Jan. 22, 2013
#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
No. 2/3 Fighting Irish Back On Road Wednesday Night At Pittsburgh
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).
Other Notre Dame Notables
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 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
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
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 Tidbits
Start Me Up
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
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 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
Everyone Pitches In
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
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.
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
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).
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 Records
The Diggins Factor
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.
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
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's
The Benefits Of Leadership
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).
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.
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.
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
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
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...
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
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
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
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
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
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
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.