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    Fighting Irish
    #2/3 Irish Open Three-Game Homestand Sunday Against Rutgers

    FIGHTING IRISH Freshman guard Jewell Loyd registered her first career double-double on Tuesday night at South Florida, collecting 18 points and a career-high 13 rebounds in Notre Dame's 75-71 overtime victory.
    FIGHTING IRISH
    Freshman guard Jewell Loyd registered her first career double-double on Tuesday night at South Florida, collecting 18 points and a career-high 13 rebounds in Notre Dame's 75-71 overtime victory.
    FIGHTING IRISH

    Jan. 12, 2013

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    2012-13 ND Women's Basketball: Game 15
    #2/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (13-1 / 2-0 BIG EAST) vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-6 / 0-2 BIG EAST)

    DATE: January 13, 2013
    TIME: 3:30 p.m. ET
    AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
    SERIES: RU leads 16-12
    1ST MTG: RU 81-74 (11/27/82)
    LAST MTG: ND 71-41 (1/31/12)
    TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN (live) (Jim Barbar, p-b-p / Krista Blunk, color)
    RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
    LIVE STATS: UND.com
    TWITTER: @ndwbbsid
    TICKETS: (574) 631-7356 / UND.com/tickets

    Storylines

  • Notre Dame is 12-5 (.706) all-time in BIG EAST Conference home openers, including wins in five of the past six seasons.
  • The Fighting Irish open their longest homestand of the season, with three in a row and four of their next five at Purcell Pavilion.
  • No. 2/3 Fighting Irish Open Three-Game Homestand Sunday Against Rutgers
    After successfully navigating a tough two-game road trip to begin BIG EAST Conference play, No. 2/3 Notre Dame returns home to tip off a three-game homestand at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday when it plays host to Rutgers at Purcell Pavilion. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience by ESPNU, starting a stretch that will see the Fighting Irish play on television 11 times in their final 15 regular-season games.

    Notre Dame (13-1, 2-0) picked up its eighth consecutive win in thrilling fashion on Tuesday night, overcoming a sluggish performance to earn a 75-71 overtime victory at South Florida. The Fighting Irish found their second win in the extra period, scoring 12 of the 20 points in the frame and holding the Bulls to 1-of-7 shooting in the added five minutes.

    Junior forward Natalie Achonwa led Notre Dame with 20 points and eight rebounds, senior guard Skylar Diggins added 19 points, and freshman guard Jewell Loyd collected the first double-double of her young career with 18 points and a career-best 13 rebounds.

    Rankings

  • Notre Dame is No. 2 in this week's Associated Press poll and No. 3 in this week's ESPN/USA Today poll.
  • Rutgers is not ranked.
  • Quick Hitters

  • Notre Dame is off to a 13-1 start for the fourth time in five seasons and sixth time in school history (all beginning in 2000-01).
  • 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).
  • The Fighting Irish have won a school-record 10 consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular-season games, dating back to Feb. 28, 2011 (a 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul).
  • In eight games (all wins) since its only loss of the season (Dec. 5 vs. third-ranked Baylor), Notre Dame is averaging 91.1 points per game (winning by 30.5 ppg.), posting a rebound margin of +14.4 per game, and has forced opponents into an average of 23.3 turnovers per night (12.9 of those coming on Fighting Irish steals).
  • According to Friday's NCAA statistical report, the Fighting Irish are ranked in the top 20 in nine categories -- scoring offense (2nd - 84.4 ppg.), free throw percentage (2nd - .806), assists (3rd - 20.1 apg.), scoring margin (6th - +25.7 ppg.), assist/turnover ratio (6th - 1.27), rebounding margin (8th - +11.2 rpg.), turnover margin (8th - +7.14), field goal percentage (13th - .457) and steals (18th - 12.8 spg.).
  • 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. The highlight 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. 2 ranking in this week's Associated Press poll, Notre Dame has appeared in the media poll for 106 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 (56 of 67 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
  • Senior guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner have helped Notre Dame win 108 games to date, the most victories by a Fighting Irish class through 127 games, two 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 604 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 eight wins away from becoming the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and should she do so within the next 50 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 422 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 Rutgers
    With a blend of veteran experience (including nine returning letterwinners) and a talented incoming class, Rutgers is looking to build upon last year's first-round berth in the NCAA Championship.

    The Scarlet Knights (9-6, 0-2 BIG EAST) got off to a strong start this year, winning eight of their first 11 games, but come into Sunday's contest having lost three of their last four, including a 66-57 overtime setback at No. 15/13 Louisville on Tuesday night. Senior guard Erica Wheeler led four RU players in double figures with 18 points, and senior forward/center Monique Oliver nearly had a double-double with 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds.

    Oliver leads Rutgers in scoring (11.0 ppg.), rebounding (5.2 rpg.) and blocks (1.8 bpg.), while Wheeler is second in scoring (10.7 ppg.) and assists (2.6 apg.), and leads the Scarlet Knights in steals (3.1 spg.) and three-point percentage (.276).

    Hall of Fame head coach C. Vivian Stringer is in her 18th season at Rutgers with a 374-189 (.664) record, and she has a 42-year career record of 894-324 (.734), including a 13-12 mark against Notre Dame.

    The Notre Dame-Rutgers Series
    Notre Dame and Rutgers will be meeting for the 29th time on Sunday afternoon, with the Scarlet Knights maintaining a 16-12 edge in the all-time series with the Fighting Irish. However, the series is nearly even since both schools joined the BIG EAST Conference prior to the 1995-96 season, with RU leading by a slim 13-12 margin.

    Notre Dame has won the past three games in the series (its longest winning streak against RU since the teams began playing in 1982), and also is 6-4 all-time against Rutgers at Purcell Pavilion.

    The Last Time Notre Dame And Rutgers Met
    Devereaux Peters had 10 points and a (then) career-high 17 rebounds to lead second-ranked Notre Dame to a 71-41 victory over No. 13/14 Rutgers on Jan. 31, 2012, at the Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J.

    The fifth-year senior became the first Fighting Irish player to have three consecutive double-doubles since Jacqueline Batteast did it in the 2004 NCAA tournament.

    Skylar Diggins scored 18 points and Natalie Achonwa added 15 as the Fighting Irish had a balanced offense. Kayla McBride had 13 points and 10 rebounds for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish controlled the boards against the Scarlet Knights, outrebounding them 52-24.

    Notre Dame completed a perfect January for the fifth time under head coach Muffet McGraw and the first since 2001.

    Trailing 9-8 early on, Notre Dame went on a 22-6 run over the next seven minutes to take control. The Fighting Irish hit five three-pointers during the spurt, including three by Diggins.

    They led by 17 at the half and blew Rutgers away in the second half, winning by the largest margin in the series' history.

    The Last Time Notre Dame And Rutgers Met at Purcell Pavilion
    Rutgers could only withstand No. 8 Notre Dame's pressure for so long.

    The Scarlet Knights remained within striking distance for the first 30 minutes, but Notre Dame's press finally cracked Rutgers and the Fighting Irish went on a 16-3 run midway through the second half for a 71-49 victory on Feb. 12, 2011, at Purcell Pavilion.

    Devereaux Peters scored 21 points and Skylar Diggins sparked the run that put the Scarlet Knights away, finishing with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Fighting Irish in its annual Pink Zone game (to benefit breast cancer awareness) before a sellout crowd.

    The slow pace of the game didn't favor either team and both tried to apply pressure to increase the tempo, but only Notre Dame succeeded.

    Diggins sent the Fighting Irish on their spurt with a few key steals, layups and passes that her teammates converted into buckets.

    Notre Dame's run also featured three-pointers from Diggins and Brittany Mallory, who recorded her first career double-double with 10 points and 10 assists. Usually Notre Dame's lockdown defender, Mallory was the first Fighting Irish player to earn a double-double with points and assists since 2005.

    Other Notre Dame-Rutgers Series Tidbits

  • Both teams are known for their defense, so it should come as no surprise that only five times in the last 16 series meetings has either team topped the 70-point mark (although those five have come in the last six contests).
  • Notre Dame's 75 points in the 2010 win at Piscataway (75-63) were the most it had scored against the Scarlet Knights since Feb. 19, 2000, when it logged a 78-74 overtime win in Piscataway (a game best remembered for then-freshman guard Alicia Ratay's 7-for-7 effort from the three-point line, including two triples in the final 16 seconds of regulation that forced the OT period).
  • Nearly half (12) of the 28 series games have been decided by 10 points or fewer, including two overtime contests (both in 2000).
  • The Fighting Irish welcomed their first New Jersey native to the program in nearly two decades when freshman guard Michaela Mabrey (Belmar/Manasquan HS) joined the roster this season. Mabrey has played in nine games to date (missed four with an ankle injury in early December), averaging 5.3 points per game in a reserve role, including a career-high 18 points against Saint Francis (Pa.) on Dec. 31, and 11 points (career-high 3-4 3FG) in her BIG EAST debut at No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 5.
  • Notre Dame senior guard Skylar Diggins and Rutgers senior forward/center Monique Oliver were teammates on the White team at the 2009 Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) High School All-America Game in St. Louis -- Diggins scored 24 points, while Oliver had 14 points and 13 rebounds, but the White squad lost to the Blue, 79-77.
  • Diggins, Oliver and Rutgers senior guard Erica Wheeler played in the 2009 McDonald's High School All-America Game in Coral Gables, Fla. -- Diggins and Wheeler were teammates on the East team (Diggins 18 points, Wheeler three points), while Oliver (four points, six rebounds) played for the West squad that pulled out a 69-68 win.
  • Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw and Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer both rank among the 15 winningest coaches in NCAA Division I history, with a combined total of nearly 1,600 wins (1,586 to be exact) between them. McGraw ranks 14th all-time and eighth among active coaches in career victories (692), while Stringer (894) is tied for third all-time and tied for first among active mentors (with North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell).
  • Climbing Another Rung On The Ladder
    Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw can move into a tie for 13th on the NCAA Division I career coaching wins list with a Fighting Irish victory over Rutgers on Sunday.

    Should Notre Dame prevail, McGraw would draw even with her old college coach, Rene Portland (first name pronounced REE-nee; 693 wins from 1976-2007), who began her coaching career at McGraw's alma mater, Saint Joseph's (Pa.), during McGraw's final two seasons of 1976-77 and 1977-78, before going on spend two years at Colorado (1978-80) and the majority of her career at Penn State (1980-2007).

    McBride Nabs Trio Of Honors This Week
    For the first time in her career, junior guard Kayla McBride was selected as the Ann Meyers Drysdale/United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) National Player of the Week, the espnW National Player of the Week and the BIG EAST Conference Player of the Week, it was announced Monday.

    McBride is the second Fighting Irish women's basketball player to earn the BIG EAST award this season, following in the footsteps of senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins, who was chosen on Dec. 23, and McBride is the first Notre Dame player to be recognized with either national weekly award this year.

    In addition, this marks the 80th time a Fighting Irish women's basketball player has earned a BIG EAST weekly award (46 Players of the Week, 34 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).

    McBride averaged 20.0 points, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game with a .531 field goal percentage as Notre Dame picked up two wins last week, including a 73-72 victory at No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 5. McBride started her week with 19 points (on 7-of-11 shooting) and four steals in just 16 minutes of a record-setting 128-55 home win over Saint Francis (Pa.) on New Year's Eve.

    Then, before a hostile sellout crowd at UConn and a CBS national television audience, McBride thrived on the biggest stage, scoring a career-high (and game-high) 21 points and adding three assists as Notre Dame defeated a top-ranked team on its home court for the first time in school history, while earning its fifth win in the last six games against Connecticut.

    For the season, McBride ranks 10th in the BIG EAST in scoring (15.4 ppg.), and she would be leading the conference in free throw percentage (.960; 24-of-25), but she has not yet converted the minimum number of foul shots (2.0 FTM/game) to qualify.

    Start Me Up
    For the fourth time in five years, and the sixth time in school history (all starting with the 2000-01 season), Notre Dame has posted a 13-1 record or better through its first 14 games.

    Twice in their history, the Fighting Irish opened with at least 14 consecutive wins, doing so in their 2000-01 national championship season (school-record 23-game winning streak) and again in 2009-10 (15-0).

    Notre Dame also is off to a 2-0 start in BIG EAST Conference play for the fifth consecutive season and the 12th time since it joined the league in 1995-96.

    Spreading The Wealth
    Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 11 games this year. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 63-4 (.940) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 33-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 (nine times) and Michaela Mabrey (three times).

    On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.3 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 14 games, the Fighting Irish lead the BIG EAST and rank second in the nation (as of Friday), shooting a remarkable .806 (270-of-335) 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 more than 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 (270 made, 199 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 24 of 25 free throws (.960) 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, three 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 second (.871), junior forward Natalie Achonwa is tied for seventh (.786) and freshman guard Jewell Loyd tied for ninth (.778).

    For her career, McBride has logged an .886 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 14.5 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.3 rpg.), while scoring in double figures 12 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 four 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 (16th - 14.5 ppg.), rebounding (2nd - 9.3 rpg.), field goal percentage (9th - .544) and free throw percentage (tied-7th - .786).

    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 15.4 ppg.) and would be leading the conference in free throw percentage (.960), but she is short of the minimum needed for qualification (2.0 FTM/game). In both areas, she is posting career-high marks, including a better than 30-percent improvement in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).

    McBride also shares the team lead (with Achonwa) this season with 12 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 14 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 12 times), scoring in double figures nine times, earning her first career double-double (18 points/13 rebounds at South Florida on Jan. 8) 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 (21st - 13.0 ppg.) and free throw percentage (tied-9th - .778), and she would be third in the conference in three-point percentage (.448), 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 (471 rebounds) is 29 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 (1,938 points) is 62 points away from becoming the fourth 2,000-point scorer in school history, and she needs 384 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 (308 steals) is 40 steals away from assistant coach Niele Ivey's school record for career thefts. With one steal on Jan. 8 at South Florida, Diggins moved into second place on Notre Dame's career steals list, passing Coquese Washington (307 from 1989-93).
  • Diggins (603 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Gavin, needing 175 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 124 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 108-19 (.850) 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 76-1 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 84.4 ppg. (which ranks second nationally as of Friday).

    In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.43 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 12.8 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 58.7 points per game.

    Game #14 Recap: South Florida
    Hardly resembling the Notre Dame team that handed then-No. 1 Connecticut its first loss of the season three days earlier, Skylar Diggins and Co. had to work overtime to hold off South Florida 75-71 Tuesday night at the Sun Dome in Tampa.

    Less than 24 hours after watching from their hotel as the school's football team was defeated by Alabama in the BCS championship game on the other side of the state in Miami, the Fighting Irish came out flat against an opponent determined to make a splash nationally.

    Diggins scored four of her 19 points in overtime, Natalie Achonwa had 20 points and Jewell Loyd finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Fighting Irish, who trailed by six midway through the second half. Kayla McBride missed the majority of the first half with foul trouble and was limited to 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting, but keyed a surge that helped Notre Dame take its first lead since early in the game.

    Andrea Smith tied a career high with 33 points (on 13-of-37 shooting) and 11 rebounds for USF, including her team's last nine points of regulation and first four of overtime. Smith's twin, Andrell, had 15 points before fouling out less than a minute into the extra period, and Inga Orekhova added 13.

    USF led 35-32 at the break despite shooting 37.8 percent and pushed Notre Dame to overtime for the third time in the last nine meetings between the teams despite shooting 33.3 percent (25 of 75) for the game. The Fighting Irish were only slightly better, shooting 36.8 percent and making the same number of field goals while taking seven fewer shots.

    McBride made a long three-pointer and added a three-point play during a 13-2 run Notre Dame put together to turn a 46-42 deficit into their biggest lead of the night, 55-48. But just when it appeared that the Fighting Irish were taking over the game, Andrea Smith found a way to keep USF close.

    While Notre Dame was going scoreless from the field over the last six minutes of regulation, the 5-foot-8 senior made a pair of free throws, a 3-pointer and a contested 15-foot jumper to make it 61-61 with 2:02 remaining. After Loyd made two free throws to put the Fighting Irish in front again, Smith answered with another jumper to send it into overtime at 63-all.

    Diggins, who missed the final shot of regulation, put Notre Dame ahead for good with a basket a little more than a minute into overtime. She sank free throws for a 74-69 lead with 23.4 seconds left in the extra period, and Michaela Mabrey ensured the Fighting Irish would hold on for their eighth straight victory by making one of two free throws.

    Beyond The Box Score: South Florida

  • The Fighting Irish were playing their first overtime game since April 1, 2012, when they defeated Connecticut, 83-75, in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.
  • Notre Dame has won its last three overtime games and is 18-16 (.529) all-time when playing an extra five minutes (or more), including a 15-12 (.556) record in the Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present).
  • This was the first overtime road victory for the Fighting Irish since Dec. 5, 2007, when they earned an 86-84 win at Bowling Green.
  • Notre Dame had 12 blocked shots, its highest total since Dec. 2, 2004, when it also had 12 blocks in an 82-73 overtime loss at home to Michigan State. It also was the first time the Fighting Irish posted double-digit swats in a game since Feb. 16, 2010, when it had 10 blocks at St. John's.
  • Diggins had a career-high five blocks, the first Notre Dame player with five blocks in a game since March 20, 2012, when Devereaux Peters piled up seven blocks against California in the second round of the NCAA Championship at Purcell Pavilion.
  • Junior forward Ariel Braker tied her career high with three blocks.
  • USF's Andrea Smith tried a Notre Dame opponent-record 37 shots, exceeding the old mark of 30 field goal attempts that was set twice before (most recently on April 3, 2011, by Connecticut's Maya Moore in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals in Indianapolis).
  • Smith's 33 points also are the most by a Fighting Irish opponent since Moore had 36 points in that 2011 Final Four game.
  • Notre Dame improves to 9-2 all-time against USF, although seven of the past nine games in the series have been decided by 12 points or fewer, with three going to overtime (the Fighting Irish winning two of the OT games).
  • The Fighting Irish have won eight consecutive games against Florida schools and are 27-5 all-time against the Sunshine State.
  • Notre Dame is 4-1 in five career visits to USF's Sun Dome, and 17-3 when playing in the state of Florida.
  • Achonwa posted her team-high fourth 20-point game of the season (and fifth of her career).
  • Loyd earned her first career double-double with 18 points and a career-high 13 rebounds, becoming the fourth different Notre Dame player to register a double-double this season.
  • Diggins logged her second consecutive "5-5-5" game, her team-high fourth of the season and 33rd of her career.
  • Diggins' 7-for-7 performance at the free throw line was the best by a Fighting Irish player this season.
  • Road Warriors
    Notre Dame has won a school-record 15 consecutive regular-season road games and 20 of its last 25 overall, including all four contests this season. The Fighting Irish last tasted defeat on the road in the regular season on Nov. 20, 2011, a 94-81 setback at No. 1 Baylor in the Preseason WNIT championship game.

    The highlight of this current run came on Jan. 5, 2013, when Notre Dame edged No. 1 Connecticut, 73-72, in Storrs, Conn., earning its fourth all-time win over a top-ranked opponent and first-ever victory on the road.

    Prior to the past two years, the school record for consecutive regular-season road wins was held by Notre Dame's 2000-01 national championship team that won its first 10 road outings before a 54-53 loss at No. 11/14 Rutgers on Feb. 17, 2001.

    The Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 10 consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular-season road games, with their last loss coming on Feb. 28, 2011 (a last-second 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul).

    The previous school record for consecutive BIG EAST regular-season road wins was seven, set numerous times, most recently crossing between the 2001-02 and 2002-03 campaigns.

    The Notre Dame record for consecutive regular-season road victories in any conference is 15, which the Fighting Irish set from Feb. 25, 1989-Feb. 14, 1991 during their time in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League).

    The Benefits Of Leadership
    Notre Dame is in the unique position of essentially having three head coaches on its bench, with current Fighting Irish skipper Muffet McGraw enjoying the expertise of two former head coaches on her staff -- associate head coach Carol Owens (who guided her alma mater Northern Illinois from 2005-10) and associate coach Beth Cunningham (who piloted VCU from 2003-12).

    Collectively, the Notre Dame staff has 45 seasons of head coaching experience, which ranks fifth among Division I schools behind only Stanford (52), Villanova (50), Ohio State (48) and Rutgers (46).

    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 is ranked a season-best No. 2 in this week's Associated Press poll, its 36th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 106 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 (67 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (56) 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 245 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 rose to a season-best No. 3 in this week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, after spending the previous seven weeks in the No. 5 spot.

    Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 106 of the past 107 weeks (and 70 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 239 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 245 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.

    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.

    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.

    Next Game: Georgetown
    It's another quick turnaround for Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish play the middle contest in their three-game homestand at 7 p.m. (ET) Tuesday, welcoming Georgetown to Purcell Pavilion for a BIG EAST clash. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience on the CBS Sports Network.

    The Hoyas (10-5, 1-1) are led by the nation's top scorer in guard Sugar Rodgers (25.9 ppg.) and visit Syracuse Saturday before making their way to South Bend next week.

    -- ND --
     

     

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