Jan. 22, 2013
Full Notes Package in PDF Format
2012-13 ND Women's Basketball: Game 18
#2/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (16-1 / 5-0 BIG EAST) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (9-8 / 0-4 BIG EAST)
DATE: January 23, 2013
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Pittsburgh, Pa. - Petersen Events Center (12,508)
SERIES: ND leads 20-3
1ST MTG: ND 90-51 (2/7/96)
LAST MTG: ND 120-44 (1/17/12)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (800) 643-7488
StorylinesNotre Dame meets the first of three BIG EAST opponents (Pittsburgh, Louisville, Syracuse) that will join the Fighting Irish in the Atlantic Coast Conference in coming seasons.
In its last six games against teams from Pennsylvania, Notre Dame has won all six by an average of 43.3 points per game.
No. 2/3 Fighting Irish Back On Road Wednesday Night At Pittsburgh
After successfully defending its home court in three BIG EAST Conference games over seven days, No. 2/3 Notre Dame goes back on the road Wednesday when it pays a visit to Pittsburgh for a 7 p.m. (ET) matchup with the Panthers at the Petersen Events Center. The Fighting Irish have won their last 10 BIG EAST regular season road games, their best performance away from home in league play since joining the BIG EAST 18 seasons ago.
Notre Dame (16-1, 5-0) extended its current winning streak to 11 games and remained one of two unbeaten teams in the BIG EAST with a 74-50 victory over St. John's on Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish nearly led wire-to-wire for the third consecutive game while handing the Red Storm their first league loss of the season.
Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins tallied a game-high 18 points, six rebounds and six assists for Notre Dame, while junior forward Natalie Achonwa collected her BIG EAST-best 10th double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds).
RankingsNotre Dame is No. 2 in this week's Associated Press poll and No. 3 in this week's ESPN/USA Today poll.
Pittsburgh is not ranked.
Quick HittersNotre Dame is off to a 16-1 start for the third time in four seasons and fourth time in school history (all beginning in 2000-01).
The Fighting Irish are 5-1 against ranked opponents this year, defeating No. 19/21 Ohio State (57-51), No. 19/22 UCLA (76-64), No. 22 Texas A&M (83-74), No. 11 Purdue (74-47) and No. 1 Connecticut (73-72), while dropping a 73-61 decision to No. 3 Baylor (a game Notre Dame led 50-49 with less than eight minutes remaining).
Notre Dame is in the midst of a 11-game winning streak, the third time in four years (13th in school history) the Fighting Irish have posted a double-digit win streak.
In those 11 games since its only loss of the season (Dec. 5 vs. third-ranked Baylor), Notre Dame has averaged 86.6 points per game (winning by 28.0 ppg.), shot .472 from the field (.368 from three-point range), posted a rebound margin of +13.6 per game, and forced opponents into an average of 21.8 turnovers per night.
The Fighting Irish have won a school-record 15 consecutive regular season road games and 20 of their last 25 overall (Notre Dame's regular season road loss came on Nov. 20, 2011 - 94-81 at No. 1 Baylor in the Preseason WNIT championship game).
Notre Dame also has won a school-record 10 consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular season games, dating back to Feb. 28, 2011 (a 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul). It also tied for the third-longest regular season conference road win streak in program history, and longest since a 12-game run in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now Horizon League) from 1992-95.
According to Monday's NCAA statistical report, the Fighting Irish are ranked in the top 25 in nine categories -- free throw percentage (1st - .815), scoring offense (2nd - 82.7 ppg.), assists (3rd - 19.8 apg.), scoring margin (6th - +24.9 ppg.), assist/turnover ratio (8th - 1.20), rebounding margin (8th - +11.3 rpg.), field goal percentage (12th - .460), turnover margin (20th - +5.53) and steals (25th - 12.2 spg.).
Notre Dame has shown remarkably balanced offensive production this season, with 10 of the 11 players on the roster having scored in double figures at least once, including five different players who have scored 20 points in a game.
The Fighting Irish have set a school record with three 100-point games this season. The highlight came on Dec. 31 at home against Saint Francis (Pa.) in a 128-55 victory, marking the highest offensive output by any NCAA Division I team this season (and matching the highest by any D-I program since 2002 - Notre Dame also scored 128 points last year at Mercer).
With its No. 2 ranking in this week's Associated Press poll, Notre Dame has appeared in the media poll for 108 consecutive weeks, extending a program record that dates back to the 2007-08 preseason poll. In fact, every current Fighting Irish player has competed for a ranked Notre Dame squad throughout her career, with the vast majority of that time (58 of 69 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
Senior guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner have helped Notre Dame win 111 games to date, already the second-most wins by a Fighting Irish senior class and only six back of the school record set by last year's seniors (117) with six weeks remaining in the regular season.
With 607 victories in her 26 seasons at Notre Dame, head coach Muffet McGraw ranks second on the Fighting Irish athletics all-time coaching wins list (across all sports), trailing only men's/women's fencing coach Michael DeCicco (774-80 from 1962-95).
McGraw also is five wins away from becoming the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and should she do so within the next 47 games, she would be the 11th to compile 700 victories in less than 1,000 games coached). What's more, when McGraw reaches the 700-win milestone, she will be the third BIG EAST Conference skipper to hit that landmark, along with C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers) and Geno Auriemma (Connecticut), both of whom are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Other Notre Dame NotablesNotre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past 17 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking fourth with 425 victories.
Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in average attendance annually since 2000-01 (including top-five rankings the past three years), and is well on its way again this year, ranking third in the nation at 8,971 fans per game. Last season, the Fighting Irish ranked fifth in the nation (8,571), setting a school record for average attendance for the third consecutive season. The Fighting Irish also have drawn at least 5,000 fans to 185 of their last 187 home games (including an active streak of 28 consecutive contests with 8,000 fans), logging 32 Purcell Pavilion sellouts, including 26 in the past four seasons (a school-record eight in 2011-12). Notre Dame already has seven sellouts in nine home games this year, most recently for Sunday's win over St. John's.
The Fighting Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as nine Notre Dame players have been selected in the past 12 seasons. Devereaux Peters and Natalie Novosel were the most recent Fighting Irish players to be chosen, with both going in the first round (Peters third overall to Minnesota; Novosel eighth overall to Washington) of the 2012 WNBA Draft. Last year's draft marked the first time Notre Dame has had two first-round picks in the same year, while Peters was the highest-drafted player (and first lottery selection) in program history. Ruth Riley (Chicago) was active in the league during the '12 season, helping the Sky contend for a playoff berth into the final weeks of the season. Three of Notre Dame's 10 all-time WNBA alums have won a total of four league championships -- Riley won a pair of crowns with the Detroit Shock (2003 Finals MVP, 2006), Coquese Washington toiled for the 2000 Houston Comets, while Jacqueline Batteast was Riley's teammate on the 2006 title-winning squad in Detroit. Peters nearly joined that list in 2012, helping Minnesota return to the WNBA Finals, but the Lynx could not defend their title, falling to Indiana in four games.
For the sixth year in a row, the Fighting Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October. What's more, Notre Dame was one of only four schools in the previous five years to record a 100-percent GSR and play for a national championship in the same season (and the only program to do it twice, pulling off that feat in 2011 and 2012).
Despite one of the nation's younger teams (nine underclass, including five freshmen), Pittsburgh (9-8, 0-4 BIG EAST) has shown flashes of promise this season, giving many reason to believe the Panthers are a team on the rise.
Pittsburgh comes into Wednesday's contest on a four-game losing streak, most recently dropping a 74-65 decision at home to Marquette on Jan. 19. Sophomore guard Brianna Kiesel led four Panthers in double figures with a game-high 18 points, while sophomore forward Cora McManus nearly had a double-double (15 points, game-high nine rebounds).
Junior guard Asia Logan leads the Panthers in scoring (15.5 ppg.), rebounding (7.5 rpg.) and field goal percentage (.469), while her six double-doubles are third in the BIG EAST. Kiesel adds 13.7 points and team highs of 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game for Pitt.
Head coach Agnus Berenato is in her 10th season at Pittsburgh with a 161-136 (.542) record. The veteran coach also has a 29-year career record of 444-396 (.530) that includes a 3-8 (.273) mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Pittsburgh Series
Notre Dame and Pittsburgh will tangle for the 24th time in a series that debuted when the Fighting Irish joined the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96 (and will continue when both teams move to the Atlantic Coast Conference in the coming seasons).
Notre Dame leads the all-time series with the Panthers, 20-3, including a current three-game winning streak. The Fighting Irish are 9-2 all-time at Pittsburgh (3-2 at the Petersen Events Center since it opened before the 2002-03 season).
The Last Time Notre Dame And Pittsburgh Met
Skylar Diggins directed a record-breaking performance, finishing with 11 points, nine assists and no turnovers in No. 2 Notre Dame's 120-44 victory against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion.
Devereaux Peters had 20 points and Natalie Achonwa finished with 19 for the Fighting Irish, who had 33 assists on 48 baskets. 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.
Ashlee Anderson scored 14 for Pitt, 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.
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.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Pittsburgh Met In Pittsburgh
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.
Devereaux Peters added 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Natalie Novosel scored 15 for the Fighting Irish.
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.
Other Notre Dame-Pittsburgh Series TidbitsTen of the first 11 series games were decided by double digits, before five of the next six games in the series featured single-digit victory margins by an average spread of 7.2 points per game. However, the past six contests wound up being double-figure wins, with the Fighting Irish taking the 2007-08 regular-season matchup, 81-66, and Pittsburgh returning the favor in that year's BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals by a 64-53 count, as well as the 2009 matchup in Pittsburgh (82-70) before Notre Dame won the past three meetings (86-76 in 2010 and 120-44 last year at Purcell Pavilion; 82-50 in 2011 at the Petersen Events Center).
Notre Dame has scored at least 65 points in all but two of its 23 meetings with Pittsburgh, with both exceptions resulting in Panther victories (71-62 in 2007 and 64-53 at the 2009 BIG EAST Championship). Pittsburgh has reached that standard 10 times against the Fighting Irish, including eight of the past 12 games.
Notre Dame set six school records and a BIG EAST regular season mark in last year's 120-44 win at Purcell Pavilion. Included in that flurry were a conference-record 48 made field goals, and school marks for points scored and margin of victory in a BIG EAST game. The Fighting Irish just missed conference records for assists (33, record is 35), margin of victory (record is 78) and points scored (record is 128) in a league game.
The two head coaches in Wednesday night's game have faced one another on the sidelines 16 times during the past three decades. Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw is 13-3 in these head-to-head contests with Pittsburgh head coach Agnus Berenato, with the first five games coming when McGraw was at Lehigh and Berenato at Rider in the 1980s.
Notre Dame senior guard Kaila Turner and Pittsburgh redshirt junior guard Ashlee Anderson were key players in one of the more dramatic playoff games in Illinois girls' high school basketball history. In the Class 4A St. Xavier Supersectional (one step from a trip to the state semifinals) on March 2, 2009, Turner scored a team-high 24 points and rallied her Marian Catholic squad from an early seven-point deficit, helping send the game to double overtime before Anderson's Whitney Young team prevailed, 78-76 on a miraculous half-court shot at the buzzer. Anderson scored 21 points in the game.
Fighting Irish junior guard Kayla McBride is a resident of Erie, Pa., and graduated from Villa Maria Academy after helping the Victors to consecutive state titles her final two seasons (and a 106-15 record during her four-year career). McBride also was a two-time Pennsylvania Class AA Player of the Year (2009, 2010), as well as the Pennsylvania Gatorade High School Player of the Year in 2010 and a consensus high school All-American (including a McDonald's All-America selection).
Notre Dame sophomore guard Madison Cable is a native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Mt. Lebanon, and graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in 2011. The versatile wing (who is in her first college season after being sidelined all of last season with stress fractures in her feet) led Mt. Lebanon to a 114-14 (.891) record and three Pennsylvania Class AAAA state titles during her storied career, capped off by her selection as a 2011 Parade Magazine All-American, the Pennsylvania Gatorade High School Player of the Year (assuming that mantle from McBride, the 2010 recipient) and the Associated Press Pennsylvania Class AAAA Player of the Year.
Notre Dame associate director of operations & technology Angie Potthoff spent three seasons (2002-05) coaching the girls' basketball team at Beaver (Pa.) Area High School, 45 minutes northwest of Pittsburgh; she was an assistant for two seasons before taking over as head coach during her final year.
Potthoff also was a three-year college assistant (1999-2002), spending her first year as a graduate aide at Indiana (Pa.), located 70 miles east of Pittsburgh, then two more seasons as a full assistant at Robert Morris in Moon Township, Pa. (located near Pittsburgh International Airport).
Start Me Up
For the third time in four years, and the fourth time in school history (all starting with the 2000-01 season), Notre Dame has posted a 16-1 record or better through its first 17 games.
This year's start (as well as those in 2009-10 and 2011-12) matches the second-best 17-game debut in program history, exceeded only by the 2000-01 squad that opened with a school-record 23 consecutive wins on the way to a 34-2 record and the program's first NCAA national championship.
Passing The Quarter Pole
Notre Dame is off to a 5-0 start in BIG EAST Conference play for the second consecutive season and the sixth time since it joined the league in 1995-96. Prior to last year, the Fighting Irish had not opened their league slate with five wins in a row since 2000-01.
The past two times Notre Dame has started 5-0 in the BIG EAST, it has gone on to win the conference regular season title (shared in 2000-01, outright in 2011-12).
The school record for the best start to a BIG EAST season is 15-0, set back in 1999-2000.
Notre Dame's current 11-game winning streak is tied for the seventh-longest success string in program history, and it's the third time in four seasons the Fighting Irish have posted a winning streak of 11 games or longer.
Notre Dame also has strung together 13 double-digit winning streaks in the program's 36-year history, with 11 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 13 games this year. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 65-4 (.942) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 35-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul).
Everyone Pitches In
With the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-Americans (and 2012 WNBA first-round draft picks) Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame entered this season searching to find a way to make up for the talented duo's 27.0 points and 13.4 rebounds per game.
Thus far in 2012-13, it would appear the Fighting Irish are making this mission truly a team effort. On the scoring side, 10 of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including junior forward Ariel Braker (six times, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined), sophomore guards Madison Cable (three times) and Whitney Holloway (once - the first double-digit games of both Cable and Holloway's careers) and freshman guards Jewell Loyd (11 times) and Michaela Mabrey (three times).
On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.3 rebounds per game and has piled up 10 of her 12 career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading 10 double-doubles (three in conference play) after logging one double-double in her career prior to this season.
The Best Things In Life Are Free
At the midpoint of the 2012-13 regular season, Notre Dame is displaying a penchant for making opponents pay at the free throw line.
Through their first 17 games, the Fighting Irish lead the nation in free throw percentage, shooting a remarkable .815 (330-of-405) from the charity stripe, including a season-high .933 (14-of-15) on Jan. 13 in a win over Rutgers.
On average, Notre Dame is getting to the line more than 24 times per game, converting more than 19 free throws a night. At the same time, the Fighting Irish have made nearly 35 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (330 made, 246 opponent attempts).
Last year, Notre Dame set a school record by connecting at a .763 clip from the foul line, leading the BIG EAST with a stellar .807 percentage during conference play.
Junior guard Kayla McBride has had the most success cashing in on this strategy during the past two seasons, shooting .872 from the stripe last year (a league-leading .919 in BIG EAST games) and making 38 of 40 free throws (.950) to rise to the top of the conference statistical rankings this year. She also would rank second in the nation in free throw percentage (behind Oklahoma State's Liz Donohoe at .968), but she has not yet reached the minimum required for ranking (2.5 FTM/game).
McBride is one of four Notre Dame players who appear among the top 10 in the current BIG EAST free throw rankings, with senior guard Skylar Diggins ranking second (.876), junior forward Natalie Achonwa standing eighth (.805) and freshman guard Jewell Loyd in ninth (.796).
For her career, McBride has logged an .890 free throw percentage, putting her ahead of Alicia Ratay's school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.
According to the time-honored adage, "there's no substitute for experience." In the case of Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa, that experience was second to none and it's paid off exceptionally well for the veteran Fighting Irish frontliner this season.
During the summer of 2012, Achonwa was a key contributor on Canada's Senior National Team, helping leading her country to its first Olympic appearance in 12 years. Not content to merely qualify, Canada then earned two hard-fought wins in the group stage to reach the Olympic quarterfinals (medal round) for the first time since 1984.
As the second-youngest player in the London Olympic Basketball Tournament at the tender age of 19, Achonwa averaged 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, highlighted by a 14-point, eight-rebound effort against eventual Olympic silver medalist France during the preliminary round.
Parlaying her Olympic experience, Achonwa has moved seamlessly into Notre Dame's starting lineup this season after spending her first two years as an important reserve. The Guelph, Ontario, native was expected to take on a larger role this year with the graduation of two-time All-American Devereaux Peters, but Achonwa has taken that growth to a whole new level, doubling her averages in scoring (7.6 to 14.2 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.3 rpg.), while scoring in double figures a team-high 15 times and grabbing double-digit rebounds on 10 occasions (including a career-best 17 rebounds on Dec. 29 against No. 11 Purdue).
What's more, Achonwa came into this season with one career double-double and a career scoring high of 20 points. This year, she leads the BIG EAST in double-doubles (10, including five in six games against ranked teams) and has four 20-point games to her credit (career-high 23 vs. Utah State on Dec. 8). She also ranks among the top 20 in the BIG EAST in scoring (17th - 14.2 ppg.), rebounding (2nd - 9.3 rpg.), field goal percentage (7th - .543) and free throw percentage (8th - .805).
Achonwa's development has not gone unnoticed, as she was named to the World Vision Classic All-Tournament Team, helping to lead the Fighting Irish to the title with 22 points and a (then) career-high 14 rebounds in the championship game win over No. 22 Texas A&M. Achonwa also is one of two Notre Dame players (along with junior guard Kayla McBride) to make the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll twice this season, earning a spot on the Dec. 10 and Jan. 14 rundowns.
The Erie Warrior
Along with her classmate Natalie Achonwa, junior guard (and Erie, Pa., native) Kayla McBride has been a major reason for Notre Dame's success this season, capably stepping into a larger role within the Fighting Irish system following the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-America wing Natalie Novosel.
McBride currently ranks 15th in the BIG EAST in scoring (14.7 ppg.) and leads the conference in free throw percentage (.950). In both areas, she is posting career-high marks, including a better than 25-percent improvement in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).
McBride also is among the team leaders this season with 14 double-figure scoring games, including at least 16 points in all six of Notre Dame's games against ranked opponents to date (18.3 ppg.) and a career-high 21 points at No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 5.
In fact, in her last 21 games against a Top 25 opponent, McBride is averaging 14.5 points per game, scoring in double figures 19 times and posting both of her career double-doubles (10 points, career-high 12 rebounds vs. No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 7, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion; 13 points, 10 rebounds at No. 13/14 Rutgers on Jan. 31, 2012).
Freshman guard Jewell Loyd is rapidly making her presence felt as one of the top rookies, not only in the BIG EAST Conference, but around the country.
The Lincolnwood, Ill., native has appeared in all 17 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 16 times), scoring in double figures 11 times, earning her first career double-double (18 points/13 rebounds at South Florida on Jan. 8) and posting two "5-5-5" games (at least "5" in three of the five main statistical categories - points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals).
Loyd currently ranks among the BIG EAST leaders in three-point percentage (tied-2nd - .450), scoring (23rd - 12.8 ppg.) and free throw percentage (9th - .796).
She also is a three-time BIG EAST Rookie of the Week selection, first earning that honor on Nov. 26 after averaging 19.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists with a .727 field goal percentage in wins over Mercer (19 points/six rebounds/five assists) and at No. 19/22 UCLA (19 points/seven rebounds/five assists).
Loyd then became the first repeat honoree of the BIG EAST Rookie of the Week award this season when she was tapped for the designation on Dec. 10 after averaging 19.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals with a .481 field goal percentage (.556 three-point percentage) against No. 3 Baylor and Utah State.
Loyd made it three rookie honors this year with last week's award, averaging 16.0 points and 9.0 rebounds in wins over USF and Rutgers.
Loyd opened eyes on the national scene with a season- (and game-) high 24 points and team-best seven rebounds in the 73-61 loss to Baylor on Dec. 5 at Purcell Pavilion. The 5-foot-10 guard connected on her first four three-point attempts of the evening (finishing 4-of-5 from beyond the arc) on the way to notching the most points by a Fighting Irish rookie against a ranked opponent since Jan. 26, 2002, when Jacqueline Batteast scored 26 points in Notre Dame's 64-57 win over No. 16/17 Virginia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.
What's more, Loyd also scored the most points by a Notre Dame freshman against an opponent ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll since Feb. 19, 2000, when Alicia Ratay netted 26 points (including a school-record 7-for-7 three-pointers) in a 78-74 overtime win at No. 8/11 Rutgers.
Diggins Challenging School RecordsDiggins (1,986 points) is 14 points away from becoming the fourth 2,000-point scorer in school history, and she needs 336 points to catch current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham as the program's all-time leading scorer. Diggins will be the first Fighting Irish player to reach the 2,000-point milestone since March 26, 2001, when Ruth Riley topped the mark against Vanderbilt in the NCAA Midwest Regional final (Elite Eight) in Denver.
Throughout the 2012-13 season, senior guard Skylar Diggins will continue to close the gap that separates her from the highest eschelon of Notre Dame women's basketball players in a number of the program's top career categories. Here's a look at just a few of the notable milestones Diggins will have a shot to reach this season:
Diggins (482 rebounds) is 18 rebounds away to become the first women's basketball player in school history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in her career. Only one Notre Dame men's basketball player has ever compiled that impressive combination of statistics (Chris Thomas from 2001-05).
In addition, Diggins (318 steals) is 30 steals away from assistant coach Niele Ivey's school record for career thefts. With one steal on Jan. 8 at South Florida, Diggins moved into second place on Notre Dame's career steals list, passing Coquese Washington (307 from 1989-93).
Diggins (620 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Gavin, needing 158 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 107 ahead of Diggins). Diggins also has moved into the top five in this category, and with her career-high 14 assists on Dec. 31 against Saint Francis (Pa.), she passed Karen Robinson for fourth place in school history (579 from 1987-91).
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 111-19 (.854) record in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), a mark that can be traced in no small part to the arrival of guard Skylar Diggins. The South Bend native has helped lead the Fighting Irish to a spot in the 2011 and 2012 NCAA national championship games and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 24-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (11-10 vs. the AP Top 10) and a 79-1 record against unranked opponents (not appearing in the AP poll), including a 63-game winning streak from the start of the 2009-10 season before falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012.
Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 19 losses in Diggins' career primarily have been ones that could have gone either way, with 11 decided by single digits (six were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.
With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted three of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 78.9 ppg. last year, after logging 77.0 ppg. in 2010-11, and 77.2 ppg. in her freshman season of 2009-10. Notre Dame is on pace to mirror those figures this season, currently averaging 82.7 ppg. (which ranks second nationally).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.45 spg. career mark that is fourth-best in school history), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top three single-season steal marks in program history with 502 thefts last year, 495 steals in 2010-11, and 450 thefts in 2009-10. And again, Notre Dame is in position to challenge those totals this season, currently averaging 12.2 spg. (which would put the Fighting Irish close to 400 steals by the end of the regular season).
The past two years also have seen Notre Dame post two of the four best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing a school-record 52.9 ppg., last season (well ahead of the previous mark of 55.1 ppg., in 1981-82) and giving up just 56.2 ppg., in 2010-11. The Fighting Irish aren't far off those marks so far this year, presently allowing 57.8 points per game.
Notre Dame has won a school-record 15 consecutive regular season road games and 20 of its last 25 overall, including all four contests this season. The Fighting Irish last tasted defeat on the road in the regular season on Nov. 20, 2011, a 94-81 setback at No. 1 Baylor in the Preseason WNIT championship game.
The highlight of this current run came on Jan. 5, 2013, when Notre Dame edged No. 1 Connecticut, 73-72, in Storrs, Conn., earning its fourth all-time win over a top-ranked opponent and first-ever victory on the road.
Prior to the past two years, the school record for consecutive regular season road wins was held by Notre Dame's 2000-01 national championship team that won its first 10 road outings before a 54-53 loss at No. 11/14 Rutgers on Feb. 17, 2001.
The Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 10 consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular season road games, with their last loss coming on Feb. 28, 2011 (a last-second 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul).
The previous school record for consecutive BIG EAST regular season road wins was seven, set numerous times, most recently crossing between the 2001-02 and 2002-03 campaigns.
The Notre Dame record for consecutive regular season road victories in any conference is 15, which the Fighting Irish set from Feb. 25, 1989-Feb. 14, 1991 during their time in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League).
Game #17 Recap: St. John's
Skylar Diggins scored a game-high 18 points and added six rebounds and six assists Sunday in No. 2 Notre Dame's 74-50 rout of St. John's at Purcell Pavilion.
Diggins penetrated at will, and when she wasn't scoring on fast breaks, she was hitting pull-up jumpers or feeding forward Natalie Achonwa for easy layups.
Achonwa had 16 points and 12 rebounds for her 10th double-double of the season for Notre Dame (16-1, 5-0). She scored eight of Notre Dame's first 12 points, all on layups.
St. John's (9-7, 3-1) was led by Nadirah McKenith with 15 points.
The Fighting Irish took a 39-25 halftime lead on a drive through traffic by Diggins as the clock expired. Notre Dame outrebounded St. John's 48-22 and outscored the Red Storm 38-24 in the paint.
Notre Dame started the second half cold, going scoreless until Achonwa hit a jumper in the lane with 16 minutes left to play. But St. John's was unable to capitalize, scoring two points during that span.
Madison Cable came off the bench for Notre Dame and was 3-for-3 from three-point range in the second half, when the game was in hand for the Irish, giving her 13 points and tying her career high. As a team, the Fighting Irish hit 7-of-11 from three-point range.
Beyond The Box Score: St. John'sNotre Dame improves to 22-3 all-time against St. John's, including an 11-0 record at Purcell Pavilion -- the Fighting Irish have won the last four games in the series.
Notre Dame scored at least 66 points against St. John's for 22nd time in 25 series meetings, posting a 21-1 record in those games.
The Fighting Irish are 54-5 (.915) all-time against teams from the state of New York, including a 28-0 record at home.
Notre Dame registered a season-best .636 (7-of-11) three-point percentage, its highest percentage from beyond the arc (minimum five attempts) since Nov. 23, 2008, when it connected at an .875 clip (7-of-8) in a 102-54 win at Boston College.
Notre Dame's seven treys tied a season high set on Dec. 20 against Kansas State at the World Vision Classic in Las Vegas.
The Fighting Irish posted a rebound margin of +20 or better for the sixth time this season.
Notre Dame shot below 70 percent from the foul line for only the second time all season, having gone a season-low 7-of-11 (.636) at the stripe on Dec. 5 against Baylor.
Achonwa picked up her BIG EAST-leading 10th double-double of the season (third in conference play).
Diggins scored in double figures for the 102nd time in her career, taking sole possession of third place on the Fighting Irish all-time list.
Diggins chalked up her second consecutive "5-5-5" game and third in four games, as well as her team-leading sixth of the season and 35th of her career.
Diggins also started for the 124th time in her career, tying for second place in school history with Ruth Riley (1997-2001) and Lindsay Schrader (2005-10) behind only Alicia Ratay (129 from 1999-2003).
Cable tied her career high with 13 points, a mark she first set on Dec. 19 against Alabama A&M in the opening round of the World Vision Classic in Las Vegas.
Cable's 3-for-3 performance from the three-point line was the best by a Notre Dame player (minimum two attempts) since March 5, 2012, when Natalie Novosel went 4-for-4 from distance in a 73-45 win over West Virginia in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
The Benefits Of Leadership
Notre Dame is in the unique position of essentially having three head coaches on its bench, with current Fighting Irish skipper Muffet McGraw enjoying the expertise of two former head coaches on her staff -- associate head coach Carol Owens (who guided her alma mater Northern Illinois from 2005-10) and associate coach Beth Cunningham (who piloted VCU from 2003-12).
Collectively, the Notre Dame staff has 45 seasons of head coaching experience, which ranks fifth among Division I schools behind only Stanford (52), Villanova (50), Ohio State (48) and Rutgers (46).
Notre Dame has felt right at home in tournament situations during the past 17 years. Starting with the 1996-97 season, the Fighting Irish have won 34 of their last 38 regular-season tournament games (multi-game events only), including three in a row to claim this year's World Vision Classic, and similar runs to the title in four other tournaments since 2009-10 -- 2009 Paradise Jam (Island Division), 2010 WBCA Classic, 2010 State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic and 2011 Junkanoo Jam (Freeport Division).
The only Notre Dame losses during this current stretch were three defeats to teams ranked in the top three nationally during the Preseason WNIT semifinals (72-59 vs. No. 3/2 Tennessee at Ruston, La., in 1996; 75-59 at No. 3 Maryland in 2007) or championship (94-81 at No. 1 Baylor in 2011), and a 67-63 overtime setback at No. 20 Colorado on Nov. 15, 2003, in the finals of the WBCA Classic -- a game that saw the Buffaloes sink a desperation 30-footer at the end of regulation to force the extra session.
Notre Dame made a bit of women's basketball history on Nov. 9, joining with Ohio State to play the first women's game ever on the deck of an aircraft carrier, as the teams squared off outdoors in the second annual Carrier Classic aboard the decommissioned USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C. (on the shores of Charleston Harbor).
The game was played to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project, which aids returning veterans who have been injured while in the service of our country, and the Fighting Irish were exceptionally proud and honored to have former Notre Dame guard, U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (`00) join the team on the bench for their historic game against Ohio State. Green, who lost her left (shooting) hand in May 2004 during a rocket-propelled grenade attack while on patrol on the roof of a police station in Baghdad, Iraq, delivered an inspiring pre-game speech to the current Fighting Irish squad before they came out to face Ohio State.
Notre Dame won this year's Carrier Classic game, 57-51, behind the second career double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) from junior forward Natalie Achonwa and 16 points from junior guard Kayla McBride. After the game, head coach Muffet McGraw said the victory was dedicated to Green.
An added postscript -- Green recently accepted a job with the South Bend Veterans Administration Clinic and will be relocating from her hometown of Chicago.
Notre Dame is ranked a season-best No. 2 for the third consecutive Associated Press poll, its 38th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 108 consecutive weeks in the AP poll.
The Fighting Irish reached a milestone on Nov. 26 with their No. 5 ranking, which was their 100th consecutive AP poll appearance. It not only extended the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001), but it made the Fighting Irish are one of six teams in the nation with an active streak of 100 consecutive AP poll appearances.
What's more, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career (69 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (58) of those appearances in the AP Top 10 (and never lower than 18th).
Notre Dame started the year at No. 7 in the preseason AP poll, representing the 13th time in the past 14 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the initial AP poll, something only seven schools in the nation have done -- Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee have shown up in all 14 during that span, while Georgia, Oklahoma and Stanford join the Fighting Irish with 13 preseason AP poll berths.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 247 weeks during the program's 36-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks ninth among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and 20th all-time in that category.
In addition, the Fighting Irish held steady at a season-best No. 3 in for the third consecutive week in the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, after spending the previous seven weeks in the No. 5 spot.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 108 of the past 109 weeks (and 72 in a row), falling just outside the Top 25 in the final poll of the 2008-09 season. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish have appeared in the coaches' poll for a total of 241 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the fifth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 11 of the past 15 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 31 people in NCAA Division I women's basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Besides her 247 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 in linked PDF version of this notes package), with McGraw and Baylor's Kim Mulkey are the only active skippers to play for and coach a team in the AP poll, and coach that team to a national title (McGraw in 2001, Mulkey in 2005 and 2012).
Half And Half
During the past 12 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 262-19 (.932) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 190 of their last 203 such contests (.936).
What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 99-2 (.980) when leading at the half, with the only losses coming on April 5, 2011, in the NCAA national championship game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (Notre Dame led Texas A&M, 35-33 at intermission before falling 76-70), and Feb. 12, 2012, against West Virginia (Fighting Irish led 33-30 at the break before the visiting Mountaineers rallied to win in the closing seconds, 65-63).
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 18 seasons, Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season (Notre Dame's first in the BIG EAST Conference), the Fighting Irish have an amazing 267-15 (.947) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including nine outings this season.
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 18 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 175-6 (.967) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are three overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995 and UCLA (86-83 in double OT) in 2010, as well as a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008, and a 94-81 setback at Baylor in 2011.
In the past four years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 52-2 (.963) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level seven times this season.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame's success has been its stellar play at home. In fact, the Fighting Irish have been virtually untouchable at home in recent years, winning 229 of their last 258 games (.888) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51, 25 and 20 games in that span (the latter from 2011-12, ending on Feb. 12, 2012, vs. West Virginia).
Since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 56-5 (.918) -- including wins in 32 of its last 34 home games -- and three of the five Fighting Irish losses in their refurbished facility have come by three points or fewer (two in overtime).
Notre Dame also has a 123-20 (.860) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the former Joyce Center, sporting a program-record 31-game league winning streak at home before it ended with a 48-45 loss to Villanova in the '02 home finale.
The Fighting Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 108 of their last 117 non-BIG EAST contests (.923) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the nine losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents (four by 12 points or less) -- Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT), Indiana in 2006 (54-51) and Minnesota in 2009 (79-71) -- with the other defeats coming to Tennessee in 2005 (62-51) and 2008 (87-63), UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT) and Baylor in 2012 (73-61). The Purdue loss also snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak which began after the UW setback.
Since its inaugural season in 1977-78, Notre Dame has played all of its games at the former Joyce Center, posting a 379-90 (.808) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Fighting Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, which was the school record for home victories in a season prior to the 2009-10 campaign, when Notre Dame went 16-1, a mark that lasted only two seasons before the Fighting Irish posted a 17-1 record at Purcell Pavilion last year.
Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
The past three seasons have seen an unprecedented surge in fan support for Notre Dame women's basketball, as the Fighting Irish set new program records for the highest year-end NCAA attendance ranking (fourth in 2009-10), highest average attendance (8,571 fans per game in 2011-12) and most sellouts in a single season (eight in 2011-12). And, as the old saying goes -- "you ain't seen nothin' yet."
For the fourth consecutive preseason, Notre Dame fans all but exhausted the program's season ticket packages (approximately 7,500) and snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish produce two advanced sellouts (Dec. 5 vs. Baylor; March 4 vs. Connecticut).
Notre Dame has gotten its home slate off to a fine start at the box office with seven sellouts in nine home games, and the Nov. 18 game against Massachusetts marking the first home-opening sellout in school history. All told, the Fighting Irish have welcomed 32 sellout crowds in the program's 36-year tenure, including 26 in the past four years alone (2009-10 to present).
The Fighting Irish currently rank third in the nation in average attendance, drawing 8,971 fans per game, which is 400 fans more than last year's school record and factors to better than 98 percent of Purcell Pavilion's listed capacity of 9,149.
Coming Soon: Irish in the ACC
On Sept. 12, 2012, the University of Notre Dame announced that it had accepted an offer of admission into the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for all sports except football (the league does not offer championships in ice hockey or fencing).
The change in conference affiliation (for which a timetable has not yet been established) will be the first for Notre Dame since 1995, when the Fighting Irish moved from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) to the BIG EAST Conference.
In its 18 seasons in the BIG EAST, the Notre Dame women's basketball program has been the one of the conference's best, winning two BIG EAST regular season titles (2001 and 2012) and compiling a 221-64 (.775) record in league play that remains the second-best regular season winning percentage in BIG EAST women's basketball history.
Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
Now in its sixth season, Notre Dame's wildly-successful "Big Mac" promotion will once again look to send fans home with full bellies, offering a coupon for a free Big Mac from South Bend-area McDonald's restaurants if the Fighting Irish score at least 88 points in a home game.
In the six-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 39 times, most recently on Dec. 31 against Saint Francis (Pa.).
Junior forward Ariel Braker, senior guard Kaila Turner and sophomore forward Markisha Wright are the leaders among current Fighting Irish players, with all three players having registered three "Big Mac baskets" during their respective careers.
And for those tracking such things (or perhaps falling under the heading of "the media relations director has way too much time on his hands"), 21 different players have converted the "burger ball", including eight current members of the Fighting Irish roster.
What's more, of the 39 Big Mac games, 17 have been reached on two-point baskets, 14 on free throws, and eight on three-pointers.
Next Game: Providence
Notre Dame returns to Purcell Pavilion at 2 p.m. (ET) Saturday to take on Providence in the first of two BIG EAST games against the Friars this season. With the departure of West Virginia to the Big 12 prior to this season, the conference added a second home-and-home opponent to each team's schedule, with the Fighting Irish set to visit Providence on the final Saturday of the regular season (March 2, 4 p.m. ET).
Under first-year head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl, PC (5-12, 0-4 BIG EAST) has gone through its share of growing pains, having lost four in a row as it plays host to Villanova Wednesday night before heading to South Bend this weekend.
-- ND --