Jan. 6, 2012
#3/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (14-1 / 2-0 BIG EAST) vs. #2/2 Connecticut Huskies (12-1 / 2-0 BIG EAST)
DATE: January 7, 2012
TIME: 4:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
SERIES: UCONN leads 28-5
1ST MTG: UCONN 87-64 (1/18/96)
LAST MTG: ND 72-63 (4/3/11)
TV: CBS (live) (Don Criqui, p-b-p / Mary Murphy, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
LIVE CHAT: UND.com
No. 3 Fighting Irish Set To Host No. 2 Connecticut Saturday
Movie critics sometimes say that sequels never turn out to match the original, but No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 2 Connecticut will try to buck that trend when they square off at 4 p.m. (ET) Saturday at Purcell Pavilion, with the game televised live on CBS. It's the first matchup between the two storied programs since last year's epic four-game set that culminated with Notre Dame's victory over the Huskies at the NCAA Women's Final Four.
The Fighting Irish (14-1) earned their 11th consecutive win on Wednesday night, leading wire-to-wire in a 74-36 victory at Seton Hall. Notre Dame ended the first half on a 36-9 run, fueling their second BIG EAST win of the year.
Junior guard Skylar Diggins and sophomore guard Kayla McBride led the Fighting Irish with 14 points apiece, while senior guard Natalie Novosel added 13 points and fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters had 10 rebounds for Notre Dame, which shot .522 for the game.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At Connecticut
Connecticut (12-1, 2-0 BIG EAST) has barely skipped a beat despite the graduation of four-time All-America forward Maya Moore, riding a collective effort to the nation's No. 2 ranking behind Baylor (who is responsible for the only losses the Huskies and Notre Dame have endured this year).
Connecticut is coming off a 79-60 win over West Virginia on Wednesday night at the XL Center in Hartford. Sophomore guard Bria Hartley paced five Huskies in double figures with 18 points, while junior guard Kelly Faris stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, six steals, five rebounds and five assists.
Despite not starting a game this year, freshman forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis leads Connecticut in scoring (15.0 ppg.), while ranking a close second in three-point percentage (.378), one of four Huskies hitting better than 35 percent from the arc this year. Hartley is second on the team in scoring (14.8 ppg.) and third in both assists (3.5 apg.) and three-point field goal percentage (.361). Senior guard Tiffany Hayes is third in scoring (14.2 ppg.), tied for first in rebounding (5.6 rpg.) and second in steals (2.2 spg.), while Faris is tops in assists (4.5 apg.) and steals (3.2 spg.) to complement her 6.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
Hall of Fame head coach Geno Auriemma (who will guide the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team) is in his 27th season at Connecticut with a 783-125 (.862) record, including a 28-5 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
Connecticut holds a 28-5 edge in the all-time series with Notre Dame, with a 9-2 edge at Purcell Pavilion. All five Fighting Irish series wins have come since 2000-01 (22 games), including last year's epic 72-63 national semifinal victory at the NCAA Women's Final Four in Indianapolis.
The game not only broke Connecticut's 12-game winning streak in the series, but it also capped a stirring four-game set between the Huskies and Fighting Irish last year, with three of the four games decided by single digits. It was the first time ever that Notre Dame played the same team four times in one season.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Connecticut Met
Shot for shot, play for play, Skylar Diggins matched Maya Moore when it mattered most and Notre Dame will now play for a national championship behind their fearless young leader.
The sensational sophomore guard scored 28 points and hot-shooting Notre Dame upset Connecticut, 72-63 on April 3, 2011, at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, ending the brilliant career of Moore and the Huskies' quest for a third straight national championship.
Notre Dame was 0-3 against its BIG EAST rival las season, but the Fighting Irish had all the answers this time for the Huskies, who lost for just the second time in three seasons. The Fighting Irish already had beaten Tennessee in the NCAA tournament, ending a 20-game skid against the Volunteers.
Then, the Fighting Irish knocked out the two-time defending champions.
Moore finished with 36 points, including 12 straight as she tried to rally the Huskies from a 12-point deficit in the final six minutes, but it wasn't enough for UConn.
Her career ended the same way it started -- with a loss in the national semifinals. She finished as the NCAA's fourth all-time leading scorer, putting up 3,036 points.
The four-time All-American and AP player of the year was overshadowed by Diggins, the South Bend native who felt right at home in Conseco Fieldhouse, where she led her high school to three straight championships.
Trailing 34-26 early in the second half, Diggins' three-point play started a 15-4 run by the Fighting Irish. Devereaux Peters' added her own three-point play that gave Notre Dame a 38-37 advantage -- its first lead since midway through the first half.
Diggins capped the burst with another three-point play that made it 41-38 with 13:17 left and brought the pro-Irish crowd to its feet and left the Huskies reeling.
Notre Dame extended its lead to 47-40 a few minutes later before UConn cut the deficit to four on Bria Hartley's three-pointer.
Brittany Mallory and Natalie Novosel hit consecutive three-pointers to make it a 12-point game with just over seven minutes left. Moore did her best to try to rally her young team, but the Huskies fell short.
Moore started her flurry with a three-point play and then a hit a deep three-pointer. After Novosel hit a layup, Moore hit another three-pointer that made it 63-60 with 2:26 left. That's as close as the Huskies would get as Diggins and the Fighting Irish were too much for them down the stretch.
Notre Dame was making its first trip to the Final Four since winning a national title in 2001 after knocking out UConn in the semifinals that year. The Fighting Irish faced a 16-point first half deficit in that game but rallied to win as well.
In its three losses to the Huskies, Notre Dame shot just 35 percent. On this night, the Fighting Irish made 52 percent from the field, snapping a streak of 262 consecutive games that the Huskies hadn't allowed an opponent to shoot better than 50 percent.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Connecticut Met At Purcell Pavilion
Kelly Faris scored a career-high 20 points, including a layup with 14.7 seconds left that allowed No. 2 Connecticut to escape with a 79-76 victory over No. 13 Notre Dame on Jan. 8, 2011, at Purcell Pavilion. Maya Moore added 31 points, eight rebounds and two blocks for the Huskies, whose victory was their second by single digits last season.
Skylar Diggins missed two shots in the last five seconds for Notre Dame, including a last-ditch three-pointer at the buzzer that sailed way beyond the basket. The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak for the Fighting Irish, whose only losses last year were against ranked teams, and disappointed the 9,149 fans who came out despite a snowstorm that dumped more than two feet of snow on South Bend.
The Huskies picked up four fouls in the first two minutes of the game -- including two on Tiffany Hayes -- and never seemed in sync. But Faris kept UConn close, making a big layup and a three to tie the game midway through the second half after Notre Dame had matched its largest lead of the game at seven.
Faris was 2 of 3 from three-point range and also made all 10 of her free throws.
Moore made back-to-back three-pointers to put UConn in front 67-64 with 7:29 to play. But the Huskies would go almost four minutes without scoring, and Natalie Novosel continued an impressive second half by capping an 8-0 run with a layup to give the Fighting Irish a 72-67 lead with 4:24 left.
The Huskies wouldn't lead again until Moore shook off a bump from Devereaux Peters and drilled a pull-up jumper with 50 seconds left.
Stefanie Dolson blocked one Novosel effort with 34 seconds left, but the gritty Fighting Irish guard put up another shot as she fell to the floor and it went in, giving Notre Dame a 76-75 lead with 30 seconds left. But Faris, who hadn't had a field goal in more than 10 minutes, made the critical layup, grabbing a deflected pass on a backdoor cut and just beating the Fighting Irish defense to the hoop.
After Diggins missed a short jumper, Dolson got the rebound and was fouled by Peters with three seconds left. The freshman, who had made all but two free throws to that point last year, made both for the final margin.
The loss spoiled an outstanding effort by Novosel, who scored Notre Dame's last six points and all but two of her 16 in the second half. Diggins also had 16 and Peters had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but she was held to just four points and three boards in the second half.
Other Notre Dame-Connecticut Series Tidbits
The Brains Of The Operation
The two head coaches -- Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw and Connecticut's Geno Auriemma -- have more than a few connections. Both are from the Philadephia metro area (McGraw from West Chester, Auriemma from Norristown), both cut their coaching teeth at Saint Joseph's under current Ohio State head coach Jim Foster (McGraw replaced Auriemma on Foster's staff in 1980 when Auriemma left to take an assistant position at Virginia), and both are members of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, with McGraw having been inducted last June.
McGraw also is one of just two coaches in the nation (along with Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer) with five wins against Auriemma since the start of the 2000-01 season. What's more, McGraw is one of just 10 coaches all-time (six that are active) that have five or more victories against Auriemma on their resume.
ND Welcomes Back 1997 Final Four Team
During Saturday's game vs. Connecticut, Notre Dame will honor the members of its 1997 NCAA Final Four team, many of whom will be back on campus for that squad's 15-year reunion.
In 1996-97, Notre Dame posted a 31-7 record (17-1 in the BIG EAST) and advanced to the Final Four for the first time in program history. Led by 2,000-point scorers and All-Americans Beth Morgan and Katryna Gaither, the Fighting Irish charged through the NCAA tournament, defeating Memphis (92-63) in the opening round and then upsetting No. 14/13 Texas on its home floor in the second round, 86-83, in one of the school's landmark victories.
Wins over No. 8/7 Alabama (87-71) and No. 22/16 George Washington (62-52) secured the East Regional title before Notre Dame bowed out to No. 10/11 Tennessee, 80-66 in the national semifinals at Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum.
Some of the former players expected to return this weekend include: Rosanne Bohman, Mollie (Peirick) Busam, Julie Henderson, Adrienne Jordan, Sheila (McMillen) Keller, Jeannine (Augustin) Scheffler, and then-junior student manager Christy Grady, who was pressed into service as a player during the postseason when Jordan injured her hip in the BIG EAST Championship. Grady would score a basket late in Notre Dame's BIG EAST semifinal win over Georgetown on March 3, 1997, a moment that would later be featured as CNN's "Play of the Day".
Eye On The Fighting Irish
Saturday's game will be televised live to a national audience on CBS, marking the fifth time in Notre Dame women's basketball history that the Fighting Irish have appeared on that network since it first began televising NCAA women's basketball games back in 1982 (including the first NCAA Women's Final Four from Norfolk, Va.).
Notre Dame is 0-4 all-time on CBS, falling at Ohio State (74-67) in 1997, then dropping home games against Purdue (71-54) in 2003, Tennessee (87-63) in 2008 and Connecticut (79-76) last year. Despite the 1997 loss at OSU, All-America forward Katryna Gaither was named the CBS/Chevrolet Player of the Game after chalking up 25 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.
Start Me Up
For the third time in four years, and the fifth time in school history (all in the past 12 seasons), Notre Dame has opened with a 13-1 record or better.
Twice in their history, the Fighting Irish opened with at least 14 consecutive wins, doing so in their 2000-01 national championship season (school-record 23-game winning streak) and again in 2009-10 (15-0).
Notre Dame's current 11-game winning streak is tied for the sixth-longest success string in program history (at any time), and it's the longest since a 15-game run to begin the 2009-10 season.
Fighting Irish Scoring Early TKOs
Part of Notre Dame's success this season can be traced to its penchant for jumping out to huge early leads and then keep its foot on the gas the rest of the way.
In 10 games this year, the Fighting Irish have charged to a 20-point lead inside the opening 13 minutes of the game, going on to win all 10 of those contests by an average of 50.2 points per game.
Overall, Notre Dame is outscoring its opponents in the first half this season by nearly a 2-to-1 margin (681-360), with an average halftime score of 45-24.
'Tis The Season For Taking
Fueled by its aggressive defense, Notre Dame has been in the taking mood this year, forcing its opponents into at least 20 turnovers in 11 games thus far, with Fighting Irish foes averaging 26.5 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +9.87 turnover margin that is second-best in the nation.
The Fighting Irish wasted little time in setting the tone for their opponents this season, forcing a combined 112 turnovers in their first three games, an average of 37.3 per night, and converting those into 142 points (47.3 ppg.). That run was highlighted by an opponent season-high 46 turnovers against Akron on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion, the third-most takeaways in school history, and second-most in the program's Division I era (49 vs. New Hampshire on Nov. 12, 2010).
The Fighting Irish have been especially hard on opponents in their eight home games this season, forcing 31.1 turnovers per game and collecting at least 19 in each Purcell Pavilion contest thus far.
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into Saturday's game ranked second in nation in steals with 15.8 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 11 games this season, including three contests with 20-plus steals.
Highlighting this year's takeaway brigade for Notre Dame was a season-high 29-steal performance in the opening night victory against Akron on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish followed that up two days later with 25 thefts in a win over Indiana State, and nabbed 26 steals in a Dec. 28 win over Longwood.
Prior to last season, Notre Dame had posted 23 steals in a game just seven times in the first 33 years (and 991 games) of the Fighting Irish women's basketball program, and only three games with 25-plus steals in that time, none since a then-record tying 29 steals at Saint Louis on Jan. 31, 1991. What's more, Notre Dame had not earned a conference steals title since 1989-90, when it led the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) with 10.9 spg.
Yet, in the past two years (54 games), the Fighting Irish have had eight 23-steal games, with five outings of at least 25 thefts, and they claimed last year's BIG EAST steals crown with 11.8 steals per game during regular-season league play.
Individually, Notre Dame has eight different players with double-digit steals this season (including four with at least 30 thefts), led by fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, who is third in the conference at 2.9 steals per game, and junior guard Skylar Diggins who is tied for seventh in the BIG EAST at 2.6 spg.
Continuing a trend from last season, Notre Dame has shared the basketball very well during the first 15 games of the year.
The Fighting Irish are second in the BIG EAST (and third in the nation) at 19.3 assists per game, including a season-high 29 assists against Marquette on Dec. 7 (one of nine 20-assist contests this year).
Individually, junior guard Skylar Diggins is 15th in the nation in assists (BIG EAST-best 5.8 apg.) and 18th in the country with a 2.35 assist/turnover ratio (also fourth in the conference).
What's more, Notre Dame has assisted on 63.1 percent of its field goals this season (289 of 458), compared to last year when the Fighting Irish registered assists on 60.9 percent of their baskets (669 of 1,099), with 16 games of at least 20 assists.
Notre Dame has benefited from an experienced lineup this season, using the same starting five (guards Skylar Diggins, Brittany Mallory, Kayla McBride and Natalie Novosel, and forward Devereaux Peters) for all but one game this year (Dec. 30 at Mercer, when senior guard and Atlanta-area native Fraderica Miller earned the nod in her homecoming game).
The foundation of this stable lineup has been the quartet of Diggins, Mallory, Novosel and Peters, who also started 34 of 39 games last year (Mallory missed two games with an ankle injury and came off the bench for two more, while Diggins relinquished her starting spot for Senior Day last year to allow walk-on forward Mary Forr to make the start). In the four games Mallory was not in the lineup last year, McBride earned the first starts of her college career.
Collectively, the current Notre Dame lineup has started 271 games in their careers (Diggins-83, Novosel-58, Peters-57, Mallory-55, McBride-18), including all four matchups with Connecticut last year.
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has featured a balanced offense thus far, with at least three players scoring in double figures in 13 games, and at least four double-digit scorers in eight games.
During the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 42-4 (.913) when it has at least four players score in double figures, with two of those losses coming in overtime (March 28, 2010 - 77-72 vs. Oklahoma in NCAA Sweet 16 at Kansas City; Nov. 18, 2010 - 86-83 in double overtime vs. UCLA at Purcell Pavilion) and a third by a single point (Feb. 28, 2011 - 70-69 at DePaul).
The Fighting Irish also have had six different players lead them in scoring this season (including six different top scorers in the past nine games). Four of the six leading scorers this year also have registered at least one 20-point game to date, while nine different Notre Dame players have scored in double figures at least once this year.
Improvement Continues On The Glass
After averaging 37.2 rebounds in its first six games (and holding the upper hand in that category only three times, with an aggregate minus-2 rebounding margin), Notre Dame has featured a marked improvement on the boards since its return from the Bahamas after the Thanksgiving weekend.
In their last nine games, the Fighting Irish are averaging 44.9 rebounds a night, with an average rebounding margin of +16.7 rpg. Furthermore, Notre Dame has grabbed at least 40 rebounds eight times in the past nine games after not reaching that mark once in its first six contests.
For the season, Notre Dame ranks 14th in the country in rebounding margin at +9.9 rpg.
Wright Named BIG EAST Freshman Of The Week
For the first time in her career, forward Markisha Wright has been selected as the BIG EAST Conference Freshman of the Week, it was announced Monday by the conference office.
This marks the 72nd time a Fighting Irish women's basketball player has earned a BIG EAST weekly award (41 Players of the Week, 31 Freshmen of the Week), the second-most selections in conference history despite the fact Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96, a full 14 seasons after the league began sponsoring women's basketball (1982-83).
Wright is the first Fighting Irish rookie to cop the BIG EAST Freshman of the Week award since current sophomore forward Natalie Achonwa was selected for the honor on Dec. 13, 2010. This is the fourth consecutive season that a Notre Dame player has earned the BIG EAST Freshman of the Week designation.
Wright came off the bench to play a pivotal role in both Fighting Irish wins last week, averaging 16.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game with a .542 field goal percentage (13-of-24), all in just 17.0 minutes per game, as Notre Dame defeated Longwood (92-26) and Mercer (128-42).
The highlight of Wright's week came last Friday at Mercer, when she scored a career-high (and game-best) 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting and collected four rebounds in 20 minutes of action. Wright, who became the fourth different Fighting Irish player to score 20 points in a game this season (and second to do so in a reserve role), had eight points and four rebounds (all offensive) earlier in the week against Longwood.
A Rally To Remember
Notre Dame tied a school record by digging out of an 18-point second-half hole to defeat No. 7/6 Duke, 56-54 on Nov. 26 in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division championship game at St. Georges High School in Freeport, Bahamas.
Nearly three years earlier on Dec. 30, 2008, the Fighting Irish trailed 46-28 at No. 20/19 Vanderbilt with 15:56 remaining and came back to win, 59-57 at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn.
This year's comeback victory over Duke marked the fourth time in program history Notre Dame has ralled from a deficit of 15 points or more to post a victory, with all four of these comebacks occurring in the past 11 seasons.
Beat The Clock
Senior guard Natalie Novosel hit a running bank shot at the foul line as the buzzer sounded to give Notre Dame a 56-54 win over No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26 in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division championship game at St. Georges High School in Freeport, Bahamas.
Novosel's buzzer-beater was the first winning shot at the horn by a Notre Dame player since Jan. 10, 2006, when Megan Duffy scored the last of her career-high 32 points with an off-handed layup at the overtime siren to earn a 67-65 win over Marquette at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame also has had several players nail winning shots in the final minute of games during recent seasons. Prior to Novosel, Ashley Barlow was the last Fighting Irish player to pull off such late-game heroics, canning a three-pointer with 34.2 seconds remaining to help Notre Dame take a 74-73 win at Syracuse on Jan. 30, 2010.
Another notable recent "beat-the-clock" moment for Notre Dame occurred on Dec. 5, 2007, when Charel Allen sank a foul-line jumper with 0.8 seconds remaining in overtime, lifting the Fighting Irish to an 86-84 win at Bowling Green.
The game-winning basket by senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel against No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26 was the fourth time in the past two seasons the Lexington, Ky., native had a hand in a go-ahead basket in the final 30 seconds of regulation or overtime. What makes this run by Novosel even more remarkable is the fact that all four of her late-game performances came against top-15 opponents, with the past two coming away from home.
The Model Of Consistency
Senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel has scored in double figures in 22 consecutive games, dating back to March 7, 2011, when she had eight points in Notre Dame's 71-67 BIG EAST Championship semifinal win over No. 9/13 DePaul at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Novosel's 22-game double-digit scoring streak is tied for the third-longest in school history, matching similar runs by Ruth Riley (Dec. 3, 2000-Feb. 27, 2001) and Sandy Botham (Dec. 4, 1987-Feb. 25, 1988), with Riley the only other Fighting Irish player in the past 15 seasons to have a streak equal to Novosel's current run.
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 74-15 (.831) record in the past three seasons, 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 NCAA national championship game and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 9-9 record against AP Top 25 teams (5-7 vs. the AP Top 10) and an active 57-game winning streak against unranked opponents since the start of the 2009-10 season.
Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 15 losses in Diggins' career primarily have been verdicts that could have gone either way, with nine decided by single digits (five that were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.
With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted two of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 77.0 ppg. last year after logging 77.1 ppg. in her freshman season (and Notre Dame is on pace to go well beyond those figures this year).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.3 spg. career mark), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top two single-season steal marks in program history with 495 thefts last year and 450 steals the season before. Last season also saw Notre Dame post the third-best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing just 56.2 ppg. (the best since the 2000-01 Fighting Irish yielded 55.8 ppg. en route to the national champoionship).
A Grand Trio
Notre Dame has had two players score their 1,000th career point this season -- senior guard Natalie Novosel hit the milestone on a free throw with 14:20 remaining on Nov. 13 against Indiana State, while fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters reached the landmark on a layup 16:52 left on Dec. 28 vs. Longwood.
Novosel currently ranks 20th in school history with 1,212 points, while Peters became the 30th member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club and presently stands 28th with 1,017 points.
Together with junior guard Skylar Diggins (tied for 15th with 1,312 points), Notre Dame has three active players in that elite Fighting Irish club for the third time in school history. In both 2000-01 and 2009-10, Notre Dame also had three 1,000-point players on the roster, with the third reaching that total in her final career game (Kelley Siemon in 2001 NCAA national championship game vs. Purdue, Melissa Lechlitner in 2010 NCAA Sweet 16 game vs. Oklahoma).
The Fighting Irish could have a fourth player reach the scoring millennium later this season -- fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory has 842 career points. Should Mallory hit the 1,000-point mark, it would be the first time in the 35-year history of Notre Dame women's basketball that a quartet of active 1,000-point scorers were on the roster at the same time.
What's more, Peters became the seventh player from Notre Dame's 2009-10 NCAA Sweet 16 team to reach the 1,000-point plateau during her career, along with Diggins, Novosel, Lechlitner, Ashley Barlow (ninth at 1,492), Lindsay Schrader (13th at 1,429) and Becca Bruszewski (24th at 1,148) -- and that doesn't even include Mallory, who also was part of that season's 13-player roster.
Game #15 Recap: Seton Hall
Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride each scored 14 points and the third-ranked Fighting Irish cruised to a 74-36 win at Seton Hall on Wednesday night for their 11th straight victory.
"We kept our focus, for this has been a tough place for us to play in years past," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "I thought we didn't look ahead to this weekend. We did some pretty good things defensively especially with the starters."
Notre Dame (14-1, 2-0 BIG EAST) has been sizzling on offense and leads the nation in scoring. The Fighting Irish came in averaging over 100 points in their previous four games, including a 128-42 thrashing of Mercer on Dec. 30.
Notre Dame kept it up against the Pirates (7-9, 0-2).
Notre Dame led 49-16 at the break and its lead grew as large as 44 points in the second half. With her team building its huge lead, McGraw rested Diggins, Novosel and Peters for most of the second half. Novosel finished with 13 points, and Peters had eight points and 10 rebounds.
"I've been trying to give them longer stretches without subbing," said McGraw of limiting her starters' minutes. "I'm trying to get them through a couple of timeouts just to get that game shape conditioning. They haven't played a lot of minutes since Kentucky. I want them to play more. It's hard to figure that balance."
The Seton Hall women were hoping to pull off their own shocker one night after the men's team stunned No. 8 Connecticut 75-63 -- but it wasn't meant to be. The Pirates have now lost 20 of their 24 meetings with the Fighting Irish, including the last six. They were outrebounded 41-18 and shot 28 percent from the field.
Jasmine Crew provided the sole bright spot on offense for the Pirates, finishing with 17 points. She had all nine during Notre Dame's huge run to end the opening half, including two incredible acrobatic shots.
Beyond The Box Score -- Seton Hall
Notre Dame is ranked No. 3 in the latest Associated Press poll, its ninth consecutive week in the top five of the media balloting. The Fighting Irish also earned a preseason No. 2 ranking that was their highest since the final 2000-01 poll (taken before the the NCAA Championship), and also was the highest Notre Dame has ever been ranked in the AP preseason poll, topping its No. 4 debut in 2009-10.
Notre Dame received six first-place votes in the 2011-12 AP preseason poll (and four the following week), the first time it received consideration for the top spot since March 11, 2001, when the Fighting Irish earned five first-place votes (they were ranked No. 2 after falling at Connecticut, 79-76 in the BIG EAST tournament final). The previous week, Notre Dame had 33 first-place votes in its sixth week with the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll.
This week's No. 3 ranking marks the 86th consecutive AP poll appearance for the Fighting Irish, extending the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001). In fact, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career, spending more than half (48) of those appearances in the AP Top 10.
This year's No. 2 preseason ranking also represents the 12th time in the past 13 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the initial AP poll, something only nine schools in the nation have done -- Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee have shown up in all 13 during that span, while Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Stanford join the Fighting Irish with 12 preseason AP poll berths.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 225 weeks during the program's 35-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 11th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also is tied for 21st all-time in that category (pulling even with her former coach at Saint Joseph's-Pa. from 1974-76, Theresa Grentz, with this week's poll position).
In addition, for the sixth consecutive week, the Fighting Irish are ranked No. 3 in last week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll (one spot below their season-high No. 2 ranking the first two weeks of the year), and like the AP poll, Notre Dame earned its best-ever preseason ranking, topping its No. 5 placement to begin the 2000-01 campaign. The Fighting Irish also collected five first-place votes in this year's preseason coaches' survey (and two a week later), their first nods for the top spot since the final '00-01 balloting, when they received all 40 first-place votes after winning the national championship.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 86 of the past 87 weeks, 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 218 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the fourth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 10 of the past 14 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 225 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), 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).
Half And Half
During the past 11 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 229-18 (.927) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 157 of their last 169 such contests.
What's more, in the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 66-1 (.985) when leading at the half, with the only loss 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).
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 17 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 243-15 (.942) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 12 contests this year.
...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 17 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 162-6 (.964) 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 three years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 39-2 (.951) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level in 10 games this season and winning nine times.
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 212 of their last 239 games (.887) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span (and an active run of 15 in a row). Notre Dame also has a 114-19 (.857) 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 100 of their last 108 non-BIG EAST contests (.926) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the eight 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), and to UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT). 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 362-88 (.804) 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, capped by an 84-66 triumph over Vermont in the second round of the NCAA Championship.
Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
The past two 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 (8,553 fans per game in 2010-11) and most sellouts in a single season (six in 2009-10). And, as the old saying goes -- "you ain't seen nothin' yet."
For the third consecutive year, Notre Dame fans exhausted the program's season ticket packages (7,500) and have snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish already sell out four games (Dec. 18 vs. Kentucky, Dec. 28 vs. Longwood, Jan. 7 vs. Connecticut, Jan. 23 vs. Tennessee), and put several others (Jan. 21 vs. Villanova, Feb. 5 vs. DePaul, Feb. 12 vs. West Virginia and Feb. 25 vs. USF) within striking distance of a sellout.
What's more, through its first eight home games this season, Notre Dame is averaging 8,618 fans per game, including sellouts (9,149) vs. Kentucky on Dec. 18 and Longwood on Dec. 28. The Fighting Irish now have posted 13 sellouts in the past three seasons and 19 in program history.
While some additional tickets may be available on the day or week of the game for individual contests this season (depending on returned inventory by visiting teams and other constituencies), it's entirely possible that Notre Dame will flirt with a sell out for every one of its home games during the 2011-12 regular season.
Fighting Irish On Your Radio Dial
Beginning with the 2008-09 athletics year, the Notre Dame athletics department announced it had partnered with the LeSEA Broadcasting Network, making Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) the new radio home of Notre Dame women's basketball in the South Bend market.
LeSEA originates all Notre Dame women's basketball games, with those events carried on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), marking a return to the FM side of the dial for the first time since the 1998-99 season. Combined, these two stations blanket the nation's No. 91 media market (South Bend-Elkhart), covering a 21-county area in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan that contains more than 1.4 million listeners (better than 800,000 in the greater South Bend area alone). All told, Notre Dame's women's basketball network stretches from Kalamazoo, Mich., to the north, North Judson, Ind., to the west, Macy, Ind., (home of former Fighting Irish All-America center Ruth Riley) to the south, and LaGrange, Ind., to the east.
Women's basketball game broadcasts also continue to be streamed live and free of charge on Notre Dame's official athletics web site (www.UND.com) through the Fighting Irish Digital Media package.
Bob Nagle, the voice of Notre Dame women's basketball from 1996-97 through 1998-99 (including the program's first NCAA Final Four berth in 1997), is now in the fourth season of his second stint as the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame On The Small Screen
Notre Dame will have at least 23 regular season games televised during the 2011-12 season. Highlighting this year's broadcast schedule are 11 nationally- or regionally-televised Fighting Irish women's basketball contests, including the program's fifth-ever appearance on network television, and second in as many years (Jan. 7 vs. Connecticut on CBS) and six showings on the ESPN family of networks, including three appearances on that entity's famed "Big Monday" telecast.
In addition, Notre Dame continues to expand its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. For the sixth consecutive season, all Fighting Irish regular-season home games not selected for commercial TV coverage (as well as the Nov. 2 exhibition vs. Windsor) will be webcast live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, www.UND.com, via the site's free Fighting Irish Video Channel.
This year's TV slate continues a trend that has seen the Fighting Irish become a regular fixture on television. Beginning with the NCAA championship season of 2000-01 and continuing through the Dec. 28 game against Longwood (webcast live on UND.com), Notre Dame has played in 211 televised games, including 156 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, senior guard Natalie Novosel and fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters are serving as Notre Dame's team captains for the 2011-12 season. Mallory is in her second season as team captain, while Novosel and Peters received the captain's honor for the first time in their respective careers following a preseason vote by their teammates.
Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
It's year five of Notre Dame's wildly-successful "Big Mac" promotion, offering fans a coupon for a free Big Mac from South Bend-area McDonald's restaurants if the Fighting Irish score at least 88 points in a home game.
In the five-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 32 times, most recently in the Dec. 28 win over Longwood.
It should come as no surprise that in the short history of the promotion, the Notre Dame player with the most "Big Mac" baskets shares the same initials with the tasty burger -- fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, who has sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) five times, including four during the promotion's inaugural run in 2007-08.
And for those tracking such things (or perhaps falling under the heading of "the media relations director has way too much time on his hands"), 18 different players have converted the "burger ball", including seven current members of the Fighting Irish roster.
What's more, of the 32 Big Mac games to date, 14 have been reached on two-point baskets, 13 on free throws, and five on three-pointers.
Next Game: Georgetown
Notre Dame heads back out on the road Tuesday when it visits our nation's capital for a 7 p.m. (ET) game at No. 15/16 Georgetown, with the matchup set to be televised live to a national cable audience on CBS Sports Network as part of its BIG EAST Game of the Week package.
The Hoyas (12-3, 1-1) -- who will be the sixth ranked Fighting Irish opponent this season -- had their 11-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday night with a 59-50 loss at home to No. 20/18 DePaul. Georgetown is on the road Saturday night at USF before returning home next week to face Notre Dame.