March 18, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — For the 18th consecutive season, and the 20th time in school history, Notre Dame has earned a berth in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, having received the BIG EAST Conference’s automatic berth into this year’s field by winning its first BIG EAST Championship title last week. The Fighting Irish are the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Championship’s Norfolk Region — the second consecutive year and third time in program history they have earned a top seed — and will play 16th-seeded Tennessee-Martin (the Ohio Valley Conference tournament champion) at 5:05 p.m. ET Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.
The game will be televised by ESPN2 as part of that network’s “whiparound coverage,” while viewers in the South Bend market, as well as those watching on the Internet at WatchESPN (formerly ESPN3.com), will see the game in its entirety. However, the majority of ESPN2 viewers nationwide will be shuttled between all four games in that time slot, including the Notre Dame-UT Martin contest. All Fighting Irish games also can be heard live on the radio in the Michiana area on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), as well as worldwide on the Internet at UND.com with veteran broadcaster Bob Nagle on the call.
Eighth-seeded Miami (Fla.) and No. 9 seed (and sub-regional host) Iowa will square off in Sunday’s other first-round Norfolk Region game in Iowa City (approximately 7:30 p.m. ET tipoff on ESPN2), with the two first-round winners advancing to a March 26 second-round contest at 9:30 p.m. ET — the television coverage is still to be announced.
Fans wishing to purchase tickets for either of Sunday’s first-round matchups or Tuesday’s second-round game in Iowa City ($18 adults/$13 youth ages 18 and under) can be purchased through the Iowa Athletics Ticket Office (1-800-IA-HAWKS; hawkeyesports.com). In addition, all-session ticket packages (for all three games) are available ($30 adults/$18 youth ages 18 and under) and can be purchased either on-line or through the Iowa Athletics Ticket Office. In either case, Notre Dame fans should mention they are Fighting Irish supporters when calling for tickets in order to have the best chance to be placed in the Notre Dame fan section.
“We’re excited to be a No. 1 seed again,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “It’s a great reward for what we’ve accomplished to this point in the season, but now everyone is back to 0-0. We’re looking forward to the challenge of our first-round game against UT Martin out in Iowa. They’re a really skilled offensive team that’s capable of putting up points in bunches, so we’re going to be tested right out of the gate. I think it will be a great opportunity for so many of our great Fighting Irish fans in Iowa and throughout the Midwest to come and see us play.”
Notre Dame (31-1, 16-0 BIG EAST Conference) was ranked No. 2 in Monday’s final Associated Press poll of the season and No. 2 in the latest ESPN/USA Today coaches poll (final poll to be released after the NCAA tournament). The Fighting Irish earned their second consecutive outright BIG EAST regular season title (and third BIG EAST crown in school history) by two games over second-place finisher Connecticut, and posted an 11-1 record against ranked opponents, including five wins against top-10 teams (No. 1/1 Connecticut, No. 3/2 Connecticut, No. 3/3 Connecticut, No. 9/9 Tennessee, No. 10/11 Louisville, No. 11/11 Purdue, No. 16/15 Louisville, No. 19/21 Ohio State, No. 19/22 UCLA, No. 22/20 Syracuse and No. 22/22 Texas A&M).
What’s more, Notre Dame registered better than half of its wins (16) against teams that qualified for this year’s NCAA Championship — each of the aforementioned ranked squads except Ohio State, plus fellow BIG EAST members DePaul, St. John’s and South Florida (twice) and non-conference foe Central Michigan. Notre Dame also defeated four programs that won either their conference regular season or tournament title — Central Michigan (Mid-American Championship), Purdue (Big Ten Championship), Tennessee (SEC regular season) and Texas A&M (SEC Championship).
For the third consecutive season, three Notre Dame players earned first-team all-conference recognition — senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) was the repeat selection as BIG EAST Player of the Year, as well as a unanimous first-team selection for the third year in a row, becoming the second Fighting Irish player to garner three first-team all-BIG EAST citations (and first since Ruth Riley from 1999-2001). Junior forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary’s Catholic) and junior guard Kayla McBride (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy) joined Diggins on the all-conference first team, while freshman guard Jewell Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) was not only an honorable mention all-BIG EAST choice, but was named the BIG EAST Freshman of the Year.
In addition, McGraw earned her second BIG EAST Coach of the Year trophy, becoming the seventh coach in league history to take home the hardware twice in her career. All told, Notre Dame was the first school other than Connecticut to sweep the top three individual BIG EAST awards (Player, Freshman, Coach) since the conference’s inaugural season of 1982-83, when St. John’s pulled off that feat.
Notre Dame is 37-18 (.673) all-time in 19 previous NCAA Championship appearances (all under McGraw), having won the 2001 national championship and advancing to the NCAA Women’s Final Four on four occasions, including each of the past two seasons when it reached the NCAA national championship game. The Fighting Irish also have won 15 of their last 17 NCAA first-round games, and have advanced to the Sweet 16 (regional semifinals) 10 times in the past 16 seasons. In addition, Notre Dame’s current streak of 18 consecutive NCAA tournament berths is the sixth-longest in the nation (and eighth all-time), while its .673 winning percentage is eighth-best in tournament history.
Notre Dame has garnered a No. 1 seed for the third time in its NCAA Championship history, with a combined 11-1 record as a top seed in the tournament. In 2001, the Fighting Irish won all six games as a No. 1 seed en route to the national title, and last season, Notre Dame reached the NCAA national championship game before falling to Baylor, 80-61, at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Based in Martin, Tenn., Tennessee-Martin (19-14, 11-5 OVC West) is making its third NCAA Championship appearance, all in the past three seasons. The Skyhawks come into this weekend’s NCAA first-round contest against Notre Dame having won eight in a row and nine of their last 10, with only a 66-63 home loss to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Feb. 9 marring their resume down the stretch. UT Martin finished second in the OVC’s West Division (one game behind Eastern Illinois), but went on to win the conference tournament championship with victories over Eastern Kentucky (78-63), Eastern Illinois (71-69) and Tennessee Tech (87-80, ot), getting a basket with 2.3 seconds left in regulation in the tournament final to force overtime and ultimately earn their league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Championship.
The Skyhawks, who come into Sunday’s game ranked third in the nation in three-pointers made per game (9.0), are led by a pair of sharpshooting junior guards and two-time first-team all-conference selections — OVC Player/Defensive Player of the Year Jasmine Newsome (22.9 ppg., 5.5 apg., 3.0 spg., .373 3FG%) and Heather Butler (22.0 ppg., 4.1 apg., 1.76 A/TO ratio, team-high 99 3FGM). Newsome also was named the OVC Tournament Most Valuable Player for the second year in a row after scoring 34 points in the title game against Tennessee Tech (including the game-tying layup in the final seconds of regulation), while Butler joined her on the all-tournament team.
The Fighting Irish will be facing UT Martin for the first time on Sunday. Notre Dame is 34-3 (.919) against first-time opponents since the start of the 2000-01 season, including an 8-0 record against new opponents in NCAA Championship play during that time. Notre Dame also has won its last 10 games against first-time foes, including victories over Utah State (109-70) and Alabama A&M (100-39) earlier this season.
Notre Dame and UTM had three common opponents this season — Baylor, Purdue and Louisville. The Fighting Irish went 3-1 against that trio, defeating Louisville twice (93-64 at home and 83-59, the latter in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals at Hartford, Conn.) and Purdue (74-47 at home), while falling to Baylor (73-61 at home). The Skyhawks went 0-3 against that group, losing to Baylor (82-67 in Hawai’i – first game after BU’s Odyssey Sims went down with an ankle injury), Louisville (79-61 at home) and Purdue (68-60 at home).
Miami (Fla.) (21-10, 11-7 ACC) is a once-and-future conference opponent for Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish and Hurricanes met regularly in BIG EAST play from 1995-96 to 2003-04 and will do so again starting next season when Notre Dame joins the ACC. Miami tied Florida State for fourth place in the rugged ACC regular season race before falling to FSU, 70-58 in the ACC Championship quarterfinals. Nevertheless, the Hurricanes looked crisp down the stretch, winning seven of their last 10, including a marquee 69-65 win over fifth-ranked Duke in UM’s home finale on Feb. 28. Miami will be making its ninth NCAA Championship appearance, and third in a row.
Notre Dame is 14-3 all-time against Miami, having won eight of the past nine series meetings. Most recently, the teams tangled on Feb. 25, 2004, at Purcell Pavilion, with the Fighting Irish earning a 93-58 victory. Notre Dame also defeated the Hurricanes in the teams’ lone postseason matchup, 67-52 in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals on March 5, 2000, in Storrs, Conn.
The Fighting Irish and Miami had two common opponents this season — Rutgers and Tennessee. Notre Dame went 2-0 against the pair, winning at home against Rutgers 71-46) and at Tennessee (77-67). Miami lost to both squads, falling at home to Tennessee (79-67) and at Rutgers (42-34).
For the second consecutive season, Notre Dame and Iowa are in a position to match up in the second round of the NCAA Championship — the Hawkeyes came to South Bend last year, but dropped an 84-74 decision to California in a first-round game at Purcell Pavilion.
This year, Iowa (20-12, 8-8 Big Ten) finished seventh in the Big Ten Conference, due in part to a rough patch in early February that saw the Hawkeyes drop five in a row. However, Iowa recovered nicely to win four of its final six games, including a 72-52 victory at eventual Big Ten Tournament champion Purdue, with only a pair of losses to eventual Big Ten Tournament runner-up Nebraska (66-46 and 76-61, the latter in the conference tournament quarterfinals) on its resume. The Hawkeyes will be making their sixth consecutive NCAA Championship appearance, and the 22nd in program history.
Notre Dame and Iowa have met just once before on the hardwood, with the Fighting Irish earning a 61-50 victory over the sixth-ranked Hawkeyes on Nov. 17, 1996, in the quarterfinals of the Preseason WNIT in Iowa City.
The two sides had two common opponents this season — Ohio State and Purdue. Notre Dame went 2-0 against the duo, downing OSU (57-51 at a neutral site) and Purdue (74-47 at home), while Iowa was 3-0 against those common foes, besting Ohio State (77-71 in overtime at home) and sweeping a home-and-home series with Purdue (62-46 at home and 72-52 on the road).
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— ND —