Jan. 4, 2014
#2/2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-0 / 0-0 ACC) vs. Clemson Tigers (8-6 / 0-0 ACC)
DATE: Jan. 5, 2014
TIME: 2:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
SERIES: First meeting
TV: WatchND (live)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (574) 631-7356; UND.com/buytickets
No. 2 Fighting Irish Tip Off Inaugural ACC Season Sunday Against Clemson
As Notre Dame prepares to make its debut in the Atlantic Coast Conference, it should come as no surprise that a new conference affiliation brings with it a first-time opponent, as the No. 2 Fighting Irish open their inaugural ACC campaign at 2 p.m. (ET) Sunday against new foe Clemson at Purcell Pavilion. The game will be streamed live and free of charge on the official Notre Dame athletics multimedia web site, WatchND.
The Fighting Irish (12-0) closed out their pre-conference schedule in impressive fashion on Thursday night, leading from tip to buzzer in a 94-51 win over South Dakota State at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame jumped out to a 19-4 lead less than six minutes into the contest and never looked back, shooting .536 from the field en route to the win.
Senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride scored a game-high 18 points on 8-for-8 shooting (fourth-best in school history), while senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa posted her third double-double of the year with 13 points and a season-high 13 rebounds.
The Notre Dame-Clemson Series
Sunday will mark the first time Notre Dame and Clemson have met in women's basketball.
Other Notre Dame-Clemson Series Tidbits
Dating back to the end of its membership in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) and covering the balance of its time in the BIG EAST Conference, Notre Dame is 16-4 (.800) in its last 20 conference openers, beginning with the 1993-94 season. The Fighting Irish also have won 14 of their last 16 league lidlifters, as well as the past seven in a row. Last year, Notre Dame began its final season in the BIG EAST with a 73-72 win at top-ranked Connecticut.
The Fighting Irish also are 15-5 (.750) in their last 20 conference home openers and have six of their last seven league debuts at Purcell Pavilion. Last year, Notre Dame won its first BIG EAST home game of the season, defeating Rutgers, 71-46.
A New Place To Call Home
Sunday will be a landmark day for Notre Dame women's basketball, as the Fighting Irish play their first regular season game in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Here's a look at how the Fighting Irish fared in their debut games in their prior three conference affiliations:
Getting The Jump
At 12-0, Notre Dame is off to the third-best start in the program's 37-year history. The only times the Fighting Irish opened with a better record than this season were in 2000-01 (when they reeled off a school-record 23 consecutive wins en route to a 34-2 final record and the program's first national championship) and 2009-10 (when they started 15-0 on the way to a 29-6 record and spot in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen).
The Comforts Of Home
Notre Dame has won 18 consecutive home games since a 73-61 loss to third-ranked Baylor on Dec. 5, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish currently are tied with Dayton and Harvard for the nation's fourth-longest active home winning streak, with this run also the fourth-longest in school history (longest since a 20-game stretch from Jan. 12, 2011-Feb. 5, 2012, a run that ended a week later with a 65-63 loss to West Virginia).
Notre Dame also has won its last 10 conference home games since that loss to WVU in 2012, when both the Fighting Irish and Mountaineers were members of the BIG EAST Conference.
Notre Dame has won a school-record 26 consecutive regular season road games and 33 of its last 38 overall, including the Dec. 29 victory at Oregon State. 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.
The Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 16 consecutive conference regular season road games, with their last loss coming as part of the BIG EAST Conference on Feb. 28, 2011 (a last-second 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul).
A Helping Hand
The Fighting Irish entered the weekend leading the nation in assists at 23.5 per game. Notre Dame has dished out at least 21 helpers in 10 games thus far (including a season-high 31 dimes against UCLA on Dec. 7), with the Fighting Irish piling up assists on 67.3 percent of their made field goals this year (282 of 419).
Notre Dame also ranks fourth in the nation (and tops in the ACC) in assist/turnover ratio (1.50).
That's Some Sharp Shooting
Notre Dame currently is setting the pace nationally with a .514 field goal percentage, thanks in part to a recent surge that has seen Notre Dame shoot better than 50 percent from the field in four of its last five games, including three in a row at better than 55 percent (.563 vs. UCLA, .586 at Michigan, .618 vs. Central Michigan).
It was the first time the Fighting Irish had three consecutive 55-percent outings since Nov. 20-29, 1997, when they did so in victories over North Carolina State (.565), Bowling Green (.558) and Ohio University (.567).
For the season, Notre Dame has shot better than 50 percent in seven games, including three contests where it topped 60 percent from the field.
The Fighting Irish sharpshooting brigade has been led by senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa, who ranks eighth in the ACC with a .567 field goal percentage. Freshman forward Kristina Nelson (.773), junior guard Madison Cable (.625), junior forward Markisha Wright (.600) and freshman guard Lindsay Allen (.583) actually have a higher field goal percentage than Achonwa, but none has made the minimum number of shots (three per game) to qualify for ACC ranking.
Dialing Long Distance
Although not usually a primary part of the Notre Dame arsenal, the Fighting Irish have found the three-point shot much to their liking this season. Notre Dame currently ranks third in the nation and leads the ACC with a .423 three-point percentage, with four different players connecting at 50 percent or better from beyond the arc.
Junior guard Madison Cable leads the way for the Fighting Irish with a league-leading .565 three-point percentage, including a career-high 5-of-6 from deep (part of a career-high 21 points) in the Dec. 7 win over UCLA.
Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey has connected on a team-high 21 three-pointers this season, including a career-high four treys against Michigan (Dec. 14) and Central Michigan (Dec. 22), and she has made two triples in seven of her last nine outings. She ranks 12th in the ACC with 1.8 three-pointers made per game, while her .368 percentage is just outside the top 15.
The other two Fighting Irish players hitting 50 percent from distance -- freshman guard Lindsay Allen (.500) and senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (.500) -- haven't made the minimum 1.0 3FG/game to qualify for ACC ranking.
As a team, the Fighting Irish connected on 10-of-17 three-pointers in their victory over UCLA, their highest production from the arc in nearly four years, dating back to a similar 10-triple performance on Jan. 30, 2010, at Syracuse.
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in nine games this year, going 9-0 in those contests. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 84-5 (.944) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including wins in 54 of their last 55 such outings (the lone loss coming in last year's NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinal against Connecticut).
Irish Join The 800-Win Club
Notre Dame's 106-72 victory over Central Michigan on Dec. 22 at Purcell Pavilion was a milestone for the Fighting Irish, who became the 27th program in NCAA Division I women's basketball history (and fourth Atlantic Coast Conference school) to record 800 victories. The Fighting Irish have posted a 802-316 (.717) record in their 37 seasons of varsity competition, dating back to the 1977-78 campaign.
Prior to Notre Dame reaching the milestone, the last school to reach the 800-win mark was LSU (which did so on Nov. 25, 2012, at Florida International). Along with the Fighting Irish, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland are the other three ACC members in the 800-victory club (with Duke and North Carolina State expected to follow later this year).
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd has continued her development as one of the top young talents in the country this season, building on last year's selection as the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) National Freshman of the Year.
The Lincolnwood, Ill., product currently ranks eighth in the ACC in scoring (17.4 ppg.) and 17th in rebounding (6.8 rpg.), sporting career-high marks in both areas. She also has four 20-point games thus far (including a career-high 30 points against Central Michigan on Dec. 22) after scoring 20 points twice during her rookie campaign.
Loyd stormed out of the gates this season, piling up 63 points in Notre Dame's first three games, wins over UNC Wilmington (19 points), No. 19/18 Michigan State (22 points) and Valparaiso (22 points).
Loyd's point production was the highest for a Fighting Irish player in the opening three contests of a season since 1998-99, when Danielle Green had 66 combined points in wins against No. 6 UCLA at home (23 points), at Butler (23) and No. 6/4 Duke at home (20).
Notre Dame's 1,000-Point Scorers
Senior tri-captains Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa will spend their final season at Notre Dame steadily climbing the program's all-time scoring list, after both entered the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club last year.
McBride currently ranks 16th in program history with 1,389 career points, having passed Shari Matvey (1,373 points from 1979-83) with her 18-point outing against South Dakota State on Jan. 2.
Meanwhile, Achonwa stands 25th in Notre Dame history with 1,171 points, closing in on the next rung up the ladder, held by Krissi Davis (1,194 from 1987-91).
Coming Up Aces
Senior forward/tri-captains Natalie Achonwa (nicknamed "Ace") also is making her way up Notre Dame's career charts in both rebounds and double-doubles. She currently ranks ninth on the rebounding list (789) and is tied for ninth on the double-doubles chart (23), moving up one spot on the latter rundown with 13 points and 13 rebounds against South Dakota State on Jan. 2.
Achonwa continues to remain among the top 10 in school history with a .544 career field goal percentage, presently ranking ninth in program annals.
Freshman Lindsay Allen got the call from head coach Muffet McGraw to start at point guard in Notre Dame's season opener against UNC Wilmington on Nov. 9 at Purcell Pavilion. Allen finished with 11 points in her debut game, including the team's first five points of the season.
It was the first time a Fighting Irish rookie point guard started the season opener since Nov. 26, 1994, when Mollie Peirick cracked the lineup and played 38 minutes (two points, five rebounds, three assists) in a 65-60 overtime loss at No. 25 Seton Hall.
Allen has not disappointed in her debut campaign, averaging 8.5 points and 3.8 assists per game (the latter ranking 12th in the ACC). She also is fifth in the ACC with a 2.19 assist/turnover ratio, and is just outside the top 15 in the conference with a team-high 1.67 steals per game.
The Second Platoon
Another reason for Notre Dame's success this season has been the performance of its reserves, who are averaging better than 30 points per game and have outscored the opponent's bench by better than a 2-to-1 margin (31.1 ppg. to 14.8 ppg.).
In fact, only two Fighting Irish opponents to date has finished with a bench scoring advantage against Notre Dame -- No. 19/18 Michigan State held an 18-11 edge on Nov. 11, while No. 25 DePaul wound up with a slim 33-32 advantage on Nov. 26 (both Fighting Irish home wins).
Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey (9.8 ppg.) and freshman forward Taya Reimer (9.6 ppg.) head up the strong Notre Dame bench contingent, which has seen players score in double figures 11 different times, including six by Mabrey.
Call Her Mabrey
While the season is only one-third over, certainly an early favorite as the nation's most improved player would have to be Notre Dame sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey. The Belmar, N.J., resident has emerged as a key reserve for the Fighting Irish, averaging 9.8 points and 3.7 assists per game, while ranking second in the ACC (and 22nd in the nation) with a 2.75 assist/turnover ratio and 15th in assists, after logging 3.0 ppg. and 1.3 apg. with a 1.06 A/TO mark last year.
What's more, Mabrey already has scored in double figures six times this year (including a career-high 19 points in the season opener against UNC Wilmington) after doing so three times in 30 games last season.
Next Game: Boston College
Notre Dame wraps up its three-game homestand at 7 p.m. (ET) Thursday when it plays host to Boston College in an ACC matchup at Purcell Pavilion. The game, which will be the first between the Fighting Irish and Eagles as conference members since 2005, will be streamed live and free of charge on the official Notre Dame athletics multimedia platform, WatchND.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director