Jan. 19, 2014
#2/2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (16-0 / 4-0 ACC) vs. #12/10 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (14-3 / 3-2 SEC)
DATE: Jan. 20, 2014
No. 2 Fighting Irish Head To No. 12/10 Tennessee For ESPN2 Big Monday Matchup
Notre Dame (16-0) continued the second-best start to a season in program history on Thursday with a comprehensive 109-66 win at Pittsburgh. The Fighting Irish had five players score in double figures (led by 20 points each from senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride and sophomore guard Jewell Loyd) and shot 60.6 percent from the field en route to their highest point total ever in a conference road game.
The Notre Dame-Tennessee Series
Monday's game begins a new four-year series between the schools, with Notre Dame and Tennessee to play the next two seasons at Purcell Pavilion before returning to Knoxville to complete the contract in 2016-17.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Tennessee Met
On a night when Tennessee was honoring one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history, Diggins delivered one of the best performances of her brilliant career. The senior guard scored a career-high 33 points as No. 2 Notre Dame beat the ninth-ranked Lady Vols 77-67 on Jan. 28, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn.
Diggins' big performance spoiled Tennessee's celebration of former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, who had a banner raised in her honor at Thompson-Boling Arena before the game.
Diggins took over the game early in the first half to put the Fighting Irish ahead. She dominated on both ends of the floor again early in the second half as Notre Dame built a 19-point lead. After Tennessee cut the margin to five in the closing minutes, Diggins responded again.
Bashaara Graves had 19 points and 13 rebounds for UT, which had won its previous nine. Taber Spani added 12 points and Meighan Simmons had 11 points. Jewell Loyd had 10 points for Notre Dame, while Kayla McBride had nine points and season-high 10 rebounds.
Other Notre Dame-Tennessee Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Southeastern Conference
The Fighting Irish are 11-22 (.333) all-time against SEC teams away from home (at either road or neutral sites). Notre Dame most recently played an SEC school on its home court just last season, when it defeated Tennessee, 77-67, in Knoxville.
The Rare Air Up There
Getting The Jump
Notre Dame also has strung together 14 double-digit winning streaks in the program's 37-year history, with 12 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
Dating back to the start of last season, the Fighting Irish are 51-2 (.962) and have won 39 consecutive regular season games. In that span, their lone losses have come against a pair of third-ranked teams -- Baylor (73-61 on Dec. 5, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion) and Connecticut (83-65 on April 7, 2013, in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, La.).
The Comforts Of Home
What's more, Notre Dame has won its last 12 conference home games since that loss to WVU in 2012, when both the Fighting Irish and Mountaineers were members of the BIG EAST Conference.
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.
The Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 18 consecutive conference regular season road games, with their last loss coming as part of the BIG EAST Conference on Feb. 28, 2011 (a last-second 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul).
A Helping Hand
Notre Dame also ranks fourth in the nation (and tops in the ACC) in assist/turnover ratio (1.55).
That's Some Sharp Shooting
In addition, Notre Dame had a remarkable three-game stretch from Dec. 7-22 when it connected at better than a 55-percent clip in each contest. It was the first time the Fighting Irish had three consecutive 55-percent outings since Nov. 20-29, 1997, when they did so in victories over North Carolina State (.565), Bowling Green (.558) and Ohio University (.567).
Notre Dame's sharpshooting brigade has been led by senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa, who ranks fifth in the ACC with a .576 field goal percentage, including a .600 mark in conference play (tied for fourth in the ACC).
Freshman forward Kristina Nelson (.647) and junior forward Markisha Wright (.600) actually have higher field goal percentages than Achonwa, and two others aren't far behind (freshman guard Lindsay Allen at .568 and junior guard Madison Cable at .556), but none has made the minimum number of shots (three per game) to qualify for ACC ranking.
Dialing Long Distance
Senior guard Kayla McBride leads the way for the Fighting Irish with a .471 three-point percentage that ranks third in the ACC, while sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey also stands among the top five in the conference, ranking fourth at a .443 three-point rate.
In addition, Mabrey is 11th in the ACC with 1.9 three-pointers per game, a mark she bolstered on Jan. 9 against Boston College with a career-high five triples (on six attempts). It was one of four times this season Mabrey has canned at least four treys in a game, and the second time a Notre Dame player has made five three-pointers in a contest (junior guard Madison Cable posted an identical 5-for-6 effort against UCLA on Dec. 7).
In fact, Cable (.464) would be fourth in the ACC in three-point percentage (right between McBride and Mabrey), but she is three made triples shy of the minimum 1.0 3FG/game to qualify for ranking. Freshman guard Lindsay Allen (.500) also doesn't meet the minimum standard despite her efficiency from distance.
As a team, the Fighting Irish connected on 10-of-17 three-pointers in their victory over UCLA, their highest production outside the arc in nearly four years, dating back to a similar 10-triple performance on Jan. 30, 2010, at Syracuse.
The .750 three-point mark (9-of-12) on Jan. 16 at Pittsburgh was Notre Dame's best performance from long range (with a minimum of five attempts) in more than five years, stretching back to Nov. 23, 2008, against Boston College at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass., when the Fighting Irish made 7-of-8 three-pointers (.875) in a 102-54 win.
A Class By Themselves
Last year, led by its two-player senior class of Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, Notre Dame posted the best four-year record (130-20, .867) in school history, topping the win total (117) compiled by the previous year's seniors (Brittany Mallory, Fraderica Miller, Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters).
Prior to the 2011-12 season, the highest four-year win total by a senior class was 109, set by the Class of 2001 that included (among others) consensus national player of the year and 13-year WNBA veteran Ruth Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey.
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame Trio Named To Wooden Award Midseason List
The Fighting Irish were one of two programs in the nation (along with Connecticut) to feature three candidates on the Wooden Award rundown. Only one other school (Duke) had multiple players chosen for the list, although one of the Blue Devils' two selections (Chelsea Gray) will miss the remainder of the season with an injury.
Led by Notre Dame and Duke, the Atlantic Coast Conference had more players (seven) selected to the Wooden Award Midseason List than any other conference. The American Athletic Conference was second with five, followed by the Big Ten (three), the Pac-12 (two) and the Big 12 (two).
The Wooden Award Midseason List is made up of players who are considered the front-runners for one of college basketball's elite national player of the year awards. The list is determined by the Wooden Award National Advisory Board and is based upon individual performance and team records.
This marks the second consecutive year that McBride has made the Wooden Award Midseason List, while both Achonwa and Loyd are appearing on the rundown for the first time in their respective careers. Achonwa and McBride were on the Wooden Award Preseason Watch List, while Loyd was added to this week's Wooden Award Midseason List based upon her performance through the first half of the 2013-14 season.
Achonwa, who also is a top contributor on the Canadian Senior National Team that has qualified for this summer's FIBA World Championships in Turkey, ranks fifth in the ACC in field goal percentage (.576), as well as eighth in both rebounding (8.6 rpg.) and blocked shots (1.4 bpg.), 11th in free throw percentage (.795) and 21st in scoring (13.5 ppg.). In addition, she has a team-high five double-doubles this season, including a career-high 26 points and a season-best 16 rebounds in her team's Jan. 12 win at Virginia.
Loyd ranks ninth in the ACC in scoring at a team-best 17.3 points per game, while also standing seventh in free throw percentage (.800). She has scored in double figures in every game this season, extending her active string to 22 consecutive games in double figures, tying for the fourth-longest run in school history.
McBride, who recently was named to the 2014-16 USA Basketball National Team player pool, ranks 13th in the ACC in scoring (16.3 ppg.), as well as third in three-point percentage (.471), 12th in assist/turnover ratio (1.56) and 15th in assists (3.5 apg.). She and Loyd also share the team lead with five 20-point games this season.
This year's Notre Dame trio will be aiming to follow in the footsteps of three-time Wooden Award finalist Skylar Diggins ('13), who went on to earn a spot on the Wooden Award All-America Team in both 2012 and 2013.
Players that are not part of the 21-member Wooden Award Midseason List still are eligible for the award's National Ballot, which consists of 15 top players who have proven to their universities they are making progress toward graduation and maintaining at least a 2.0 cumulative grade-point average (GPA).
The 15 Wooden Award finalists named to the National Ballot will be announced in mid-March. The Wooden Award All-America Team, consisting of the nation's top five players, will be unveiled during the week of the NCAA Women's Final Four (April 6-8 in Nashville, Tenn.), and the quintet then will be honored at the 38th annual Wooden Award Gala the weekend of April 11-13 at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
The Lincolnwood, Ill., product currently ranks ninth in the ACC in scoring (17.3 ppg.), while sporting career-high marks in scoring, rebounding (6.3 rpg.), assists (2.6 apg.), steals (1.6 spg.) and field goal percentage (.509). She also has five 20-point games thus far (including a career-high 30 points against Central Michigan on Dec. 22) after scoring 20 points twice during her rookie campaign.
Loyd stormed out of the gates this season, piling up 63 points in Notre Dame's first three games, wins over UNC Wilmington (19 points), No. 19/18 Michigan State (22 points) and Valparaiso (22 points).
Loyd's point production was the highest for a Fighting Irish player in the opening three contests of a season since 1998-99, when Danielle Green had 66 combined points in wins against No. 6 UCLA at home (23 points), at Butler (23) and No. 6/4 Duke at home (20).
Notre Dame's 1,000-Point Scorers
McBride currently ranks 12th in program history with 1,468 career points, having passed Sandy Botham (1,460 from 1984-88) on Jan. 16 with her game-high 20 points at Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Achonwa stands 22nd in Notre Dame history with 1,230 points, rising another rung on the ladder in her last outing at Pittsburgh with 14 points to pass Letitia Bowen (1,219 from 1991-95). Achonwa also is poised to overtake Mary Beth Schueth (1,233 from 1981-85) in the coming days.
Coming Up Aces
Achonwa continues to remain among the top 10 in school history with a .546 career field goal percentage, presently ranking ninth in program annals.
It was the first time a Fighting Irish rookie point guard started the season opener since Nov. 26, 1994, when Mollie Peirick cracked the lineup and played 38 minutes (two points, five rebounds, three assists) in a 65-60 overtime loss at No. 25 Seton Hall.
Allen has not disappointed in her debut campaign, averaging 7.6 points and 3.6 assists per game (the latter ranking 12th in the ACC). She also is sixth in the ACC with a 2.15 assist/turnover ratio, and is just outside the top 15 in the conference with 1.44 steals per game.
Leading a winning lineup is not an unfamiliar feeling for Allen, who is a combined 43-1 in her last 44 games as a starting point guard. Last year as a senior at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C., she guided her squad to a 27-1 record and the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) title -- the highest level of play in the District of Columbia, which does not have a state tournament.
The Second Platoon
The Fighting Irish second unit has outscored its opposite number in 12 games this season, including a season-high 55 points on Jan. 9 against Boston College, outscoring the entire BC roster by two points (not to mention the Notre Dame starters by 15).
Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey (9.5 ppg.) and freshman forward Taya Reimer (9.1 ppg.) head up the strong Fighting Irish bench contingent, which has seen players score in double figures 14 different times, including eight by Mabrey.
Call Her Mabrey
Mabrey also has proven to be a dynamic three-point threat for Notre Dame, ranking fourth in the ACC with a .443 three-point percentage and 11th in the conference with 1.9 three-pointers made per game.
What's more, Mabrey already has scored in double figures eight times this year (including a career-high 19 points in the season opener against UNC Wilmington) after doing so three times in 30 games last season.
What We're Put On This Earth To Do
Of course, it should come as absolutely no surprise that the Fighting Irish have the nation's fifth-highest scoring offense heading into this weekend's action -- they've got a high-octane coaching staff to show them the ropes.
According to research initially compiled by the Purdue Sports Information Office, the Notre Dame coaches (head coach Muffet McGraw, associate head coach Carol Owens, associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham and assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Niele Ivey) have the highest combined point total from their playing careers of any staff in the country, scoring an aggregate 6,415 points while in uniform. The next closest coaching quartet that could challenge the Fighting Irish staff would be Delaware's foursome (led by head coach Tina Martin) that chalked up 6,119 points.
And, you could make a case that McGraw herself would have added more to that total had she played in a different era other than her days at Saint Joseph's (Pa.) from 1973-77. While on Hawk Hill, McGraw was a true "pass-first" point guard who not only played before the introduction of the three-point line, but also at a time when colleges often played only 20-25 games per season instead of the current 30-40 game slates.
In addition, Notre Dame's coaching staff point total doesn't even include the output of its associate director of operations & technology Angie Potthoff, who blistered the nets for 1,725 points as a three-time All-America forward at Penn State from 1993-97.
The Benefits Of Leadership
Collectively, the Notre Dame staff has 46 seasons of head coaching experience, which ranks third among Division I schools behind only Villanova (51) and Rutgers (47).
Next Game: Miami
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director