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    #2/3 Irish Continue BIG EAST Play Saturday Against Providence

    FIGHTING IRISH Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins needs one point to become the fourth Notre Dame women's basketball player to score 2,000 career points (and the first since Ruth Riley in 2001).
    FIGHTING IRISH
    Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins needs one point to become the fourth Notre Dame women's basketball player to score 2,000 career points (and the first since Ruth Riley in 2001).
    FIGHTING IRISH

    Jan. 25, 2013

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    2012-13 ND Women's Basketball: Game 19
    #2/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-1 / 6-0 BIG EAST) vs. Providence Friars (6-12 / 1-4 BIG EAST)

    DATE: January 26, 2013
    TIME: 2:00 p.m. ET
    AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
    SERIES: ND leads 20-0
    1ST MTG: ND 90-80 (1/14/96)
    LAST MTG: ND 66-47 (2/14/12)
    VIDEO: UND.com (live)
    RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
    LIVE STATS: UND.com
    TWITTER: @ndwbbsid
    TICKETS: (574) 631-7356 / UND.com/tickets

    Storylines

  • Providence is the second home-and-away opponent (along with Connecticut) on Notre Dame's conference schedule this year.
  • For the third consecutive home game, and fifth time this season, Notre Dame will face an opponent led by a head coach in his/her first season at that school.
  • No. 2/3 Fighting Irish Continue BIG EAST Play Saturday Against Providence
    With the midpoint of the BIG EAST Conference season fast approaching, No. 2/3 Notre Dame will look to remain atop the league standings when it plays host to Providence at 2 p.m. (ET) Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. The game will be streamed live and free of charge through the official Fighting Irish athletics web site, UND.com.

    Notre Dame (17-1, 6-0) stretched its winning streak to 12 games on Wednesday with a 73-47 victory at Pittsburgh. The Fighting Irish jumped out to an early 11-point lead, then watched the Panthers rally for their own three-point edge midway through the first half. However, Notre Dame had the final say with a mammoth 42-6 run that extended well into the second half and carried the Fighting Irish to the win.

    Junior guard (and Erie, Pa., native) Kayla McBride enjoyed a successful return to western Pennsylvania with a game-high 19 points, while freshman guard Jewell Loyd added 14 points and senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins chalked up 13 points for Notre Dame.

    Rankings

  • Notre Dame is No. 2 in this week's Associated Press poll and No. 3 in this week's ESPN/USA Today poll.
  • Providence is not ranked.
  • Quick Hitters

  • Notre Dame is off to a 17-1 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 12-game winning streak, the sixth time in school history (and third in four years) the Fighting Irish have posted a win streak of that length.
  • In those 12 games since its only loss of the season (Dec. 5 vs. third-ranked Baylor), Notre Dame has averaged 85.5 points per game (winning by 27.8 ppg.), shot .470 from the field (.359 from three-point range), posted a rebound margin of +13.3 per game, and forced opponents into an average of 21.4 turnovers per night.
  • The Fighting Irish have won a school-record 16 consecutive regular season road games and 21 of their last 26 overall (Notre Dame's last 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 11 consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular season games, dating back to Feb. 28, 2011 (a 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul). It's also 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 Friday's NCAA statistical report, the Fighting Irish are ranked in the top 10 in seven categories -- free throw percentage (1st - .820), scoring offense (2nd - 82.2 ppg.), assists (3rd - 19.6 apg.), scoring margin (5th - +25.0 ppg.), rebounding margin (6th - +11.2 rpg.), assist/turnover ratio (8th - 1.20) and field goal percentage (10th - .460).
  • 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 112 games to date, already the second-most wins by a Fighting Irish senior class and only five back of the school record set by last year's seniors (117) with six weeks remaining in the regular season.
  • With 608 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 four wins away from becoming the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and should she do so within the next 46 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 Notables

  • Notre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past 17 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking fourth with 426 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 the Jan. 20 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).
  • Scouting Providence
    With a first-year coach and a revamped roster that includes six returnees (no starters) from last season, change has come incrementally for Providence this season. The Friars (6-12, 1-4 BIG EAST) have been competitive in nearly every game to date, earning the title with a pair of wins at the Fordham Holiday Classic right after Christmas and nearly finding themselves anove the .500 mark with four losses by 10 points or fewer.

    PC's latest sign of promise came Wednesday night when the Friars showed impressive mental toughness to battle back from a 19-point halftime deficit and defeat No. RV/25 Villanova, 65-60 in overtime at Alumni Hall in Providence. Senior guard Symone Roberts led the charge with a game-high 20 points, sophomore guard Tori Rule had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists and senior forward Brianna Edwards owned the paint with an emphatic double-double (14 points, 16 rebounds).

    Roberts leads the BIG EAST in steals (3.7 spg.), while ranking fourth in assist/turnover ratio (2.0), sixth in assists (4.7 apg.) and 11th in scoring (15.3 ppg.). Rule is 15th in the league in scoring (14.7 ppg.), while Edwards is fourth in the BIG EAST in rebounding (8.3 rpg.).

    Head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl is in her first season at Providence following a successful tenure at Saint Francis (Pa.). She has a six-year career coaching record of 80-95 (.457) that includes an 0-1 mark against Notre Dame.

    The Notre Dame-Providence Series
    Notre Dame will take on Providence for the 21st time in their series on Saturday, with the Fighting Irish having won each of the previous 20 games against the Friars. Including last year's victory, Notre Dame is 10-0 all-time against Providence at Purcell Pavilion.

    Saturday's game is the first of two meetings between the Fighting Irish and Friars this season, with the teams also scheduled to play at 4 p.m. (ET) March 2 at Alumni Hall in Providence in a game that will be televised live on the BIG EAST Network (check local listings).

    The Last Time Notre Dame And Providence Met
    Devereaux Peters and No. 4 Notre Dame were frustrated heading into their game against Providence. Their exasperation only grew when they got off to a slow start. Eventually, they shook it off in a big way.

    Peters had 19 points and 11 rebounds, leading the Fighting Irish to a 66-47 victory over the Friars on Feb. 14, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion.

    Notre Dame was coming off a 65-63 loss to West Virginia two days earlier, ending a 21-game winning streak. Peters had a career-high 17 rebounds and blocked six shots against the Mountaineers, but also went 1 for 8 from the field and finished with four points.

    Skylar Diggins finished with 19 points and seven assists for the Fighting Irish, who shot 48 percent from the field against Providence and outrebounded the Friars, 41-25. Peters' eighth double-double of the season helped Notre Dame outscore Providence 40-26 in the paint.

    Providence played much of the first half without leading scorer and rebounder Teya Wright, who sprained an ankle early in the game and was held to five points and three rebounds in 23 minutes of play.

    Rachel Barnes scored 16 for Providence, and Symone Roberts added 12.

    Wright, who averaged 13 points and 9.2 rebounds per game coming in, went down early but Providence was able to find holes in the Fighting Irish defense and was down only 9-8 at the 15:47 mark. Wright returned two minutes later and played with a slight limp off and on for 11 minutes the rest of the half.

    Notre Dame put together a 16-2 run to take a 33-20 lead with 4:38 remaining.

    The Fighting Irish shot 56 percent in the first half and led 37-27 at the break. Diggins had 15 points at intermission.

    Providence opened the second half with five points but Notre Dame went on a 12-3 run to take a 55-38 lead with 10:53 to go, going ahead by as many as 22 points in the closing minutes.

    Other Notre Dame-Providence Series Tidbits

  • Providence is one of two BIG EAST opponents against whom Notre Dame has lost (minimum of five games played), with Cincinnati (8-0) being the other.
  • Notre Dame's 20-game winning streak vs. Providence is its longest active string against a BIG EAST opponent.
  • Notre Dame has scored at least 80 points in half (10) of its series games against Providence, while the Friars have reached that mark just once (a 90-80 Fighting Irish win in the teams' first-ever meeting on Jan. 14, 1996, in Providence.
  • The Fighting Irish have averaged 79.7 points in their 10 prior matchups against the Friars at Purcell Pavilion, topping the 80-point mark five times and winning all 10 series games at home by 23.7 points per game.
  • Providence has scored more than 60 points three times in the past 17 games vs. the Fighting Irish.
  • Notre Dame has won 17 of the 20 series games against Providence by double digits, the exceptions coming on Jan. 5, 2002 (72-66 in South Bend), Feb. 16, 2003 (67-61 at PC) and Feb. 28, 2009 (65-56 at PC).
  • Providence head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl was an assistant coach at Penn State on two occasions (1993-98 and 2004-07); in that first tenure at PSU, one of her proteges was current Notre Dame associate director of operations & technology Angie Potthoff, who earned All-America honors her final three seasons (1995-97), shared the 1997 Big Ten Conference scoring title and garnered MVP honors at the `97 Big Ten Tournament, all under Fruchtl's tutelage.
  • Fruchtl and Potthoff reunited in 2002, when Potthoff served as an assistant coach on Fruchtl's staff at Beaver (Pa.) Area High School, before Potthoff moved into the head coaching role in 2004-05 when Fruchtl returned to Penn State.
  • Providence assistant coach Kristeena Alexander played her final three seasons of college ball at George Washington from 1997-2000. During that time, Alexander visited Purcell Pavilion on March 19, 2000, when Notre Dame defeated GW, 95-60 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Alexander played 24 minutes that day, scoring eight points while adding three assists and a team-high four steals for the Colonials.
  • Between the two teams, there are four former winners of the Gatorade High School Player of the Year award in their respective states -- Notre Dame senior guard Skylar Diggins (Indiana - 2009; also Gatorade National Player of the Year and Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year for all sports), junior guard Kayla McBride (2010 - Pennsylvania) and sophomore guard Madison Cable (2011 - Pennsylvania), and Providence senior guard Symone Roberts (Connecticut - 2009).
  • Several members of the Notre Dame athletics department have ties to Providence, including hockey associate head coach Paul Pooley (PC head coach from 1994-2005), assistant athletics director/Monogram Club executive director Beth Hunter ('98 PC grad and graduate assistant in PC athletics marketing office from 1998-2000), assistant athletics director/media relations director Bernadette Cafarelli (PC assistant director of athletics marketing, promotions and media relations from 1987-94), associate media relations director Tim Connor (member of PC athletics marketing, promotions and media relations staff from 1987-2000, spending the final six years as PC's director of athletic media relations) and ticket office assistant manager Kelsey Edwards (PC's ticket manager/director of men's basketball ticketing from 2008-10 after serving as assistant in that office/men's ice hockey ticketing director from 2004-08; also earned MBA from PC in 2004).
  • Preparing For Sky-2K
    Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins is closing in on a remarkable career milestone, needing just one point to become the fourth Notre Dame women's basketball player to score 2,000 career points. When she does so, she will be the first Fighting Irish cager to hit the mark since March 26, 2001, when Ruth Riley did so against Vanderbilt in the NCAA Midwest Regional final at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

    Besides Riley (2,072 points from 1997-2001), only Katryna Gaither (2,126 points from 1993-97) and current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham (2,322 points from 1993-97) have reached the 2,000-point milestone in a Fighting Irish uniform.

    Two other interesting side notes -- should Diggins score her 2,000th point Saturday vs. Providence, she would be the first Fighting Irish player to reach the mark at home, and she would be the third Indiana native among Notre Dame's four 2,000-point scorers (Cunningham hails from Bloomington, Ind.; Riley comes from Macy, Ind.; Gaither grew up in Mt. Vernon, N.Y.).

    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 17-1 record or better through its first 18 games.

    This year's start (as well as those in 2009-10 and 2011-12) matches the second-best 18-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 6-0 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 6-0 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.

    Streak Stats
    Notre Dame's current 12-game winning streak is tied for the sixth-longest success string in program history, and it's the third time in four seasons the Fighting Irish have posted a winning streak of 12 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 (12 times) and Michaela Mabrey (three times).

    On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.2 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
    Throughout the 2012-13 season, Notre Dame has displayed a penchant for making opponents pay at the free throw line.

    Through their first 18 games, the Fighting Irish lead the nation in free throw percentage, shooting a remarkable .820 (346-of-422) from the charity stripe, including a season-high .941 (16-of-17) in Wednesday's win at Pittsburgh.

    On average, Notre Dame is getting to the line more than 23 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 (346 made, 258 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 47 of 50 free throws (.940) to lead the conference and rank fourth in the nation (as of Friday).

    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 (.883; also 14th in nation), junior forward Natalie Achonwa standing eighth (.805) and freshman guard Jewell Loyd in ninth (.804).

    For her career, McBride has logged an .891 free throw percentage, putting her ahead of Alicia Ratay's school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.

    Canadian Ace
    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, nearly doubling her averages in scoring (7.6 to 13.8 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.2 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 - 13.8 ppg.), rebounding (2nd - 9.2 rpg.), field goal percentage (8th - .541; also 21st nationally) 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 13th in the BIG EAST in scoring (14.9 ppg.) and leads the conference (and ranks fourth nationally) in free throw percentage (.940). 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 15 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 Top 25 opponents, 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).

    Crown Jewell
    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 18 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 17 times), scoring in double figures 12 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 (4th - .419), scoring (23rd - 12.8 ppg.) and free throw percentage (9th - .804).

    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
    Throughout the 2012-13 season, senior guard/co-captain 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 (1,999 points) is one point away from becoming the fourth 2,000-point scorer in school history, and she needs 323 points to catch current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham as the program's all-time leading scorer.
  • Diggins (486 rebounds) is 14 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 (322 steals) is 26 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 (624 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Gavin, needing 154 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 103 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) (and posted the third-most assists by an NCAA Division I player in a game this season).
  • The Diggins Factor
    Notre Dame has posted a 112-19 (.855) 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 an 80-1 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 82.2 ppg. (which ranks second nationally).

    In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.46 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 12.1 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 57.2 points per game.

    Road Warriors
    Notre Dame has won a school-record 16 consecutive regular season road games and 21 of its last 26 overall, including all five 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 11 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 #18 Recap: Pittsburgh
    Notre Dame turned up its defense in the second half and turned away Pittsburgh.

    Kayla McBride scored 19 points to help the No. 2 Irish beat host Pittsburgh 73-47 on Wednesday night at the Petersen Events Center for their 12th consecutive win.

    The Irish held Pitt to just 1-of-10 shooting to open the second half and just 23.1 percent overall (6-of-26) in the half.

    With the game tied at 29, Notre Dame scored the final six points before break. The Fighting Irish continued the spurt in the second half, scoring 25 of the first 28 points.

    Notre Dame (17-1, 6-0 BIG EAST) led 60-32 with 10 minutes left and coasted from there. The Fighting Irish have won their last 11 BIG EAST regular season road games, their best streak since joining the conference 18 seasons ago. With Villanova's loss to Providence, Notre Dame is now the only unbeaten team in BIG EAST play.

    Brianna Kiesel scored 12 points to lead Pitt (9-9, 0-5), which was without leading scorer Asia Logan (15.5 points per game). Logan is day-to-day with a shoulder injury. The Panthers haven't won a BIG EAST game since Feb. 15, 2011.

    It was the first meeting between the two teams since Notre Dame dealt Pittsburgh its worst loss in program history, a 120-44 defeat on Jan. 17, 2012.

    Notre Dame jumped out to a 5-0 lead and Pitt coach Agnus Berenato called a timeout just 17 seconds into the game.

    Trailing 16-5, the Panthers went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to four with 12:38 remaining in the first half. Notre Dame went back ahead by eight on a layup by Pittsburgh-area native Madison Cable and another layup by Jewell Loyd, but the Panthers answered back with a 13-2 run to take their first lead of the game, 25-22 with 7:44 left in the half.

    Skylar Diggins' three-pointer tied the score a little more than a minute later and the Panthers missed their next six shots as Notre Dame went back ahead by four. Pittsburgh would tie it once more at 29 with 3:07 remaining in the half before Notre Dame closed with its 6-0 run.

    Beyond The Box Score: Pittsburgh

  • The Fighting Irish are 21-3 all-time against Pittsburgh, including a 10-2 record in the Steel City, and they have won their last four games against the Panthers.
  • Notre Dame has scored at least 65 points in all but two of the 24 series meetings with Pittsburgh, going 21-1 in those games.
  • The Fighting Irish shot a season-best .941 (16-of-17) at the free throw line, the sixth-best single-game mark in school history and best since Feb. 20, 2012, when they connected at a .944 clip (17-of-18) in a win at Louisville.
  • Notre Dame has shot better than 90 percent from the foul line in three of the past four games, and four times total this season.
  • Diggins earned her 125th career start on Wednesday, taking sole possession of second place on Notre Dame's all-time list ahead of Ruth Riley (124 from 1997-2001) and Lindsay Schrader (124 from 2005-10), and trailing only Alicia Ratay (129 from 1999-2003).
  • McBride set a new career high by going 9-for-10 from the foul line, while her seven rebounds tied her season best.
  • Junior forward Natalie Achonwa tied her career high with five assists and registered her first career "5-5-5" game.
  • Cable tied her career high with seven rebounds.
  • 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).

    Tournament Tested
    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.

    Anchors Aweigh
    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.

    Polling Station
    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), 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 263-19 (.933) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 191 of their last 204 such contests (.936).

    What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 100-2 (.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 268-15 (.947) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 10 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 222-64 (.776) 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: Tennessee
    Notre Dame steps out of conference when it heads to Knoxville, Tenn., Monday for a 7 p.m. (ET) game with No. 9 Tennessee on ESPN2's "Big Monday" package.

    Tennessee (16-3, 7-0 SEC) is on a nine-game winning streak and sits atop the Southeastern Conference standings following an 83-75 win at Vanderbilt Thursday night.

    -- ND --
     

     

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