Jan. 9, 2012
#2/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (15-1 / 3-0 BIG EAST) vs. #18/16 Georgetown Hoyas (13-3 / 2-1 BIG EAST)
DATE: January 10, 2012
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Washington, D.C. - McDonough Arena (2,400)
SERIES: ND leads 24-3
1ST MTG: ND 78-68 (1/6/83)
LAST MTG: ND 80-58 (1/18/11)
TV: CBS Sports Network (live) (Brent Stover, p-b-p / Debbie Antonelli, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
No. 2 Fighting Irish Back On The Road Tuesday At No. 18 Georgetown
Challenges loom around every corner in the BIG EAST and No. 2/3 Notre Dame will face its next test at 7 p.m. (ET) Tuesday when it travels to Washington, D.C., for a matchup with No. 18/16 Georgetown at McDonough Arena. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience by CBS Sports Network (formerly CBS College Sports).
The Fighting Irish (15-1, 3-0) picked up their 12th consecutive win (and fourth against a ranked opponent) this past Saturday with a come-from-behind 74-67 overtime victory over then-No. 2 Connecticut at Purcell Pavilion.
Junior guard Skylar Diggins scored 16 of her team-high 22 points after halftime, while senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel added 20 points, including 10-of-11 free throws (6-of-6 in overtime) as Notre Dame ended the Huskies' 57-game BIG EAST regular season win streak.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At Georgetown
After posting its third consecutive 20-win season and advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 1993, Georgetown (13-3, 2-1 BIG EAST) is back for more this year, bouncing back from an early-season stumble to resume its rise up the national rankings after starting the year at No. 10/11 and appearing in the top 20 virtually all season long.
Speaking of rebounding, the Hoyas did just that, putting the sting of a midweek home loss to No. 20/18 DePaul behind them on Saturday with a 66-56 victory at USF. Georgetown got double-doubles from its two senior forwards, Tia Magee (12 points, 11 rebounds) and Adria Crawford (12 points, 10 rebounds), while junior guard Sugar Rodgers also dropped in 12 points and added four steals.
Despite her off-shooting night in Tampa, Rodgers still comfortably leads the BIG EAST in scoring (20.1 ppg.) and three-pointers per game (2.9), while ranking third in free throw percentage (.865) and fourth in steals (2.8 spg.), with all four totals also among the nation's best. Magee is second on the GU roster in scoring (11.4 ppg.) and tops in rebounding (7.1 rpg.), while senior guard Rubylee Wright is averaging 4.8 assists per game (including a BIG EAST-best 6.3 apg., in conference games).
Head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy is in her eighth season at Georgetown with a 133-98 (.576) record, and a 1-6 career record against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Georgetown Series
Tuesday will mark the 28th time Notre Dame and Georgetown have met on the hardwood, with the Fighting Irish holding a 24-3 edge in the series, including a 9-2 lead at McDonough Arena. However, the Hoyas won, 76-66 the last time the teams played in Washington, D.C., back in 2009-10.
Notre Dame also is 20-2 all-time against Georgetown since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, with an 18-2 record in regular-season league play.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Georgetown Met
Skylar Diggins scored 17 of her 22 points in the first half and added six assists to lead No. 11/10 Notre Dame to an 80-58 win over No. 16/17 Georgetown on Jan. 18, 2011, at Purcell Pavilion.
Sugar Rodgers had 15 points and six rebounds, and Rubylee Wright added 13 points and six assists for the Hoyas.
Notre Dame finished the first half on an 11-2 run and went into the locker room with a 45-33 lead. Georgetown left six points on the board as the Hoyas missed the front end of the bonus on three straight trips to the line in last few minutes of the half.
Georgetown's full-court press forced the Fighting Irish into three quick turnovers early in the second half before Novosel stole the ball for a layup that put the Fighting Irish up 59-42 with 14:44 to play.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Georgetown Met At McDonough Arena
It was been a season of firsts for the Georgetown Hoyas. A record 16-game winning streak, and at No. 14, their highest ranking ever. Now, there's a new superlative: Biggest win in school history.
On Feb. 20, 2010, the Hoyas knocked off No. 4 Notre Dame 76-66 before a record crowd of 2,417 at McDonough Arena. The win might have been a stunner nationally, but there was no enormous celebration. No rushing the court, no players jumping up and down.
Sugar Rodgers had 24 points, while Adria Crawford added 18 points and Latia Magee had 17 for the Hoyas.
Georgetown took a 45-42 lead with 14:51 remaining on a three-pointer by Rodgers and built a 58-47 lead with 8:17 remaining. They withstood a late rally by the Fighting Irish, who closed to 62-60 on Natalie Novosel's two free throws with 5:21 to play. Georgetown scored the game's last seven points to secure the win.
Rodgers didn't start for the first time because it was senior day, and GU head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy started seldom-used senior captain Kenya Kirkland instead. By the time Rodgers reported in, Notre Dame was leading 9-2, and then she got to work, quickly scoring 13 points and giving the Hoyas a 22-17 lead with 9:54 to play in the half.
Georgetown surrendered the lead late in the half, but Magee's layup with 1:26 to go in the half gave them a 31-30 lead, and they were ahead 33-30 at the break.
The Fighting Irish were playing their second straight game without Lindsay Schrader, the team's third-leading scorer and leading rebounder, who was out because of a sprained left ankle. Without Schrader, they lost 76-71 at No. 25 St. John's four days earlier.
Other Notre Dame-Georgetown Series Tidbits
Diggins Named BIG EAST Player Of The Week
For the second time this season, and the third time in her career, junior guard Skylar Diggins has been selected as the BIG EAST Conference Player of the Week, it was announced Monday afternoon by the conference office. Diggins previously was named Player of the Week back on Nov. 21, in addition to her first honor on Feb. 14, 2011.
This marks the 73rd time a Fighting Irish women's basketball player has earned a BIG EAST weekly award (42 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).
The BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year and a consensus preseason All-America selection, as well as a candidate for the State Farm Wade Trophy, John R. Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy (each of which go to the nation's top women's college basketball player), Diggins averaged 18.0 points and 2.5 steals per game last week while helping Notre Dame extend its winning streak to 12 games with BIG EAST wins at Seton Hall and at home against then-No. 2 Connecticut (the latter breaking the Huskies' 57-game regular season conference winning streak).
On Jan. 4, Diggins scored a team-high 14 points and added a game-high three assists as the Fighting Irish rolled to a 74-36 victory at Seton Hall, posting one of their largest wins ever at SHU's Walsh Gymnasium.
Three days later in a nationally-televised game at Purcell Pavilion, Diggins scored 16 of her team-high 22 points after halftime, and fueled a key 12-2 second-half run (eight points, two steals, one rebound in a span of 3:03) as Notre Dame rallied from an eight-point second-half deficit to defeat Connecticut in overtime, 74-67. Diggins also chalked up a game-high four steals as the Fighting Irish defense harassed the Huskies into a season-high 27 turnovers, more than double their season average entering the game and the third-highest total in UConn women's basketball history (most in more than four seasons).
Start Me Up
For the second time in three years, and the third time in school history, Notre Dame has opened with a 15-1 record or better.
In their 2000-01 national championship season, the Fighting Irish opened with a school-record 23-game winning streak, while in 2009-10, Notre Dame won its first 15 games before losing at Connecticut in its 16th outing.
Notre Dame's current 12-game winning streak is tied for the fifth-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 (712-391), with an average halftime score of 44-24.
'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 12 games thus far, with Fighting Irish foes averaging 26.6 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +9.69 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 nine home games this season, forcing 30.7 turnovers per game and collecting at least 19 in each Purcell Pavilion contest thus far.
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into Tuesday's game ranked second in nation in steals with 15.7 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 12 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 (55 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 2.8 steals per game, and junior guard Skylar Diggins who is sixth in the BIG EAST at 2.7 spg.
Continuing a trend from last season, Notre Dame has shared the basketball very well during the first 16 games of the year.
The Fighting Irish are second in the BIG EAST (and third in the nation) at 19.2 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 23rd in the nation in assists (BIG EAST-best 5.6 apg.) and 18th in the country with a 2.28 assist/turnover ratio (second in the conference).
What's more, Notre Dame has assisted on 63.7 percent of its field goals this season (307 of 482), 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 two games this year (Dec. 30 at Mercer, when senior guard and Atlanta-area native Fraderica Miller earned the nod in her homecoming game; Jan. 7 vs. No. 2 Connecticut).
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 275 games in their careers (Diggins-84, Novosel-59, Peters-58, Mallory-56, McBride-18).
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has featured a balanced offense thus far, with at least three players scoring in double figures in 14 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 10 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 10 games, the Fighting Irish are averaging 44.7 rebounds a night, with an average rebounding margin of +15.0 rpg. Furthermore, Notre Dame has grabbed at least 40 rebounds nine times in the past 10 games after not reaching that mark once in its first six contests.
For the season, Notre Dame ranks 16th in the country in rebounding margin at +9.3 rpg.
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 23 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 23-game double-digit scoring streak is the third-longest in school history, and the longest by a Fighting Irish player in 15 seasons.
Aside from Novosel, Beth Morgan had a 24-game run from 1994-95, while Katryna Gaither has staked an ironclad claim to the school record with a remarkable 76-game double-figure scoring streak from 1994-97.
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 75-15 (.833) 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 10-9 record against AP Top 25 teams (6-7 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 2.31 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 19th in school history with 1,232 points, while Peters became the 30th member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club and presently stands 28th with 1,026 points.
Together with junior guard Skylar Diggins (15th with 1,334 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 #16 Recap: Connecticut
Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame ended another Connecticut run.
Diggins scored 22 points and Natalie Novosel added 20, including six free throws in overtime, to help the third-ranked Fighting Irish rally to beat No. 2 Connecticut, 74-67 on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion, snapping the Huskies 57-game BIG EAST regular season winning streak.
"We knew it was going to be a game of runs. We played better in the second half. We knew we had to attack and we knew if we did, it would be worth it," said Diggins, who had 16 of her points in the second half and overtime.
The Fighting Irish, who hadn't beaten Connecticut at home since 2004, also topped the Huskies in the national semifinals last April, marking the first time they've won consecutive games against UConn -- a feat not many teams have accomplished.
"We wanted to keep them under pressure," Diggins said. "We wanted to slow the ball down at the guards and we wanted to protect the home court."
The Fighting Irish (15-1, 3-0 BIG EAST) forced UConn into a season-high 27 turnovers (the third-most in that program's history) and held the Huskies without a field goal over the final 3:49 of regulation and all through the five-minute overtime period.
"Our defense late in the game was fantastic," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "We did a really good job down the stretch using the clock and getting to free throw line."
Connecticut (12-2, 2-1), which had beaten Notre Dame 12 consecutive times before losing to the Fighting Irish at the NCAA Women's Final Four last April in Indianapolis, got a game-high 25 points from Bria Hartley.
The Huskies, who hadn't lost a regular-season conference game since falling to Rutgers in 2008, had a 61-57 lead and the ball with just under four minutes left in regulation but couldn't hold off the Fighting Irish. UConn had several chances late to ice the game with a lead but couldn't pull it off.
Diggins shot just 7-for-19 but came up with a big steal near the end of regulation that ended in the tying basket by Kayla McBride with 20.2 seconds left in the frenzied game that saw 10 ties and 11 lead changes before a green-clad sellout crowd at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame won despite shooting just 35.8 percent.
"Frustrating because it happened once at Baylor," Hartley said of the Huskies' only other loss this season. "When you have the ball and are up two, you should be able to win the game."
McBride also had a key basket in overtime and finished with 10 points and a career-high 12 rebounds for her first career double-double.
Hartley had a driving basket, a free throw and a three-pointer to spark a 10-2 UConn spurt as the Huskies opened up a 47-42 lead with 13 minutes remaining. After a timeout, she caught a long pass and hit another layup and Connecticut had built its lead to seven with 11 minutes to go.
Trailing by eight, the Fighting Irish rallied again as Diggins scored five straight points and Devereaux Peters got free for a layup after a mad scramble on the floor for a loose ball. The 9-2 run cut UConn's lead to 55-54.
After the eight-minute media timeout, Diggins sank a three-pointer to complete the 12-2 run and give the Fighting Irish a two-point lead. But UConn responded and Caroline Doty hit a three-pointer and then made an alert follow of a missed layup, giving the Huskies a 61-57 lead. That turned out to be UConn's final field goal.
"Skylar ignited us. She made a three, got to the rim, hit some free throws, really came on," McGraw said.
Brittany Mallory drove for a layup after a steal by Peters to narrow it to two with 1:49 remaining. After a missed shot by Doty, Novosel was fouled and made both free throws to tie the game with 1:10 left.
Tiffany Hayes gave the lead back to the Huskies by hitting a pair from the line with 56 seconds left and UConn got the ball back after a missed shot by the Fighting Irish. But Diggins made the steal and McBride's ensuing basket tied it at 63.
UConn tried to set up for a final game-winning shot but freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis threw the ball away with 4.1 seconds to go -- the Huskies' 24th turnover.
After a Notre Dame timeout, the Fighting Irish got the ball to Novosel, but her driving shot came up short at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.
"We were plus two with a minute to play and we don't finish the game," Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma said. "It just shows that we are not ready to win those kind of games. We have too many guys who have not been in that position before."
The Huskies also missed two of their first four free throw attempts in overtime, opening the way for the Fighting Irish and Novosel, who was 10-for-11 for the game, making her final 10 foul shots (all eight in the final 1:10 of regulation plus overtime) after missing her first attempt.
"We have to make free throws at the end of the game, too. Notre Dame took advantage of the opportunities we gave them," Auriemma said. "They're one of the top two or three teams in the country for a reason."
UConn's 6-foot-5 center Stefanie Dolson worked inside for a basket and Hartley stole the ball and drove in for a layup, putting the Huskies up 26-18 with just over five minutes to go in the opening half.
Notre Dame's inside players Peters and Natalie Achonwa both picked up two fouls and leading scorer Diggins struggled, missing five of her first seven field goal attempts
Reinserted into the game after a breather, Diggins drove for a basket -- Notre Dame's first in more than eight minutes -- then Novosel also went hard to the hoop for two points, and Mallory followed with a three-pointer from the top of the key. The 11-point surge gave the Fighting Irish a three-point lead.
Hartley stemmed the Notre Dame rally with a three-pointer and a layup just before the buzzer to finish with 12 points and create a 31-31 tie at the half.
Beyond The Box Score -- Connecticut
Notre Dame is ranked No. 2 in the latest Associated Press poll, its 10th 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 had 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. 2 ranking marks the 87th 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 (49) 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 226 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 21st all-time in that category (breaking out of a tie with her former coach at Saint Joseph's-Pa. from 1974-76, Theresa Grentz, with this week's poll position).
In addition, the Fighting Irish were No. 3 in last week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, marking their seventh consecutive week at that position (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 87 of the past 88 weeks (not counting this week's pending poll), 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 226 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 213 of their last 240 games (.888) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span (and an active run of 16 in a row). Notre Dame also has a 115-19 (.858) 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 363-88 (.805) 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 three games (Dec. 18 vs. Kentucky, Dec. 28 vs. Longwood, Jan. 7 vs. Connecticut), and put several others (Jan. 21 vs. Villanova, Jan. 23 vs. Tennessee, 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 nine home games this season, Notre Dame is averaging 8,677 fans per game, including three sellouts (9,149) -- vs. Kentucky (Dec. 18), Longwood (Dec. 28) and Connecticut (Jan. 7). The Fighting Irish now have posted 14 sellouts in the past three seasons and 20 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 Jan. 7 game against Connecticut (televised live on CBS), Notre Dame has played in 212 televised games, including 157 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: Cincinnati
The Fighting Irish will play their fourth road game in the past five outings at 3 p.m. (ET) Saturday when they venture to Cincinnati for a BIG EAST matchup with the Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena.
UC (9-7, 0-3 BIG EAST) opened the season with a six-game winning streak, but the Bearcats have had to deal with a series on injuries and other obstacles that have challenged them in recent weeks. Still, Cincinnati has shown marked improvement, with all seven of its losses this year coming by 11 points or fewer (six by single digits).
The Bearcats -- who have this week off prior to facing Notre Dame -- have lost their last two games, most recently dropping a 58-47 decision at No. 10 Rutgers last Saturday.