diggins was the key to the spurt as she scored six points, including a steal and breakway layup.

In all, Notre Dame scored 21 unanswered points as the Fighting Irish scored the last nine points of the first half and held the Golden Eagles scoreless for nearly 10 minutes.

Marquette could get no closer than 24 points the rest of the way as the Golden Eagles hit just 17 of 51 shots in the game and had 20 turnovers.

Sarina Simmons scored 12 points and Arlesia Morse added 11 for Marquette.

Beyond The Box Score: Marquette

  • With the win (coupled with other results), Notre Dame clinched a top-four seed and double-bye for the BIG EAST Championship.
  • Notre Dame registered a season-low eight turnovers.
  • Notre Dame has held eight of its last 11 opponents to 52 points or fewer.
  • Notre Dame improves to 32-6 all-time against Marquette, with the 32 wins remaining the most against one opponent in Notre Dame women’s basketball history.
  • Notre Dame has scored at least 70 points in 26 of its last 32 games against Marquette, while the Golden Eagles have reached that mark five times.
  • Achonwa’s 14 double-doubles are tied for third on the Notre Dame single-season double-doubles list (and most since Katryna Gaither had a school-record 16 in 1996-97).
  • Sophomore guard Madison Cable earned her third starting nod of the season (in place of junior forward Ariel Braker, who was held out as a precaution after a minor knee procedure earlier in the week) and tied her career high with seven rebounds.
  • Freshman guard Hannah Huffman posted career highs with seven points and three assists.

Polling Station
Notre Dame is ranked a season-best No. 2 for the seventh consecutive Associated Press poll last week, its 42nd consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 112 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 (73 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (62) 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 251 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 rose to a season-best No. 2 in the latest ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches’ poll, after spending the previous six weeks in the No. 3 spot.

Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches’ poll for 112 of the past 113 weeks (and 76 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 245 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 251 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 in PDF version of this notes package), 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).

The Benefits Of Leadership
Notre Dame is in the unique position of essentially having three head coaches on its bench, with current Fighting Irish skipper Muffet McGraw enjoying the expertise of two former head coaches on her staff — associate head coach Carol Owens (who guided her alma mater Northern Illinois from 2005-10) and associate coach Beth Cunningham (who piloted VCU from 2003-12).

Collectively, the Notre Dame staff has 45 seasons of head coaching experience, which ranks fifth among Division I schools behind only Stanford (52), Villanova (50), Ohio State (48) and Rutgers (46).

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 270-19 (.934) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 198 of their last 211 such contests (.938).

What’s more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 107-2 (.982) 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 273-15 (.948) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 15 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 178-6 (.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 55-2 (.965) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level 10 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 232 of their last 261 games (.889) 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 59-5 (.922) — including wins in 35 of its last 37 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 126-20 (.863) 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 382-90 (.809) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Fighting Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, which was the school record for home victories in a season prior to the 2009-10 campaign, when Notre Dame went 16-1, a mark that lasted only two seasons before the Fighting Irish posted a 17-1 record at Purcell Pavilion last year.

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

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

Notre Dame is setting records at the box office again this season with nine sellouts in 11 home games (including seven of the past eight contests), topping last year’s record of eight sellouts. In addition, the Nov. 18 game against Massachusetts marking the first home-opening sellout in school history. All told, the Fighting Irish have welcomed 34 sellout crowds in the program’s 36-year tenure, including 28 in the past four years alone (2009-10 to present).

The Fighting Irish currently rank fifth in the nation in average attendance, drawing 8,950 fans per game, which is nearly 400 fans better than last year’s school record and factors to nearly 98 percent of Purcell Pavilion’s listed capacity of 9,149.

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

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

In its 18 seasons in the BIG EAST, the Notre Dame women’s basketball program has been the one of the conference’s best, winning two BIG EAST regular season titles (2001 and 2012) and compiling a 228-64 (.781) record in league play that remains the second-best regular season winning percentage in BIG EAST women’s basketball history.

Next Game: Syracuse
Notre Dame returns home to Purcell Pavilion to take on No. 21/18 Syracuse at 7 p.m. (ET) Tuesday live on CBS Sports Network. Prior to the game, the Fighting Irish will honor their four departing seniors — guards/co-captains Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, and student managers Brigitte Lawless and Katie Schwab.

Syracuse (22-3, 10-2) is enjoying one of the best seasons in program history, with the Orange currently on a six-game winning streak entering Saturday’s game at South Florida.

— ND —