Jan. 27, 2012
#2/2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (20-1 / 7-0 BIG EAST) vs. St. John's Red Storm (13-7 / 5-2 BIG EAST)
DATE: January 28, 2012
TIME: Noon ET
AT: Jamaica, N.Y. - Carnesecca Arena (5,602)
SERIES: ND leads 20-3
1ST MTG: ND 74-48 (1/4/96)
LAST MTG: ND 69-36 (1/23/11)
TV: BIG EAST TV / Comcast SportsNet Chicago (live) (Bob Picozzi, p-b-p / LaChina Robinson, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
No. 2 Fighting Irish Open Two-Game East Coast Road Swing Saturday At St. John's
Now that it has finished the last piece of its non-conference schedule, No. 2 Notre Dame returns to BIG EAST action this weekend, reaching the midpoint of its conference schedule at noon (ET) Saturday when it plays St. John's at Carnesecca Arena in Jamaica, N.Y. The game will be televised as part of the BIG EAST TV syndicated Game of the Week package, including live coverage in the Midwest on Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
The Fighting Irish (20-1, 7-0) reached the 20-win plateau on Monday night and picked up their sixth victory over a ranked opponent (fourth against a top-10 team), defeating No. 7/9 Tennessee, 72-44 at Purcell Pavilion.
Junior guard Skylar Diggins paced Notre Dame with a season high-tying 27 points, while fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters posted her fourth double-double of the year with 16 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At St. John's
After surviving some early-season injuries that temporarily whittled down its depth, St. John's is operating at full strength now and the results are clear, as the Red Storm have won eight of their last 10 games while putting themselves squarely in the hunt near the top of the BIG EAST standings.
St. John's (13-7, 5-2) should be well-rested, having last played on Jan. 21, when it carved out a 51-34 victory at Cincinnati. Junior guard Shenneika Smith scored a game-high 11 points, and senior forward Da'Shena Stevens added a double-double (10 points and 10 rebounds), as the Red Storm jumped out to a 20-point lead in the first half and cruised to the victory.
Junior guard Eugenia McPherson leads St. John's in scoring (14.2 ppg.) and steals (2.0 spg.) this season, while Smith adds 12.7 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game. Junior guard Nadirah McKenith adds 11.7 points and a team-best 4.9 assists per game, while Stevens has offered 8.1 points and 6.7 rebounds a night since returning to action 10 games ago.
Head coach Kim Barnes Arico is one of the BIG EAST's top young skippers, owning a 165-131 (.557) record in 10 seasons at St. John's, along with a 16-year career mark of 259-203 (.561). She is 3-9 all-time against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-St. John's Series
Notre Dame and St. John's are set to play for the 24th time on Saturday afternoon, with the Fighting Irish holding a 20-3 edge in the all-time series. Notre Dame won its first 15 games against the Red Storm, but the past eight matchups have been split almost evenly (5-3 to the Fighting Irish), with St. John's winning the past three times the teams have played at Carneseeca Arena (where Notre Dame is 7-3 all-time).
The Last Time Notre Dame And St. John's Met
Devereaux Peters dominated inside with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks to lead No. 11/10 Notre Dame to a 69-36 rout of No. RV/23 St. John's on Jan. 23, 2011, at Purcell Pavilion.
Becca Bruszewski scored 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting for the Fighting Irish.
The Red Storm shot 32 percent, with no player reaching double figures. Leading scorer Shenneika Smith was held to seven points on 3-of-8 shooting. Da'Shena Stevens had nine rebounds, but missed all seven free-throw attempts.
Notre Dame outrebounded St. John's, 42-31.
The Last Time Notre Dame And St. John's Met At Carnesecca Arena
Shenneika Smith scored 23 points and Da'Shena Stevens added 21 to help No. 22/23 St. John's upset No. 4/3 Notre Dame 76-71 on Feb. 16, 2010, at Carnesecca Arena in Jamaica, N.Y.
Leading 61-57 with 8:30 left, St. John's held Notre Dame without a point for over six minutes to extend its lead to 69-57 with 3:15 left.
Ashley Barlow finally ended Notre Dame's drought, hitting a three-pointer with 2:25 left. The Fighting Irish cut the deficit to 69-65 on Diggins' three-point play with 52.6 seconds left.
Stevens hit the first of two free throws and then rebounded her own miss and was fouled. She connected on both to make it 72-65, and the Fighting Irish never got closer than five.
Notre Dame was missing starting guard (and top rebounder) Lindsay Schrader, who sprained her left ankle 48 hours earlier in a win over DePaul.
St. John's took an 18-6 lead in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the game as Lindsay had seven points. Nadirah McKenith's nifty drive down the middle of the lane for a layup capped the early spurt. St. John's made eight of its first 12 shots, but then went cold from the field, missing nine straight as Notre Dame climbed within 21-20 on Erica Williamson's layup.
Kelly McManmon finally ended the seven-minute drought hitting a three-pointer to start a 16-5 spurt that restored the 12-point lead. Smith's layup with 2:08 left made it 37-25. Notre Dame closed to five and trailed by 39-32 at halftime.
Other Notre Dame-St. John's Series Tidbits
New York State Of Mind
Notre Dame is 50-5 (.909) all-time against New York-based teams, including an 18-4 (.818) record on the road. The Fighting Irish are facing the first of two New York schools this season, with a visit to Syracuse scheduled for Feb. 7.
Coincidentally, St. John's and Syracuse account for all five New York wins over Notre Dame (three for the Red Storm, two for the Orange -- four road, one neutral site).
Start Me Up
For the second time in three years, and the third time in school history, Notre Dame has opened with a 20-1 record or better.
In their 2000-01 national championship season, the Fighting Irish opened with a school-record 23-game winning streak, while in 2009-10, Notre Dame won its first 15 games, lost at Connecticut in its 16th outing, then won its next eight in a row.
Reaching The Midpoint
Notre Dame is off to a 7-0 start in BIG EAST Conference play for the first time in 11 seasons and the fourth time since the program joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96.
The last time the Fighting Irish opened the conference season with seven consecutive wins was 2000-01 when they began the BIG EAST slate with a 12-0 record on the way to earning a share of their first regular season conference title with a 15-1 record.
The school record for the best start to a BIG EAST season is 15-0, set back in 1999-2000.
Notre Dame's current 17-game winning streak is the third-longest success string in program history (at any time), and it's the longest since the Fighting Irish opened their 2000-01 national championship season on a school-record 23-game winning streak.
Peters Named BIG EAST Player Of The Week
Fifth-year senior forward/tri-captain Devereaux Peters was selected as the BIG EAST Conference Player of the Week, it was announced Monday by the conference office. It's the first time in Peters' career she has been chosen for any weekly BIG EAST individual award, although she was named to the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll three times last season.
In addition, this marks the 74th time a Fighting Irish women's basketball player has earned a BIG EAST weekly award (43 Players of the Week, 31 Freshmen of the Week), the second-most selections in conference history despite the fact Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96, a full 14 seasons after the league began sponsoring women's basketball (1982-83).
A preseason all-BIG EAST selection, as well as a candidate for the State Farm Wade Trophy, John R. Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy (each of which go to the nation's top women's college basketball player), Peters averaged 19.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game with a .640 field goal percentage (16-of-25) last week, as Notre Dame remained unbeaten in BIG EAST play with victories at home over Pittsburgh (120-44) and Villanova (76-43).
Against Pittsburgh, Peters scored a season-high 20 points (on 9-of-13 shooting) in just 18 minutes. She then came back four days later against Villanova with 19 points and six rebounds, scoring 17 of her points in the first half when she singlehandedly outscored the entire Wildcats' team, 17-16.
Fighting Irish Scoring Early TKOs
Part of Notre Dame's success this season can be traced to its penchant for jumping out to huge early leads and then keep its foot on the gas the rest of the way.
In 12 games this year, the Fighting Irish have charged to a 20-point lead inside the opening 13 minutes of the game, going on to win all 12 of those contests by an average of 50.9 points per game.
Overall, Notre Dame is outscoring its opponents in the first half this season by nearly a 2-to-1 margin (917-481), with an average halftime score of 44-23.
Born To Run
In the latest NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame leads the nation in scoring offense, averaging 84.5 points per game this season. That's just one of five NCAA offensive categories in which the Fighting Irish rank among the top six, along with field goal percentage (second at .491), scoring margin (second at +34.8 ppg.), assists (second at 20.0 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (sixth at 1.24).
Notre Dame also has topped the 100-point mark twice (first time since 1998-99, second time in school history), and has scored at least 90 points in a game eight times this year, tying the school record set last season.
What's more, Notre Dame has done an excellent job of putting teams away, recording 17 20-point wins, and 10 victories by at least 30 points (tied for second-most in school history behind the 12 30-point wins last year, as well as 10 such victories in 2000-01 and 2007-08).
Twice this season, Notre Dame has gone "over the top", scoring 100 points in a game during victories at Mercer (128-42 on Dec. 30) and at home against BIG EAST Conference rival Pittsburgh (120-44 on Jan. 17).
Prior to this season, the Fighting Irish had never scored more than 113 points in a game (113-35 win over Liberty on Nov. 24, 1989, at the UCF Rotary Classic in Orlando, Fla.), and had scored in triple digits just 13 times in the program's first 34 seasons.
What's more, this marks just the second time Notre Dame has ever posted multiple 100-point games in the same season -- in 1998-99, the Fighting Irish defeated No. 25/23 Illinois, 101-93, on Nov. 24 at Purcell Pavilion, before defeating West Virginia, 111-90, on Jan. 7, also at home.
As one might expect, Notre Dame's two offensive explosions rank as the top two single-game point totals in the nation in 2011-12. Oklahoma is third with a 117-point night against visiting Sacramento State on Nov. 13.
Lock It Up
Notre Dame ranks among the top 15 in the nation in five NCAA defensive statistical categories -- steals (second at 14.4 spg.), turnover margin (fourth at +8.9), scoring defense (fifth at 49.7 ppg.), rebound margin (eighth at +10.2 rpg.) and field goal percentage defense (15th at .338).
The Fighting Irish have held 18 of their 21 opponents to 61 points or fewer, with a school record-tying 14 failing to score more than 50 points against Notre Dame -- last year's Fighting Irish squad also had 14 games in which it allowed 50 points or fewer.
Notre Dame's defensive effort has extended to smaller increments as well. In their last 31 halves of basketball (dating back to the second half against No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26), the Fighting Irish have held their opponents to 25 points or fewer 21 times, including 14 halves when the opposition didn't crack 20 points (among them the first half in five of the past seven games).
'Tis The Season For Taking
Fueled by its aggressive defense, Notre Dame has been in the taking mood this year, forcing its opponents into at least 20 turnovers in 15 games thus far, with Fighting Irish foes averaging 25.0 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +8.90 turnover margin that is fourth-best in the nation.
The Fighting Irish wasted little time in setting the tone for their opponents this season, forcing a combined 112 turnovers in their first three games, an average of 37.3 per night, and converting those into 142 points (47.3 ppg.). That run was highlighted by an opponent season-high 46 turnovers against Akron on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion, the third-most takeaways in school history, and second-most in the program's Division I era (49 vs. New Hampshire on Nov. 12, 2010).
The Fighting Irish have been especially hard on opponents in their 12 home games this season, forcing 28.4 turnovers per game and collecting at least 19 in each Purcell Pavilion contest thus far.
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into Saturday's game ranked second in the nation in steals with 14.4 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 16 games this season, including three contests with 20-plus steals.
Highlighting this year's takeaway brigade for Notre Dame was a season-high 29-steal performance in the opening night victory against Akron on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish followed that up two days later with 25 thefts in a win over Indiana State, and nabbed 26 steals in a Dec. 28 win over Longwood.
Prior to last season, Notre Dame had posted 23 steals in a game just seven times in the first 33 years (and 991 games) of the Fighting Irish women's basketball program, and only three games with 25-plus steals in that time, none since a then-record tying 29 steals at Saint Louis on Jan. 31, 1991. What's more, Notre Dame had not earned a conference steals title since 1989-90, when it led the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) with 10.9 spg.
Yet, in the past two years (60 games), the Fighting Irish have had eight 23-steal games, with five outings of at least 25 thefts, and they claimed last year's BIG EAST steals crown with 11.8 steals per game during regular-season league play.
Individually, Notre Dame has eight different players with double-digit steals this season (including four with at least 39 thefts), led by junior guard Skylar Diggins, who is third in the conference at 2.7 steals per game, and fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, who is seventh in the BIG EAST at 2.3 spg.
Continuing a trend from last season, Notre Dame has shared the basketball very well during the first 21 games of the year.
In the latest NCAA statistics report, the Fighting Irish are second in the nation (and second in the BIG EAST) at 20.0 assists per game, including a season-high 33 assists against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17 (one of 12 games with 20-or-more assists this year, including five with at least 25 assists).
Individually, junior guard Skylar Diggins is 15th in the nation in assists (BIG EAST-best 5.8 apg.) and 14th in the country with a 2.39 assist/turnover ratio (also tops in the conference).
What's more, Notre Dame has assisted on 65.5 percent of its field goals this season (419 of 640), compared to last year when the Fighting Irish registered assists on 60.9 percent of their baskets (669 of 1,099), with 16 games of at least 20 assists.
Notre Dame has benefited from an experienced lineup this season, using the same starting five (guards Skylar Diggins, Brittany Mallory, Kayla McBride and Natalie Novosel, and forward Devereaux Peters) for all but two games this year (Dec. 30 at Mercer, when senior guard and Atlanta-area native Fraderica Miller earned the nod in her homecoming game; Jan. 7 vs. No. 2 Connecticut).
The foundation of this stable lineup has been the quartet of Diggins, Mallory, Novosel and Peters, who also started 34 of 39 games last year (Mallory missed two games with an ankle injury and came off the bench for two more, while Diggins relinquished her starting spot for Senior Day last year to allow walk-on forward Mary Forr to make the start). In the four games Mallory was not in the lineup last year, McBride earned the first starts of her college career.
Collectively, the current Notre Dame lineup has started 300 games in their careers (Diggins-89, Novosel-64, Peters-63, Mallory-61, McBride-23).
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has featured a balanced offense thus far, with at least three players scoring in double figures in 18 games, and at least four double-digit scorers in 11 games, including a season-high (and school record-tying eight with at least 10 points against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17).
During the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 45-4 (.918) when it has at least four players score in double figures, with two of those losses coming in overtime (March 28, 2010 - 77-72 vs. Oklahoma in NCAA Sweet 16 at Kansas City; Nov. 18, 2010 - 86-83 in double overtime vs. UCLA at Purcell Pavilion) and a third by a single point (Feb. 28, 2011 - 70-69 at DePaul).
The Fighting Irish also have had six different players lead them in scoring this season. Five of the six leading scorers this year also have registered at least one 20-point game to date, while 10 different Notre Dame players (of the 11 healthy Fighting Irish who have seen action to date) have scored in double figures at least once this year.
Improvement Continues On The Glass
After averaging 37.2 rebounds in its first six games (and holding the upper hand in that category only three times, with an aggregate minus-2 rebounding margin), Notre Dame has featured a marked improvement on the boards since its return from the Bahamas after the Thanksgiving weekend.
In their last 15 games, the Fighting Irish are averaging 43.6 rebounds a night, with an average rebounding margin of +14.4 rpg. Furthermore, Notre Dame has grabbed at least 40 rebounds 13 times in the past 15 games after not reaching that mark once in its first six contests.
According to the latest NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame ranks eighth in the country in rebounding margin (+10.2 rpg.) this year.
A Rally To Remember
Notre Dame tied a school record by digging out of an 18-point second-half hole to defeat No. 7/6 Duke, 56-54 on Nov. 26 in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division championship game at St. Georges High School in Freeport, Bahamas.
Nearly three years earlier on Dec. 30, 2008, the Fighting Irish trailed 46-28 at No. 20/19 Vanderbilt with 15:56 left and came back to win, 59-57 at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn.
This year's comeback victory over Duke marked the fourth time in program history Notre Dame has ralled from a deficit of 15 points or more to post a victory, with all four of these comebacks occurring in the past 11 seasons.
Beat The Clock
Senior guard Natalie Novosel hit a running bank shot at the foul line as the buzzer sounded to give Notre Dame a 56-54 win over No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26 in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division championship game at St. Georges High School in Freeport, Bahamas.
Novosel's buzzer-beater was the first winning shot at the horn by a Notre Dame player since Jan. 10, 2006, when Megan Duffy scored the last of her career-high 32 points with an off-handed layup at the overtime siren to earn a 67-65 win over Marquette at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame also has had several players nail winning shots in the final minute of games during recent seasons. Prior to Novosel, Ashley Barlow was the last Fighting Irish player to pull off such late-game heroics, canning a three-pointer with 34.2 seconds remaining to help Notre Dame take a 74-73 win at Syracuse on Jan. 30, 2010.
Another notable recent "beat-the-clock" moment for Notre Dame occurred on Dec. 5, 2007, when Charel Allen sank a foul-line jumper with 0.8 seconds remaining in overtime, lifting the Fighting Irish to an 86-84 win at Bowling Green.
The game-winning basket by senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel against No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26 was the fourth time in the past two seasons the Lexington, Ky., native had a hand in a go-ahead basket in the final 30 seconds of regulation or overtime. What makes this run by Novosel even more remarkable is the fact that all four of her late-game performances came against top-15 opponents, with the past two coming away from home.
The Model Of Consistency
Monday's win over No. 7/9 Tennessee marked the end to a remarkable streak, as senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel was held to four points, her first single-digit point total since March 7, 2011, when she had eight points in Notre Dame's 71-67 BIG EAST Championship semifinal win over No. 9/13 DePaul at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Novosel's 27-game double-digit scoring streak is the second-longest in school history, and was the longest by a Fighting Irish player in 15 seasons.
Katryna Gaither has staked an ironclad claim to the school record with a remarkable 76-game double-figure scoring streak from 1994-97.
Novosel Tapped As Finalist For Lowe's Senior CLASS Award
Senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel has been chosen as one of the 10 finalists for the 2011-12 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award in women's basketball, it was announced Wednesday. The Senior CLASS Award is presented annually to the nation's top senior player based on their dedication and achievement in four areas: Classroom, Character, Community and Competition.
Those 10 finalists were selected by a media committee from a list of 60 candidates, based on personal qualities that define a complete student-athlete. They have been placed on the official ballot for a nationwide vote which began Wednesday and continues through March 18. Fans now can vote on-line daily for Novosel through the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award web site (www.seniorclassaward.com) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/LowesSeniorCLASSAward). Votes from coaches and media will be coupled with fan balloting to determine the recipient of the award, with this year's honoree to be announced April 1-3 during the NCAA Women's Final Four in Denver.
Novosel is the first Fighting Irish women's basketball ever to be chosen as a Lowe's Senior CLASS Award finalist, as well as the second Notre Dame student-athlete this year to be named a Lowe's Senior CLASS Award finalist in his/her respective sport -- back in October, men's soccer defender Greg Klazura also was among 10 finalists in his sport. What's more, Novosel is aiming to become the third Fighting Irish student-athlete to take home this honor, following in the footsteps of hockey goaltender David Brown (2007) and women's soccer forward Kerri Hanks (2008).
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted an 80-15 (.842) record in the past three seasons, a mark that can be traced in no small part to the arrival of guard Skylar Diggins. The South Bend native has helped lead the Fighting Irish to a spot in the 2011 NCAA national championship game and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 12-9 record against AP Top 25 teams (7-7 vs. the AP Top 10) and an active 60-game winning streak against unranked opponents since the start of the 2009-10 season.
Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 15 losses in Diggins' career primarily have been verdicts that could have gone either way, with nine decided by single digits (five that were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.
With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted two of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 77.0 ppg. last year after logging 77.1 ppg. in her freshman season (and Notre Dame is on pace to go well beyond those figures this year).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.33 spg. career mark), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top two single-season steal marks in program history with 495 thefts last year and 450 steals the season before. Last season also saw Notre Dame post the third-best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing just 56.2 ppg. (the best since the 2000-01 Fighting Irish yielded 55.8 ppg. en route to the national champoionship).
A Grand Trio
Notre Dame has had two of its captains score their 1,000th career point this season -- senior guard Natalie Novosel hit the milestone on a free throw with 14:20 remaining on Nov. 13 against Indiana State, while fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters reached the landmark on a layup 16:52 left on Dec. 28 vs. Longwood.
Novosel currently ranks 17th in school history with 1,301 points, while Peters became the 30th member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club and presently stands 25th with 1,108 points.
Together with junior guard Skylar Diggins (14th with 1,418 points), Notre Dame has three active players in that elite Fighting Irish club for the third time in school history. In both 2000-01 and 2009-10, Notre Dame also had three 1,000-point players on the roster, with the third reaching that total in her final career game (Kelley Siemon in 2001 NCAA national championship game vs. Purdue, Melissa Lechlitner in 2010 NCAA Sweet 16 game vs. Oklahoma).
The Fighting Irish could have a fourth player reach the scoring millennium later this season -- fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory has 871 career points. Should Mallory hit the 1,000-point mark, it would be the first time in the 35-year history of Notre Dame women's basketball that a quartet of active 1,000-point scorers were on the roster at the same time.
What's more, Peters became the seventh player from Notre Dame's 2009-10 NCAA Sweet 16 team to reach the 1,000-point plateau during her career, along with Diggins, Novosel, Lechlitner, Ashley Barlow (ninth at 1,492), Lindsay Schrader (13th at 1,429) and Becca Bruszewski (24th at 1,148) -- and that doesn't even include Mallory, who also was part of that season's 13-player roster.
Game #21 Recap: Tennessee
Notre Dame lost the first 20 times it played Tennessee. Now the Fighting Irish have carved out a modest but impressive two-game winning streak against the Lady Vols.
It wasn't so much how second-ranked Notre Dame won Monday night but how easily the Fighting Irish did it, routing the Lady Vols 72-44 at Purcell Pavilion and holding No. 7 Tennessee to the lowest-scoring game and second-worst margin of defeat in the school's modern history.
The Fighting Irish haven't lost since Nov. 20, to top-ranked Baylor, and have now beaten both UConn and Tennessee on their home floor this season after toppling both in last year's NCAA tournament.
Since that seven-point win over UConn in overtime on January 7, the Fighting Irish have won five straight by at least 20 points.
Diggins had 17 of her points after the half and Notre Dame quickly expanded a 10-point lead into runaway mode. Diggins hit a three-pointer and Peters worked inside for three baskets in an 11-3 run that put the Fighting Irish up 18 and made a Lady Vols' comeback nearly impossible the way they were shooting.
Tennessee (14-5) got 13 points from Meighan Simmons, but shot just 27.9 percent in the lopsided loss.
Diggins made a nice strip of an inside pass, dribbled the length of the court, passed to Peters and then got it back for a layup to make it 44-26 with just over 14 minutes left. Then after picking up her third foul, Diggins hit her fourth three-pointer of the game to make it a 21-point lead. Diggins was 10 of 17 from the field and 5 for 7 on three-pointers.
After Tennessee closed to within 16 with about seven minutes to go, the Fighting Irish went on one final 14-0 run to put it away.
The Lady Vols made just 17 of 61 field-goal attempts and were only 7 for 16 from the free-throw line.
Rebounding, including eight early offensive caroms, kept Tennessee close in the early stages of the game because it could not make a shot. The Lady Vols missed 14 of their first 17 attempts from the floor and finished the first half 7 for 35 (20 percent). The poor shooting extended to the line, where UT was only 4 for 10. The field-goal percentage and total points were first-half lows for the Lady Vols this season.
McBride, showing an ability to break for the basket, had nine straight Notre Dame points at one juncture and scored 11 in the first half. Diggins ended up with 10 at the half, hitting two free throws with two seconds left to put the Fighting Irish up 28-18.
Tennessee's leading scorer, Shekinna Stricklen, who missed the previous game against LSU with a sprained knee, returned to the lineup and managed five points -- five points under her average. Lady Vols guard Taber Spani, who has been sidelined with a bone bruise in her left knee since Dec. 26, was also able to play.
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who has been diagnosed with early onset dementia (Alzheimer's-type), received a nice ovation when she came on the floor before the game and waved to the Purcell Pavilion crowd, most of which was dressed in lime green.
Beyond The Box Score -- Tennessee
Notre Dame is ranked No. 2 in last week's Associated Press poll, its 12th consecutive week in the top five of the media balloting. The Fighting Irish also earned a preseason No. 2 ranking that was their highest since the final 2000-01 poll (taken before the the NCAA Championship), and also was the highest Notre Dame had ever been ranked in the AP preseason poll, topping its No. 4 debut in 2009-10.
Notre Dame received six first-place votes in the 2011-12 AP preseason poll (and four the following week), the first time it received consideration for the top spot since March 11, 2001, when the Fighting Irish earned five first-place votes (they were ranked No. 2 after falling at Connecticut, 79-76 in the BIG EAST tournament final). The previous week, Notre Dame had 33 first-place votes in its sixth week with the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll.
This week's No. 2 ranking marks the 89th consecutive AP poll appearance for the Fighting Irish, extending the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001). In fact, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career, spending more than half (51) of those appearances in the AP Top 10.
This year's No. 2 preseason ranking also represents the 12th time in the past 13 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the initial AP poll, something only nine schools in the nation have done -- Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee have shown up in all 13 during that span, while Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Stanford join the Fighting Irish with 12 preseason AP poll berths.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 228 weeks during the program's 35-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 11th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and 20th all-time in that category (breaking a tie for that spot with former longtime Maryland head coach Chris Weller, thanks to this week's poll position).
In addition, the Fighting Irish are No. 2 in this week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, holding that spot for the third consecutive week after they also held it for the first two weeks of the season. Like the AP poll, Notre Dame earned its best-ever preseason ranking (second) in the coaches' poll, topping its No. 5 placement to begin the 2000-01 campaign. The Fighting Irish also collected five first-place votes in this year's preseason coaches' survey (and two a week later), their first nods for the top spot since the final '00-01 balloting, when they received all 40 first-place votes after winning the national championship.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 90 of the past 91 weeks, falling just outside the Top 25 in the final poll of the 2008-09 season. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish have appeared in the coaches' poll for a total of 221 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the fourth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 10 of the past 14 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 31 people in NCAA Division I women's basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Besides her 228 AP poll appearances while coaching at Notre Dame, McGraw was the starting point guard at Saint Joseph's (Pa.) as a senior in 1977, helping the Hawks to No. 3 in the nation.
Of the 31 people on this list, 16 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart), with McGraw and Baylor's Kim Mulkey are the only active skippers to play for and coach a team in the AP poll, and coach that team to a national title (McGraw in 2001, Mulkey in 2005).
Half And Half
During the past 11 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 234-18 (.929) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 162 of their last 174 such contests (.931).
What's more, in the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 71-1 (.986) when leading at the half, with the only loss coming on April 5, 2011, in the NCAA national championship game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (Notre Dame led Texas A&M, 35-33 at intermission before falling 76-70).
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 17 seasons, Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season (Notre Dame's first in the BIG EAST Conference), the Fighting Irish have an amazing 247-15 (.943) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 17 contests this year.
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 17 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 164-6 (.965) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are three overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995 and UCLA (86-83 in double OT) in 2010, as well as a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008, and a 94-81 setback at Baylor in 2011.
In the past three years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 41-2 (.953) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level in 12 games this season and winning 11 times.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame's success has been its stellar play at home. In fact, the Fighting Irish have been virtually untouchable at home in recent years, winning 216 of their last 243 games (.889) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span (and an active run of 19 in a row). Notre Dame also has a 117-19 (.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 101 of their last 109 non-BIG EAST contests (.927) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the eight losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents (four by 12 points or less) -- Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT), Indiana in 2006 (54-51) and Minnesota in 2009 (79-71) -- with the other defeats coming to Tennessee in 2005 (62-51) and 2008 (87-63), and to UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT). The Purdue loss also snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak which began after the UW setback.
Since its inaugural season in 1977-78, Notre Dame has played all of its games at the former Joyce Center, posting a 366-88 (.806) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Fighting Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, which was the school record for home victories in a season prior to the 2009-10 campaign, when Notre Dame went 16-1, capped by an 84-66 triumph over Vermont in the second round of the NCAA Championship.
Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
The past two seasons have seen an unprecedented surge in fan support for Notre Dame women's basketball, as the Fighting Irish set new program records for the highest year-end NCAA attendance ranking (fourth in 2009-10), highest average attendance (8,553 fans per game in 2010-11) and most sellouts in a single season (six in 2009-10). And, as the old saying goes -- "you ain't seen nothin' yet."
For the third consecutive year, Notre Dame fans exhausted the program's season ticket packages (7,500) and have snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish already sell out five games (Dec. 18 vs. Kentucky, Dec. 28 vs. Longwood, Jan. 7 vs. Connecticut, Jan. 21 vs. Villanova, Jan. 23 vs. Tennessee), and put several others (Feb. 5 vs. DePaul, Feb. 12 vs. West Virginia and Feb. 25 vs. USF) within striking distance of a sellout.
What's more, through its first 12 home games this season, Notre Dame is averaging 8,749 fans per game, including those aforementioned five sellouts (9,149). The Fighting Irish now have posted 16 sellouts in the past three seasons and 22 in program history.
While some additional tickets may be available on the day or week of the game for individual contests this season (depending on returned inventory by visiting teams and other constituencies), it's entirely possible that Notre Dame will flirt with a sell out for every one of its home games during the 2011-12 regular season.
Fighting Irish On Your Radio Dial
Beginning with the 2008-09 athletics year, the Notre Dame athletics department announced it had partnered with the LeSEA Broadcasting Network, making Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) the new radio home of Notre Dame women's basketball in the South Bend market.
LeSEA originates all Notre Dame women's basketball games, with those events carried on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), marking a return to the FM side of the dial for the first time since the 1998-99 season. Combined, these two stations blanket the nation's No. 91 media market (South Bend-Elkhart), covering a 21-county area in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan that contains more than 1.4 million listeners (better than 800,000 in the greater South Bend area alone). All told, Notre Dame's women's basketball network stretches from Kalamazoo, Mich., to the north, North Judson, Ind., to the west, Macy, Ind., (home of former Fighting Irish All-America center Ruth Riley) to the south, and LaGrange, Ind., to the east.
Women's basketball game broadcasts also continue to be streamed live and free of charge on Notre Dame's official athletics web site (www.UND.com) through the Fighting Irish Digital Media package.
Bob Nagle, the voice of Notre Dame women's basketball from 1996-97 through 1998-99 (including the program's first NCAA Final Four berth in 1997), is now in the fourth season of his second stint as the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame On The Small Screen
Notre Dame will have at least 23 regular season games televised during the 2011-12 season. Highlighting this year's broadcast schedule are 11 nationally- or regionally-televised Fighting Irish women's basketball contests, including the program's fifth-ever appearance on network television, and second in as many years (Jan. 7 vs. Connecticut on CBS) and six showings on the ESPN family of networks, including three appearances on that entity's famed "Big Monday" telecast.
In addition, Notre Dame continues to expand its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. For the sixth consecutive season, all Fighting Irish regular-season home games not selected for commercial TV coverage (as well as the Nov. 2 exhibition vs. Windsor) will be webcast live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, www.UND.com, via the site's free Fighting Irish Video Channel.
This year's TV slate continues a trend that has seen the Fighting Irish become a regular fixture on television. Beginning with the NCAA championship season of 2000-01 and continuing through the Jan. 23 game against Tennessee (televised live on ESPN2), Notre Dame has played in 216 televised games, including 161 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, senior guard Natalie Novosel and fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters are serving as Notre Dame's team captains for the 2011-12 season. Mallory is in her second season as team captain, while Novosel and Peters received the captain's honor for the first time in their respective careers following a preseason vote by their teammates.
Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
It's year five of Notre Dame's wildly-successful "Big Mac" promotion, offering fans a coupon for a free Big Mac from South Bend-area McDonald's restaurants if the Fighting Irish score at least 88 points in a home game.
In the five-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 33 times, most recently in the Jan. 17 win over Pittsburgh.
It should come as no surprise that in the short history of the promotion, the Notre Dame player with the most "Big Mac" baskets shares the same initials with the tasty burger -- fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, who has sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) five times, including four during the promotion's inaugural run in 2007-08.
And for those tracking such things (or perhaps falling under the heading of "the media relations director has way too much time on his hands"), 19 different players have converted the "burger ball", including eight current members of the Fighting Irish roster.
What's more, of the 33 Big Mac games to date, 15 have been reached on two-point baskets, 13 on free throws, and five on three-pointers.
Next Game: Rutgers
Notre Dame is back in the Tri-State area on Tuesday when it heads down I-95 to Piscataway, N.J., for a 7 p.m. (ET) matchup with No. 11/12 Rutgers at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. The game will be televised live on the CBS Sports Network, marking the second time in three weeks the Fighting Irish have appeared on that outlet (DirecTV Channel 613, DISH Network Channel 152, plus numerous cable and satellite systems nationwide).
Rutgers (17-3, 6-1) has won eight of its last nine and is coming off a 65-64 comeback win at home over No. 23/22 DePaul on Tuesday night. The Scarlet Knights trailed by 16 points midway through the second half, but rallied down the stretch for the victory.
RU will be on the road Sunday afternoon, visiting No. 20/18 Georgetown before returning home to face Notre Dame next week.