Feb. 1, 2013
#2/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (19-1 / 7-0 BIG EAST) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (8-12 / 0-7 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 2, 2013
No. 2/3 Irish Host Cincinnati Saturday In Annual Pink Zone/Play4Kay Game
The Fighting Irish (19-1, 7-0) extended their winning streak to 14 games and picked up their sixth victory in seven tries this season with Monday's 77-67 win at Tennessee. Notre Dame took control with a 19-6 run early in the second half, then turned back a late Lady Vol rally for its first-ever win over UT in Knoxville.
Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins had a career-high 33 points (22 in the second half), along with five assists and four steals. Freshman guard Jewell Loyd continued her steady play with 10 points, and junior guard Kayla McBride added a season-high 10 rebounds.
Other Notre Dame Notables
UC has lost seven in a row, all in conference play, since the start of the new year, most recently dropping a narrow 54-52 decision at Georgetown on Tuesday night. Sophomore guard Alyesha Lovett scored a career-high 17 points, and redshirt junior guard Dayeesha Hollins added 10 points and nine assists for the Bearcats, who had a pair of shots at the tying basket in the closing seconds, but neither fell.
Hollins ranks 11th in the BIG EAST with a team-high 15.4 points per game, while Lovett is second on the squad in scoring (7.9 ppg.). Junior forward Tiffany Turner adds a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game (10th in BIG EAST) and .558 field goal percentage (third in BIG EAST).
Head coach Jamelle Elliott is in her fourth season at Cincinnati with a 45-65 (.409) record, including an 0-3 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Cincinnati Series
The Last Time Notre Dame And Cincinnati Met
Devereaux Peters added 17 points as Notre Dame emphasized going inside against the overmatched Bearcats. The Fighting Irish led the nation with 84.2 points per game entering the contest at UC, getting a lot of baskets against the Bearcats off jumpers and turnovers.
Novosel made back-to-back three-pointers and a pair of free throws midway through the first half as Notre Dame quickly pushed the lead to 15 points. She had 18 points in the first half, which ended with Notre Dame ahead 42-21.
With Diggins flipping no-look passes inside, the Fighting Irish scored 40 of their points in the paint. Peters had nine points during a 16-2 run that opened the second half, pushed the lead to 35 points and prompted head coach Muffet McGraw to rest her starters.
Dayeesha Hollins had 14 for UC, which had 11 assists as a team, matching Diggins' total.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Cincinnati Met At Purcell Pavilion
Bruszewski scored 12 points in her final home game, and No. 8 Notre Dame cruised past Cincinnati 66-48 on Feb. 26, 2011, before a sellout crowd at Purcell Pavilion.
Devereaux Peters posted her seventh double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Skylar Diggins scored 12 points for Notre Dame, which jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first 2 1/2 minutes, pushed it to 15-6 with 8:24 remaining in the first half and then started the second half with a 21-0 run that put the game away.
Kayla Cook had 18 points for Bearcats, while Shareese Ulis added 14 points.
Cincinnati trailed only 28-20 at halftime before the Fighting Irish went on their big run. The Bearcats' bench was hit with a technical foul with 17:19 remaining, and Kaila Turner hit back-to-back three-pointers that made it 61-30 with about nine minutes left as the rout was on.
Other Notre Dame-Cincinnati Series Tidbits
In The (Pink) Zone
The Fighting Irish are 3-1 in Pink Zone games and have raised more than $450,000 in donations during those four seasons, including a school-record $204,682 last year (among the most in the nation by a Division I program).
On Saturday, Notre Dame will hold a luncheon in Club Naimoli at Purcell Pavilion to recognize members of the College of Science who are on the front lines in the fight to find a cure for cancer (the keynote speaker is Mary Hesburgh Flaherty ('79), who herself is a cancer survivor and the niece of Notre Dame President Emeritus Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C.), while there will be a gameday silent auction in the Monogram Room at Purcell Pavilion, featuring numerous Notre Dame women's basketball items including a variety of memorabilia from the program's recent NCAA Women's Final Four appearances in 2011 and 2012.
Once again this year, all funds raised by Notre Dame during its Pink Zone campaign will be divided between a local recipient (the Foundation of St. Joseph Regional Medical Center) and a national charity (the Kay Yow Cancer Fund).
Peaking When It Counts
In the 26-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present), the Fighting Irish are 147-43 (.774) in the month of February, including a 78-12 (.867) home record. In that time, Notre Dame has never posted a losing record in February, and only once did the Fighting Irish end the month at .500 (4-4 in 1988-89, McGraw's second season in South Bend).
The Rare Air Up There
Starting with its 2011 NCAA Elite Eight win over Tennessee in Dayton, Ohio, Notre Dame has gone a combined 8-1 against Connecticut and Tennessee, with no other senior class at any school having compiled that many wins against those two traditional powers since 1988-89 (when Connecticut made its first NCAA postseason appearance).
A Class Like None Other
Prior to the 2011-12 season, the highest four-year win total by a senior class was 109, set by the Class of 2001 that included (among others) consensus national player of the year and 12-year WNBA veteran Ruth Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey.
Start Me Up
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.
Nearing The Halfway Mark
The past two times Notre Dame has started 7-0 in the BIG EAST, it has gone on to win the conference regular season title (shared in 2000-01, outright in 2011-12).
The school record for the best start to a BIG EAST season is 15-0, set back in 1999-2000.
Notre Dame also has strung together 13 double-digit winning streaks in the program's 36-year history, with 11 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
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).
Spreading The Wealth
Everyone Pitches In
Thus far in 2012-13, it would appear the Fighting Irish are making this mission truly a team effort. On the scoring side, 10 of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including junior forward Ariel Braker (six times, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined), sophomore guards Madison Cable (three times) and Whitney Holloway (once - the first double-digit games of both Cable and Holloway's careers) and freshman guards Jewell Loyd (14 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 11 of her 13 career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading 11 double-doubles (five against ranked opponents, four in conference play) after logging one double-double in her career prior to this season.
The Best Things In Life Are Free
Through their first 20 games, the Fighting Irish lead the nation in free throw percentage, shooting a remarkable .810 (370-of-457) from the charity stripe, including a season-high .941 (16-of-17) on Jan. 23 in a victory at Pittsburgh.
On average, Notre Dame is getting to the line nearly 23 times per game, converting better than 18 free throws a night. At the same time, the Fighting Irish have made almost 30 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (370 made, 287 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. She also would rank fourth in the nation, but she is three made foul shots away from the minimum needed for qualification (2.5 FTM/game).
McBride is one of four Notre Dame players who appear among the top 10 in the current BIG EAST free throw rankings, with senior guard Skylar Diggins ranking third (.848; also 14th in nation), freshman guard Jewell Loyd standing seventh (.803) and junior forward Natalie Achonwa tied for ninth (.800).
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.
Diggins joins Riley (2,072 points from 1997-2001), Katryna Gaither (2,126 points from 1993-97) and current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham (2,322 points from 1993-97) as the only players to reach the 2,000-point milestone in a Fighting Irish uniform.
Two other interesting side notes -- Diggins is the first Fighting Irish women's basketball player to score her 2,000th point at home, and she is 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.).
Diggins Challenging School Records
The Diggins Factor
Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 19 losses in Diggins' career primarily have been ones that could have gone either way, with 11 decided by single digits (six were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.
With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted three of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 78.9 ppg. last year, after logging 77.0 ppg. in 2010-11, and 77.2 ppg. in her freshman season of 2009-10. Notre Dame is on pace to mirror those figures this season, currently averaging 82.2 ppg. (which ranks second nationally).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.47 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 12.0 spg. (which would put the Fighting Irish around 350 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 57.0 points per game.
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 13.5 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.2 rpg.), while scoring in double figures 16 times and grabbing double-digit rebounds on 11 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 (11, including five in six games against ranked teams and four against conference foes) 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 (20th - 13.5 ppg.), rebounding (2nd - 9.2 rpg.), field goal percentage (6th - .540; also 21st nationally) and free throw percentage (tied-9th - .800).
Achonwa's development has not gone entirely 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 three Notre Dame players (along with senior guard Skylar Diggins and junior guard Kayla McBride) to make the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll at least twice this season, earning a spot on the Dec. 10 and Jan. 14 rundowns.
The Erie Warrior
McBride currently is tied for 16th in the BIG EAST in scoring (13.9 ppg.) and leads the conference in free throw percentage (.940). In both areas, she is posting career-high marks, including a nearly 20-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 six of Notre Dame's seven games against ranked opponents to date (17.0 ppg.) and a career-high 21 points at No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 5.
In fact, in her last 22 games against Top 25 opponents, McBride is averaging 14.3 points per game, scoring in double figures 19 times and posting both of her career double-doubles (10 points, career-high 12 rebounds vs. No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 7, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion; 13 points, 10 rebounds at No. 13/14 Rutgers on Jan. 31, 2012).
The Lincolnwood, Ill., native has appeared in all 20 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 19 times), scoring in double figures 14 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 scoring (24th - 12.6 ppg.) and free throw percentage (7th - .803), and would be fifth in the conference in three-point percentage (.400), but she is two made three-pointers shy of the minimum (1.0 3FGM/game).
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.
Game #20 Recap: Tennessee
On a night when Tennessee was honoring one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history, Diggins delivered one of the best performances of her brilliant career. The senior guard scored a career-high 33 points as No. 2 Notre Dame beat the ninth-ranked Lady Vols 77-67 Monday for its 14th straight victory.
Diggins' big performance spoiled Tennessee's celebration of former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, who had a banner raised in her honor at Thompson-Boling Arena before the game.
Diggins took over the game early in the first half to put the Fighting Irish ahead. She dominated on both ends of the floor again early in the second half as Notre Dame built a 19-point lead. After Tennessee cut the margin to five in the closing minutes, Diggins responded again.
Bashaara Graves had 19 points and 13 rebounds for UT, which had won its previous nine. Taber Spani added 12 points and Meighan Simmons had 11 points. Jewell Loyd had 10 points for Notre Dame, while Kayla McBride had nine points and season-high 10 rebounds.
Beyond The Box Score: Tennessee
The Benefits Of Leadership
Collectively, the Notre Dame staff has 45 seasons of head coaching experience, which ranks fifth among Division I schools behind only Stanford (52), Villanova (50), Ohio State (48) and Rutgers (46).
The game was played to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project, which aids returning veterans who have been injured while in the service of our country, and the Fighting Irish were exceptionally proud and honored to have former Notre Dame guard, U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (`00) join the team on the bench for their historic game against Ohio State. Green, who lost her left (shooting) hand in May 2004 during a rocket-propelled grenade attack while on patrol on the roof of a police station in Baghdad, Iraq, delivered an inspiring pre-game speech to the current Fighting Irish squad before they came out to face Ohio State.
Notre Dame won this year's Carrier Classic game, 57-51, behind the second career double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) from junior forward Natalie Achonwa and 16 points from junior guard Kayla McBride. After the game, head coach Muffet McGraw said the victory was dedicated to Green.
An added postscript -- Green recently accepted a job with the South Bend Veterans Administration Clinic and will be relocating from her hometown of Chicago.
The Fighting Irish reached a milestone on Nov. 26 with their No. 5 ranking, which was their 100th consecutive AP poll appearance. It not only extended the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001), but it made the Fighting Irish are one of six teams in the nation with an active streak of 100 consecutive AP poll appearances.
What's more, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career (70 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (59) 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 248 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 for the fourth consecutive week in the latest 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 109 of the past 110 weeks (and 73 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 242 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the fifth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 11 of the past 15 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Besides her 248 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
What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 102-2 (.981) when leading at the half, with the only losses coming on April 5, 2011, in the NCAA national championship game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (Notre Dame led Texas A&M, 35-33 at intermission before falling 76-70), and Feb. 12, 2012, against West Virginia (Fighting Irish led 33-30 at the break before the visiting Mountaineers rallied to win in the closing seconds, 65-63).
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
In the past four years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 53-2 (.964) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level eight times this season.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
Since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 57-5 (.919) -- including wins in 33 of its last 35 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 124-20 (.861) 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 380-90 (.809) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Fighting Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, which was the school record for home victories in a season prior to the 2009-10 campaign, when Notre Dame went 16-1, a mark that lasted only two seasons before the Fighting Irish posted a 17-1 record at Purcell Pavilion last year.
Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
For the fourth consecutive preseason, Notre Dame fans all but exhausted the program's season ticket packages (approximately 7,500) and snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish produce two advanced sellouts (Dec. 5 vs. Baylor; March 4 vs. Connecticut).
Notre Dame is setting records at the box office again this season, already tying last year's school record with eight sellouts in 10 home games (including the past six contests), and the Nov. 18 game against Massachusetts marking the first home-opening sellout in school history. All told, the Fighting Irish have welcomed 33 sellout crowds in the program's 36-year tenure, including 27 in the past four years alone (2009-10 to present).
The Fighting Irish currently rank fifth in the nation in average attendance, drawing 8,988 fans per game, which is 400 fans more than last year's school record and factors to better than 98 percent of Purcell Pavilion's listed capacity of 9,149.
Coming Soon: Irish in the ACC
The change in conference affiliation (for which a timetable has not yet been established) will be the first for Notre Dame since 1995, when the Fighting Irish moved from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) to the BIG EAST Conference.
In its 18 seasons in the BIG EAST, the Notre Dame women's basketball program has been the one of the conference's best, winning two BIG EAST regular season titles (2001 and 2012) and compiling a 223-64 (.777) record in league play that remains the second-best regular season winning percentage in BIG EAST women's basketball history.
Next Game: Villanova
Villanova (16-4, 5-2 BIG EAST) has been receiving votes in the polls for the past six weeks, even rising to No. 25 in last week's ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll. However, the Wildcats have lost two of their last three games, most recently a 76-43 defeat at No. 3/2 Connecticut on Tuesday night. VU will visit Rutgers Saturday before returning home next week to face Notre Dame.