Feb. 8, 2013
Full Notes Package in PDF Format
2012-13 ND Women's Basketball: Game 23
#2/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (21-1 / 9-0 BIG EAST) vs. Seton Hall Pirates (8-14 / 3-6 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 9, 2013
TIME: 2:00 p.m. ET
AT: South Orange, N.J. - Walsh Gymnasium (2,600)
SERIES: ND leads 20-4
1ST MTG: SHU 62-55 (12/11/93)
LAST MTG: ND 74-36 (1/4/12)
VIDEO: shupirates.com (PPV-live)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: shupirates.com
TICKETS: (973) 275-4255
StorylinesNotre Dame will be playing at Seton Hall for the fourth time in five seasons, where it is 10-2 all-time against the Pirates.
The Fighting Irish have won 13 consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular-season games, tying for the second-longest winning streak in league play since the program joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96.
No. 2/3 Fighting Irish Back On The Road Saturday At Seton Hall
Following an emotional and historic victory for its head coach on Tuesday, No. 2/3 Notre Dame continues its two-game BIG EAST Conference road swing at 2 p.m. (ET) Saturday when it visits South Orange, N.J., to take on Seton Hall at Walsh Gymnasium. The game will be streamed live on a pay-per-view basis through the SHU web site (shupirates.com).
The Fighting Irish (21-1, 9-0) stretched their winning streak to 16 games on Tuesday with a hard-fought 59-52 victory at Villanova. Despite leading from the opening tip to the final horn, the win was anything but easy, as Notre Dame had to handle the deliberate Wildcat style that, at times, slowed the game to a crawl.
Junior forward Natalie Achonwa
collected her BIG EAST-leading 12th double-double of the season (tying for fifth on the Notre Dame single-season list) with game highs of 19 points and 11 rebounds. Junior guard Kayla McBride
also packed the stat sheet with 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.
RankingsNotre Dame is No. 2 in this week's Associated Press poll and No. 3 in this week's ESPN/USA Today poll.
Seton Hall is not ranked.
Quick HittersNotre Dame is off to a 21-1 start for the third time in four seasons and fourth time in school history (all beginning in 2000-01).
The Fighting Irish are 6-1 against ranked opponents this year, defeating No. 19/21 Ohio State (57-51), No. 19/22 UCLA (76-64), No. 22 Texas A&M (83-74), No. 11 Purdue (74-47), No. 1 Connecticut (73-72) and No. 9 Tennessee (77-67), while falling to No. 3 Baylor, 73-61 (a game Notre Dame led 50-49 with less than eight minutes left).
The Fighting Irish made history with their win at Tennessee, becoming the first program ever to defeat both Connecticut and UT in three consecutive seasons, as well as the first in the NCAA era (since 1981-82) to defeat both the Huskies and Lady Vols on the road in the same season.
Notre Dame is in the midst of a 16-game winning streak, the fourth time in school history (and second year in a row) the Fighting Irish have posted a win streak of that length.
In those 16 games since its only loss of the season (Dec. 5 vs. third-ranked Baylor), Notre Dame has averaged 82.2 points per game (winning by 26.1 ppg.), shot .468 from the field (.373 from three-point range), posted a rebound margin of +12.8 per game, and forced opponents into an average of 20.2 turnovers per night.
The Fighting Irish have won a school-record 18 consecutive regular season road games and 23 of their last 28 overall (Notre Dame's last regular season road loss came on Nov. 20, 2011 - 94-81 at No. 1 Baylor in the Preseason WNIT championship game).
Notre Dame also has won a school-record 12 consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular season games, dating back to Feb. 28, 2011 (a 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul). It's also ties the second-longest regular season conference road win streak in program history, and longest since a similar 12-game run in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now Horizon League) from 1992-95.
According to Monday's NCAA statistical report, the Fighting Irish were ranked in the top 10 in seven categories -- free throw percentage (1st - now .803), scoring offense (3rd - 80.4 ppg.), assists (3rd - 19.5 apg.), scoring margin (4th - +24.3 ppg.), rebounding margin (5th - +11.3 rpg.), assist/turnover ratio (7th - 1.22) and field goal percentage (8th - .460).
Notre Dame has shown remarkably balanced offensive production this season, with 10 of the 11 players on the roster having scored in double figures at least once, including five different players who have scored 20 points in a game.
The Fighting Irish have set a school record with three 100-point games this season. The highlight came on Dec. 31 at home against Saint Francis (Pa.) in a 128-55 victory, marking the highest offensive output by any NCAA Division I team this season (and matching the highest by any D-I program since 2002 - Notre Dame also scored 128 points last year at Mercer).
With its No. 2 ranking in this week's Associated Press poll, Notre Dame has appeared in the media poll for 110 consecutive weeks, extending a program record that dates back to the 2007-08 preseason poll. In fact, every current Fighting Irish player has competed for a ranked Notre Dame squad throughout her career, with the vast majority of that time (60 of 71 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
With 612 victories in her 26 seasons at Notre Dame, head coach Muffet McGraw ranks second on the Fighting Irish athletics all-time coaching wins list (across all sports), trailing only men's/women's fencing coach Michael DeCicco (774-80 from 1962-95).
McGraw also is the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and the eighth-fastest to reach the mark, doing so in 957 career games), having registered the milestone win No. 700 on Feb. 5 at Villanova. McGraw is the third BIG EAST Conference skipper to hit that landmark, along with C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers) and Geno Auriemma (Connecticut), both of whom are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Other Notre Dame NotablesNotre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past 17 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking fourth with 430 victories.
Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in average attendance annually since 2000-01 (including top-five rankings the past three years), and is well on its way again this year, ranking fifth in the nation at 9,003 fans per game. Last season, the Fighting Irish ranked fifth in the nation (8,571), setting a school record for average attendance for the third consecutive season. The Fighting Irish also have drawn at least 5,000 fans to 187 of their last 189 home games (including an active streak of 30 consecutive contests with 8,000 fans), logging 34 Purcell Pavilion sellouts, including 28 in the past four seasons. Notre Dame already has a school-record nine sellouts in 11 home games this year, including each of its last seven contests at Purcell Pavilion.
The Fighting Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as nine Notre Dame players have been selected in the past 12 seasons. Devereaux Peters and Natalie Novosel were the most recent Fighting Irish players to be chosen, with both going in the first round (Peters third overall to Minnesota; Novosel eighth overall to Washington) of the 2012 WNBA Draft. Last year's draft marked the first time Notre Dame has had two first-round picks in the same year, while Peters was the highest-drafted player (and first lottery selection) in program history. Ruth Riley (Chicago) was active in the league during the '12 season, helping the Sky contend for a playoff berth into the final weeks of the season. Three of Notre Dame's 10 all-time WNBA alums have won a total of four league championships -- Riley won a pair of crowns with the Detroit Shock (2003 Finals MVP, 2006), Coquese Washington toiled for the 2000 Houston Comets, while Jacqueline Batteast was Riley's teammate on the 2006 title-winning squad in Detroit. Peters nearly joined that list in 2012, helping Minnesota return to the WNBA Finals, but the Lynx could not defend their title, falling to Indiana in four games.
For the sixth year in a row, the Fighting Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October. What's more, Notre Dame was one of only four schools in the previous five years to record a 100-percent GSR and play for a national championship in the same season (and the only program to do it twice, pulling off that feat in 2011 and 2012).
Scouting Seton Hall
With seven letterwinners and three starters back returning, Seton Hall has had moments of promise throughout this season, opening BIG EAST Conference play with a pair of wins and battling nationally-ranked South Carolina all the way in a 55-42 loss during the non-conference slate.
However, the Pirates (8-14, 3-6) have hit a rough patch in recent weeks, coming into Saturday's game having dropped six of their last seven games, most recently a 74-48 setback at DePaul on Wednesday night. Senior guard Brittany Morris scored a team-high 13 points and redshirt sophomore guard Ka-Deidre Simmons added 12 points and six rebounds for SHU, which went toe-to-toe with the Blue Demons for much of the first half before the hosts steadily pulled away.
Morris and Simmons provide the 1-2 offensive punch for Seton Hall, with Morris scoring a team-high 12.5 points per game and Simmons not far behind (11.1 ppg.) while shooting a team-high .368 from the three-point line and adding team bests of 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
Head coach Anne Donovan is in her third season at SHU with a 24-59 (.289) record. The future head coach of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun (she will return to the pro ranks at the end of the college season) is a six-year college coaching veteran with a 57-110 (.341) career record, including an 0-2 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Seton Hall Series
Saturday marks the silver anniversary matchup between Notre Dame and Seton Hall, with the Fighting Irish holding a 20-4 edge in the series with the Pirates, including a current six-game winning streak. Notre Dame also is 10-2 all-time at Walsh Gymnasium.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Seton Hall Met
Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride each scored 14 points as No. 3 Notre Dame cruised to a 74-36 win over Seton Hall on Jan. 4, 2012, at Walsh Gymnasium in South Orange, N.J.
Notre Dame had been sizzling on offense and came in averaging over 100 points in their previous four games, including a 128-42 thrashing of Mercer on Dec. 30, 2011. It kept up the pace against the Pirates.
The Fighting Irish closed the first half with a 36-9 run, with their three stars -- Diggins, Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters -- combining for 22 points during the burst.
Notre Dame led 49-16 at the break and its lead grew as large as 44 points in the second half. With her team building its huge lead, head coach Muffet McGraw rested Diggins, Novosel and Peters for most of the second half. Novosel finished with 13 points, and Peters had eight points and 10 rebounds.
The Seton Hall women were hoping to pull off their own shocker one night after the Pirate men's team stunned No. 8 Connecticut 75-63 -- but it wasn't meant to be. SHU was outrebounded 41-18 and shot 28 percent from the field.
Jasmine Crew provided the sole bright spot on offense for the Pirates, finishing with 17 points. She had all nine during Notre Dame's huge run to end the opening half, including two incredible acrobatic shots.
Other Notre Dame-Seton Hall Series TidbitsDue to various scheduling quirks, this marks the fourth time in the past five seasons Notre Dame has played at Seton Hall. The only time the Pirates visited Purcell Pavilion in that span came two seasons ago (an 89-38 Fighting Irish win on Feb. 8, 2011).
Six of the past 12 series matchups have been decided by six points or fewer, including two of the past six matchups, both in South Orange (a 64-61 victory on Jan. 2, 2007, and a 66-60 win on Jan. 3, 2009).
Five of the past seven series games in South Orange have been decided by six points or less, with Notre Dame winning four of those five close games.
The Fighting Irish have limited the Pirates to 61 points or fewer in 20 of the past 21 series games, the lone exception being SHU's 74-61 win on Jan. 7, 2006, at Purcell Pavilion.
The coaching matchup between Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw and Seton Hall's Anne Donovan features two Women's Basketball Hall of Famers, with McGraw most recently having been inducted in the Knoxville, Tenn.-based Hall in June 2011.
Notre Dame freshman guard Michaela Mabrey hails from Belmar, N.J., approximately one hour southeast of the Seton Hall campus. Mabrey was a 2012 McDonald's and WBCA High School All-American, and the 2012 Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year after helping lead Manasquan High School to the NJSIAA Group III state title and NJSIAA Tournament of Champions crown (scoring 26 points in the latter championship game against Gill St. Bernard's).
McGraw's Milestone Moment
With Tuesday's 59-52 victory at Villanova, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw became the 13th NCAA Division I coach to register 700 career victories. McGraw currently has a 31-year record of 700-257 (.731), including a 612-216 (.739) record in 26 seasons with the Fighting Irish.
McGraw also became the eighth-fastest Division I coach to reach the 700-win milestone, hitting the mark in 957 games and quicker than several other notable coaches such as North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell (966 games), Ohio State's Jim Foster (973), former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan (998) and two now-deceased Hall of Fame coaches -- Sue Gunter (1,004, most notably at LSU) and Kay Yow (1,021, primarily at North Carolina State).
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 101-28 (.783) in February games, including a 57-6 (.905) mark at home.
In the 26-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present), the Fighting Irish are 149-43 (.776) in the month of February, including a 79-12 (.868) 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 year in South Bend).
In its last eight games, Notre Dame has done a remarkable job in locking down the opposition's top scorer, holding those players to an average of nearly nine points per game below their season scoring average coming into the matchup with the Fighting Irish (with just two of those eight players coming within five points of her season average).
What's more, Notre Dame has held these top scorers to a combined .261 field goal percentage (24-of-92), with only two of the past eight opponent scoring leaders shooting better than 35 percent against the Fighting Irish.
A Class Like None Other
Led by its two-player senior class of guards/co-captains Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, Notre Dame has amassed the second-most victories (116) in a four-year span in school history, and just one back of the total (117) compiled by last year's senior class.
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
For the third time in four years, and the fourth time in school history (all starting with the 2000-01 season), Notre Dame has posted a 21-1 record or better through its first 22 games.
This year's start (as well as those in 2009-10 and 2011-12) matches the second-best 22-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.
Beyond The Halfway Mark
Notre Dame is off to a 9-0 start in BIG EAST Conference play for the second consecutive season and the fifth time since it joined the league in 1995-96. Prior to last year, the Fighting Irish had not opened their league slate with nine wins in a row since 2000-01.
The past two times Notre Dame has started 9-0 in the BIG EAST, it has gone on to win the conference regular season title (shared in 2000-01, outright in 2011-12).
The school record for the best start to a BIG EAST season is 15-0, set back in 1999-2000.
Streak Stats, Part I
Notre Dame's current 16-game winning streak is the fourth-longest success string in program history, and it's the second year in a row the Fighting Irish have posted a winning streak of 16 games or longer.
Notre Dame also has strung together 13 double-digit winning streaks in the program's 36-year history, with 11 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
Streak Stats, Part II
Notre Dame has won 13 consecutive BIG EAST regular-season games, matching its second-longest winning streak in league play since it joined the loop in 1995-96. The Fighting Irish last dropped a BIG EAST game on Feb. 12, 2012, falling 65-63 to West Virginia at Purcell Pavilion (on two free throws by WVU's Brooke Hampton with 4.6 seconds left).
Notre Dame's current streak is its longest in the BIG EAST since a school-record 18-game run from Feb. 17, 1999-Feb. 22, 2000.
Notre Dame has won a school-record 18 consecutive regular season road games and 23 of its last 28 overall, including all seven contests this season. The Fighting Irish last tasted defeat on the road in the regular season on Nov. 20, 2011, a 94-81 setback at No. 1 Baylor in the Preseason WNIT championship game.
The highlight of this current run came on Jan. 5, 2013, when Notre Dame edged No. 1 Connecticut, 73-72, in Storrs, Conn., earning its fourth all-time win over a top-ranked opponent and first-ever victory on the road.
Prior to the past two years, the school record for consecutive regular season road wins was held by Notre Dame's 2000-01 national championship team that won its first 10 road outings before a 54-53 loss at No. 11/14 Rutgers on Feb. 17, 2001.
The Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 12 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).
Notre Dame reached the 20-win mark for the 19th time in 20 seasons (and seventh consecutive season) with its 64-42 victory over Cincinnati on Feb. 2 at Purcell Pavilion.
The Fighting Irish now have registered 20-or-more wins 23 times in the 26-year Muffet McGraw era and 27 times in the program's 36-year history.
McGraw herself has coached 25 20-win seasons (adding in two during her five-year tenure at Lehigh from 1982-87), placing her ninth all-time among NCAA Division I coaches, and seventh among active coaches.
The Rare Air Up There
With its 77-67 win at No. 9 Tennessee on Jan. 28, Notre Dame made NCAA Division I history in two ways. The Fighting Irish not only became the first school ever to defeat both Connecticut and Tennessee in three consecutive seasons, but they also were the first program in the NCAA era (since 1981-82) to defeat both the Huskies and Lady Vols on the road in the same season (the latter victory was Notre Dame's first in nine games against UT in Knoxville).
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).
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 14 games this year. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 66-4 (.943) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 36-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul).
Everyone Pitches In
With the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-Americans (and 2012 WNBA first-round draft picks) Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame entered this season searching to find a way to make up for the talented duo's 27.0 points and 13.4 rebounds per game.
Thus far in 2012-13, it would appear the Fighting Irish are making this mission truly a team effort. On the scoring side, 10 of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including junior forward Ariel Braker (six times, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined), sophomore guards Madison Cable (three times) and Whitney Holloway (once - the first double-digit games of both Cable and Holloway's careers) and freshman guards Jewell Loyd (15 times) and Michaela Mabrey (three times).
On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.1 rebounds per game and has piled up 12 of her 14 career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading 12 double-doubles (five against ranked opponents, five in conference play) after logging one double-double in her career prior to this season.
The Best Things In Life Are Free
Throughout the 2012-13 season, Notre Dame has displayed a penchant for making opponents pay at the free throw line.
Through 22 games, the Fighting Irish lead the nation in free throw percentage, shooting a remarkable .803 (395-of-492) 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 better than 22 times per game, converting nearly 18 free throws a night. At the same time, the Fighting Irish have made almost 33 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (395 made, 298 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 50 of 54 free throws (.926) to lead the conference. She also would rank sixth in the nation, but she is five 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 fifth (.829; also 14th in nation), junior forward Natalie Achonwa standing ninth (.809) and freshman guard Jewell Loyd ranking 10th (.797).
For her career, McBride has logged an .888 free throw percentage, putting her ahead of Alicia Ratay's school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.
With her layup four seconds into Notre Dame's win over Providence on Jan. 26, senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins reached a major career milestone, become the fourth Notre Dame women's basketball player to score 2,000 career points (and the first since March 26, 2001, when Ruth Riley did so against Vanderbilt in the NCAA Midwest Regional final at the Pepsi Center in Denver).
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 RecordsDiggins (2,076 points) needs 246 points to catch current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham as the program's all-time leading scorer. She also is just 50 points away from catching Katryna Gaither (2,126 points from 1993-97) for second place on the Fighting Irish career scoring chart.
Throughout the 2012-13 season, senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins will continue to close the gap that separates her from the highest eschelon of Notre Dame women's basketball players in a number of the program's top career categories. Here's a look at just a few of the notable milestones Diggins will have a shot to reach this season:
Diggins (495 rebounds) is five rebounds away to become the first women's basketball player in school history with 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in her career. Only one Notre Dame men's basketball player has ever compiled that impressive combination of statistics (Chris Thomas from 2001-05).
In addition, Diggins (330 steals) is 18 steals away from assistant coach Niele Ivey's school record for career thefts. With one steal on Jan. 8 at South Florida, Diggins moved into second place on Notre Dame's career steals list, passing Coquese Washington (307 from 1989-93).
Diggins (644 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Mary Gavin (1984-88), needing 134 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 83 ahead of Diggins). Diggins also has moved into the top five in this category, and needs just seven assists to catch Mollie Peirick for third place in school history (651 from 1994-98). Diggins' charge this year has been led by her career-high 14 assists on Dec. 31 against Saint Francis (Pa.) that are the fourth-most assists by an NCAA Division I player in a game this season and most by a Notre Dame player in nearly 26 years.
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 116-19 (.859) record in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), a mark that can be traced in no small part to the arrival of guard Skylar Diggins. The South Bend native has helped lead the Fighting Irish to a spot in the 2011 and 2012 NCAA national championship games and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 25-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (12-10 vs. the AP Top 10) and an 83-1 record against unranked opponents (not appearing in the AP poll), including a 63-game winning streak from the start of the 2009-10 season before falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012.
Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 19 losses in Diggins' career primarily have been ones that could have gone either way, with 11 decided by single digits (six were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.
With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted three of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 78.9 ppg. last year, after logging 77.0 ppg. in 2010-11, and 77.2 ppg. in her freshman season of 2009-10. Notre Dame is on pace to mirror those figures this season, currently averaging 80.4 ppg. (which ranks third nationally as of Monday).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.44 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 11.5 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 56.1 points per game.
According to the time-honored adage, "there's no substitute for experience." In the case of Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa, that experience was second to none and it's paid off exceptionally well for the veteran Fighting Irish frontliner this season.
During the summer of 2012, Achonwa was a key contributor on Canada's Senior National Team, helping leading her country to its first Olympic appearance in 12 years. Not content to merely qualify, Canada then earned two hard-fought wins in the group stage to reach the Olympic quarterfinals (medal round) for the first time since 1984.
As the second-youngest player in the London Olympic Basketball Tournament at the tender age of 19, Achonwa averaged 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, highlighted by a 14-point, eight-rebound effort against eventual Olympic silver medalist France during the preliminary round.
Parlaying her Olympic experience, Achonwa has moved seamlessly into Notre Dame's starting lineup this season after spending her first two years as an important reserve. The Guelph, Ontario, native was expected to take on a larger role this year with the graduation of two-time All-American Devereaux Peters, but Achonwa has taken that growth to a whole new level, nearly doubling her averages in scoring (7.6 to 13.5 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.1 rpg.), while scoring in double figures 17 times and grabbing double-digit rebounds on 12 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 (12, including five against ranked teams and five 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 - 9.1 rpg.), field goal percentage (9th - .531; also 21st nationally) and free throw percentage (9th - .809).
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
Along with her classmate Natalie Achonwa, junior guard (and Erie, Pa., native) Kayla McBride has been a major reason for Notre Dame's success this season, capably stepping into a larger role within the Fighting Irish system following the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-America wing Natalie Novosel.
McBride currently ranks 15th in the BIG EAST in scoring (14.2 ppg.) and leads the conference in free throw percentage (.926). In both areas, she is posting career-high marks, including an improvement of better than 20 percent in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).
McBride also is among the team leaders this season with 17 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).
Freshman guard Jewell Loyd is rapidly making her presence felt as one of the top rookies, not only in the BIG EAST Conference, but around the country.
The Lincolnwood, Ill., native has appeared in all 22 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 21 times), scoring in double figures 15 times, earning her first career double-double (18 points/13 rebounds at South Florida on Jan. 8) and posting two "5-5-5" games.
Loyd currently ranks among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (25th - 12.5 ppg.) and free throw percentage (10th - .797), and would be fifth in the conference in three-point percentage (.413), but she is three 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 her Jan. 14 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 #22 Recap: Villanova
Muffet McGraw fittingly earned another milestone victory close to where she grew up.
McGraw became the 13th coach in Division I history to reach the 700-victory plateau with No. 2 Notre Dame's 59-52 victory over Villanova on Tuesday night at The Pavilion in Villanova, Pa.
McGraw played for Bishop Shanahan High School in nearby West Chester and collegiately for Saint Joseph's. Her first head coaching job was at Archbishop Carroll High School in Radnor, literally down the street from Villanova.
"You know, I feel so blessed, I'm so incredibly lucky to be coaching at Notre Dame and to be surrounded by such class people, all of the players that have come through the last 25 years, the administration, all of the assistant coaches, everyone at Notre Dame has treated me so well," McGraw said. "It did mean more winning at Villanova. My whole family was here and we had about 100 people here, and it was so excited to see so much green. There was a lot of green out there. It did kind of feel like a home game."
This wasn't an easy victory for the Fighting Irish (21-1, 9-0 BIG EAST).
"This was a difficult game for us, it's always hard for us to play against Villanova, they just have such a patient offense and we want to go, we want to score 80 points and they really slowed us down," McGraw said. "I thought Natalie Achonwa played really well. I thought all of our guards played well. It was really important for us to have other players step up, and we're capable of having that as a team."
Achonwa led Notre Dame with 19 points and 11 rebounds for her BIG EAST-leading 12th double-double of the season. Kayla McBride added 16 points and Skylar Diggins had 14 and five assists.
The Fighting Irish never trailed, though the game was momentarily tied 19-19 with 5:17 left in the half on Rachel Roberts' three-pointer. Notre Dame regained control of the game by closing the half on a 10-2 run to enter halftime leading 29-21. Villanova did get within 48-46, on a Devon Kane's three-pointer with 4:45 left in the game, but the Fighting Irish scored 11 of the final 17 points to seal the win.
Emily Leer scored 15 points and Roberts added 14 for the Wildcats (16-6, 5-4).
Beyond The Box Score: VillanovaNotre Dame earns its school-record 18th consecutive regular-season road win, as well as its 12th consecutive BIG EAST regular-season road win (tying for the second-longest regular-season road win streak in any conference in school history with a 12-game run in the Horizon League from Feb. 18, 1992-Jan. 14, 1995).
The Fighting Irish post their 13th consecutive BIG EAST Conference victory, matching Notre Dame's second-longest winning streak in BIG EAST regular-season play, and longest since a program-record 18-game conference run from Feb. 17, 1999-Feb. 22, 2000.
With her layup at 7:05 of the second half, Diggins moved into third place on the Notre Dame career scoring list with 2,076 points, passing Ruth Riley (2,072 from 1997-2001).
Achonwa chalked up her BIG EAST-leading 12th double-double (fifth in conference play, also tied for tops in the BIG EAST), tying for the fifth-most double-doubles in one season in Fighting Irish women's basketball history.
Notre Dame rises to 19-10 all-time against Villanova, winning its fourth consecutive game against the Wildcats, and the Fighting Irish move to 8-6 all-time against VU at The Pavilion, winning on consecutive trips to Philadelphia for the second time in the series (also Feb. 10, 1999 and Feb. 16, 2000).
Nearly half (13) of the 29 series games between Notre Dame and Villanova have been decided by eight points or fewer.
The Fighting Irish have held six of their last nine opponents to 52 points or fewer.
Notre Dame is ranked a season-best No. 2 for the fifth consecutive Associated Press poll last week, its 40th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 110 consecutive weeks in the AP poll.
The Fighting Irish reached a milestone on Nov. 26 with their No. 5 ranking, which was their 100th consecutive AP poll appearance. It not only extended the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001), but it made the Fighting Irish are one of six teams in the nation with an active streak of 100 consecutive AP poll appearances.
What's more, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career (71 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (60) 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 249 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 fifth consecutive week in this week's 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 110 of the past 111 weeks (and 74 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 243 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the fifth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 11 of the past 15 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 31 people in NCAA Division I women's basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Besides her 249 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).
The Benefits Of Leadership
Notre Dame is in the unique position of essentially having three head coaches on its bench, with current Fighting Irish skipper Muffet McGraw enjoying the expertise of two former head coaches on her staff -- associate head coach Carol Owens (who guided her alma mater Northern Illinois from 2005-10) and associate coach Beth Cunningham (who piloted VCU from 2003-12).
Collectively, the Notre Dame staff has 45 seasons of head coaching experience, which ranks fifth among Division I schools behind only Stanford (52), Villanova (50), Ohio State (48) and Rutgers (46).
Half And Half
During the past 12 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 267-19 (.934) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 195 of their last 208 such contests (.938).
What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 104-2 (.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...
During the past 18 seasons, Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season (Notre Dame's first in the BIG EAST Conference), the Fighting Irish have an amazing 271-15 (.948) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 13 outings this season.
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 18 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 176-6 (.967) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are three overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995 and UCLA (86-83 in double OT) in 2010, as well as a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008, and a 94-81 setback at Baylor in 2011.
In the past four years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 53-2 (.964) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level eight times this season.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame's success has been its stellar play at home. In fact, the Fighting Irish have been virtually untouchable at home in recent years, winning 231 of their last 260 games (.888) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51, 25 and 20 games in that span (the latter from 2011-12, ending on Feb. 12, 2012, vs. West Virginia).
Since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 58-5 (.921) -- including wins in 34 of its last 36 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 125-20 (.862) 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 381-90 (.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
The past three seasons have seen an unprecedented surge in fan support for Notre Dame women's basketball, as the Fighting Irish set new program records for the highest year-end NCAA attendance ranking (fourth in 2009-10), highest average attendance (8,571 fans per game in 2011-12) and most sellouts in a single season (eight in 2011-12). And, as the old saying goes -- "you ain't seen nothin' yet."
For the fourth consecutive preseason, Notre Dame fans all but exhausted the program's season ticket packages (approximately 7,500) and snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish produce two advanced sellouts (Dec. 5 vs. Baylor; March 4 vs. Connecticut).
Notre Dame is setting records at the box office again this season with nine sellouts in 11 home games (including the past seven contests), topping last year's record of eight sellouts. In addition, the Nov. 18 game against Massachusetts marking the first home-opening sellout in school history. All told, the Fighting Irish have welcomed 34 sellout crowds in the program's 36-year tenure, including 28 in the past four years alone (2009-10 to present).
The Fighting Irish currently rank fifth in the nation in average attendance, drawing 9,003 fans per game, which is more than 400 fans better than last year's school record and factors to 98.4 percent of Purcell Pavilion's listed capacity of 9,149.
Coming Soon: Irish in the ACC
On Sept. 12, 2012, the University of Notre Dame announced that it had accepted an offer of admission into the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for all sports except football (the league does not offer championships in ice hockey or fencing).
The change in conference affiliation (for which a timetable has not yet been established) will be the first for Notre Dame since 1995, when the Fighting Irish moved from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) to the BIG EAST Conference.
In its 18 seasons in the BIG EAST, the Notre Dame women's basketball program has been the one of the conference's best, winning two BIG EAST regular season titles (2001 and 2012) and compiling a 225-64 (.779) record in league play that remains the second-best regular season winning percentage in BIG EAST women's basketball history.
Next Game: Louisville
It's another quick turnaround for Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish get back on the hardwood at 9 p.m. (ET) Monday when they play host to No. 11 Louisville at Purcell Pavilion. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience on ESPN2 as part of that network's "Big Monday" package, the second of three appearances this season for Notre Dame on the primetime weekly telecast.
Louisville (19-4, 7-2 BIG EAST) has successfully dodged injuries and a handful of close calls on the court this season, having won five in a row and seven of its last eight entering Saturday's home game against Pittsburgh.
-- ND --