Feb. 4, 2011
#8/8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (19-4 / 8-1 BIG EAST) vs. South Florida Bulls (10-12 / 1-7 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 5, 2011
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Tampa, Fla. - Sun Dome (10,411)
SERIES: ND leads 6-2
1ST MTG: ND 73-50 (12/13/97)
LAST MTG: ND 81-64 (1/12/10)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: GoUSFBulls.com
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No. 8 Irish Back On Road Saturday Night At South Florida
With northern Indiana still digging out from a massive blizzard earlier this week, No. 8 Notre Dame heads for a slightly warmer climate, as the Fighting Irish prepare to take on South Florida at 7 p.m. (ET) Saturday inside the Sun Dome in Tampa, Fla.
Notre Dame (19-4, 8-1 BIG EAST) earned its third win over a ranked opponent in the past two weeks on Tuesday, leading wire-to-wire in a 71-48 victory over No. RV/25 Syracuse at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish continued to crank up their defensive intensity, forcing 24 Orange turnovers (16 on steals) and holding the visitors to a .255 field goal percentage while beating SU at its own game with a +10 rebounding edge (Syracuse led the nation with a +16.6 rpg. margin coming into the contest).
Senior forward Devereaux Peters collected her sixth double-double in the last 11 games (fourth in BIG EAST play) with 15 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Junior guard Natalie Novosel and freshman forward Natalie Achonwa each chipped in 13 points, and senior forward Becca Bruszewski added 12 points, including the 1,000th marker of her career.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At South Florida
There are plenty of new faces on the South Florida roster this season, as the Bulls welcome six newcomers and four transfers to the mix, blending with two returning starters and seven veterans from last year's WNIT squad.
USF (10-12, 1-7 BIG EAST) has found the sledding a bit rough lately, dropping eight of its last nine, including a 78-57 decision at Syracuse in its most recent contest on Jan. 29. Junior guard Andrea Smith scored a game-high 23 points in the loss, earning a spot on the latest BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll as a result.
Smith leads the Bulls in scoring (17.0 ppg.) and steals (1.5 spg.) to go along with a team-best 41 three-pointers. Senior center Porche Grant has been among the BIG EAST's top rebounders all season, currently standing second at 9.6 rpg., along with 7.6 points and a team-high 1.3 blocks per game.
Head coach Jose Fernandez is in his 11th season at USF, owning a 168-161 (.511) record with the Bulls, including a 2-4 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-South Florida Series
The series between Notre Dame and South Florida has been playe primarily since USF joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06, with the Fighting Irish holding 6-2 series lead against the Bulls, including a 2-1 edge at the Sun Dome in Tampa. Notre Dame also has won the last three matchups in the series.
The Last Time Notre Dame And South Florida Met
No. 3 Notre Dame couldn't shake South Florida until blowing the game open with a 19-3 run in the final seven minutes to win 81-64, on Jan. 12, 2010, at Purcell Pavilion behind Lindsay Schrader's 18 points and 13 rebounds.
South Florida stayed in the game by shooting 50 percent until going cold with 7:30 left, when it went just 1-of-7 from the floor. Natalie Novosel ignited the decisive 19-3 run for the Fighting Irish with a three-pointer with 6:02 left and later added a driving layup, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Sequoyah Griffin led the Bulls with 16 points and Leondra Doomes-Stephens added 12. Skylar Diggins scored 14 points, Novosel had 12, Melissa Lechlitner scored 11 and Ashley Barlow had nine points and 11 rebounds. Diggins also played tough defense in a game where the Fighting Irish didn't play as well defensively as they normally do.
The Last Time Notre Dame And South Florida Met At The Sun Dome
Lindsay Schrader scored 26 points and Becca Bruszewski added 20 to help No. 24 Notre Dame rally past South Florida 86-79 on Feb. 17, 2009, at the Sun Dome in Tampa.
Notre Dame scored the first five points of the game, but a 15-2 run helped South Florida lead by as many as 14 midway through the first half.
Janae Stokes paced South Florida with 16 points, and Jazmine Sepulveda scored all of her 15 points before the Bulls took a 52-44 advantage into the half.
Porche Grant (14), Jessica Lawson (12) and Shantia Grace (11) also scored in double figures for the Bulls.
Schrader was one of three Notre Dame players to reach double digits before halftime with 14 points. Bruszewski and Ashley Barlow each chipped in 11.
Barlow finished with 16 and Erica Solomon had 10.
Other Notre Dame-South Florida Series Tidbits
Sunshine State Success
Notre Dame is 23-5 (.821) all-time against Florida schools, including a 14-2 (.875) record against Sunshine State teams away from home (road/neutral combined), and a 12-2 (.857) mark on their opponent's home court.
The only true road losses the Fighting Irish have taken in the state of Florida came on Feb. 3, 1998, at Miami (77-76 on Octavia Blue's free throw after time expired) and Jan. 13, 2007, at South Florida (87-78 in overtime).
Notre Dame also is 15-3 (.833) when playing in the state of Florida, regardless of the opposition, with the only other loss coming to James Madison, 53-51, on Jan. 3, 1986 at Miami's Burger King Classic in Coral Gables (JMU won on a three-point play with four seconds left).
Peaking When It Counts
When the regular season enters its stretch run in the month of February, Notre Dame historically seems to raise its level of play. Since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, the Fighting Irish are 88-25 (.779) in February games, including a 50-5 (.909) mark at home.
In the 24-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-present), the Fighting Irish are 136-40 (.773) in the month of February, including a 72-11 (.867) home record. In that time, Notre Dame has not had a losing 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
For the first time since Dec. 9, 2002, both Notre Dame basketball teams are ranked in the top 10 of their respective Associated Press polls. The Fighting Irish women are ranked eighth this week, while Mike Brey's men check in at No. 9.
Notre Dame is one of three schools in the country with matching top-10 basketball programs, along with Connecticut (No. 2 women/No. 6 men) and Duke (No. 3 women/No. 5 men).
If you want to go one further, this marks the first time in Notre Dame athletics history that both Fighting Irish basketball teams AND the Notre Dame hockey team are ranked in the top 10 at the same time (the Fighting Irish icers currently stand 10th in the nation).
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into Saturday's game ranked third in the nation in steals with 14.6 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 18 games this season, including four contests with 20-plus steals.
Highlighting this year's takeaway brigade for Notre Dame was a school-record 36-steal performance in the season-opening victory against New Hampshire on Nov. 12 at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish followed that up three days later with 26 thefts in a win over Morehead State, and also logged 24 steals at Valparaiso (Dec. 2) and 23 steals against IUPUI (Nov. 26).
Prior to this season, Notre Dame had posted 23 steals in a game just seven times in the first 33 years 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).
Individually, Notre Dame has 11 different players with double-digit steals this season (four with at least 40 thefts), led by senior guard Brittany Mallory, who has collected a team-high 2.3 steals per game (sixth in the BIG EAST).
Notre Dame also enters Saturday's game ranked sixth in the country in assists (19.1 apg.), having dished out at least 20 assists in 13 games this season.
Further illustrating the Fighting Irish giving spirit, Notre Dame has assisted on 63 percent of its baskets this season, with 439 assists on 697 field goals.
At the head of the Fighting Irish assist company is sophomore Skylar Diggins, who has adapted well to her role as Notre Dame's primary point guard, ranking fifth in the BIG EAST Conference at 4.7 assists per game, and 15th in the league with a 1.35 assist/turnover ratio. She also has handed out at least five assists in 15 games this season, after tallying seven five-assist games during her entire freshman campaign.
Notre Dame also ranks fourth in the nation with a .486 field goal percentage, shooting 50 percent or better from the floor in 12 games this season, and at least 45 percent in 19 outings.
Notre Dame also has seen a recent rise in its three-point shooting numbers. During the past 14 games, the Fighting Irish are connecting at a 37.7 percent clip (52-of-138) from beyond the arc. Compare that with the first nine contests of the season, when Notre Dame had a .269 (29-of-108) three-point percentage.
Notre Dame ranks among the top 10 in the nation in eight categories according to Friday's NCAA statistics report -- third in scoring margin (+28.3 ppg.), steals (14.6 spg.) and three-point percentage defense (.235), fourth in field goal percentage (.486), sixth in scoring offense (81.3 ppg.), assists (19.1 apg.) and turnover margin (+7.13), and ninth in rebound margin (+10.4 rpg.).
In addition, Notre Dame ranks in the top 15 in the NCAA in 11 of a possible 17 categories (not counting won-loss percentage), adding in scoring defense (13th, 53.0 ppg.), assist/turnover ratio (14th, 1.11), and field goal percentage defense (15th, .342).
Yet for all of these high team statistical marks, no Fighting Irish individual ranks higher than No. 60 in any single category -- sophomore guard Skylar Diggins is 60th in the nation in assists (4.7 apg.).
High Octane Offense
Behind one of the nation's top 10 scoring offenses (81.3 ppg., sixth as of Friday), Notre Dame is moving into uncharted territory in the school's record books.
The Fighting Irish have scored 90 points in a game in eight contests this season, setting a new school record for 90-point games in a season (the previous mark was seven, set on three occasions - 1996-97, 1998-99 and 2007-08).
Notre Dame also has set a new school record with eight wins by at least 35 points, doubling the previous program standard of four 35-point victories set in 2008-09.
What's more, the Fighting Irish have won 11 games by at least 30 points, topping the school record of 10 30-point victories, which was set during the program's 2000-01 national championship season.
Last year, Notre Dame averaged 77.2 points per game, the fifth-highest single-season scoring average in school history, and best since the Fighting Irish logged a school-record 81.0 ppg. mark in 1998-99.
One of Notre Dame's greatest areas of improvement this season has been in the rebounding column, where the Fighting Irish are averaging 42.6 caroms per game, up more than two rebounds from last year's total at this time (40.4 rpg.) and good enough for third in the BIG EAST.
Notre Dame also is giving up just 32.2 rebounds per game, nearly four caroms better than last year at this time (35.9 rpg.) and tied for second in the conference.
With a +10.4 rpg. margin this season, the Fighting Irish rank third in the BIG EAST and ninth in the country as of Friday.
What's more, Notre Dame has outrebounded its opponent by double digits in 12 games this season, including seven games in which the Fighting Irish posted rebound margins of +15 or better, topped by a season-high +42 mark (66-24) on Jan. 2 against Southeast Missouri State at Purcell Pavilion.
Everyone Gets Into The Act
The Fighting Irish have spread the wealth so far this season, with six different players leading the team in scoring in at least one game thus far, with four different 20-point scorers along the way.
Notre Dame also has seen no fewer than seven different players claim team-high rebounding and assist honors this season.
Missed It By That Much
Notre Dame may hold a 19-4 record coming into Saturday's game, but the Fighting Irish are oh-so-close to owning a much better mark, with all four losses coming to top-15 opponents by an average margin of just 5.5 points per game (three by single digits and the fourth by 11 points).
What's more, Notre Dame led inside the final 30 seconds of regulation in two of those losses (No. 15 UCLA, also at the end of the first overtime; No. 2 Connecticut), and the Fighting Irish also had a possession to tie the game in the final 30 seconds at No. 9/10 Kentucky.
The fourth loss (at No. 2/3 Baylor) saw Notre Dame battle to within six points (65-59) with five minutes remaining and have a look at a three-pointer to halve the margin further on their next possession, but the shot rattled out and the Lady Bears managed to put the game away with nine free throws (despite making only one field goal during the final 8:23).
Novosel Is Just Plain Nasty
Nicknamed "Nasty" for her playmaking abilities, junior guard Natalie Novosel is rapidly making a strong case as one of the most improved players in the BIG EAST Conference, if not the entire country.
The Lexington, Ky., native currently leads the Fighting Irish (and ranks eighth in the league) in scoring at 14.8 points per game, nearly tripling her offensive output from a season ago. She also has scored at least 20 points in a game four times this year (after coming into the campaign with a career single-game high of 19 points) and has scored in double figures 20 times after doing so a total of 14 times in her first two seasons combined at Notre Dame.
In addition, Novosel added some hardware to her personal trophy case as well, taking home Most Valuable Player honors at the WBCA Classic, earning a spot on the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic All-Tournament Team and also garnering a place on the Nov. 29 BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll.
Thus, it's no surprise that ESPN.com's Graham Hays tweeted the following comment after Novosel's career-high 27 points (8-11 FG, 2-2 3FG, 9-9 FT) vs. Gonzaga in a 70-61 Fighting Irish win on Dec. 29 in Seattle:
"Is Natalie Novosel the most improved player in the nation? Gotta be on the short list."
Peters Showing Her Own Dev-elopment
If Novosel is among the nation's most improved players, senior forward Devereaux Peters can't be far behind. The veteran frontliner is playing some of the best basketball of her career this season, putting a pair of knee injuries and three surgeries well in the rearview mirror.
A three-time BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll selection, Peters currently is averaging career highs of 11.5 points per game (tied for 28th in the BIG EAST) and 7.2 rebounds per game (10th), along with a .584 field goal percentage (fourth), 1.7 blocks per game (sixth), 2.0 steals per game (11th) and a career-high .778 field goal percentage.
In fact, Peters may not only be challenging Novosel as the BIG EAST's Most Improved Player, but she also is staking a hefty claim as the conference's top defensive player, as she currently is one of just two players (along with Connecticut's Maya Moore) to rank among the top 15 in the BIG EAST in the three major defensive statistical categories (rebounds, steals and blocks).
Peters' numbers in BIG EAST play are even more eye-popping, as she leads the league in field goal percentage (.622), while ranking second in both rebounding (8.6 rpg.) and blocks (2.1 bpg.) and tying for 10th in scoring (13.9 ppg.). She also leads the BIG EAST with four double-doubles in nine conference games to date.
Like Novosel, Peters regularly has been pulling in accolades this season, earning a spot on the WBCA Classic All-Tournament Team and garnering MVP honors at the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic in Seattle. During the latter tournament on Dec. 29-30, she averaged 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.5 blocks per game with a .684 field goal percentage (13-of-19) in wins over Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount.
That tournament effort has been the cornerstone of Peters' post-Christmas surge. In the past 11 games, the Chicago native is averaging 14.0 points and 9.4 rebounds with six double-doubles with a .623 field goal percentage (66-of-106).
Peters Adds Griner To SWAT Team
Senior forward Devereaux Peters has made a living as a shot blocking presence in the paint for Notre Dame throughout her career, with her 6-foot-2 frame and 77-inch wingspan. However, on Dec. 1 at No. 2/3 Baylor, she added another notch to her belt in historic fashion.
At the 10:22 mark of the second half, the Lady Bears threw an entry pass in to their 6-foot-8 sophomore All-America center Brittney Griner, but as she turned to shoot, Peters rotated perfectly from the weak side and rejected Griner's shot out of bounds. It was one of the highlights in a 17-2 Fighting Irish run that pulled Notre Dame within six points of Baylor with five minutes left.
It's believed to be the first time in Griner's two-year college career that she has had a shot blocked. A video clip of Peters' block has been posted on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball YouTube channel (search for "notredameirishhoops" or click the link through the sidebar on the women's basketball page at www.UND.com).
Bruszewski Joins 1,000-Point Club
With 12 points vs. Syracuse on Feb. 1, senior forward/co-captain Becca Bruszewski became the 27th Notre Dame women's basketball player to score 1,000 points in her career. She currently ranked 25th on the program's all-time scoring list with 1,007 points.
Bruszewski also became the fifth player from Notre Dame's 2007-08 NCAA Sweet 16 team to hit the 1,000-point mark, joining Charel Allen (1,566 from 2004-08), Ashley Barlow (1,492 from 2006-10), Lindsay Schrader (1,429 from 2005-10) and Melissa Lechlitner (1,005 from 2006-10) in that group.
Five other teams in Fighting Irish women's basketball history have featured at least five current or future 1,000-point scorers on the same roster -- from 1995-96 through 1999-2000, every Notre Dame squad had five or more players who had reached or would reach the 1,000-point plateau during their careers (including a school-record six on the 1996-97 and 1997-98 squads).
Aside from head coach Muffet McGraw and current associate coach Carol Owens, the one common link between those teams was guard Danielle Green, who scored 1,106 points from 1995-2000, missing the 1996-97 Final Four season with a preseason Achilles injury and coming back for a fifth year of eligibility in 1999-2000.
Diggins Makes Wooden Award Midseason Top 20 Candidate List
Sophomore guard Skylar Diggins is among a group of 20 women's basketball players who have been chosen as midseason candidates for the John R. Wooden Award, it was announced Jan. 11 by the Los Angeles Athletic Club. The Wooden Award, which is presented annually to the nation's top player, compiled its midseason candidates based upon individual performance and team results, with the current list of student-athletes comprising the frontrunners for this year's award.
A consensus preseason All-America selection and candidate for every major national player of the year award, Diggins is one of three BIG EAST players on the Wooden Award Midseason Top 20 List, joined by Connecticut's Maya Moore and Georgetown's Sugar Rodgers. Diggins also is one of just three sophomores on the Wooden Award candidate rundown, along with Rodgers and Baylor's Brittney Griner.
Game #23 Recap: Syracuse
Becca Bruszewski became the 27th player in Notre Dame history to score 1,000 points and Devereaux Peters had 15 points and 11 rebounds as the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish beat No. RV/25 Syracuse 71-48 on Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion.
The Fighting Irish (19-4, 8-1) dominated in the paint, outscoring the Orange (16-5, 4-4) 36-16 inside. Notre Dame also outrebounded Syracuse 44-34.
Syracuse struggled offensively all night, shooting 25.5 percent from the field and turning the ball over 24 times. From behind the arc, the Orange were 2 for 14.
Neither the Syracuse post players nor guards could get going in the paint, as active hands and sturdy positioning kept the Orange from getting anything easy.
Elashier Hall, Syracuse's leading scorer this season, was scoreless on 0 for 3 from the field.
Center Kayla Alexander led the Orange with 19 points and five rebounds.
Although the Fighting Irish dominated on the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame was far from fluid on offense.
Natalie Achonwa had 13 points off the bench for the Fighting Irish.
Skylar Diggins did a little bit of everything for the Fighting Irish, scoring eight points and adding seven rebounds, five assists and five steals for good measure.
Noting The Syracuse Game
A Defensive Effort Like No Other
Defense has been a major focal point for Notre Dame this season, but in their 97-21 win over Southeast Missouri State on Jan. 2 at Purcell Pavilion, the Fighting Irish took that emphasis to record-setting levels:
Notre Dame has felt right at home in tournament situations during the past 15 years. Starting with the 1996-97 season, the Fighting Irish have won 26 of their last 29 regular-season tournament games (multi-game events only), including three-game runs to the title at last year's Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and this year's WBCA Classic at Purcell Pavilion, as well as a two-game sweep at this year's State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic in Seattle (which did not officially crown a champion because of its pre-determined matchups).
The only Notre Dame losses during this current stretch were a pair of defeats to third-ranked teams in the Preseason WNIT semifinals (72-59 vs. Tennessee at Ruston, La., in 1996; 75-59 at Maryland in 2007) and a 67-63 overtime setback at No. 20 Colorado on Nov. 15, 2003 in the finals of the WBCA Classic -- a game that saw the Buffaloes sink a desperation 30-footer at the end of regulation to force the extra session.
Notre Dame played two regular-season tournaments this year, the first time the Fighting Irish have competed in multiple tourneys in the same season since 1996-97 (third place at Preseason WNIT; champion of Georgia Tech Comfort Inn Downtown Classic).
Only twice in school history has Notre Dame won two regular-season tournament titles in the same year, and both occurred during the program's Division III era. In 1978-79, the Fighting Irish won the Huntington (Ind.) University Tournament and the Northern Illinois Huskie Invitational. The following season, Notre Dame claimed top honors at the Taylor (Ind.) University Invitational and repeated as the champion of the Northern Illinois Huskie Invitational.
Notre Dame is ranked a season-high eighth in the Jan. 31 Associated Press poll. That marked the 71st 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).
With their current poll position, Notre Dame now has appeared in the top 10 of the AP poll in each of the past four seasons and 11 of the past 15 seasons (1996-97 to present), as well as 97 weeks overall since the Fighting Irish earned their initial AP top-10 ranking (No. 9 on Nov. 24, 1996).
This year's No. 12 preseason ranking also represented the 11th time in the past 12 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the preseason AP poll, something only eight schools in the nation have done -- Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee have shown up in all 12 during that span, while Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Stanford join the Fighting Irish with 11 preseason AP poll berths.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 210 weeks during the program's 34-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 13th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also is 22nd all-time in that category.
In addition, the Fighting Irish rose to a season-best No. 8 in the Feb. 1 ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll. Notre Dame now has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 71 of the past 72 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 202 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the third consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as nine of the past 13 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 30 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 210 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 rise to No. 3 in the nation.
Of the 30 people on this list, 16 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart), including former Fighting Irish point guard and assistant coach Coquese Washington ('92), who helped Notre Dame to its first-ever AP poll ranking in 1990-91, and is in her fourth season as head coach at Penn State, guiding the Lady Lions into the AP poll at No. 23 on Jan. 25, 2010.
Six of the 16 active coaches in this group -- including McGraw -- led their teams to this year's NCAA Championship, while 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).
The 700 Club
With a 91-47 win over Loyola Marymount on Dec. 30 at the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic in Seattle, Notre Dame became the 32nd NCAA Division I program to record 700 victories -- the Fighting Irish now own an all-time record of 708-306 (.698).
Ironically, Saint Joseph's (Pa.) -- the alma mater of Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw -- earned its 700th win one day before Notre Dame, edging out the Fighting Irish as the first Catholic Division I program to hit the mark.
Half And Half
During the past decade, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 206-17 (.924) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 134 of their last 145 such contests, and 43 in a row since a 58-47 loss to Villanova on March 8, 2009, in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at Hartford's XL Center (Notre Dame led 25-21 at intermission).
The Fighting Irish have been up at the break in 18 games this year, including their Feb. 1 win over Syracuse when they led 34-20 through the first 20 minutes.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 16 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 224-15 (.937) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including victories in 16 contests this season (New Hampshire, Morehead State, IUPUI, Butler, Purdue, Providence, Creighton, Valparaiso, Loyola Marymount, Southeast Missouri State, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova, Syracuse).
...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 16 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 152-5 (.968) 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, and an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008.
Notre Dame has topped the 80-point mark in 13 games this year (12-1 record) after going 17-0 last season when it scored at least 80 points.
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 201 of their last 228 games (.882) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span. Notre Dame also has a 110-19 (.853) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the former Joyce Center, sporting a 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 93 of their last 101 non-BIG EAST contests (.921) 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 351-88 (.800) 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 last year, when Notre Dame went 16-1, capped by an 84-66 triumph over Vermont on March 23, 2010, in the second round of the NCAA Championship.
Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
The 2009-10 season saw 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), highest average attendance (8,377 fans per game) and most sellouts (six) in a single season. And, as the old saying goes -- "you ain't seen nothin' yet."
For the second consecutive preseason, Notre Dame fans have all but exhausted the program's season ticket packages (close to 7,500) and are snapping up single-game ducats at a rate that will have the Fighting Irish challenging their freshly-minted single-season average attendance record in 2010-11.
Notre Dame has wasted little time in getting started with that challenge, averaging 8,503 fans for its 14 home games this season (fifth in the country according to this week's NCAA attendance report), including sellout crowds of 9,149 for its games against games against Purdue (Dec. 5), Connecticut (Jan. 8) and St. John's (Jan. 23).
Part of the appeal of Notre Dame women's basketball can be traced to the renovated Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, which has yet another new feature this season with the addition of a four-sided LED video scoreboard high above center court, as well as LED auxiliary scoreboards above all four court-level entrance ramps and at the scorer's table.
McGraw Is Simply Legendary
The announcement on July 10, 2010, may have made it official, but it really only confirmed what Notre Dame fans have known for a very long time -- head coach Muffet McGraw is a Hall of Famer.
McGraw, the 2001 consensus national coach of the year and winner of more than 600 games in her illustrious career, was one of six people -- and the lone coach -- named to the 2011 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Class, as announced in Uncasville, Conn., during the "WNBA vs. USA Basketball: The Stars at the Sun Game" that was televised live nationally on ESPN from Mohegan Sun Arena.
The others in McGraw's Hall of Fame class include former Olympic gold medalists Ruthie Bolton (Auburn) and Vicky Bullett (Maryland), as well as Val Ackerman, the first WNBA president (1996-2005) and first female president of USA Basketball (2005-08), and a pair of three-time All-America players from the pre-NCAA era, Pearl Moore (Frances Marion) and Lometa Odom (Wayland Baptist).
The '11 class offically was introduced at the 2010 State Farm Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 16 at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., before the Connecticut-Baylor game. The group will be enshrined June 10-12, 2011, during the 13th annual Induction Weekend at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.
McGraw becomes the first Notre Dame selection for the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. The Fighting Irish skipper also is the third BIG EAST Conference coach chosen for the honor, joining Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer (2001) and Connecticut's Geno Auriemma (2006) in that elite company. First-year Seton Hall head coach Anne Donovan also was a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inaugural class in 1999, going in primarily for her accomplishments as a player at Old Dominion.
McGraw also will be the ninth active college head coach to enter the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame on the basis of her success on the sidelines. Besides Stringer and Auriemma, the others on this list are: Pat Summitt (1999 - Tennessee), Van Chancellor (2001 - LSU), Tara VanDerveer (2002 - Stanford), Sylvia Hatchell (2004 - North Carolina), Andy Landers (2007 - Georgia) and Debbie Ryan (2008 - Virginia).
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 1.35 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 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 All-Access multimedia 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), returns for his third season in 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 26 regular season games televised during the 2010-11 season. Highlighting this year's broadcast schedule are seven nationally- or regionally-televised Fighting Irish women's basketball contests, including the program's fourth-ever appearance on network television (Jan. 8 vs. Connecticut on CBS), two showings on the ESPN family of networks, and three others on CBS College Sports.
In addition, Notre Dame continues to expand its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. All Fighting Irish regular-season home games not selected for commercial TV coverage will be webcast live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, www.UND.com, via the site's free multimedia package, Fighting Irish All-Access.
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 Feb. 1 Syracuse contest (which was webcast live on UND.com), Notre Dame has played in 185 televised games, including 131 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Senior forward Becca Bruszewski and senior guard Brittany Mallory are serving as Notre Dame's team captains for the 2010-11 season. Both players received the captain's honor for the first time in their respective careers following a preseason vote by their teammates.
Notre Dame Pink Zone Efforts Underway
Following last year's wildly-successful fundraising efforts for the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's Pink Zone breast cancer initiative, Notre Dame is aiming even higher this season, as it draws closer to the Feb. 12 Pink Zone game vs. Rutgers. For that game, the Fighting Irish will wear unique white and pink uniforms, with Notre Dame also holding special events during the game in honor and memory of those touched by breast cancer.
In 2009-10, the Fighting Irish collected more than $103,000 for the global unified effort by the WBCA's membership to assist in raising breast cancer awareness on the court, across campuses, in communities and beyond.
Notre Dame's local Pink Zone drive is led by primary sponsor Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, with donations divided between the Foundation for Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center's Women's Task Force and the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.
This year, Notre Dame is bringing back some of its more popular fundraising activities, including the Fighting Irish Three-Point Pledge (fans donate a certain amount for every three-pointer made by Notre Dame this season) and the Notre Dame Pink Zone Store (sales of various Pink Zone items, including t-shirts, buttons, tote bags, etc., in the Joyce Center's Heritage Hall at all Fighting Irish home games). The Notre Dame Gameday Silent Auction also returns in 2010-11, with bids being taken in the Monogram Room at the Joyce Center on Feb. 12 from 12:30 p.m. (ET) to 30 minutes following the Pink Zone game against Rutgers.
Some new events added for this year include the Pink Zone Treadmill Campaign (walk on a treadmill during the Jan. 23, Feb. 1, 8 and 12 games) and the Notre Dame Women's Basketball SPIN-A-THON (a 24-hour event to ride stationary bikes on Jan. 22-23 at South Bend's Knollwood Country Club, which raised $24,000 for the cause).
In addition, NBC correspondent Anne Thompson (a Notre Dame alumna and breast cancer survivor) will be the keynote speaker at the "Docs in Pink" luncheon at 11 a.m. (ET) on Feb. 12 inside Club Naimoli at Purcell Pavilion.
For more information, or to make a donation, please visit the Notre Dame Pink Zone web page at www.UND.com/pinkzone.
Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
It's year four 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 four-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 25 times, including wins this year over Michigan Tech (exhibition), New Hampshire, Morehead State, IUPUI, Wake Forest, Creighton and Southeast Missouri State.
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 -- senior guard Brittany Mallory, who sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) four times during the promotion's inaugural run in 2007-08.
And for those tracking such things (or perhaps falling under the heading of "media relations director has too much time on his hands"), 15 different players have converted the "burger ball", including eight current members of the Fighting Irish roster.
What's more, of the 25 Big Mac games to date, 13 have been reached on two-point baskets, eight on free throws, and four on three-pointers.
Next Game: Seton Hall
Notre Dame will tip off "Jersey Week" at Purcell Pavilion, playing host to both of the BIG EAST's New Jersey schools next week. The twinbill opens Tuesday when the Fighting Irish welcome Seton Hall to town for a 7 p.m. (ET) contest.
The Pirates (7-14, 0-8) are led by first-year head coach (and Hall of Famer) Anne Donovan, and are in the midst of a week-long break before returning to action Saturday at home against Providence, SHU's last game before coming to South Bend next week.