Feb. 8, 2013
DATE: February 9, 2013
No. 2/3 Fighting Irish Back On The Road Saturday At Seton Hall
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.
Other Notre Dame Notables
Scouting Seton Hall
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
The Last Time Notre Dame And Seton Hall Met
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.
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 Tidbits
McGraw's Milestone Moment
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
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).
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
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 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
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 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's current streak is its longest in the BIG EAST since a school-record 18-game run from Feb. 17, 1999-Feb. 22, 2000.
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).
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
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
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 (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
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.
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 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.
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
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).
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
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."
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: Villanova
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
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
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
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...
...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 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
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
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
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.