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    Fighting Irish
    #5 Irish Continue BIG EAST Road Trip Tuesday At South Florida

    FIGHTING IRISH Senior guard Skylar Diggins had 19 points in Notre Dame's 73-72 win at #1 Connecticut on Saturday, including the two decisive free throws with 49.4 seconds left.
    FIGHTING IRISH
    Senior guard Skylar Diggins had 19 points in Notre Dame's 73-72 win at #1 Connecticut on Saturday, including the two decisive free throws with 49.4 seconds left.
    FIGHTING IRISH

    Jan. 7, 2013

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    2012-13 ND Women's Basketball: Game 14
    #5/5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-1 / 1-0 BIG EAST) vs. South Florida Bulls (11-2 / 0-0 BIG EAST)

    DATE: January 8, 2013
    TIME: 7 p.m. ET
    AT: Tampa, Fla. - Sun Dome (10,411)
    SERIES: ND leads 8-2
    1ST MTG: ND 73-50 (12/13/97)
    LAST MTG: ND 80-68 (2/25/12)
    VIDEO: gousfbulls.com (PPV-live)
    RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
    LIVE STATS: gousfbulls.com
    TWITTER: @ndwbbsid
    TICKETS: (800) 462-8557

    Storylines

  • Six of the past eight games between Notre Dame and South Florida have been decided by 12 points or fewer, including two that went to overtime.
  • The Fighting Irish are 16-3 (.842) all-time when playing in the state of Florida, regardless of the opponent.
  • No. 5 Fighting Irish Continue BIG EAST Road Trip Tuesday At South Florida
    Days after its impressive win at top-ranked Connecticut in its BIG EAST Conference opener, No. 5 Notre Dame continues its two-game league road swing at 7 p.m. (ET) Tuesday when it takes on South Florida at the Sun Dome in Tampa. The game will be streamed live on a pay-per-view basis through the USF athletics web site, gousfbulls.com.

    The Fighting Irish (12-1, 1-0) posted their seventh consecutive victory in landmark fashion, turning back three shots in the final 30 seconds to defeat UConn, 73-72 on Jan. 5 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. It was Notre Dame's first true road win over a No. 1-ranked team in the 36-year history of the program, and the fifth win in the past six games against the Huskies.

    Junior guard Kayla McBride was sensational in the victory with a career-high (and game-best) 21 points, while senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins added 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals, including the two game-winning foul shots with 49.4 seconds left.

    Rankings

  • Notre Dame was No. 5 in last week's Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls (new polls released after press time).
  • South Florida received votes in last week's ESPN/USA Today poll.
  • Quick Hitters

  • The Fighting Irish are 5-1 against ranked opponents this year, defeating No. 19/21 Ohio State (57-51), No. 19/22 UCLA (76-64), No. 22 Texas A&M (83-74), No. 11 Purdue (74-47) and No. 1 Connecticut (73-72), while dropping a 73-61 decision to No. 3 Baylor (a game Notre Dame led 50-49 with less than eight minutes remaining).
  • Notre Dame is off to a 12-1 start for the fifth time in six seasons and the seventh time in school history (all beginning in 2000-01).
  • In seven games (all wins) since its only loss of the season (Dec. 5 vs. third-ranked Baylor), Notre Dame is averaging 93.4 points per game (winning by 34.3 ppg.), posting a rebound margin of +16.8 per game, and has forced opponents into an average of 24.3 turnovers per night (13.6 of those coming on Fighting Irish steals).
  • According to the Jan. 4 NCAA statistical report (issued before Notre Dame played at Connecticut, with the new report to be released Monday after press time), the Fighting Irish are ranked in the top 10 in nine categories -- scoring offense (2nd - now 85.2 ppg.), assists (2nd - 20.5 apg.), free throw percentage (3rd - .805), scoring margin (6th - +27.4 ppg.), rebounding margin (6th - +12.2 rpg.), assist/turnover ratio (6th - 1.29), turnover margin (6th - +7.62), steals (7th - 13.2 spg.) and field goal percentage (9th - .464).
  • Notre Dame has shown remarkably balanced offensive production this season, with 10 of the 11 players on the roster having scored in double figures at least once, including five different players who have scored 20 points in a game.
  • The Fighting Irish have set a school record with three 100-point games this season (all within the past seven games). The highlight of this stretch came on Dec. 31 at home against Saint Francis (Pa.) in a 128-55 victory, marking the highest offensive output by any NCAA Division I team this season (and matching the highest by any D-I program since 2002 - Notre Dame also scored 128 points last year at Mercer).
  • With its No. 5 ranking in last week's Associated Press poll, Notre Dame has appeared in the media poll for 105 consecutive weeks, extending a program record that dates back to the 2007-08 preseason poll. In fact, every current Fighting Irish player has competed for a ranked Notre Dame squad throughout her career, with the vast majority of that time (55 of 66 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
  • Senior guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner have helped Notre Dame win 107 games to date, the most victories by a Fighting Irish class through 126 games, one more than the one-player 2001-02 senior class of Ericka Haney, who was a part of 106 wins in the same number of career games, which came late in her senior year (a run that was highlighted the 2001 NCAA national championship).
  • With 603 victories in her 26 seasons at Notre Dame, head coach Muffet McGraw ranks second on the Fighting Irish athletics all-time coaching wins list (across all sports), trailing only men's/women's fencing coach Michael DeCicco (774-80 from 1962-95).
  • McGraw also is nine wins away from becoming the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and should she do so within the next 51 games, she would be the 11th to compile 700 victories in less than 1,000 games coached). What's more, when McGraw reaches the 700-win milestone, she will be the third BIG EAST Conference skipper to hit that landmark, along with C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers) and Geno Auriemma (Connecticut), both of whom are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
  • Other Notre Dame Notables

  • Notre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past 17 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking fourth with 421 victories.
  • Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in average attendance annually since 2000-01 (including top-five rankings the past three years), and is off to another hot start at the box office this year, averaging 8,881 fans per game. Last season, the Fighting Irish ranked fifth in the nation (8,571), setting a school record for average attendance for the third consecutive season. The Fighting Irish also have drawn at least 5,000 fans to 182 of their last 184 home games (including an active streak of 25 consecutive contests with 8,000 fans), logging 29 Purcell Pavilion sellouts, including 23 in the past four seasons (a school-record eight in 2011-12). Notre Dame already has four sellouts in six home games this season, most recently for the Dec. 31 win over Saint Francis (Pa.).
  • The Fighting Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as nine Notre Dame players have been selected in the past 12 seasons. Devereaux Peters and Natalie Novosel were the most recent Fighting Irish players to be chosen, with both going in the first round (Peters third overall to Minnesota; Novosel eighth overall to Washington) of the 2012 WNBA Draft. Last year's draft marked the first time Notre Dame has had two first-round picks in the same year, while Peters was the highest-drafted player (and first lottery selection) in program history. Ruth Riley (Chicago) was active in the league during the '12 season, helping the Sky contend for a playoff berth into the final weeks of the season. Three of Notre Dame's 10 all-time WNBA alums have won a total of four league championships -- Riley won a pair of crowns with the Detroit Shock (2003 Finals MVP, 2006), Coquese Washington toiled for the 2000 Houston Comets, while Jacqueline Batteast was Riley's teammate on the 2006 title-winning squad in Detroit. Peters nearly joined that list in 2012, helping Minnesota return to the WNBA Finals, but the Lynx could not defend their title, falling to Indiana in four games.
  • For the sixth year in a row, the Fighting Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October. What's more, Notre Dame was one of only four schools in the previous five years to record a 100-percent GSR and play for a national championship in the same season (and the only program to do it twice, pulling off that feat in 2011 and 2012).
  • Scouting South Florida
    South Florida has four starters and 11 letterwinners back from last year's squad that advanced to the third round of the WNIT and chalked up 19 wins. Add in the return of senior guard Andrea Smith, who missed all of 2011-12 with a knee injury, and the Bulls have a lot of firepower in the corral this season.

    Thus, it comes as no surprise USF (11-2, 0-0 BIG EAST) is off to one of its best starts in the past decade, fueled by an eight-game winning streak to tip off the season. The Bulls should be well-rested coming into Tuesday's game, having last played on New Year's Eve, when they dispatched Detroit, 74-60 at the Sun Dome, behind a game-high 25 points from junior guard Inga Orekhova and a combined 9-for-19 (.471) effort from the three-point line.

    Andrell Smith, twin sister of Andrea, leads USF in scoring (17.1 ppg.), assists (4.3 apg.) and steals (3.5 spg.), while ranking second in rebounding (6.0 rpg.). Andrea Smith is second in scoring (16.5 ppg.) with a team-high .446 three-point percentage, while Orekhova adds 11.9 points per game.

    Head coach Jose Fernandez earned his 200th win at USF when his team defeated Detroit on Dec. 31. Fernandez is in his 13th season in Tampa with a 200-186 (.518) record, including a 2-6 mark against Notre Dame.

    The Notre Dame-South Florida Series
    Notre Dame and South Florida will square off for the 11th time, with the Fighting Irish holding an 8-2 edge in the series, which has been played primarily since USF joined the BIG EAST Conference prior to the 2005-06 season (Notre Dame is 6-2 against the Bulls as conference members).

    Tuesday will be the fifth time the Fighting Irish have visited the Sun Dome in Tampa, where Notre Dame is 3-1 all-time and has won its last two games.

    The Last Time Notre Dame And South Florida Met
    Nothing comes easy in the BIG EAST. That's how Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw sees it and why clinching a tie for the conference title was so satisfying.

    The third-ranked Fighting Irish needed all their energy and talent in their final regular-season home game to beat a stubborn and relentless South Florida team, 80-68 to earn at least a share of the league title on Feb. 25, 2012.

    Natalie Novosel scored a career-high 32 points and Devereaux Peters added 17 points and a career-high 18 rebounds for Notre Dame, giving McGraw her first league title in 11 years.

    Skylar Diggins added 18 for the Fighting Irish, who also set a school regular-season mark with their 27th victory. But this one was not easy against the scrappy Bulls, who got 18 points apiece from Inga Orekhova and Jasmine Wynne.

    The Fighting Irish, who trailed early in the second half, could not put the Bulls away until Novosel led a late spurt.

    Peters had a three-point play and Novosel hit a three-pointer, added four free thows and then threw in a shot before the shot clock expired with about a minute left as Notre Dame finally pulled away with a 78-64 lead.

    The Last Time Notre Dame And South Florida Met In Tampa
    Natalie Novosel scored 12 of her 19 points in the second half to lead eighth-ranked Notre Dame past South Florida 76-68 on Feb. 5, 2011, at the Sun Dome in Tampa.

    Skylar Diggins added 17 points for Notre Dame, while Becca Bruszewski had 11 of her 16 points in the first half to help the Fighting Irish, which led by as many as 17, go up 42-30 at halftime. Notre Dame went 12 of 21 from the free-throw line during the opening 20 minutes.

    South Florida got 20 points from Andrea Smith, while Andrell Smith had 15 points, while Akila McDonald chipped in 14 for the Bulls.

    After USF got within nine points with nine minutes left, Novosel had a basket and made a free throw during an 8-0 run that put Notre Dame up 70-53 four minutes later.

    Notre Dame withstood a late surge after Smith hit a three-pointer to make it 73-66 with 44 seconds to go.

    The Fighting Irish, who connected on 28 of 41 free throws overall, made three to secure the win over the final 35 seconds.

    South Florida was 14 of 24 from the line.

    Other Notre Dame-South Florida Series Tidbits

  • For the most part, the seven series games played since USF joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06 have been wildly entertaining, with two of the five regular season contests going to overtime (both won by the Bulls), and three others (the 2006 BIG EAST Championship first-round matchup and the teams' last two contests in Tampa (in 2009 and 2011) going to the Fighting Irish by eight points or less.
  • Notre Dame has scored at least 70 points in nine of the 10 series matchups to date, while USF has reached that mark twice, both in Tampa (87-78 USF win in OT in 2007; 86-79 Notre Dame win in 2009).
  • That 2007 game at the Sun Dome featured three entries into the Notre Dame record book -- team fouls (33), opponent free throw attempts (45) and rebounds by a freshman (18 by Erica Williamson).
  • The 2007 contest in Tampa also saw three Notre Dame foul out of a game for the first time since Dec. 28, 2000 (a 70-61 win at USC where Ruth Riley, Niele Ivey and Kelley Siemon all were disqualified).
  • Notre Dame has had eight Florida natives suit up in the program's 36-year history, with its most recent Sunshine State product being 2010 graduate Alena Christiansen (Fort Lauderdale/Cardinal Gibbons HS).
  • Vincent J. Naimoli, the managing general partner and chief executive officer of the 2008 American League champion Tampa Bay Rays, is a 1959 Notre Dame graduate and, in 2007, he and his family donated $5 million towards the Joyce Center arena renovation project, with the Purcell Pavilion club/hospitality area (and two outdoor patios) -- named the Naimoli Family Club Room (or informally called "Club Naimoli") and overlooking the south side of the Purcell Pavilion court -- making its debut in 2009-10. Two of Naimoli's daughters also are Notre Dame graduates (Alyson '94; Lindsey '05).
  • Sunshine State Success
    Notre Dame is 26-5 (.839) all-time against Florida schools, including a 15-2 (.882) record against Sunshine State teams away from home (road/neutral combined), and a 13-2 (.867) mark on their opponent's home court.

    The only true road losses the Fighting Irish have taken in the state of Florida came on Feb. 3, 1998, at Miami (77-76 on Octavia Blue's free throw after time expired) and Jan. 13, 2007, at South Florida (87-78 in overtime).

    Notre Dame also is 16-3 (.842) when playing in the state of Florida, regardless of the opposition, with the only other loss coming to James Madison, 53-51, on Jan. 3, 1986 at Miami's Burger King Classic in Coral Gables (JMU won on an old-fashioned three-point play with four seconds left).

    The Fighting Irish have won their last seven games against Florida schools, with USF the last team from the Sunshine State to defeat Notre Dame (the aforementioned 2007 overtime win in Tampa).

    Start Me Up
    For the fifth time in six years, and the seventh time in school history (all starting with the 2000-01 season), Notre Dame has posted a 12-1 record or better through its first 13 games.

    Twice in their history, the Fighting Irish opened with at least 13 consecutive wins, doing so in their 2000-01 national championship season (school-record 23-game winning streak) and again in 2009-10 (15-0).

    Spreading The Wealth
    Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 10 of its 13 games this year. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 62-4 (.939) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 32-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul).

    Everyone Pitches In
    With the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-Americans (and 2012 WNBA first-round draft picks) Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame entered this season searching to find a way to make up for the talented duo's 27.0 points and 13.4 rebounds per game.

    Thus far in 2012-13, it would appear the Fighting Irish are making this mission truly a team effort. On the scoring side, 10 of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including junior forward Ariel Braker (five times, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined), sophomore guards Madison Cable (twice) and Whitney Holloway (once - the first double-digit games of both Cable and Holloway's careers) and freshman guards Jewell Loyd (eight times) and Michaela Mabrey (three times).

    On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.4 rebounds per game and has piled up eight of her 10 career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading eight double-doubles after logging one double-double in her career prior to this season.

    The Best Things In Life Are Free
    Nearing the midpoint of the 2012-13 regular season, Notre Dame is displaying a penchant for making opponents pay at the free throw line.

    Through their first 13 games, the Fighting Irish lead the BIG EAST and rank third in the nation (as of Jan. 4), shooting a remarkable .805 (247-of-307) from the charity stripe, including a season-high .905 (19-of-21) in their Nov. 18 home-opening win over Massachusetts.

    On average, Notre Dame is getting to the line nearly 24 times per game, converting 19 free throws a night. At the same time, the Fighting Irish have made more than 35 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (247 made, 179 opponent attempts).

    Last year, Notre Dame set a school record by connecting at a .763 clip from the foul line, leading the BIG EAST with a stellar .807 percentage during conference play.

    Junior guard Kayla McBride has had the most success cashing in on this strategy during the past two seasons, shooting .872 from the stripe last year (a league-leading .919 in BIG EAST games) and making 21 of 22 free throws (.955) so far this season -- in fact, she would be leading the conference in free throw percentage, but she has not yet reached the minimum required for ranking (2.0 FTM/game).

    Still, four other Notre Dame players do qualify for the BIG EAST free throw rankings, and all appear among the top nine in the league with senior guard Skylar Diggins standing third (.857), sophomore forward Markisha Wright in eighth (.788), junior forward Natalie Achonwa tied for 10th (.778) and freshman guard Jewell Loyd ranking 14th (.769).

    For her career, McBride has logged an .883 free throw percentage, putting her ahead of Alicia Ratay's school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.

    Canadian Ace
    According to the time-honored adage, "there's no substitute for experience." In the case of Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa, that experience was second to none and it's paid off exceptionally well for the veteran Fighting Irish frontliner this season.

    During the summer of 2012, Achonwa was a key contributor on Canada's Senior National Team, helping leading her country to its first Olympic appearance in 12 years. Not content to merely qualify, Canada then earned two hard-fought wins in the group stage to reach the Olympic quarterfinals (medal round) for the first time since 1984.

    As the second-youngest player in the London Olympic Basketball Tournament at the tender age of 19, Achonwa averaged 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, highlighted by a 14-point, eight-rebound effort against eventual Olympic silver medalist France during the preliminary round.

    Parlaying her Olympic experience, Achonwa has moved seamlessly into Notre Dame's starting lineup this season after spending her first two years as an important reserve. The Guelph, Ontario, native was expected to take on a larger role this year with the graduation of two-time All-American Devereaux Peters, but Achonwa has taken that growth to a whole new level, doubling her averages in scoring (7.6 to 14.1 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.4 rpg.), while scoring in double figures 11 times and grabbing double-digit rebounds on eight occasions (including a career-best 17 rebounds on Dec. 29 against No. 11 Purdue).

    What's more, Achonwa came into this season with one career double-double and a career scoring high of 20 points. This year, she leads the BIG EAST in double-doubles (8, including five in six games against ranked teams) and has three 20-point games to her credit (career-high 23 vs. Utah State on Dec. 8). She also ranks among the top 20 in the BIG EAST in scoring (17th - 14.1 ppg.), rebounding (2nd - 9.4 rpg.), field goal percentage (8th - .545) and free throw percentage (tied-10th - .778).

    Achonwa's development has not gone unnoticed, as she was named to the World Vision Classic All-Tournament Team, helping to lead the Fighting Irish to the title with 22 points and a (then) career-high 14 rebounds in the championship game win over No. 22 Texas A&M. Achonwa also is one of three Notre Dame players to make the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll at least once this season, earning her spot on the Dec. 10 rundown.

    The Erie Warrior
    Along with her classmate Natalie Achonwa, junior guard (and Erie, Pa., native) Kayla McBride has been a major reason for Notre Dame's success this season, capably stepping into a larger role within the Fighting Irish system following the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-America wing Natalie Novosel.

    McBride currently ranks 10th in the BIG EAST in scoring (team-high 15.7 ppg.) and 15th in steals (2.0 spg.), and would be leading the conference in free throw percentage (.955), but she is short of the minimum needed for qualification (2.0 FTM/game). In all three areas, she is posting career-high marks, including a better than 35-percent improvement in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).

    McBride also shares the team lead (with Achonwa) this season with 11 double-figure scoring games, including at least 16 points in all six of Notre Dame's games against ranked opponents to date (18.3 ppg.) and a career-high 21 points at No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 5.

    In fact, in her last 21 games against a Top 25 opponent, McBride is averaging 14.5 points per game, scoring in double figures 19 times and posting both of her career double-doubles (10 points, career-high 12 rebounds vs. No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 7, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion; 13 points, 10 rebounds at No. 13/14 Rutgers on Jan. 31, 2012).

    Crown Jewell
    Freshman guard Jewell Loyd is rapidly making her presence felt as one of the top rookies, not only in the BIG EAST Conference, but around the country.

    The Lincolnwood, Ill., native has appeared in all 13 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 12 times), scoring in double figures eight times and posting two "5-5-5" games (at least "5" in three of the five main statistical categories - points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals).

    Loyd currently ranks among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (22nd - 12.6 ppg.) and free throw percentage (14th - .769), and she would be fourth in the conference in three-point percentage (.444), but she is just shy of the minimum qualifying mark (1.0 3FGM/game).

    Loyd also is a two-time BIG EAST Rookie of the Week selection, first earning that honor on Nov. 26 after averaging 19.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists with a .727 field goal percentage in wins over Mercer (19 points/six rebounds/five assists) and at No. 19/22 UCLA (19 points/seven rebounds/five assists).

    She then became the first repeat honoree of the BIG EAST Rookie of the Week award this season when she was tapped for the designation on Dec. 10 after averaging 19.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals with a .481 field goal percentage (.556 three-point percentage) against No. 3 Baylor and Utah State.

    Loyd opened eyes on the national scene with a season- (and game-) high 24 points and team-best seven rebounds in the 73-61 loss to Baylor on Dec. 5 at Purcell Pavilion. The 5-foot-10 guard connected on her first four three-point attempts of the evening (finishing 4-of-5 from beyond the arc) on the way to notching the most points by a Fighting Irish rookie against a ranked opponent since Jan. 26, 2002, when Jacqueline Batteast scored 26 points in Notre Dame's 64-57 win over No. 16/17 Virginia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.

    What's more, Loyd also scored the most points by a Notre Dame freshman against an opponent ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll since Feb. 19, 2000, when Alicia Ratay netted 26 points (including a school-record 7-for-7 three-pointers) in a 78-74 overtime win at No. 8/11 Rutgers.

    Diggins Challenging School Records
    Throughout the 2012-13 season, senior guard Skylar Diggins will continue to close the gap that separates her from the highest eschelon of Notre Dame women's basketball players in a number of the program's top career categories. Here's a look at just a few of the notable milestones Diggins will have a shot to reach this season:

  • Diggins (468 rebounds) is 32 rebounds away to become the first women's basketball player in school history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in her career. Only one Notre Dame men's basketball player has ever compiled that impressive combination of statistics (Chris Thomas from 2001-05).
  • Diggins (1,919 points) is 81 points away from becoming the fourth 2,000-point scorer in school history, and she needs 403 points to catch current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham as the program's all-time leading scorer. On Dec. 21 against No. 22 Texas A&M, Diggins moved into fourth place on the Notre Dame career scoring list, passing All-America forward (and another South Bend Washington High School graduate) Jacqueline Batteast (1,874 points from 2001-05).
  • In addition, Diggins (307 steals) is 41 steals away from assistant coach Niele Ivey's school record for career thefts. With four steals on Jan. 5 at No. 1 Connecticut, Diggins moved into a tie with Coquese Washington for second place on Notre Dame's career steals list (307 from 1989-93).
  • Diggins (597 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Gavin, needing 181 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 130 ahead of Diggins). Diggins also has moved into the top five in this category, and with her career-high 14 assists on Dec. 31 against Saint Francis (Pa.), she passed Karen Robinson for fourth place in school history (579 from 1987-91).
  • The Diggins Factor
    Notre Dame has posted a 107-19 (.849) record in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), 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 and 2012 NCAA national championship games and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 24-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (11-10 vs. the AP Top 10) and a 75-1 record against unranked opponents (not appearing in the AP poll), including a 63-game winning streak from the start of the 2009-10 season before falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012.

    Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 19 losses in Diggins' career primarily have been ones that could have gone either way, with 11 decided by single digits (six were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.

    With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted three of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 78.9 ppg. last year, after logging 77.0 ppg. in 2010-11, and 77.2 ppg. in her freshman season of 2009-10. Notre Dame is on pace to mirror those figures this season, currently averaging 85.2 ppg. (which ranked second nationally as of Jan. 4).

    In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.44 spg. career mark that is fourth-best in school history), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top three single-season steal marks in program history with 502 thefts last year, 495 steals in 2010-11, and 450 thefts in 2009-10. And again, Notre Dame is in position to challenge those totals this season, currently averaging 13.2 spg. (which would put the Fighting Irish close to 400 steals by the end of the regular season).

    The past two years also have seen Notre Dame post two of the four best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing a school-record 52.9 ppg., last season (well ahead of the previous mark of 55.1 ppg., in 1981-82) and giving up just 56.2 ppg., in 2010-11. The Fighting Irish aren't far off those marks so far this year, presently allowing 57.8 points per game.

    Game #13 Recap: Connecticut
    Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame just seem to have Connecticut's number.

    The Fighting Irish have turned one of the best rivalries in women's basketball into a one-sided affair lately, winning five of the past six meetings.

    The senior All-American scored 19 points hitting big shot after big shot in the second half to lift fifth-ranked Notre Dame to a 73-72 victory over the top-ranked Huskies on Saturday at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.

    This was the latest victory for the Fighting Irish (12-1, 1-0 BIG EAST), who also ended UConn's season the past two years by beating the Huskies in past two Final Fours.

    "I think when we play them, there is a lot on the line, whether it is a BIG EAST Championship or them being ranked higher than us or in the Final Four," Diggins said. "This is good for us."

    No team has had this kind of success against UConn in the past 20 years.

    The last team to beat UConn five out of six times was Miami back in the early 1990s -- before the Huskies started winning national championships.

    The Fighting Irish were expected to be down this season with three starters graduated. It didn't matter with Diggins still on the team.

    With UConn poised to pull away in the second half, Diggins hit back-to-back three-pointers to keep her team in the game.

    Later with the shot clock about to run out, Diggins hit a leaner from the wing.

    Finally, with the Fighting Irish down by one with 49.4 seconds left, she got fouled on a drive and calmly sank both free throws. It would be the last points of the game.

    "I think Skylar has changed things for us," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "She believed we can win and has the confidence and that is contagious."

    The Huskies (12-1, 0-1) had a few chances to pull out the win in the final 30 seconds, but in front of a sellout crowd of 10,127, they fell short.

    Breanna Stewart had her shot blocked in the lane. The Huskies maintained possession and then after a timeout, Stewart missed a jumper from the top of the key. Kelly Faris grabbed the rebound giving UConn one more chance, but Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis caught the ball in the corner and her wide-open three-point try fell off the rim.

    The Fighting Irish grabbed the loose ball and Diggins ran out the clock.

    "How many times can we put up our defense," McGraw said. "I thought about our football team getting that goal line stand (against Stanford) three times in a row, if they can do it, we can do it."

    The Huskies had come into the game unbeaten and a week earlier had stunned then-No. 1 Stanford 61-35 on the Cardinal's homecourt ending their 82-game home winning streak. They had already beaten five ranked teams by an average of 24 points.

    "It's definitely been an up and down week" said Stefanie Dolson, who scored 17 points to lead Connecticut. "We were all extremely excited and on a high when we beat Stanford the way we did. We came into this game and we weren't ready. I don't think we were ready for how hard Notre Dame was going to come at us. They out-toughed us."

    UConn trailed by two at the half and took a 48-44 lead on Dolson's layup with 16:18 left in the game. The Huskies led 63-60 with eight minutes left before Notre Dame scored five quick points. Neither team could get more than a two-point lead the rest of the way.

    Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was OK with the shots his team got in the end.

    "You got the best three-point shooter in the country with a wide open three to win it and it doesn't go in," he said. "I'd be more upset if the wrong guy took the wrong shot at the wrong time. We came out of timeout and got the shot we wanted and it didn't go in."

    Mosqueda-Lewis finished with 17 points.

    Stewart, the high school player of the year last season, scored all 10 of her points in the second half after missing her first five shots. She also had six blocks and nine rebounds.

    "She looked out of sorts a little bit, struggled a little bit," Auriemma said. "But then again you think about what she did, 10 points, nine rebounds, six blocks, that's not a bad day. I think that's what we expect from her. Shots she missed we come to expect she'll make all those."

    The Fighting Irish won both regular-season meetings last year, before bowing in the BIG EAST championship game. They won the decisive meeting in the Final Four, 83-75, in overtime.

    UConn led 18-15 midway through the first half before Notre Dame went on a 12-2 run sparked by Kayla McBride, who led Notre Dame with 21 points. She had back-to-back jumpers. Michaela Mabrey hit a three-pointer and Natalie Achonwa a free throw to cap the burst.

    Mabrey's second three-pointer of the half gave the Fighting Irish a 34-26 lead with five minutes left in the half before UConn closed with a 12-4 burst to make it 38-36 at the break.

    Beyond The Box Score: Connecticut

  • Saturday marked the first time in school history the Fighting Irish defeated a top-ranked team on its home floor.
  • Notre Dame improved to 4-19 all-time against No. 1-ranked teams, with all four victories coming against Connecticut (others were 92-76 on Jan. 15, 2001 at ND; 90-75 on March 30, 2001 in NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals at St. Louis; 72-63 on April 3, 2011 in NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals at Indianapolis).
  • Notre Dame earned its first win at Gampel Pavilion on the Connecticut campus since Jan. 30, 2005, when the Fighting Irish defeated the Huskies, 65-59.
  • Notre Dame has won five of the past six series games against Connecticut, becoming the first program with such an extended run of success against the Huskies since 1992-94, when former BIG EAST Conference member Miami (Fla.) pulled off a similar stretch of five wins in six games.
  • The Fighting Irish have nine wins over Connecticut since the start of the 2000-01 season, nearly twice as many as any other Husky opponent in that 13-year span (Rutgers in next closest with five victories).
  • Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw now has nine career coaching wins against her Connecticut counterpart, Geno Auriemma, becoming one of only four coaches (and two active) in history to lead her/his team to at least nine victories against Auriemma's UConn teams -- the others are Villanova's Harry Perretta (11), former Providence head coach Bob Foley (10) and Tennessee head coach emeritus Pat Summitt (9).
  • Notre Dame is 6-4 all-time against Connecticut when both teams are ranked in the top five, and 8-7 against the Huskies when both teams are ranked in the top 10.
  • UConn still leads the all-time series, 29-9, with the 38 games making the rivalry the most frequent in Fighting Irish women's basketball history.
  • Notre Dame and Connecticut were playing for the 12th time since 2009-10 and the ninth time in the past two-plus seasons (2010-11 to present).
  • In the past nine series games, seven have been decided by single digits, two went to overtime and three saw the losing team with a shot to tie or win the game in the final seconds of regulation.
  • The Fighting Irish are 5-1 against ranked teams this season and 3-1 against current/former national champions (having also defeated 1999 victor Purdue and 2011 winner Texas A&M).
  • Notre Dame rises to 14-4 (.778) all-time in BIG EAST openers, including wins in 12 of their last 14 conference lidlifters and an active seven-game winning streak.
  • The Fighting Irish are 2-4 all-time when playing on CBS, having each of the past two years it has played on the Tiffany Network (both against Connecticut).
  • Junior guard Kayla McBride scored a career-high 21 points, one more than her previous best on Dec. 30, 2010, against Loyola Marymount at the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic in Seattle.
  • Junior forward Natalie Achonwa registered her BIG EAST-leading eighth double-double of the season, and her fifth in six games against a ranked opponent.
  • Freshman guard Michaela Mabrey scored in double figures for the third time this season and second consecutive game.
  • Mabrey set a season high with three three-point field goals.
  • Tournament Tested
    Notre Dame has felt right at home in tournament situations during the past 17 years. Starting with the 1996-97 season, the Fighting Irish have won 34 of their last 38 regular-season tournament games (multi-game events only), including three in a row to claim this year's World Vision Classic, and similar runs to the title in four other tournaments since 2009-10 -- 2009 Paradise Jam (Island Division), 2010 WBCA Classic, 2010 State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic and 2011 Junkanoo Jam (Freeport Division).

    The only Notre Dame losses during this current stretch were three defeats to teams ranked in the top three nationally during the Preseason WNIT semifinals (72-59 vs. No. 3/2 Tennessee at Ruston, La., in 1996; 75-59 at No. 3 Maryland in 2007) or championship (94-81 at No. 1 Baylor in 2011), and a 67-63 overtime setback at No. 20 Colorado on Nov. 15, 2003, in the finals of the WBCA Classic -- a game that saw the Buffaloes sink a desperation 30-footer at the end of regulation to force the extra session.

    Anchors Aweigh
    Notre Dame made a bit of women's basketball history on Nov. 9, joining with Ohio State to play the first women's game ever on the deck of an aircraft carrier, as the teams squared off outdoors in the second annual Carrier Classic aboard the decommissioned USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C. (on the shores of Charleston Harbor).

    The game was played to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project, which aids returning veterans who have been injured while in the service of our country, and the Fighting Irish were exceptionally proud and honored to have former Notre Dame guard, U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (`00) join the team on the bench for their historic game against Ohio State. Green, who lost her left (shooting) hand in May 2004 during a rocket-propelled grenade attack while on patrol on the roof of a police station in Baghdad, Iraq, delivered an inspiring pre-game speech to the current Fighting Irish squad before they came out to face Ohio State.

    Notre Dame won this year's Carrier Classic game, 57-51, behind the second career double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) from junior forward Natalie Achonwa and 16 points from junior guard Kayla McBride. After the game, head coach Muffet McGraw said the victory was dedicated to Green.

    An added postscript -- Green recently accepted a job with the South Bend Veterans Administration Clinic and will be relocating from her hometown of Chicago.

    Polling Station
    Notre Dame was ranked No. 5 in last week's Associated Press poll, its 35th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 105 consecutive weeks in the AP poll.

    The Fighting Irish reached a milestone on Nov. 26 with their No. 5 ranking, which was their 100th consecutive AP poll appearance. It not only extended the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001), but it made the Fighting Irish are one of six teams in the nation with an active streak of 100 consecutive AP poll appearances.

    What's more, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career (66 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (55) of those appearances in the AP Top 10 (and never lower than 18th).

    Notre Dame started the year at No. 7 in the preseason AP poll, representing the 13th time in the past 14 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the initial AP poll, something only seven schools in the nation have done -- Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee have shown up in all 14 during that span, while Georgia, Oklahoma and Stanford join the Fighting Irish with 13 preseason AP poll berths.

    Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 244 weeks during the program's 36-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks ninth among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and 20th all-time in that category.

    In addition, the Fighting Irish held steady at No. 5 for the seventh consecutive week in last week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, after starting the season at No. 6 for the first two weeks.

    Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 105 of the past 106 weeks (and 69 in a row), 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 238 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).

    This marks the fifth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 11 of the past 15 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 244 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 and 2012).

    Half And Half
    During the past 12 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 259-19 (.932) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 187 of their last 200 such contests (.935).

    What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 96-2 (.980) when leading at the half, with the only losses 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), and Feb. 12, 2012, against West Virginia (Fighting Irish led 33-30 at the break before the visiting Mountaineers rallied to win in the closing seconds, 65-63).

    The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
    During the past 18 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 265-15 (.946) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including seven outings this season.

    ...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 18 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 175-6 (.967) 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 four years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 52-2 (.963) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level seven times this season.

    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 226 of their last 255 games (.886) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51, 25 and 20 games in that span (the latter from 2011-12, ending on Feb. 12, 2012, vs. West Virginia).

    Since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 53-5 (.914) -- including wins in 29 of their last 31 home games -- and three of the five Fighting Irish losses in their refurbished facility have come by three points or fewer (two in overtime).

    Notre Dame also has a 120-20 (.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 108 of their last 117 non-BIG EAST contests (.923) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the nine 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), UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT) and Baylor in 2012 (73-61). 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 376-90 (.807) 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, a mark that lasted only two seasons before the Fighting Irish posted a 17-1 record at Purcell Pavilion last year.

    Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
    The past three 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 (8,571 fans per game in 2011-12) and most sellouts in a single season (eight in 2011-12). And, as the old saying goes -- "you ain't seen nothin' yet."

    For the fourth consecutive preseason, Notre Dame fans all but exhausted the program's season ticket packages (approximately 7,500) and snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish produce two advanced sellouts (Dec. 5 vs. Baylor; March 4 vs. Connecticut).

    Notre Dame has gotten its home slate off to a fine start at the box office with four sellouts in six home games, and the Nov. 18 game against Massachusetts marking the first home-opening sellout in school history. All told, the Fighting Irish have welcomed 29 sellout crowds in the program's 36-year tenure, including 23 in the past four years alone (2009-10 to present).

    The Fighting Irish currently are averaging 8,881 fans through their first five home games of 2012-13.

    Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
    Now in its sixth season, Notre Dame's wildly-successful "Big Mac" promotion will once again look to send fans home with full bellies, offering 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 six-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 39 times, most recently on Dec. 31 against Saint Francis (Pa.).

    Junior forward Ariel Braker, senior guard Kaila Turner and sophomore forward Markisha Wright are the leaders among current Fighting Irish players, with all three players having registered three "Big Mac baskets" during their respective careers.

    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"), 21 different players have converted the "burger ball", including eight current members of the Fighting Irish roster.

    What's more, of the 39 Big Mac games, 17 have been reached on two-point baskets, 14 on free throws, and eight on three-pointers.

    Coming Soon: Irish in the ACC
    On Sept. 12, 2012, the University of Notre Dame announced that it had accepted an offer of admission into the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for all sports except football (the league does not offer championships in ice hockey or fencing).

    The change in conference affiliation (for which a timetable has not yet been established) will be the first for Notre Dame since 1995, when the Fighting Irish moved from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) to the BIG EAST Conference.

    In its 18 seasons in the BIG EAST, the Notre Dame women's basketball program has been the one of the conference's best, winning two BIG EAST regular-season titles (2001 and 2012) and compiling a 217-64 (.772) record in league play that remains the second-best regular-season winning percentage in BIG EAST women's basketball history.

    Next Game: Rutgers
    Notre Dame returns to Purcell Pavilion to begin a three-game homestand at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday when it plays host to BIG EAST Conference rival Rutgers. The game will be televised live on ESPNU, as part of that network's BIG EAST Game of the Week package.

    The Scarlet Knights (9-5, 0-1 BIG EAST) are coming off a 48-44 loss at home to St. John's in their conference opener on Jan. 6. Rutgers will begin a two-game Midwest road swing on Tuesday with a visit to top-10 foe Louisville before heading north to South Bend for next weekend's matchup at Purcell Pavilion.

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