Feb. 8, 2014
#2/2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (22-0 / 9-0 ACC) vs. Syracuse Orange (17-6 / 6-4 ACC)
DATE: Feb. 9, 2014
TIME: 3:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
SERIES: ND leads 26-2
1ST MTG: ND 81-64 (1/16/88)
LAST MTG: ND 79-68 (2/26/13)
TV: ACC-RSN/ESPN3/WatchESPN (live) (Tom Werme, p-b-p / Debbie Antonelli, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1)/WatchND (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (574) 631-7356; UND.com/buytickets
PINK ZONE: UND.com/pinkzone
No. 2 Fighting Irish Host Syracuse For Annual Pink Zone Game
Even as the daily battles in the ACC continue, the college basketball world takes time at this point each season to team up in the fight against cancer, and No. 2 Notre Dame will be no different, as the Fighting Irish hold their sixth annual Pink Zone (Play4Kay) Game on Sunday, welcoming fellow ACC newcomer Syracuse to Purcell Pavilion for a 3 p.m. (ET) matinee that will be televised live on the ACC-Regional Sports Networks, as well as online at ESPN3 and via the WatchESPN app.
The Fighting Irish (22-0, 9-0) completed a stretch of six road games in eight outings on Thursday with an 81-60 win at Florida State. Notre Dame used a 24-5 second-half run to pull away, shooting .534 from the field on the night.
Senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa paced the efficient Fighting Irish offense with a game-high 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting, while sophomore guard Jewell Loyd added 18 points, including 14 after halftime.
The Notre Dame-Syracuse Series
Notre Dame and Syracuse will be squaring off for the 29th time in their series on Sunday afternoon, with the Fighting Irish holding a 26-2 all-time edge against the Orange, including an active 13-game series winning streak.
Notre Dame also is 13-0 all-time against Syracuse at Purcell Pavilion.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Syracuse Met
Kayla McBride scored a (then) career-high 25 points and Skylar Diggins finished with 24 points and eight assists as No. 2 Notre Dame beat No. 22/20 Syracuse, 79-68 on Feb. 26, 2013, at Purcell Pavilion.
The game was one of starkly different halves. Syracuse had 12 more rebounds than Notre Dame in the first half and had a 47-31 percent advantage in shooting. The Fighting Irish turned those numbers around in the second half. They had 13 more rebounds and outshot the Orange 44-32 percent.
Kayla Alexander led Syracuse with 24 points and 16 rebounds, making her first six shots of the game, but she made just one of her next eight shots and finished 10-of-18 from the floor.
Diggins scored nine points during a 13-2 run late in the first half to get the Fighting Irish back into the game, and they then took control by opening the second half with a 9-0 run.
Syracuse had one last gasp, using an 8-0 run to 65-59 with six minutes left on a pair of baskets by Carmen Tyson-Thomas, who finished with 18 points, but the Orange couldn't get any closer than six the rest of the way.
Other Notre Dame-Syracuse Series Tidbits
New York State Of Mind
Notre Dame is 55-5 (.917) all-time against New York-based teams, including a 29-0 record at Purcell Pavilion and wins in 13 of their last 14 games overall (only loss a 76-71 setback at St. John's on Feb. 16, 2010).
St. John's and Syracuse account for all five New York wins over Notre Dame (three for the Red Storm, two for the Orange -- four road, one neutral site).
In The (Pink) Zone
On Sunday, Notre Dame will play host to its sixth annual Pink Zone Game (known nationally as Play4Kay), with the driving focus being to raise funds for breast cancer research. The Fighting Irish players will wear special white uniforms with pink and navy blue trim, as well as pink sneakers, while the Notre Dame coaching staff also will be outfitted in various pink items.
The Fighting Irish are 4-1 in Pink Zone games and have raised more than $550,000 in donations during those five seasons, including better than $100,000 last year (among the most in the nation by a Division I program).
At 11:45 a.m. (ET) Sunday, Notre Dame will hold a luncheon in Club Naimoli at Purcell Pavilion to recognize members of the College of Science who are on the front lines in the fight to find a cure for cancer (the keynote speaker is Kelley Tuthill ('92), who herself is a cancer survivor and an award-winning journalist at WCVB-TV in Boston), while there will be a gameday silent auction in the Monogram Room at Purcell Pavilion, featuring numerous Notre Dame women's basketball items including memorabilia from the program's NCAA Women's Final Four appearances in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
In addition, from Friday-Sunday, Notre Dame women's basketball and the Notre Dame College of Science will hold a pair of 24-hour Spin-A-Thon fund-raisers at the Rockne Memorial on campus, as well as at the Knollwood Country Club in Granger, Ind. These events feature participants riding stationary bikes for a set period of a time in a relay format with a pledged donation commitment from sponsors for each rider.
What's more, for the third consecutive home game, Notre Dame will have a stationary bike located courtside (near Gate 10 behind the Fighting Irish bench at the southwest corner of the arena). Eight riders will spin for five minutes each on the special Pink Zone bike, with a pledged commitment from sponsors to raise a minimum of $350 each.
Once again this year, all funds raised by Notre Dame during its Pink Zone campaign will be divided between a local recipient (the Foundation of St. Joseph Regional Medical Center) and a national charity (the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, who will be represented at Sunday's game by a member of its Board of Directors and the color analyst for the ACC-Regional Sports Networks TV broadcast, Debbie Antonelli).
Doing Some Networking
Sunday's game is the second of three appearances for Notre Dame on the ACC-Regional Sports Networks (RSN) television package during its inaugural season in the conference. The Fighting Irish, who made their initial showing on the network Jan. 23 (79-52 win over Miami at Purcell Pavilion), also are slated to appear on ACC-RSN television Feb. 17, when Georgia Tech comes to town.
Fans wishing to tune in and watch Sunday's ACC-RSN broadcast of the Notre Dame-Syracuse game are asked to go online to the ACC web site for the latest rundown of affiliates that will carry the game (including Comcast Channel 692 in South Bend). In addition, ESPN3 and the WatchESPN mobile app will stream the game live (subject to blackout in certain areas).
One Tough Stretch
Notre Dame is in the midst of one of the most challenging schedule stretches in the program's 37-year history, playing eight of its final 13 games against teams that are ranked or receiving votes, all during the closing six weeks of the regular season (five of those eight coming on the road).
With its 88-67 win at third-ranked Duke on Feb. 2, Notre Dame earned its third road win over a top-10 opponent this season, something the Fighting Irish had never done in a single regular season campaign during the program's 37-year history (Notre Dame has numerous postseason road wins over top-10 foes).
What made the Duke win even more remarkable is that it was the third consecutive road game against a top-10 opponent for the Fighting Irish, following ESPN2 Big Monday visits to No. 11/10 Tennessee (86-70 win) and No. 8/6 Maryland (87-83 win) on Jan. 20 and 27, respectively.
Before its recent run, Notre Dame had never even played top-10 teams in three consecutive road games during the same regular season, let alone defeated all three and done so in such a short period of time (13 days).
In fact, prior to last year, the Fighting Irish had not defeated two top-10 teams on the road in the same regular season before they earned victories at No. 1 Connecticut (73-72) and No. 9 Tennessee (77-67) -- and those wins came more than three weeks apart.
McBride Sweeps Player Of Week Honors
For the second time in her career, senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride swept the major national and conference player of the week awards, having been selected as the espnW, USBWA/Ann Meyers Drysdale and NCAA.com National Player of the Week and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Player of the Week, it was announced earlier this week.
McBride was chosen as the ACC Player of the Week via a vote of the conference's Blue Ribbon Panel. She becomes the first Notre Dame women's basketball player to earn the award in the program's inaugural ACC season.
The All-America wing, who also recently was named to the 16-player watch list for the Dawn Staley Award (given to the nation's top guard), previously earned all four national and conference honors (the latter from the BIG EAST) back on Jan. 7, 2013.
This past week, McBride averaged 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game with a .600 field goal percentage as Notre Dame picked up three ACC wins, including two road victories over top-10 opponents.
McBride began her weekly performance with an efficient 20-point outing (on 7-of-11 shooting) on Jan. 27 at No. 8/6 Maryland, punctuated her night when she sank the clinching basket with 11 seconds left, as the Fighting Irish raced to a 22-point lead, then held off a furious Terrapins' rally for the 87-83 win.
She then had a game-high 18 points in 21 minutes as Notre Dame led from the opening tip to the final horn in a 74-48 win over Virginia Tech on Jan. 30 at Purcell Pavilion.
McBride capped the week in impressive fashion on Feb. 2 at third-ranked Duke with her first double-double of the season (fourth of her career), collecting game highs of 23 points, 11 rebounds (also a season high) and five assists while hitting her first five shots from the field (and finishing 9-of-15 for the day) as the Fighting Irish posted a wire-to-wire 88-67 victory over the Blue Devils in the program's first visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1997 (and first as a member of the ACC).
Getting The Jump
At 22-0, Notre Dame is off to the second-best start in the program's 37-year history. The only time the Fighting Irish opened with a better record than this season was in 2000-01, when they reeled off a school-record 23 consecutive wins en route to a 34-2 final record and the program's first national championship.
Notre Dame's current 22-game winning streak is the third-longest success string in program history, and it's the second consecutive season the Fighting Irish have posted a winning streak of 22 games or longer.
Notre Dame also has strung together 14 double-digit winning streaks in the program's 37-year history, with 12 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
Dating back to the start of last season, the Fighting Irish are 57-2 (.966) and have won 45 consecutive regular season games. In that span, their lone losses have come against a pair of third-ranked teams -- Baylor (73-61 on Dec. 5, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion) and Connecticut (83-65 on April 7, 2013, in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, La.).
The Comforts Of Home
Notre Dame has won 22 consecutive home games since a 73-61 loss to third-ranked Baylor on Dec. 5, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion. As of Friday, the Fighting Irish own the nation's fourth-longest active home winning streak, with this run also the third-longest in school history (longest since a 25-game stretch from Feb. 1, 2003-Nov. 22, 2004).
What's more, Notre Dame has won its last 14 conference home games since that loss to WVU in 2012, when both the Fighting Irish and Mountaineers were members of the BIG EAST Conference.
Notre Dame has won a school-record 32 consecutive regular season road games (and 39 of its last 44, and 23 in a row overall), including the Feb. 6 victory at Florida State. 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.
Notre Dame's current 23-game road winning streak also is the longest active run in the nation, more than doubling the next-closest pursuer (10 by Duke, as of Friday).
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.
The Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 21 consecutive conference road games, with their last loss coming as part of the BIG EAST Conference on Feb. 28, 2011 (a last-second 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul).
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 1995-96, the Fighting Irish are 108-28 (.794) in February games (including an active 13-game winning streak), as well as a 59-6 (.908) mark at home.
In the 27-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present), the Fighting Irish are 156-43 (.784) in the month of February, including an 81-12 (.871) 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).
A Helping Hand
The Fighting Irish enter this weekend's action ranked second in assists at 21.7 per game (Connecticut is first at 22.5).
Notre Dame also has dished out at least 20 helpers in 14 games thus far, plus 19 assists in four of its last five games (along with a season-high 31 dimes against UCLA on Dec. 7), with the Fighting Irish piling up assists on 65 percent of their made field goals this year (477 of 734).
Notre Dame also ranks fifth in the nation (and tops in the ACC) in assist/turnover ratio (1.43), led by two players who rank among the top 10 in the ACC in that category -- freshman guard Lindsay Allen (4th - 2.05) and senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (9th - 1.62).
That's Some Sharp Shooting
Notre Dame currently is setting the pace nationally with a .519 field goal percentage, highlighted by 14 games this season in which the Fighting Irish have shot better than 50 percent, including six games where they topped 60 percent from the field.
In addition, Notre Dame had a remarkable three-game stretch from Dec. 7-22 when it connected at better than a 55-percent clip in each contest. It was the first time the Fighting Irish had three consecutive 55-percent outings since Nov. 20-29, 1997, when they did so in victories over North Carolina State (.565), Bowling Green (.558) and Ohio University (.567).
Notre Dame's sharpshooting brigade has been led by senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa, who is second in the ACC (sixth in the nation) with a .600 field goal percentage, along with a .633 mark in conference play (also second in the ACC).
Achonwa has been particularly efficient from the field in her last four games, connecting at a .759 clip (22-of-29), most recently making 10-of-12 shots en route to a game-high 24 points on Feb. 6 at Florida State.
Freshman forward Kristina Nelson (.571), junior forward Markisha Wright (.567), freshman guard Lindsay Allen (.554) and junior guard Madison Cable (.535) aren't far behind Achonwa's season pace, but none has made the minimum number of shots (three per game) to qualify for ACC ranking.
Dialing Long Distance
Although not usually a primary part of the Notre Dame arsenal, the Fighting Irish have found the three-point shot much to their liking this season. Notre Dame leads the nation with a .441 three-point percentage, with four different players connecting at 40 percent or better from beyond the arc.
Senior guard Kayla McBride leads the way for the Fighting Irish with a .462 three-point percentage that ranks third in the ACC, while sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey also stands among the top five in the conference, ranking fifth at a .434 three-point rate (tops in the ACC during conference games at a .543 clip).
In addition, Mabrey is 10th in the ACC with 2.0 three-pointers per game, a mark she bolstered on Jan. 9 against Boston College with a career-high five triples (on six attempts). It was one of six times this season Mabrey has canned at least three treys in a game, and the second time a Notre Dame player has made five three-pointers in a contest (junior guard Madison Cable posted an identical 5-for-6 effort against UCLA on Dec. 7).
In fact, Cable (.459) would be fourth in the ACC in three-point percentage, but she is three made triples shy of the minimum 1.0 3FG/game to qualify for ranking. Freshman guard Lindsay Allen (.500) also doesn't meet the minimum standard despite her efficiency from distance.
As a team, the Fighting Irish have twice connected on 10 three-pointers in a game this season (victories over UCLA and Tennessee), their highest production outside the arc in nearly four years, dating back to a similar 10-triple performance on Jan. 30, 2010, at Syracuse.
What's more, Notre Dame's .750 three-point mark (9-of-12) on Jan. 16 at Pittsburgh was its best performance from long range (with a minimum of five attempts) in more than five years, stretching back to Nov. 23, 2008, against Boston College at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass., when the Fighting Irish made 7-of-8 three-pointers (.875) in a 102-54 win.
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 17 games this year, going 17-0 in those contests. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 92-5 (.948) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including wins in 62 of their last 63 such outings (the lone loss coming in last year's NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinal against Connecticut).
Nearly In A Class By Themselves
For the third consecutive season, a Notre Dame senior class is threatening to re-set the bar in terms of career wins by one group. The current class of tri-captains Natalie Achonwa, Ariel Braker and Kayla McBride is second all-time with 123 wins (123-14, .898), behind only the seniors from 2012-13.
Last year, led by its two-player senior class of Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, Notre Dame posted the best four-year record (130-20, .867) in school history, topping the win total (117) compiled by the previous year's seniors (Brittany Mallory, Fraderica Miller, Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters).
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 13-year WNBA veteran Ruth Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Niele Ivey.
Notre Dame's 1,000-Point Scorers
Senior tri-captains Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa will spend their final season at Notre Dame steadily climbing the program's all-time scoring list, after both entered the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club last year.
McBride currently is ninth in program history with 1,580 career points, passing former All-America teammate Natalie Novosel (1,569 from 2008-12) with her 14 points at Florida State on Feb. 6. McBride also is one of just 11 players ever to score 1,500 points under the Golden Dome.
Meanwhile, Achonwa stands 18th in Notre Dame history with 1,324 points, moving two steps up the ladder with 24 points in her last outing at FSU, passing both Margaret Nowlin (1,312 from 1988-92) and former All-America teammate/current WNBA champion Devereaux Peters (1,319 from 2007-12).
Coming Up Aces
Senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa (nicknamed "Ace") also is making her way up Notre Dame's career charts in both rebounds and double-doubles. She currently ranks sixth on the rebounding list (865) and is tied for seventh on the double-doubles chart (25), moving up one spot on the rebounding rundown with her nine boards at No. 3 Duke on Feb. 2.
Achonwa continues to remain among the top 10 in school history with a .553 career field goal percentage (tied for sixth in program annals) and 131 games played (tied for sixth all-time at Notre Dame; tied for third among active NCAA players).
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd has continued her development as one of the top young talents in the country this season, building on last year's selection as the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) National Freshman of the Year.
The Lincolnwood, Ill., product currently ranks 10th in the ACC in scoring (17.5 ppg.) and 11th in steals (1.8 spg.), while sporting career-high marks in scoring, rebounding (6.1 rpg.), assists (2.7 apg.), steals and field goal percentage (.516). She also has six 20-point games thus far (including a career-high 31 points at No. 8/6 Maryland on Jan. 27) after scoring 20 points twice during her rookie campaign.
What's more, Loyd has two 30-point games to her credit this season, having also dropped in an even 30 against Central Michigan on Dec. 22 at Purcell Pavilion. Loyd is one of just two ACC players this season (along with Wake Forest's Chelsea Douglas) to post multiple 30-point games, and she is the first Fighting Irish player to have two 30-point games in the same season since 1999-2000, when Ruth Riley did so against Liberty (32) and Miami (36).
Perhaps giving a preview of things to come, Loyd stormed out of the gates this season, piling up 63 points in Notre Dame's first three games, wins over UNC Wilmington (19 points), No. 19/18 Michigan State (22 points) and Valparaiso (22 points).
Loyd's opening-week point production was the highest for a Fighting Irish player in the first three contests of a season since 1998-99, when Danielle Green had 66 combined points in wins against No. 6 UCLA at home (23 points), at Butler (23) and No. 6/4 Duke at home (20).
The Model Of Consistency
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd has scored in double figures in 27 consecutive games, dating back to March 11, 2013, when she had eight points in Notre Dame's 83-59 BIG EAST Championship semifinal win over No. 16/15 Louisville at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Loyd's 27-game double-digit scoring streak is tied for the second-longest in school history, and is the second of that length by a Fighting Irish player in the past three seasons (Natalie Novosel also had a 27-game run from March 8, 2011-Jan. 21, 2012).
Katryna Gaither has staked an ironclad claim to the school record with a remarkable 76-game double-figure scoring streak from 1994-97.
Freshman Lindsay Allen got the call from head coach Muffet McGraw to start at point guard in Notre Dame's season opener against UNC Wilmington on Nov. 9 at Purcell Pavilion. Allen finished with 11 points in her debut game, including the team's first five points of the season.
It was the first time a Fighting Irish rookie point guard started the season opener since Nov. 26, 1994, when Mollie Peirick cracked the lineup and played 38 minutes (two points, five rebounds, three assists) in a 65-60 overtime loss at No. 25 Seton Hall.
Allen has not disappointed in her debut campaign, averaging 7.5 points and 3.8 assists per game (the latter ranking 10th in the ACC). She also is fourth in the ACC with a team-best 2.05 assist/turnover ratio, and is third on the team with 1.18 steals per game.
At her current pace, Allen (84 assists) is in position to become only the fifth Notre Dame freshman to dish out 100 assists in her rookie season, and just the second in the past 20 years (Skylar Diggins had 112 assists in 2009-10). Mary Gavin holds the Fighting Irish freshman assist record with 116 in 1984-85.
What's more, Allen's 3.8 apg. average is the best for a Notre Dame freshman since 1994-95 (Peirick - 3.9 apg.) and makes Allen a candidate to be just the second Notre Dame freshman ever to average 4.0 apg. as a rookie (Gavin logged 4.5 apg. in that 1984-85 season).
Leading a winning lineup is not an unfamiliar feeling for Allen, who is a combined 49-1 in her last 50 games as a starting point guard. Last year as a senior at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C., she guided her squad to a 27-1 record and the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) title -- the highest level of play in the District of Columbia, which does not have a state tournament.
The Second Platoon
Another reason for Notre Dame's success this season has been the performance of its reserves, who are averaging more than 27 points per game and have outscored the opponent's bench by close to a 2-to-1 margin (27.5 ppg. to 15.5 ppg.).
The Fighting Irish second unit has outscored its opposite number in 16 games this season, including a season-high 55 points on Jan. 9 against Boston College, outscoring the entire BC roster by two points (not to mention the Notre Dame starters by 15).
Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey (9.3 ppg.), freshman forward Taya Reimer (8.6 ppg.) and junior guard Madison Cable (5.7 ppg.) head up the strong Fighting Irish bench contingent, which has seen at least one reserve score in double figures in 17 games this season (total of 20 double-figure outings).
Call Her Mabrey
Certainly a leading candidate as one of the nation's most improved players would have to be Notre Dame sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey. The Belmar, N.J., resident has emerged as a key reserve for the Fighting Irish, averaging 9.3 points and 2.8 assists per game along with a very solid 1.94 assist/turnover ratio, after logging 3.0 ppg. and 1.3 apg. with a 1.06 A/TO mark last year.
Mabrey also has proven to be a dynamic three-point threat for Notre Dame, ranking fifth in the ACC with a .434 three-point percentage (tops in the league with a .543 mark in ACC play) and placing 10th in the conference with 2.0 three-pointers made per game (thanks in part to making at least three triples in six games this year, including a career-high 5-of-6 vs. Boston College on Jan. 9).
What's more, Mabrey already has scored in double figures 11 times this year (including a career-high 19 points in the season opener against UNC Wilmington) after doing so three times in 30 games last season.
Next Game: Boston College
Notre Dame faces the first of its two repeat ACC opponents this season when the Fighting Irish take on Boston College at 7 p.m. (ET) Thursday at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Notre Dame and BC also played back on Jan. 9 at Purcell Pavilion, with the Fighting Irish earning a 95-53 victory.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director