Jan. 20, 2012
#2/2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (18-1 / 6-0 BIG EAST) vs. Villanova Wildcats (12-6 / 2-3 BIG EAST)
DATE: January 21, 2012
TIME: 1:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
SERIES: ND leads 17-10
1ST MTG: VU 70-57 (1/6/81)
LAST MTG: ND 58-43 (1/29/11)
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 Play Host To Villanova Saturday Afternoon
Despite the cold winter weather outside, the competition in the BIG EAST Conference remains red-hot, as No. 2 Notre Dame plays the back half of its Pennsylvania conference two-step at 1 p.m. (ET) Saturday against Villanova at Purcell Pavilion. The game will be webcast live and free of charge on the official Fighting Irish athletics web site, UND.com.
Notre Dame (18-1, 6-0) remained the lone unbeaten team in BIG EAST play and stretched its winning streak to 15 games on Tuesday with a 120-44 victory over Pittsburgh at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish shot .649 from the floor and set a conference record with 48 field goals en route to its largest win and most points scored in its 17-year BIG EAST era.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At Villanova
Experience matters for any team, but especially when that team is Villanova, which runs a complex motion offense that relies on a more deliberate style and plentiful use of the three-point shot. With eight letterwinners back in the fold and a deep 15-player roster this season, the Wildcats have used their veteran savvy to operate their unique style at a high level, opening with wins in nine of their first 11 games.
Villanova (12-6, 2-3 BIG EAST) snapped a three-game losing streak on Tuesday night with a 52-30 home victory over Penn to clinch the program's 13th Big Five championship. The Wildcats forced the Quakers into 23 turnovers and a .261 field goal percentage, while knocking down seven three-pointers to secure the win.
Junior forward Laura Sweeney chalked up a double-double for Villanova with game highs of 22 points and 12 rebounds, while redshirt freshman Lauren Burford added 17 points, including five of her team's seven treys.
Sweeney ranks among the top 10 in the BIG EAST in scoring (ninth at 15.3 ppg.), rebounding (third at 8.2 rpg.) and blocked shots (tied-sixth at 1.3 bpg.). Junior guard Rachel Roberts is second on the team in scoring (9.3 ppg.), while Burford chips in 8.0 ppg., sophomore guard Devon Kane shoots .432 from the three-point line (third in the league) and junior forward Megan Pearson tallies a team-high 2.8 assists per game (along with ranking second at 4.2 rebounds a night).
Head coach Harry Perretta is in his 34th season at Villanova with a 609-384 (.613) record, including a 10-17 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Villanova Series
Notre Dame and Villanova will square off for the 28th time on Saturday, with the Fighting Irish holding a 17-10 edge in the series, including wins in the past two meetings.
Notre Dame also is 8-2 all-time against the Wildcats at Purcell Pavilion, where it has won the last two times Villanova has come to town.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Villanova Met
Not only has Notre Dame been winning, but the high-scoring Fighting Irish have been blowing opponents out.
It wasn't quite as easy at Villanova, but the result was the same as Devereaux Peters scored 20 points to lead No. 9 Notre Dame to a 58-43 victory over the Wildcats on Jan. 29, 2011, at The Pavilion in Villanova, Pa.
Skylar Diggins added 13 points, Natalie Novosel had 11 and Becca Bruszewski contributed a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish won despite scoring a (then) season low in points -- nearly 25 points under their scoring average coming into the game (82.9 ppg).
Laura Sweeney scored 14 points to pace Villanova, which twice sliced Notre Dame's 12-point halftime lead in half early in the second half, but the Wildcats never could get closer than six.
Villanova led by five points early, but the Fighting Irish took control midway through the first half and led 32-20 at the break.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Villanova Met At Purcell Pavilion
Third-ranked Notre Dame forced Villanova into a season-high 34 turnovers in beating the Wildcats, 81-46 on Jan. 9, 2010, at Purcell Pavilion, the largest margin of victory in the series between the schools. The Wildcats entered the game second in the nation in fewest turnovers per game at 12.6. They had 17 in the first half -- one shy of their previous season high.
The Fighting Irish turned the ball over nine times, matching their season low set against Purdue the previous game.
Skylar Diggins led Notre Dame with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting and was key in leading the Fighting Irish defensively. She was among seven Notre Dame players with at least two steals. Melissa Lechlitner added 11 points.
Villanova's leading scorer, Laura Sweeney, who had a (then) career-high 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting in loss at Providence three days earlier, played just three minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. She finished with five points. Maria Getty scored 10 points to lead the Wildcats.
The Fighting Irish used a 19-4 run to end the first half and open a 43-22 lead at intermission. That was one point shy of the most points surrendered in a half all season by the Wildcats, who were giving up an average of 48 points a game. Notre Dame added a 23-3 run in the second half to go ahead 75-38.
Other Notre Dame-Villanova Series Tidbits
Start Me Up
For the second time in three years, and the third time in school history, Notre Dame has opened with an 18-1 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 6-0 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 15-game winning streak is tied for the third-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 11 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 11 of those contests by an average of 52.5 points per game.
Overall, Notre Dame is outscoring its opponents in the first half this season by nearly a 2-to-1 margin (845-447), with an average halftime score of 44-24.
Born To Run
Notre Dame leads the nation in scoring offense, averaging 85.6 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 field goal percentage (first at .492), scoring margin (second at +35.3 ppg.), assists (third at 19.9 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (seventh at 1.23).
Notre Dame also has topped the 100-point mark twice (first time since 1998-99, second time in school history), and has scored at least 90 points in a game eight times this year, tying the school record set last season.
What's more, Notre Dame has done an excellent job of putting teams away, recording 15 20-point wins, and nine victories by at least 30 points (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).
Twice this season, Notre Dame has gone "over the top", scoring 100 points in a game during victories at Mercer (128-42 on Dec. 30) and at home against BIG EAST Conference rival Pittsburgh (120-44 on Jan. 17).
Prior to this season, the Fighting Irish had never scored more than 113 points in a game (113-35 win over Liberty on Nov. 24, 1989, at the UCF Rotary Classic in Orlando, Fla.), and had scored in triple digits just 13 times in the program's first 34 seasons.
What's more, this marks just the second time Notre Dame has ever posted multiple 100-point games in the same season -- in 1998-99, the Fighting Irish defeated No. 25/23 Illinois, 101-93, on Nov. 24 at Purcell Pavilion, before defeating West Virginia, 111-90, on Jan. 7, also at home.
As one might expect, Notre Dame's two offensive explosions rank as the top two single-game point totals in the nation in 2011-12. Oklahoma is third with a 117-point night against visiting Sacramento State on Nov. 13.
Lock It Up
Notre Dame ranks among the top 15 in the nation in five NCAA defensive statistical categories -- steals (first at 14.8 spg.), turnover margin (second at +9.26), scoring defense (ninth at 50.3 ppg.), rebound margin (11th at +9.9 rpg.) and field goal percentage defense (13th at .338).
The Fighting Irish have held 16 of their 19 opponents to 61 points or fewer, with 12 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 27 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 25 points or fewer 19 times, including 12 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 14 games thus far, with Fighting Irish foes averaging 25.5 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +9.26 turnover margin that is second-best in the nation.
The Fighting Irish wasted little time in setting the tone for their opponents this season, forcing a combined 112 turnovers in their first three games, an average of 37.3 per night, and converting those into 142 points (47.3 ppg.). That run was highlighted by an opponent season-high 46 turnovers against Akron on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion, the third-most takeaways in school history, and second-most in the program's Division I era (49 vs. New Hampshire on Nov. 12, 2010).
The Fighting Irish have been especially hard on opponents in their 10 home games this season, forcing 30.2 turnovers per game and collecting at least 19 in each Purcell Pavilion contest thus far.
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into Saturday's game leading the nation in steals with 14.8 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 14 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 (58 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 35 thefts), led by junior guard Skylar Diggins, who is fourth in the conference at 2.6 steals per game, and fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory who is fifth in the BIG EAST at 2.5 spg.
Continuing a trend from last season, Notre Dame has shared the basketball very well during the first 19 games of the year.
The Fighting Irish are third in the nation (and second in the BIG EAST) at 19.9 assists per game, including a season-high 33 assists against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17 (one of 11 games with 20-or-more assists this year).
Individually, junior guard Skylar Diggins is 12th in the nation in assists (BIG EAST-best 5.9 apg.) and ninth in the country with a 2.46 assist/turnover ratio (also tops in the conference).
What's more, Notre Dame has assisted on 64.9 percent of its field goals this season (379 of 584), 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 290 games in their careers (Diggins-87, Novosel-62, Peters-61, Mallory-59, McBride-21).
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has featured a balanced offense thus far, with at least three players scoring in double figures in 16 games, and at least four double-digit scorers in 10 games, including a season-high (and school record-tying eight with at least 10 points against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17).
During the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 44-4 (.917) 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). Five 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 13 games, the Fighting Irish are averaging 43.8 rebounds a night, with an average rebounding margin of +14.6 rpg. Furthermore, Notre Dame has grabbed at least 40 rebounds 11 times in the past 13 games after not reaching that mark once in its first six contests.
For the season, Notre Dame ranks 11th in the country in rebounding margin at +9.9 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 26 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 26-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 78-15 (.839) 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 59-game winning streak against unranked opponents since the start of the 2009-10 season.
Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 15 losses in Diggins' career primarily have been verdicts that could have gone either way, with nine decided by single digits (five that were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.
With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted two of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 77.0 ppg. last year after logging 77.1 ppg. in her freshman season (and Notre Dame is on pace to go well beyond those figures this year).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.31 spg. career mark), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top two single-season steal marks in program history with 495 thefts last year and 450 steals the season before. Last season also saw Notre Dame post the third-best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing just 56.2 ppg. (the best since the 2000-01 Fighting Irish yielded 55.8 ppg. en route to the national champoionship).
A Grand Trio
Notre Dame has had two players score their 1,000th career point this season -- senior guard Natalie Novosel hit the milestone on a free throw with 14:20 remaining on Nov. 13 against Indiana State, while fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters reached the landmark on a layup 16:52 left on Dec. 28 vs. Longwood.
Novosel currently ranks 18th in school history with 1,287 points, while Peters became the 30th member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club and presently stands 26th with 1,073 points.
Together with junior guard Skylar Diggins (15th with 1,371 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 866 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 #19 Recap: Pittsburgh
Skylar Diggins loves to pass the ball, so this was a particularly fun night for her.
Diggins directed a record-breaking performance Tuesday, finishing with 11 points, nine assists and no turnovers in No. 2 Notre Dame's 120-44 victory against overmatched Pittsburgh.
"I always like to find my teammates," Diggins said. "When the bigs run the floor you have to reward them. We have guards that can shoot the ball, too. It's just a matter of getting the ball to them."
Devereaux Peters had 20 points and reserve Natalie Achonwa finished with 19 for the Fighting Irish (18-1, 6-0), who had 33 assists on 48 baskets in their 15th consecutive win. Kaila Turner (14), Natalie Novosel (13), Kayla McBride (11), Brittany Mallory (11), and Markisha Wright (11) also scored in double figures.
The 76-point difference was the largest ever for Notre Dame against a BIG EAST opponent. The Fighting Irish passed 100 points for the second time this season and beat a conference opponent by more than 50 points for the second time. They defeated Mercer 128-42 on Dec. 30 and also posted a 95-42 victory over Marquette.
It was an impressive offensive showing but Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw was particularly pleased with Diggins.
"Skylar had nine assists and no turnovers," McGraw said. "I was hoping she had 10 assists so she could get another double-double. She has incredible court vision. She can see the entire court even when she is going full speed and is being guarded."
Ashlee Anderson scored 14 for Pitt (8-11, 0-6), which committed 26 turnovers and shot 35.4 percent from the field. The Panthers were without center Leeza Burdgess, who was on the bench due to a violation of team rules.
"We have the youngest team in the nation," Panthers head coach Agnus Berenato. "I would rather have my kids lose like this when Notre Dame plays basketball the way the game is supposed to be played with the passing and cutting, than to lose to a team that plays above the rim. I tried to get my players not to be star struck, but it is just a matter of confidence."
Peters made two free throws to spark an 18-2 run that gave Notre Dame a 30-9 lead with 8:27 to go in the first half. Pitt went 10:34 without a field goal as part of that streak.
Notre Dame led 54-19 at halftime. Peters led all scorers with 16 points while Diggins had eight assists.
The second half was more of the same. Notre Dame broke the 100-point barrier with 7:24 remaining on a 15-footer by Turner.
Beyond The Box Score -- Pittsburgh
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 longtime Maryland head coach Chris Weller, thanks to this week's poll position).
In addition, the Fighting Irish are No. 2 in this week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, holding that spot for the second consecutive week after they also held it for the first two weeks of the season. 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 89 of the past 90 weeks, 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 220 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 232-18 (.928) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 160 of their last 172 such contests (.930).
What's more, in the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 69-1 (.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 245-15 (.942) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 15 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 164-6 (.965) 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 41-2 (.953) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level in 12 games this season and winning 11 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 214 of their last 241 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 17 in a row). Notre Dame also has a 116-19 (.859) 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 364-88 (.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 8,669 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. 17 game against Pittsburgh (webcast live on UND.com), Notre Dame has played in 214 televised games, including 159 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 33 times, most recently in the Jan. 17 win over Pittsburgh.
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"), 19 different players have converted the "burger ball", including eight current members of the Fighting Irish roster.
What's more, of the 33 Big Mac games to date, 15 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: Tennessee
Notre Dame steps out of conference play for the final time during the 2011-12 regular season when it plays host to No. 9 Tennessee at 7 p.m. (ET) Monday at a sold-out Purcell Pavilion. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience on ESPN2 as part of that network's noted "Big Monday" package, the first of three appearances the Fighting Irish will make on Big Monday this year.
Tennessee (14-4, 5-1 SEC) last played on Thursday night, earning a hard-fought 65-56 win over LSU in Knoxville, Tenn. The Lady Vols ended the game on a 16-7 run to secure the important Southeastern Conference win and remain one game behind sixth-ranked Kentucky in the league standings.
Monday will Tennessee's first visit to Purcell Pavilion since 2008, and just its third in the past 18 seasons. It also will be the first time Notre Dame has faced the Lady Vols since defeating UT, 73-59 in last year's NCAA Dayton Regional final to secure the program's third trip to the NCAA Women's Final Four.