Matt Bensen’s heart nearly leaped out of his chest.
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Notre Dame makes its second trip to Charlottesville in three seasons (7 p.m. ET; radio only on Pulse FM and WatchND).
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Diggins scores 22 of her 27 points in first half Sunday and became the school's career scoring leader.
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At Notre Dame, Cunningham's primary focus is working with the Fighting Irish wing players, as well as coordinating future game schedules and constructing game strategy and scouting reports, including wins over South Carolina and Stanford during last year's NCAA tournament. She also helps develop daily practice plans and assists with the program's nationally-ranked recruiting efforts.
"Beth was a phenomenal shooter as a player here at Notre Dame, and she has the respect of all the players that are now in our program because they know she's done exactly the same things that she's teaching them," head coach Muffet McGraw said. "She's had great success as a head coach and she's able to help me during games because she's always been a poised and level-headed kind of person and never gets too high or low emotionally.
"Beth sees the game from more of an objective view, so she's really good on the bench during timeouts with comments and suggestions we can use," McGraw added. "Understanding what the head coach is going through all the time makes her a great assistant because she helps make things easier for me in so many ways. All of us on the staff depend on her when it comes to managing the little things, the added details that come up, both on and off the court."
"I'm so thrilled to be back at Notre Dame," Cunningham said. "To be a part of Coach McGraw's staff is something I've always dreamed about. I have tremendous passion and pride in the Notre Dame women's basketball program, and I believe it is a reflection of the high standards this great university embodies. Quite simply, I can't wait to continue everyone's efforts at Notre Dame towards winning national championships."
In her first three seasons back at her alma mater, Cunningham has helped mold Notre Dame's perimeter offense into one of the nation's best. During the past two years, the Fighting Irish have ranked in the top 10 in the country in three-point percentage, finishing second in 2013-14 (.402) and seventh last season (.383) while posting the two highest totals of three-point field goals made in program history (190 in 2013-14; 186 last year).
Cunningham also has found success with individual player development, most notably shaping Kayla McBride into one of the nation's top players. Under Cunningham's steady hand, McBride was a two-time All-America selection, earning consensus first-team honors as a senior in 2013-14. She also was the 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, according to the conference coaches, after averaging career highs of 17.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in her final season. What's more, McBride was the 2013 BIG EAST Championship Most Outstanding Player after leading Notre Dame to its first-ever BIG EAST tournament title, and she was dominant on the biggest stages, reflecting Cunningham's own cool demeanor from her playing days while methodically shredding numerous Top 25 opponents, averaging 18.7 points per game against ranked teams in her final two seasons.
Thus, it was no surprise that McBride was a first-round selection (No. 3 overall) in the 2014 WNBA Draft by the San Antonio Stars and immediately put all the lessons she learned from Cunningham to good use. McBride would up earning WNBA All-Rookie Team honors and posted the highest scoring season for a San Antonio rookie since the franchise relocated from Salt Lake City in 2003. In addition, McBride was San Antonio's leading scorer (22.5 ppg.) during the 2014 WNBA playoffs and went on to earn WNBA All-Star honors in 2015.
Thanks in part to Cunningham's guidance, McBride also was named to the 2014-16 USA Basketball Senior National Team player pool and was a finalist for the 2014 USA Basketball World Championship Team that earned a gold medal in Turkey. McBride remains one of the top young players in the USA Basketball ranks and is a prime candidate to compete for a spot on the USA Basketball roster heading into the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Before returning to Notre Dame in the summer of 2012, Cunningham took the VCU women's basketball program to new heights in her 11 seasons in Richmond, Va., spending one year as an assistant coach (2001-02) and another as associate head coach (2002-03) before assuming the head coaching duties prior to the 2003-04 campaign. She is the Rams' all-time leader in women's basketball coaching wins, having successfully piloted VCU to a 167-115 (.592) record and postseason appearances in each of her final five seasons, including the program's first-ever NCAA Championship berth (an at-large selection in 2009). Under her tutelage, VCU also averaged better than 22 wins per season from 2007-08 through 2011-12, amassing three consecutive 20-win campaigns from 2008-10 (including back-to-back school-record 26-win seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09) as part of the most successful four-year run in Rams' history.
A two-time Virginia Coach of the Year honoree by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Cunningham coached three WNBA Draft picks and two All-Americans, as well as two Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Players of the Year and 18 all-conference selections during her tenure at VCU. Among her more notable pupils were Quanitra Hollingsworth, a first-round selection (ninth overall) in the 2009 WNBA Draft by the Minnesota Lynx, and Courtney Hurt, a 2012 third-round selection by the Indiana Fever, who was among the nation's leaders in scoring and rebounding during her final two seasons.
Much like her coaching career at VCU, Cunningham was a trailblazer during her playing days at Notre Dame from 1993-97 (when she competed under her maiden name of Beth Morgan), not only helping the Fighting Irish transition from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) into the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, but then leading the program to the first of its four NCAA Women's Final Four appearances and a (then) record-setting 31-7 campaign as a senior in 1996-97. A two-time Associated Press and Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) honorable mention All-America choice, four-time first-team all-conference selection and two-year team captain, Cunningham sparked Notre Dame to a 97-32 (.752) record in her four seasons under the Golden Dome, including a pair of MCC regular season titles and the 1994 MCC postseason crown, as well as three NCAA Championship appearances (1994, 1996, 1997).
When all was said and done, Cunningham departed as the all-time leading scorer in Fighting Irish women's basketball history with 2,322 points (now second behind Skylar Diggins), having set or tied 28 school records during her career, 11 of which she still holds, including career marks for points, scoring average (18.6 ppg.), double-figure scoring games (115) and 20-point games (56).
Following her successful college career, Cunningham spent three seasons in the American professional basketball ranks, playing two seasons with the Richmond/Philadelphia Rage of the now-defunct American Basketball League (ABL) from 1997-98, and then one year with the WNBA's Washington Mystics in 2000 before embarking on her coaching career.
Cunningham also was a fixture in USA Basketball circles as both a player and coach, first suiting up for Team USA four times from 1996-99 (winning three medals including a gold with the 1997 USA World University Games Team) and serving as the athlete representative on the USA Basketball Women's Junior National Team Committee since 2009 after spending time in a similar role on the USA Basketball Women's Collegiate Committee from 2005-08.
Cunningham graduated from Notre Dame in 1997 with a bachelor's degree in marketing from the top-ranked Mendoza College of Business. She then went on to earn her master's degree of education in sports leadership from VCU in 2003.
Originally from Bloomington, Ind., Cunningham was a standout two-sport performer at Bloomington South High School, earning all-state honors in both basketball and tennis and subsequently being inducted into the Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame in June 2011. What's more, her father, Bob Morgan, was the longtime baseball coach at Indiana University from 1984-2005, leading the Hoosiers to more than 1,000 victories during his career.
Cunningham and her husband, Dan (a former practice player for the Notre Dame women's basketball program and a 1996 graduate of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business), are the proud parents of a four-year-old daughter, Margaret, and two-year-old twins Carly and Danny.
-- updated August 2015