Jan. 16, 2012
#2/2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-1 / 5-0 BIG EAST) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (8-10 / 0-5 BIG EAST)
DATE: January 17, 2012
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
SERIES: ND leads 19-3
1ST MTG: ND 90-51 (2/7/96)
LAST MTG: ND 82-50 (1/15/11)
WEBCAST: UND.com (live)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (574) 631-7356 / UND.com/tickets
No. 2 Fighting Irish Open Homestand Tuesday Night Against Pittsburgh
Following an extended taste of life on the road, No. 2 Notre Dame is back at Purcell Pavilion to open a three-game homestand, beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) Tuesday when it plays host to Pittsburgh in a BIG EAST Conference battle. The game will be webcast live on the Notre Dame athletics web site, www.UND.com.
The Fighting Irish (17-1, 5-0) posted their 14th consecutive win last Saturday, leading wire-to-wire in a 76-50 victory at Cincinnati. Notre Dame used a 14-2 first-half run to take control and led by as many as 35 points in the second half to remain unbeaten in league play.
Senior guard Natalie Novosel paced the Fighting Irish with 21 points, while fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters chipped in with 17 points and junior guard Skylar Diggins added a season-high-tying 11 assists.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At Pittsburgh
No team in the country has had a steeper learning curve this season than Pittsburgh. As the nation's youngest squad (with a roster made up entirely of freshmen and sophomores), the Panthers have gone through the expected ups-and-downs associated with having a youthful and energetic club, leading to their current record of 8-10 overall (0-5 in the BIG EAST Conference).
Pittsburgh is on the second half of a two-game Midwest road swing following a narrow 86-83 loss at No. 21/19 DePaul on Saturday night. The Panthers turned in their best offensive performance of the season in a notoriously-difficult environment, placing four players in double figures and shooting .516 from the floor, but in the end, the host Blue Demons had just enough extra punch from the three-point line (12 treys to seven for Pittsburgh) to outlast a game challenge from the Panthers.
Redshirt sophomore guard Abby Dowd (a transfer from the University of Buffalo) pumped in a season-high 23 points, including 7-of-11 from three-point range. Redshirt sophomore guard Ashlee Anderson chipped in with 19 points, six rebounds and a game-high six steals in her return home to Chicago, while a third redshirt sophomore, center Leeza Burdgess, and freshman guard Brianna Kiesel both flirted with double-doubles (Burdgess had 10 points and eight rebounds, while Kiesel tallied 11 points and a game-high nine assists).
Kiesel is one of the up-and-coming stars in the BIG EAST, currently ranking 17th in the league in scoring (team-high 13.7 ppg.) and 10th in assists (3.7 apg.). Sophomore guard Marquel Davis is second on the team in scoring (10.1 ppg.), while Anderson adds 9.9 ppg., and Burdgess contributes a team-high 6.9 rebounds per game (tying her for 15th in the league).
Head coach Agnus Berenato is in her ninth season at Pittsburgh with a 152-116 (.567) record. A veteran with 28 years of college coaching experience, Berenato has a career record of 435-380 (.534), including a 3-7 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Pittsburgh Series
In a series that didn't commence until Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, the Fighting Irish and Pittsburgh will be playing for the 23rd time on Tuesday night, with Notre Dame holding a 19-3 edge in the series with the Panthers, including wins in the past two matchups between the clubs.
Notre Dame also is 9-0 all-time against Pittsburgh at Purcell Pavilion, having won all nine contests by an average of 14.6 points per game. However, three of the past four times the two schools have met in South Bend, the margin has been 10 points or fewer.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Pittsburgh Met
Skylar Diggins scored 20 points and No. 12 Notre Dame used an early 14-2 run to build a substantial lead en route to an 82-50 victory over Pittsburgh on Jan. 15, 2011, at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh.
The first-half run, ended by fast-break baskets by Diggins, allowed Notre Dame to break out of a 6-all tie and take a 20-8 lead. The Fighting Irish led 50-19 at halftime.
Notre Dame, which had lost its last two at Pittsburgh, shot 46 percent (30 of 64) to the Panthers' 32.7 percent (16 of 49) and led 46-28 in rebounding.
Taneisha Harrison scored 10 for Pittsburgh.
Diggins grabbed 10 rebounds to go with her 23 points, both season highs, to lead the third-ranked Fighting Irish to an 86-76 victory over Pittsburgh on Feb. 6, 2010, at Purcell Pavilion.
"The rebounding is something we've been working on," McGraw said. "She just did an outstanding job of trying to go get the rebound. That was the last piece that was missing."
Pittsburgh coach Agnus Berenato said the Panthers struggled to defend Diggins.
"She had a hot hand and Notre Dame did a great job of feeding the hot hand," she said.
Diggins said she is feeling more comfortable in Notre Dame's offense.
"I'm just playing. That's what I'm doing better. I'm not playing not to make a mistake," Diggins said. "I'm just being competitive and let the game come to me."
Diggins, who also had six assists and two blocked shots with no turnovers, said she went into the game focusing on rebounding.
"I wanted to see how many I could get," she said.
Diggins, whose previous high for rebounds was six against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, said she watched tape of recent games and found she was standing around too much.
"I was getting in there, I just wasn't being aggressive to the ball," she said.
Diggins was 9-of-11 from the free-throw line and the Fighting Irish were 21-of-29. Pittsburgh was 9-of-15.
Taneisha Harrison led the Panthers with 20 points. Jania Sims had 13 and Chelsea Cole and Selena Nwude had 12 points each.
"We have to have at least four players in double figures," Berenato said.
After Notre Dame went on a 14-2 run in the first half to open a 13-point lead, the Panthers gradually cut the deficit to four late in the first half. But the Fighting Irish led 45-37 at halftime, then used a 10-2 run early in the second half take a 48-45 lead.
Notre Dame extended the lead to 81-62 when Ashley Barlow hit a three as the shot clock sounded with 5:13 left. Pittsburgh used a 14-3 run to cut the lead to 84-76 on a jumper by Sims, but couldn't get any closer.
Other Notre Dame-Pittsburgh Series Tidbits
Start Me Up
For the second time in three years, and the third time in school history, Notre Dame has opened with a 17-1 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, lost at Connecticut in its 16th outing, then won its next eight in a row.
Passing The Quarter Pole
Notre Dame is off to a 5-0 start in BIG EAST Conference play for the first time in 11 seasons and the fifth time since the program joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96.
The last time the Fighting Irish opened the conference season with five consecutive wins was 2000-01 when they began the BIG EAST slate with a 12-0 record on the way to earning a share of their first regular season conference title with a 15-1 record.
The school record for the best start to a BIG EAST season is 15-0, set back in 1999-2000.
Notre Dame's current 14-game winning streak is 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 (791-428), with an average halftime score of 44-24.
Born To Run
Notre Dame leads the nation in scoring offense, averaging 83.7 points per game this season. That's just one of five NCAA offensive categories in which the Fighting Irish rank among the top 10, along with scoring margin (second at +33.1 ppg.), assists (third at 19.2 apg.), field goal percentage (fifth at .482) and assist/turnover ratio (ninth at 1.15).
Notre Dame has scored at least 90 points in a game seven times this year, one shy of the school record set last season (the Fighting Irish also had seven 90-point games in 1996-97, 1998-99 and 2007-08).
What's more, Notre Dame has done an excellent job of putting teams away, recording 14 20-point wins, and eight victories by at least 30 points (tied for fourth-most in school history behind the 12 30-point wins last year, as well as 10 such victories in 2000-01 and 2007-08, and eight apiece in 1998-99 and 2009-10).
Lock It Up
Notre Dame ranks among the top 20 in the nation in four NCAA defensive statistica categories -- steals (second at 14.8 spg.), turnover margin (third at +8.83), scoring defense (10th at 50.7 ppg.) and field goal percentage defense (18th at .337).
The Fighting Irish have held 15 of their 18 opponents to 61 points or fewer, with 11 failing to score more than 50 points against Notre Dame. The school record for most games allowing 50 points or fewer is 14, set by last year's Fighting Irish squad, while two other Notre Dame teams (2000-01 and 2001-02) had 12 games of allowing 50 points or fewer.
Notre Dame's defensive effort has extended to smaller increments as well. In their last 25 halves of basketball (dating back to the second half against No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26), the Fighting Irish have held their opponents to 23 points or fewer 17 times, including 11 halves when the opposition didn't crack 20 points.
'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 13 games thus far, with Fighting Irish foes averaging 25.5 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +8.83 turnover margin that is third-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 14.8 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 13 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 (57 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 junior guard Skylar Diggins, who is third in the conference at 2.7 steals per game, and fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory who is tied for fifth in the BIG EAST at 2.6 spg.
Continuing a trend from last season, Notre Dame has shared the basketball very well during the first 18 games of the year.
The Fighting Irish are third in the nation (and second in the BIG EAST) at 19.2 assists per game, including a season-high 29 assists against Marquette on Dec. 7 (one of 10 games with 20-or-more assists this year).
Individually, junior guard Skylar Diggins is 17th in the nation in assists (BIG EAST-best 5.8 apg.) and 15th in the country with a 2.26 assist/turnover ratio (second in the conference).
What's more, Notre Dame has assisted on 64.6 percent of its field goals this season (346 of 536), 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 285 games in their careers (Diggins-86, Novosel-61, Peters-60, Mallory-58, McBride-20).
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has featured a balanced offense thus far, with at least three players scoring in double figures in 15 games, and at least four double-digit scorers in nine games.
During the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 43-4 (.915) 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 five different top scorers in the past six 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 12 games, the Fighting Irish are averaging 43.7 rebounds a night, with an average rebounding margin of +13.4 rpg. Furthermore, Notre Dame has grabbed at least 40 rebounds 10 times in the past 12 games after not reaching that mark once in its first six contests.
For the season, Notre Dame ranks 17th in the country in rebounding margin at +8.8 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 25 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 25-game double-digit scoring streak is the second-longest in school history, and is the longest by a Fighting Irish player in 15 seasons.
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 77-15 (.837) 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 11-9 record against AP Top 25 teams (6-7 vs. the AP Top 10) and an active 58-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 2.32 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 18th in school history with 1,274 points, while Peters became the 30th member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club and presently stands 27th with 1,053 points.
Together with junior guard Skylar Diggins (15th with 1,360 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 855 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 #18 Recap: Cincinnati
Natalie Novosel scored 21 points Saturday, and point guard Skylar Diggins steadied Notre Dame's balanced offense with 11 assists, leading the Fighting Irish to a hard-fought 76-50 victory over Cincinnati.
Notre Dame (17-1, 5-0 BIG EAST) completed a challenging stretch -- four road games out of the last five. Its only home game during that stretch was a 74-67 overtime win that snapped Connecticut's 57-game BIG EAST winning streak.
The Fighting Irish came through it with a few limps but no losses. Notre Dame has won 14 straight, extending one of the three best starts in school history.
"It's just a focus thing, executing the plan for the team you're playing," said Diggins, who matched her season high with 11 assists. "We've done that lately, and plan to continue to do that."
They not only survived the tough stretch, but got a little more versatile during it, too.
Novosel scored 21 points and Devereaux Peters had 17 points as Notre Dame emphasized going inside against the overmatched Bearcats (9-8, 0-4). The Fighting Irish led the nation with 84.2 points per game entering Saturday's game, getting a lot of baskets off jumpers and turnovers.
Novosel made back-to-back three-pointers and a pair of free throws midway through the first half as Notre Dame quickly pushed the lead to 15 points. She had 18 points in the first half, which ended with Notre Dame ahead 42-21. Novosel has scored in double figures in her last 25 games, the second-longest streak in school history.
"It was just what the defense gave me," Novosel said. "I was able to keep shooting. I was hot, so I shot with confidence."
With Diggins flipping no-look passes inside, the Fighting Irish scored 40 of their points in the paint. Peters had nine points during a 16-2 run that opened the second half, pushed the lead to 35 points and prompted head coach Muffet McGraw to rest her worn-down starters.
"We've been talking about putting in a couple of new plays so we could look inside a little more," McGraw said. "In the second half, we got a lot of good looks. That's what we need. That's our next step. In order to get better, we've got to be able to score in the blocks and get easy baskets. We did that today."
Diggins scored a season-low four points, taking only five shots. Instead, she spent the game looking for teammates. She hit Peters with a no-look pass for a layup that made it 34-17 in the first half. She also had four assists during the 16-2 run that opened the second half.
"That's nothing new for me," Peters said. "We get a lot of good looks running the floor, and she sees everybody. And everybody was hitting their shots."
The Fighting Irish had a large contingent of green-clad fans in the crowd of 2,906, which included Bearcat fans who stuck around from the men's 82-78 win over Villanova earlier in the afternoon.
The Bearcats fell apart against Notre Dame's unrelenting defensive pressure, turning the ball over 19 times while falling behind by 35. They finished with 22 turnovers, one shy of their season high. Notre Dame let up after getting the big lead.
Dayeesha Hollins had 14 for UC, which had 11 assists as a team, matching Diggins' total.
Beyond The Box Score -- Cincinnati
Notre Dame is ranked No. 2 in the latest Associated Press poll, its 11th 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 88th 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 (50) 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 227 weeks during the program's 35-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 11th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also is tied for 20th all-time in that category (sharing that spot with former Maryland coach Chris Weller, thanks to this week's poll position).
In addition, the Fighting Irish were No. 2 in last week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, returning to the spot they held for the first two weeks of the season after a seven-week stretch at No. 3. Like the AP poll, Notre Dame earned its best-ever preseason ranking (second) in the coaches' poll, 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 88 of the past 89 weeks (not counting this week's rankings that will come out Tuesday afternoon), 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 219 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 227 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 231-18 (.928) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 159 of their last 171 such contests (.930).
What's more, in the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 68-1 (.986) 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 244-15 (.942) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 14 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 163-6 (.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 40-2 (.952) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level in 11 games this season and winning 10 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. 10 game at Georgetown (televised live on CBS Sports Network), Notre Dame has played in 213 televised games, including 158 that were broadcast nationally.
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.
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.
Next Game: Villanova
Notre Dame continues its three-game homestand on Saturday when it welcomes BIG EAST foe Villanova to Purcell Pavilion for a 1 p.m. (ET) tipoff. The game will be webcast live and free of charge at UND.com, while a limited number of tickets remain available for the contest.
Villanova (11-6, 2-3 BIG EAST) has lost its last three games, most recently dropping a 72-49 decision at home to third-ranked Connecticut last Saturday. The Wildcats will step out of conference play Wednesday to take on intra-city (and Big Five) rival Penn before making the trip to South Bend this weekend.