March 5, 2012
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame are one victory away from crossing another item off this season’s to-do list.
Notre Dame has played in the BIG EAST title game five times and come up short each trip, losing to UConn each time. The Irish haven’t had any problems with the Huskies lately, winning the last three meetings – including beating UConn in Hartford last Monday night to earn its first outright BIG EAST regular season title.
“We’re in a position right where we want to be,” Novosel said. “Going into tomorrow night’s game we want to go in and win that for Coach.”
The Irish will play Connecticut in the title game Tuesday night. The Huskies defeated No. 18/21 St. John’s, 74-43 in Monday’s other conference semifinal.
“It’s great for our school, particular in the season we’ve been having,” Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins said. “We’re excited for the opportunity to compete for the Big East championship. How much it would mean for us, our program, and coach McGraw.”
Notre Dame (30-2) got a measure of revenge on the Mountaineers (23-9), who ended the Irish’s 21-game winning streak on Feb. 12 with 65-63 win in South Bend, Ind. It was Notre Dame’s only BIG EAST loss.
“We’re happy to be able to avenge our loss,” McGraw said. “We played well right from the start and got out of the gate offensively. Shot the ball extremely well. We did a great job on their guards, had good balance today which we didn’t have last time.”
On Monday night, the Irish scored the first seven points and had built a 20-4 lead 8 1/2 minutes in as five different players scored. Devereaux Peters, who had four points and missed seven of her eight shots in the loss, had seven by the half as Notre Dame led 37-19.
“I think we came out here with a little fire in us,” Novosel said. “We were excited when we saw we were playing West Virginia. We started out really well tonight.”
West Virginia couldn’t get within 16 in the second half closing to 51-35 midway through the period, but Notre Dame scored 18 of the next 22 points to end any hope of a comeback.
“We knew they were going to come out with a chip on their shoulder,” Ayana Dunning said. “Coach (Mike Carey) said the first eight minutes they’d try to get a lead on us and we didn’t come out ready to play. We got ourselves down so much in the beginning of the game we were trying to fight back the entire time.”
This was West Virginia’s final game in the BIG EAST before leaving for the Big 12 next season.
The Mountaineers advanced to the semis with a 39-32 win over then-No. 12 Georgetown on Sunday. That was the lowest scoring game in the history of the BIG EAST tournament, easily surpassing the previous record of 78 set in 2005 by Boston College and Villanova.
Buoyed by that victory, West Virginia entered the Top 25 for the first time this season.
Asya Bussie scored 15 points and Dunning added 12 to lead the Mountaineers. The pair was 12 for 16, but got little help from the rest of the team which missed 31 of its 38 shots.
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame earns its 30th win of the season, its second consecutive 30-win campaign and the fourth in school history (also 31-7 in 1996-97, 34-2 in 2000-01 and 31-8 in 2010-11) … this marks the first time the Fighting Irish have won 30 games prior to the NCAA Championship … Notre Dame also posted the 750th win in program history (now 750-312, .706), becoming the 25th NCAA Division I program to reach that milestone, and second this season following Virginia’s landmark win on Dec. 28 against Wagner … the Fighting Irish will play in the BIG EAST Championship title game for the sixth time, and the second consecutive season, having also made the tournament final in 1996, 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2011 — and like the prior five matchups, Tuesday’s championship game opponent will be Connecticut (all but the 1999 title game have or were played in the state of Connecticut, and the Huskies won all five contests, three by single digits, including last year’s 73-64 decision) … the 1996 and 1997 finals appearances were the only other time the Fighting Irish have played in back-to-back BIG EAST Championship title games … Notre Dame moves to 6-4 (.600) all-time in BIG EAST Championship semifinals, and 21-16 (.568) overall in the conference tournament, having won six of their last eight games in the event … the Fighting Irish are 15-6 (.714) all-time as the higher seed in BIG EAST Championship play … Monday’s 45 points allowed was Notre Dame’s best defensive effort in a BIG EAST tournament game since the 2009 second round, when the Fighting Irish defeated St. John’s, 62-45 — it’s also the second-fewest points Notre Dame has ever allowed in the BIG EAST semifinal round, exceeded only by an 83-43 win over Georgetown on March 3, 1997, at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. … the 28-point margin of victory is the largest for the Fighting Irish in the conference tournament since the 2010 second round (89-52 over Louisville), and second-largest in the semifinal round (topped only by that aforementioned 1997 win over Georgetown) … Notre Dame rises to 9-8 (.529) in BIG EAST Championship action at the XL Center since the tournament moved to Hartford in 2004, and moves to 10-12 (.455) all-time in the building formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center … Notre Dame is 12-1 this season against ranked opponents (West Virginia moved into the AP poll at No. 25 on Monday afternoon), lengthening its school record for Top 25 wins in a season and including an 8-1 record away from home against ranked teams … nine of the 12 Fighting Irish wins against the Top 25 have come by double digits, with Monday’s win over West Virginia the fourth by at least 25 points … Notre Dame extended its school record by holding its 17th opponent of the season to 50 points or fewer … of the 30 Fighting Irish wins this season, 20 have come by at least 20 points, with 26 seeing the opponent scoring 61 points or fewer … for the second consecutive tournament game, and the 16th time this season, Notre Dame had at least four double-figure scorers, raising its record in the past three years to 50-4 (.926) with at least four in double figures … for the 13th time this season, the Fighting Irish opened up a 20-point lead inside the opening 14 minutes of play, winning those 13 games by an average of 49.2 points per game … Notre Dame jumps to 19-3 all-time against WVU, including a 2-0 mark in the BIG EAST Championship (the Fighting Irish also defeated the Mountaineers, 70-59 in the 2005 quarterfinals) … senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel went a career-high 4-for-4 from the three-point line, becoming the fourth player in BIG EAST Championship history to go 4-for-4 or better from distance in a tournament game, and the first since March 8, 2009, when Louisville’s Becky Burke had a similar effort against Rutgers in the quarterfinals (the record is 5-for-5 by Latasha Thompson of St. John’s against Pittsburgh on March 4, 2000) … Novosel also set a Notre Dame record for best three-point percentage in a BIG EAST tournament game, one made triple better than the efforts by current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey (vs. Villanova in quarterfinals on Feb. 28, 1999) and Alicia Ratay (at Connecticut in title game on March 6, 2001) … Novosel jumped to 11th place on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,466 points, passing Sandy Botham (1,460 from 1984-88) … with Monday’s No. 3 ranking in the Associated Press poll, Notre Dame tied a school record for consecutive top-five appearances in the AP poll, having also spent 18 weeks in a row in the AP Top 5 to end the 2000-01 season (final poll was taken prior to NCAA Championship).