Feb. 15, 2013
Full Notes Package in PDF Format
2012-13 ND Women's Basketball: Game 25
#2/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (23-1 / 11-0 BIG EAST) vs. Marquette Golden Eagles (12-12 / 4-7 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 17, 2013
TIME: 1:50 p.m. CT/2:50 p.m. ET
AT: Milwaukee, Wis. - Al McGuire Center (4,000)
SERIES: ND leads 31-6
1ST MTG: MU 66-41 (2/3/78)
LAST MTG: ND 95-42 (12/7/11)
TV: ESPN2/WatchESPN (live) (Pam Ward, p-b-p / Stephanie White, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
StorylinesNotre Dame and Marquette will be meeting for the 38th time on Sunday, having played almost annually since the 1977-78 season.
The Fighting Irish will be participating in their third Play4Kay game in 15 days, having also played in breast cancer awareness games against Cincinnati (home-Feb. 2) and at Seton Hall (away-Feb. 9).
No. 2/3 Fighting Irish Head To Marquette For Sunday Matinee
For the only time in a 13-day period, No. 2/3 Notre Dame takes the court when it heads to Milwaukee on Sunday for a 1:50 p.m. CT (2:50 p.m. ET) matinee against Marquette at the Al McGuire Center. The BIG EAST Conference contest, which also will serves as MU's Play4Kay game to raise funds for breast cancer research, will be televised live on ESPN2 as part of its regionalized "whiparound" coverage and through the WatchESPN mobile platform.
Notre Dame (23-1, 11-0) last played on Monday night, leading from the opening tip to the final horn in a 93-64 win over No. 10/11 Louisville at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish posted their best field goal percentage of the conference season (.567) and held a 44-23 rebounding edge to improve to 7-1 against Top 25 teams.
Junior forward Natalie Achonwa chalked up her BIG EAST-leading 13th double-double of the season with game highs of 22 points and 12 rebounds, while senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins added 21 points (on 9-of-13 shooting) and seven assists for the Fighting Irish.
RankingsNotre Dame is No. 2 in this week's Associated Press poll and No. 3 in this week's ESPN/USA Today poll.
Marquette is not ranked.
Quick HittersNotre Dame has matched the best start in school history (23-1), duplicating the 24-game records posted by the 2000-01, 2009-10 and 2011-12 teams.
The Fighting Irish are 7-1 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), No. 9 Tennessee (77-67) and No. 10/11 Louisville (93-64), 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 Jan. 28 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 an 18-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 18 games since its only loss of the season (Dec. 5 vs. third-ranked Baylor), Notre Dame has averaged 82.1 points per game (winning by 26.0 ppg.), shot .474 from the field (.364 from three-point range), posted a rebound margin of +13.3 per game, and forced opponents into an average of 19.9 turnovers per night.
The Fighting Irish have won a school-record 19 consecutive regular season road games, including 15 in a row in BIG EAST play, and 24 of their last 29 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 15 consecutive BIG EAST regular season games, dating back to Feb. 12, 2012 (a 65-63 loss to West Virginia). It's the second-longest BIG EAST regular season win streak in program history, and longest since an 18-game run from Feb. 17, 1999-Feb. 22, 2000.
According to Friday's NCAA statistical report, the Fighting Irish are ranked in the top 10 in seven categories -- free throw percentage (1st - .797), scoring offense (3rd - 80.4 ppg.), assists (3rd - 19.8 apg.), scoring margin (4th - +24.3 ppg.), rebounding margin (5th - +11.7 rpg.), assist/turnover ratio (7th - 1.23) and field goal percentage (8th - .465).
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 111 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 (61 of 72 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
With 614 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 became 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), registering the milestone win on Feb. 5 at Villanova. McGraw also is the third BIG EAST Conference head coach 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 432 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 8,950 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 188 of their last 190 home games (including an active streak of 31 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 this year, including seven of its last eight 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).
Marquette (12-12, 4-7 BIG EAST) has had to battle through adversity this season, with the Golden Eagles moving on from the early season-ending knee injury to junior starting point guard Gabi Minix, as well as seeing 15 of their 24 games decided by 10 points or less (9-6 record).
MU is coming off one of those close losses, a last-second 54-52 setback at Cincinnati on Wednesday night. Senior forward Sarina Simmons scored a game-high 19 points and junior forward Katherine Plouffe dodged foul trouble to add eight points, six rebounds and six assists.
Plouffe leads Marquette in scoring (12.9 ppg.) and rebounding (7.5 rpg.), while sophomore guard Arlesia Morse adds 11.7 points per game with a team-high 39 three-pointers this year.
Head coach Terri Mitchell is in her 17th season at Marquette with a 322-200 (.617) record, including a 2-11 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Marquette Series
The Notre Dame-Marquette series is one of the longest-running rivalries in women's college basketball, and certainly in the Midwest, with the teams set to play for the 38th time since 1978 on Sunday afternoon.
The Fighting Irish are 31-6 all-time against the Golden Eagles, including an 11-5 record in Milwaukee (2-2 at the Al McGuire Center since it opened in 2004).
The Last Time Notre Dame And Marquette Met
Notre Dame guards Skylar Diggins and Brittany Mallory are competing to see who can get the most steals in the season.
And while head coach Muffet McGraw didn't want to reveal what the prize was, she could not have been happier with both players' performance in Notre Dame's 95-42 victory over Marquette on Dec. 7, 2011, at Purcell Pavilion in the BIG EAST opener for both teams.
The No. 3-ranked Fighting Irish beat the Golden Eagles by forcing 37 turnovers, 18 of which were steals. Diggins had six of those steals and Mallory two.
Kayla McBride led Notre Dame with 19 points. Diggins added 17 points, and Natalie Novosel and Mallory each had 11. Devereaux Peters had 10 rebounds to go with nine points.
Sarina Simmons led Marquette with 14.
Notre Dame was efficient with its turnovers, scoring 46 points. The Fighting Irish also were able to pass the ball inside at will, scoring 52 points in the paint.
Notre Dame forced four early turnovers and used a 9-0 run to jump out to an early 11-3 edge at the 17:15 mark. The defensive intensity continued to pay dividends in the next six minutes, as the Fighting Irish forced another five turnovers and converted most of them into easy layups for a 29-12 lead.
Notre Dame had 15 points off turnovers in the first nine minutes. Notre Dame set up in the Marquette paint for the rest of the half and went into the intermission with a 51-23 lead.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Marquette Met In Milwaukee
Devereaux Peters scored 18 points to lead No. 13/12 Notre Dame to a 73-55 victory over Marquette on Jan. 5, 2011, at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee.
The 6-2 forward came in averaging 9.8 points, but had 12 in the first half for Notre Dame. She made 9 of 12 shots, grabbed eight rebounds, made four steals and blocked two shots for the Fighting Irish.
Peters made four layups and a tip-in in the first half as Notre Dame scored 24 points in the paint to Marquette's eight.
Natalie Novosel added 14 points, including 10 during a decisive second half run for Notre Dame.
Tatiyiana McMorris scored 15 points to lead Marquette, which shot 33.9 percent and had 24 turnovers.
Angel Robinson scored 14 points and her jumper to open the second half pulled Marquette to 40-33, but then Notre Dame's defense took over. After Robinson's shot, the Golden Eagles went 1 for 15 with seven turnovers and let the game slip away.
Novosel's 10 points sparked a 19-3 run capped by Skylar Diggins' two free throws that pushed the lead to 59-36 with 10:44 left to play.
Other Notre Dame-Marquette Series TidbitsFrom 1982-2006, Notre Dame won 26 of 27 games in the series after Marquette won three of the first four meetings (twice in Milwaukee, once in South Bend). However, the series has been much tighter of late, with the Fighting Irish winning four of six.
Six of the past 10 games in the series have been particularly close (10 points or fewer), with a winning margin of just 6.5 points per game. Yet, only once in the 37-game series has a contest gone to overtime -- a 67-65 Notre Dame victory in 2006 (won on a Megan Duffy layup at the horn).
Notre Dame's 31 wins over Marquette are the most against one opponent in school history (Georgetown is second with 26).
Sunday's 38th series meeting will match Notre Dame's series with Connecticut for the most games played against one opponent. The Fighting Irish will add a third team to that list next weekend when they play DePaul for the 38th time, before UConn regains the lead when Notre Dame plays host to the Huskies in the regular season finale on March 4.
With Marquette's arrival in the BIG EAST for the 2005-06 season, the Fighting Irish and Golden Eagles have been members of the same conference three times. Previously, the teams shared affiliations for two-year periods in the North Star (1986-88) and Midwestern Collegiate (1989-91) conferences. The NSC now is defunct, while the MCC was renamed the Horizon League. Notre Dame is 13-2 against Marquette in conference play, going 4-0 in both the NSC and MCC, and 5-2 in the BIG EAST.
Marquette has topped the 70-point mark five times against Notre Dame. Conversely, the Fighting Irish have scored at least 70 points against the Golden Eagles 25 times, all in the past 31 meetings.
The MU record books include two additional Golden Eagle victories over the Fighting Irish, both of which came in 1976 (52-47 on Feb. 4 in Milwaukee; 45-41 on Feb. 28 in South Bend) and were played prior to Notre Dame's program elevating to varsity status (as an AIAW Division III entity) in 1977-78.
Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa and Marquette junior forward Katherine Plouffe are two of the top young talents in the Canadian national team program. Achonwa currently plays for Canada's Senior National Team (most recently in the 2012 London Olympics when her country reached the medal round for the first time since 1984), while Plouffe presently is a member of the Canada Junior National Team. What's more, Achonwa and Plouffe's twin sister, Michelle (a junior at Utah, which Notre Dame defeated 67-54 in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Championship), were teammates on the 2009 Canada Junior National Team that finished fourth at the FIBA U19 World Championships for Women in Thailand -- a tournament won by the United States, which was led by current Notre Dame associate head coach Carol Owens and current Fighting Irish senior guard Skylar Diggins.
From 2008-10, Marquette junior forward Courtney Thomas and Notre Dame sophomore guard Whitney Holloway were teammates at Montini Catholic High School in suburban Chicago. In 2009-10, Holloway and Thomas helped MCHS win its first state championship.
Marquette junior guard Gabi Minix hails from Grovertown, Ind., only 30 miles south of the Notre Dame campus. Minix enjoyed a successful prep career at tiny Oregon-Davis High School (average enrollment 330) in nearby Hamlet, Ind., playing for her father Terry and alongside her sisters Aubrey and Kelsey, and helping the Bobcats to the 2007 Class A title (the same year Notre Dame senior guard Skylar Diggins led South Bend Washington High School to the Class 4A state championship). Minix has missed virtually all of the 2012-13 season after suffering a knee injury.
McGraw's Milestone Moment
With a 59-52 victory at Villanova on Feb. 5, 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 702-257 (.732), including a 614-216 (.740) 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 103-28 (.786) in February games, including a 58-6 (.906) mark at home.
In the 26-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present), the Fighting Irish are 151-43 (.778) in the month of February, including an 80-12 (.870) 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 Class Like None Other
Led by its two-player senior class of guards/co-captains Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, Notre Dame has earned the most victories (118) in a four-year span in school history, topping the total (117) compiled by last year's seniors.
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 second consecutive season, third time in four years and fourth time in school history, Notre Dame has matched its best 24-game start with a 23-1 record.
The 2000-01 Fighting Irish national championship squad opened with 23 consecutive wins before losing in game No. 24 (54-53 at No. 11/14 Rutgers on Feb. 17, 2001).
In 2009-10, Notre Dame won 15 in a row to start the season, then put together an eight-game winning streak after its first loss.
Last season, Notre Dame was in the midst of a 21-game winning streak that helped boost the Fighting Irish to that 23-1 record.
Beyond The Halfway Mark
Notre Dame is off to a 11-0 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 11 wins in a row since 2000-01.
The past two times Notre Dame has started 11-0 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 18-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 18 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 15 consecutive BIG EAST regular-season games, its second-longest winning streak in league play since joining 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 remaining).
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 -- that streak included wins in the final three conference games of the 1998-99 season, plus 15 in a row to start the 1999-2000 league slate (the latter run matching this year's streak for the longest in a single BIG EAST season in program history).
Notre Dame has won a school-record 19 consecutive regular season road games and 24 of its last 29 overall, including all eight 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 13 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 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.
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 16 games this year. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 68-4 (.944) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 38-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 (eight 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 Cable and Holloway's careers) and freshman guards Jewell Loyd (16 times) and Michaela Mabrey (three times).
On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.2 rebounds per game and has piled up 13 of her 15 career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading 13 double-doubles (six against ranked opponents, six 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 24 games, the Fighting Irish lead the nation in free throw percentage, shooting a remarkable .797 (429-of-538) 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 more than 36 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (429 made, 314 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 56 of 60 free throws (.933) to lead the conference. She also would rank fourth in the nation, but she is four made free throws shy of the minimum 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 fourth (.820), freshman guard Jewell Loyd standing eighth (.797) and junior forward Natalie Achonwa ranking ninth (.794).
For her career, McBride has logged an .891 free throw percentage, putting her ahead of Alicia Ratay's school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.
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 (2,108 points) needs 214 points to catch current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham as the program's all-time leading scorer. She also is just 18 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 (499 rebounds) is one rebound 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 (335 steals) is 13 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 (657 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Mary Gavin (1984-88), needing 121 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 70 ahead of Diggins). Diggins now stands third in school history, having passed Mollie Peirick (651 from 1994-98) with her seven assists on Feb. 11 vs. No. 10/11 Louisville. 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.
With the opening tip of the Feb. 9 win at Seton Hall, Diggins became Notre Dame's all-time leader in career starts (now 131), passing Alicia Ratay (129 from 1999-2003).
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 118-19 (.861) 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 26-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (13-10 vs. the AP Top 10) and an 84-1 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 Friday).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.45 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 11.3 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 13.8 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.2 rpg.), while scoring in double figures 19 times and grabbing double-digit rebounds on 13 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 (13, including six against ranked teams and six against conference foes) and has five 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 (18th - 13.8 ppg.), rebounding (2nd - 9.2 rpg.), field goal percentage (6th - .539; also 17th nationally) and free throw percentage (9th - .794).
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 three times this season, earning a spot on the Dec. 10, Jan. 14 and Feb. 11 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 14th in the BIG EAST in scoring (14.2 ppg.) and leads the conference in free throw percentage (.933), and she would rank fourth in the nation in the latter category, but she is four made free throws shy of the minimum for qualification (2.5 FTM/game). In both scoring and foul shooting, she is posting career-high marks, including an improvement of better than 22 percent in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).
McBride also is among the team leaders this season with 19 double-figure scoring games, including at least 15 points in seven of Notre Dame's eight games against ranked opponents to date (16.8 ppg.) and a career-high 21 points at No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 5.
In fact, in her last 23 games against Top 25 opponents, McBride is averaging 14.3 points per game, scoring in double figures 20 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 24 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 23 times), scoring in double figures 16 times, earning her first career double-double (18 points/13 rebounds at South Florida on Jan. 8) and posting three "5-5-5" games.
Loyd currently ranks among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (25th - 12.0 ppg.) and free throw percentage (8th - .797), and would be third in the conference in three-point percentage (.417), but she is four 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 #24 Recap: Louisville
Second-ranked Notre Dame got its inside game going in the second half and overwhelmed No. 10 Louisville.
The Fighting Irish outrebounded the Cardinals 26-8 in the second half and outscored them 26-10 in the paint in the final 20 minutes en route to a 93-64 victory Monday night, the 18th straight win for Notre Dame. Natalie Achonwa led the Irish with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds.
Louisville managed to cut Notre Dame's lead to seven points early in the second half, but the Fighting Irish quickly responded with a 10-0 run and the Cardinals didn't threaten again.
The loss ended a six-game winning streak for Louisville (20-5, 8-3), its second longest BIG EAST winning streak since joining the league in 2005-06. Bria Smith led the Cardinals with 18 points.
Kayla McBride added 15 points, Jewell Loyd 12 points and nine rebounds, and Ariel Braker scored 10 for the Fighting Irish. Antonita Slaughter had 16 points and Shoni Schimmel had 13.
Beyond The Box Score: LouisvilleNotre Dame improves to 7-1 against ranked opponents this season (22-4 in the past two years), including a 3-1 record this season against teams ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll.
The 29-point margin of victory was the largest for the Fighting Irish against a ranked opponent since March 27, 2012, when they defeated No. 5 Maryland, 80-49 in the NCAA Raleigh Regional final at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.
The 93 points were the most Notre Dame has scored against an AP top-10 opponent since Dec. 4, 1999, when it defeated No. 9/12 North Carolina, 99-86 at the Wachovia Women's Basketball Invitational in Richmond, Va..
The 93 points also were the most the Fighting Irish have scored against any ranked opponent since Feb. 25, 2004, when it defeated No. 21/19 Miami (Fla.), 93-58 at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame moves to 9-4 all-time against Louisville, including an 8-2 record since the Cardinals joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06.
The Fighting Irish have won their last six games against Louisville and are 3-2 against the Cardinals at Purcell Pavilion, with this marking the fourth time in 10 on-campus series games that the home team has won.
The 93 points were the most scored by either team in the 13-game series, while the 29-point margin was the largest in the 10 regular-season meetings.
Notre Dame is ranked a season-best No. 2 for the sixth consecutive Associated Press poll last week, its 41st consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 111 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 (72 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (61) 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 250 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 sixth consecutive week in the latest ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, after spending the previous seven weeks in the No. 5 spot.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 111 of the past 112 weeks (and 75 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 244 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 250 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 in PDF version of this notes package), 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 269-19 (.934) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 197 of their last 210 such contests (.938).
What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 106-2 (.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 272-15 (.948) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 14 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 177-6 (.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 54-2 (.964) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level nine 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 232 of their last 261 games (.889) 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 59-5 (.922) -- including wins in 35 of its last 37 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 126-20 (.863) 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 382-90 (.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 seven of the past eight 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 8,950 fans per game, which is nearly 400 fans better than last year's school record and factors to nearly 98 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 227-64 (.780) record in league play that remains the second-best regular season winning percentage in BIG EAST women's basketball history.
Next Game: DePaul
Notre Dame is off this week before gearing up for the BIG EAST stretch run with four games in the final eight days of the regular season, beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET (2:30 p.m. CT) Feb. 24 at DePaul. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience on ESPNU.
-- ND --