Feb. 24, 2012
#3/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (26-2 / 13-1 BIG EAST) vs. South Florida Bulls (15-13 / 7-7 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 25, 2012
TIME: 2:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
SERIES: ND leads 7-2
1ST MTG: ND 73-50 (12/13/97)
LAST MTG: ND 76-68 (2/5/11)
WEBCAST: UND.com (live)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (574) 631-7356 / UND.com/tickets
No. 3 Fighting Irish Welcome USF To Town On Senior Day
After a lengthy respite that has seen it play just once in an 11-day span, No. 3 Notre Dame will close out the regular season in a flash, with two games in three days, beginning at 2 p.m. (ET) Saturday when it plays host to South Florida at Purcell Pavilion. This final home game of the regular season for the Fighting Irish will be webcast live and free of charge on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com.
The Fighting Irish (26-2, 13-1) locked down their ninth win in 10 tries against a ranked opponent this season, dispatching No. 16 Louisville, 68-52 on Monday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. Notre Dame led all the way, but needed a .619 field goal percentage in the second half to shoo away the pesky Cardinals.
Junior guard Skylar Diggins tallied a game-high 21 points to pace four Fighting Irish players in double figures. Sophomore guard Kayla McBride added 15 points, fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory scored 13 points and fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters flirted with a double-double (10 points, nine rebounds).
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At South Florida
It's taken the better part of this season for South Florida to adjust to injuries and integrate some talented newcomers to the lineup, but the Bulls appear to have reached full gallop with the postseason on the horizon.
USF (15-13, 7-7) comes into this weekend's matchup winners of three in a row, most recently defeating Pittsburgh, 62-50 on Feb. 18 in Tampa. Senior guard Jasmine Wynne came off the bench in her first outing after a three-game hiatus due to injury and looked none the worse for wear, tallying a game-high 14 points to pace four USF players in double figures. Junior guard Andrell Smith added a double-double for the Bulls with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
One of the BIG EAST's newest standouts, Wynne ranks fifth in the conference in scoring (15.6 ppg.) and tops in steals (2.7 spg.). USF also has benefitted from the midseason arrival of sharpshooting junior guard Inga Orekhova, who is averaging 11.7 points per game and leads the BIG EAST with 2.6 three-pointers made per game during conference action.
Head coach Jose Fernandez is in his 12th season at USF with a 185-181 (.505) career record, including a 2-5 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-South Florida Series
Notre Dame and South Florida will be playing for the 10th time on Saturday afternoon, with the Fighting Irish holding a 7-2 edge in the series with the Bulls, including a 3-1 advantage at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame also has won five of seven matchups against USF (including the past four in a row) since the Bulls joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06.
The Last Time Notre Dame And South Florida Met
Natalie Novosel scored 12 of her 19 points in the second half to lead eighth-ranked Notre Dame past South Florida 76-68 on Feb. 5, 2011, at the Sun Dome in Tampa.
Skylar Diggins added 17 points for Notre Dame, while Becca Bruszewski had 11 of her 16 points in the first half to help the Fighting Irish, which led by as many as 17, go up 42-30 at halftime. Notre Dame went 12 of 21 from the free-throw line during the opening 20 minutes.
South Florida got 20 points from Andrea Smith, while Andrell Smith had 15 points, while Akila McDonald chipped in 14 for the Bulls.
After USF got within nine points with nine minutes left, Novosel had a basket and made a free throw during an 8-0 run that put Notre Dame up 70-53 four minutes later.
Notre Dame withstood a late surge after Smith hit a three-pointer to make it 73-66 with 44 seconds to go.
The Fighting Irish, who connected on 28 of 41 free throws overall, made three to secure the win over the final 35 seconds.
South Florida was 14 of 24 from the line.
The Last Time Notre Dame And South Florida Met At Purcell Pavilion
No. 3 Notre Dame couldn't shake South Florida until blowing the game open with a 19-3 run in the final seven minutes to win 81-64, on Jan. 12, 2010, at Purcell Pavilion behind Lindsay Schrader's 18 points and 13 rebounds.
South Florida stayed in the game by shooting 50 percent until going cold with 7:30 left, when it went just 1-of-7 from the floor. Natalie Novosel ignited the decisive 19-3 run for the Fighting Irish with a three-pointer with 6:02 left and later added a driving layup, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Sequoyah Griffin led the Bulls with 16 points and Leondra Doomes-Stephens added 12. Skylar Diggins scored 14 points, Novosel had 12, Melissa Lechlitner scored 11 and Ashley Barlow had nine points and 11 rebounds. Diggins also played tough defense in a game where the Fighting Irish didn't play as well defensively as they normally do.
Other Notre Dame-South Florida Series Tidbits
Sunshine State Success
Notre Dame is 25-5 (.833) all-time against Florida schools, including a 10-3 (.769) record against Sunshine State teams at home, including a 90-38 victory over UCF back on Dec. 20 at Purcell Pavilion.
The Fighting Irish have won their last six games against teams from the state of Florida, with USF the last team from the Sunshine State to defeat Notre Dame, winning 87-78 in overtime on Jan. 13, 2007, in Tampa.
The Bulls also were the last Florida school to win at Purcell Pavilion, earning a 68-64 overtime victory on Jan. 28, 2006.
Going Out On Top
Following Saturday's game against South Florida, Notre Dame will take time to honor its six departing seniors (guards Fraderica Miller, Brittany Mallory and Natalie Novosel, and forward Devereaux Peters, plus student managers Lucy Eckard and Nick Sigmund) for their contributions to the program.
Notre Dame is 28-6 (.824) all-time on Senior Day, including a 21-3 (.875) record in the Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present). In fact, the Fighting Irish lost their first Senior Day game under McGraw (69-68 vs. DePaul in 1988), but have proceeded to win on 21 of the past 23 Senior Days since then. The only setbacks during this current stretch came in 2002, when Villanova edged the Fighting Irish, 48-45, to break Notre Dame's school-record 51-game home winning streak, and in 2007, when Rutgers pulled away late for a 76-60 win.
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 97-28 (.776) in February games, including a 55-6 (.902) mark at home.
In the 25-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-present), the Fighting Irish are 145-43 (.771) in the month of February, including a 77-12 (.865) home record. In that time, Notre Dame has not had a losing February (including this year's 4-1 record), and only once did the Fighting Irish end the month at .500 (4-4 in 1988-89, McGraw's second season in South Bend).
Start Me Up
For the second time in school history, Notre Dame has a 26-2 record or better through 28 games.
In their 2000-01 national championship season, the Fighting Irish opened with a school-record 23-game winning streak before losing in the 24th game (54-53 at Rutgers on Feb. 17, 2001). Notre Dame then would win its next five in a row before losing at Connecticut, 78-76 in the BIG EAST Championship title game, the only other time the Fighting Irish would fall during their 34-2 run to the national championship.
A Record Haul
Notre Dame has tied a school record with 26 regular-season victories, matching its win total from the 2000-01 regular season, when the Fighting Irish posted a 26-1 record.
Pieces of Silver
With its 66-47 win at home over Providence on Feb. 14, Notre Dame registered its 25th victory of the season, marking the third consecutive year (and fourth time in four years) the Fighting Irish have reached that level.
Notre Dame has recorded nine 25-win seasons in its 35 varsity campaigns, but only once before had the Fighting Irish done so in back-to-back-to-back years. From 1998-99 through 2000-01, Notre Dame topped that mark each season (26-5, 27-5 and 34-2), including a school-record 34 wins in the final year of that run, which culminated with the program's first national championship.
Notre Dame's current stretch of four 25-win seasons in five years (and 133 total wins in that time) bears similarities to the Fighting Irish stretch from 1996-97 through 2000-01, a span that started with a 31-7 record and NCAA Women's Final Four berth in 1996-97. Notre Dame won a total of 140 games in that span, the most in a five-year period in school history.
One other note -- current Fighting Irish fifth-year seniors/tri-captains Brittany Mallory and Devereaux Peters have been key contributors on all four of the latest 25-win campaigns for Notre Dame, missing only the majority of the 2008-09 season with knee injuries when the Fighting Irish went 22-9.
Notre Dame reached the 20-win mark for the 18th time in the past 19 seasons with its 72-44 victory over No. 7/9 Tennessee on Jan. 23 at Purcell Pavilion. It was the earliest (in terms of the calendar) that the Fighting Irish have ever earned their 20th win, eight days faster than the 2000-01 club, which did so on Jan. 31 with a 64-44 victory over Providence, also at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame now has registered 20-or-more wins 22 times in the 25-year Muffet McGraw era and 26 times in the program's 35-year history.
McGraw herself has coached 24 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.
Charging From The Gate
Notre Dame got off to a 11-0 start in BIG EAST Conference play for the first time in 11 seasons and the fourth time since the program joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96.
The last time the Fighting Irish opened the conference season with 11 consecutive wins (or had any sort of 11-game league winning streak) was 2000-01 when they began the BIG EAST slate with a 12-0 record on the way to earning a share of their first regular season conference title with a 15-1 record.
Notre Dame's 21-game winning streak from Nov. 25-Feb. 7 was the second-longest success string in program history, and the longest since the Fighting Irish opened their 2000-01 national championship season on a school-record 23-game winning streak.
For the 16th time in its 17-year membership in the BIG EAST Conference, Notre Dame has posted double-digit league wins. With the exception of 2005-06 (when they went 8-8), the Fighting Irish have never posted fewer than 10 BIG EAST wins in a season, finishing among the top four in the conference 14 times in their 17 seasons in the league (they are guaranteed to finish no worse than second this season).
Taking it a step further, Notre Dame now has registered double-digit conference wins in 22 of head coach Muffet McGraw's 25 seasons under the Golden Dome, with the only other exceptions coming in 1987-88 (her first season when the Fighting Irish went 7-3 in the now-defunct North Star Conference) and 1991-92 (when Notre Dame went 8-4 in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League, then won three in a row at the conference tournament to earn the program's first-ever NCAA Championship berth, despite a losing overall record of 14-16, becoming the first school ever to pull off that feat).
Since its Nov. 20 loss at No. 1 Baylor, Notre Dame has won its last nine games against ranked opponents (including four against top-10 teams), earning six of those victories by at least 15 points (three by 25 points or more).
The major driving force in this turnaround has been the play of the Fighting Irish defense, which has held those last nine Top 25 opponents to just 56.6 points per night, including six games when the opposition scored 60 points or fewer.
Notre Dame also has held its ranked foes to a .340 field goal percentage (.235 from the three-point line), and posted a +5.6 rebounding margin after being outrebounded by 15 at Baylor.
Born To Run
In the latest NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame leads the nation in both scoring offense (81.4 ppg.) and field goal percentage (.484) this season. Those are just two of six NCAA offensive categories in which the Fighting Irish rank among the top 20, along with scoring margin (second at +30.4 ppg.), assists (fourth at 19.0 apg.), assist/turnover ratio (10th at 1.14) and free throw percentage (18th at .760).
Notre Dame also has topped the 100-point mark twice (first time since 1998-99, second time in school history), and has scored at least 90 points in a game eight times this year, tying the school record set last season.
What's more, Notre Dame has done an excellent job of putting teams away, recording 19 20-point wins, and 11 victories by at least 30 points (second-most in school history behind the 12 30-point wins last year).
Fighting Irish Scoring Early TKOs
Part of Notre Dame's success this season can be traced to its penchant for jumping out to huge early leads and then keep its foot on the gas the rest of the way.
In 12 games this year, the Fighting Irish have charged to a 20-point lead inside the opening 13 minutes of the game, going on to win all 12 of those contests by an average of 50.9 points per game.
Overall, Notre Dame is outscoring its opponents in the first half this season by close to a 2-to-1 margin (1,192-659), with an average halftime score of 43-24.
Twice this season, Notre Dame has gone "over the top", scoring 100 points in a game during victories at Mercer (128-42 on Dec. 30) and at home against BIG EAST Conference rival Pittsburgh (120-44 on Jan. 17).
Prior to this season, the Fighting Irish had never scored more than 113 points in a game (113-35 win over Liberty on Nov. 24, 1989, at the UCF Rotary Classic in Orlando, Fla.), and had scored in triple digits just 13 times in the program's first 34 seasons.
What's more, this marks just the second time Notre Dame has ever posted multiple 100-point games in the same season -- in 1998-99, the Fighting Irish defeated No. 25/23 Illinois, 101-93, on Nov. 24 at Purcell Pavilion, before defeating West Virginia, 111-90, on Jan. 7, also at home.
As one might expect, Notre Dame's two offensive explosions rank as the top two single-game point totals in the nation in 2011-12. Oklahoma is third with a 117-point night against visiting Sacramento State on Nov. 13.
Lock It Up
Notre Dame ranks among the top 15 in the nation in five NCAA defensive statistical categories -- steals (fourth at 13.8 spg.), scoring defense (fifth at 51.0 ppg.), turnover margin (seventh at +7.04), rebound margin (10th at +9.8 rpg.) and field goal percentage defense (15th at .343).
The Fighting Irish have held 23 opponents to 61 points or fewer, with a school-record 16 failing to score more than 50 points against Notre Dame -- last year's Fighting Irish squad had 14 games in which it allowed 50 points or fewer.
Notre Dame's defensive effort has extended to smaller increments as well. In their last 45 halves of basketball (dating back to the second half against No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26), the Fighting Irish have held their opponents to 25 points or fewer 60 percent of the time (27 halves), including more than 35 percent of the time (16 halves) when the opposition didn't crack 20 points.
Gimme Some Of That
Fueled by its aggressive defense, Notre Dame has been in the taking mood this year, forcing its opponents into at least 20 turnovers in 19 games thus far, with Fighting Irish foes averaging 23.7 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +7.04 turnover margin that is seventh-best in the nation.
The Fighting Irish wasted little time in setting the tone this season, forcing a combined 112 turnovers in their first three games, an average of 37.3 per night, and converting those into 142 points (47.3 ppg.). That run was highlighted by an opponent season-high 46 turnovers against Akron on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion, the third-most takeaways in school history, and second-most in the program's Division I era (49 vs. New Hampshire on Nov. 12, 2010).
The Fighting Irish have been especially hard on opponents in their 15 home games this season, forcing 26.9 turnovers per game and collecting at least 19 in each Purcell Pavilion contest thus far.
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into Saturday's game ranked fourth in the nation in steals with 13.8 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 21 games this season, including three contests with 20-plus steals.
Highlighting this year's takeaway brigade for Notre Dame was a season-high 29-steal performance in the opening night victory against Akron on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish followed that up two days later with 25 thefts in a win over Indiana State, and nabbed 26 steals in a Dec. 28 win over Longwood.
Prior to last season, Notre Dame had posted 23 steals in a game just seven times in the first 33 years (and 991 games) of the Fighting Irish women's basketball program, and only three games with 25-plus steals in that time, none since a then-record tying 29 steals at Saint Louis on Jan. 31, 1991. What's more, Notre Dame had not earned a conference steals title since 1989-90, when it led the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) with 10.9 spg.
Yet, in the past two years (67 games), the Fighting Irish have had eight 23-steal games, with five outings of at least 25 thefts, and they claimed last year's BIG EAST steals crown with 11.8 steals per game during regular-season league play.
Individually, Notre Dame has 10 different players with double-digit steals this season (including three with at least 55 thefts), led by junior guard Skylar Diggins, who is third in the BIG EAST at 2.5 steals per game, and fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, who is tied for fifth at 2.4 spg.
Continuing a trend from last season, Notre Dame has shared the basketball very well to date this year.
In Friday's NCAA statistics report, the Fighting Irish were fourth in the nation (and second in the BIG EAST) at 19.0 assists per game, including a season-high 33 assists against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17 (one of 13 games with 20-or-more assists this year, including six with 25 assists).
Individually, junior guard Skylar Diggins is 16th in the nation in assists (BIG EAST-best 5.8 apg.) and 14th in the country with a 2.26 assist/turnover ratio (also tops in the conference).
What's more, Notre Dame has assisted on 64.4 percent of its field goals this season (532 of 826), compared to last year when the Fighting Irish registered assists on 60.9 percent of their baskets (669 of 1,099), with 16 games of at least 20 assists.
Notre Dame has benefited from an experienced lineup this season, using the same starting five (guards Skylar Diggins, Brittany Mallory, Kayla McBride and Natalie Novosel, and forward Devereaux Peters) for all but two games this year (Dec. 30 at Mercer, when senior guard and Atlanta-area native Fraderica Miller earned the nod in her homecoming game; Jan. 7 vs. No. 2 Connecticut).
The foundation of this stable lineup has been the quartet of Diggins, Mallory, Novosel and Peters, who also started 34 of 39 games last year (Mallory missed two games with an ankle injury and came off the bench for two more, while Diggins relinquished her starting spot for Senior Day last year to allow walk-on forward Mary Forr to make the start). In the four games Mallory was not in the lineup last year, McBride earned the first starts of her college career.
Collectively, the current Notre Dame lineup has started 335 games in their careers (Diggins-96, Novosel-71, Peters-70, Mallory-68, McBride-30).
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has featured a balanced offense thus far, with at least three players scoring in double figures in 24 games, and at least four double-digit scorers in 14 games, including a season-high (and school record-tying) eight with at least 10 points against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17.
During the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 48-4 (.923) when it has at least four players score in double figures, with two of those losses coming in overtime (March 28, 2010 - 77-72 vs. Oklahoma in NCAA Sweet 16 at Kansas City; Nov. 18, 2010 - 86-83 in double overtime vs. UCLA at Purcell Pavilion) and a third by a single point (Feb. 28, 2011 - 70-69 at DePaul).
The Fighting Irish also have had six different players lead them in scoring this season. Five of the six leading scorers this year also have registered at least one 20-point game to date, while 10 different Notre Dame players (of the 11 healthy Fighting Irish who have seen action to date) have scored in double figures at least once this year.
Improvement Continues On The Glass
After averaging 37.2 rebounds in its first six games (and holding the upper hand in that category only three times, with an aggregate minus-2 rebounding margin), Notre Dame has featured a marked improvement on the boards since its return from the Bahamas after the Thanksgiving weekend.
In their last 22 games, the Fighting Irish are averaging 42.6 rebounds a night, with an average rebounding margin of +12.5 rpg., winning or finishing even in the rebounding battle all but twice in that span (41-33 against West Virginia on Feb. 12; 35-28 at No. 16 Louisville on Feb. 20). Furthermore, Notre Dame has grabbed at least 40 rebounds 17 times in the past 22 games after not reaching that mark once in its first six contests.
According to the latest NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame ranks 10th in the country in rebounding margin (+9.8 rpg.) this year.
Diggins Among Final Nominees For Nancy Lieberman Award
For the second consecutive season, junior guard Skylar Diggins has been selected as one of eight final nominees for the 13th annual Nancy Lieberman Award, which is presented annually to the nation's top point guard by the Rotary Club of Detroit.
The criteria for the award are the floor leadership, playmaking and ball-handling skills that personified the award's namesake, Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, with this year's final nominees selected by a panel of sportswriters from around the country.
This same media panel will choose the three finalists and the recipient for the 2012 award, with that announcement made during the weekend of the NCAA Women's Final Four (April 1-3) in Denver. The recipient then will be presented with the honor during an awards luncheon at noon (ET) April 18 at the Detroit Athletic Club.
The other remaining final nominees for this year's Lieberman Award are: Angel Goodrich (Kansas), Chelsea Gray (Duke), Bria Hartley (Connecticut), Lindsey Moore (Nebraska), Samantha Prahalis (Ohio State), Odyssey Sims (Baylor) and Haley Steed (BYU).
Diggins currently ranks among the top 16 in the nation (and leads the BIG EAST) in both assists (16th - 5.8 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (14th - 2.26), making her one of only five players -- and one of only three Lieberman Award final nominees (along with Goodrich and Steed) -- to appear in the top 16 of both of those NCAA statistical categories (as of Friday).
Add in Diggins' scoring component (team-high 17.3 ppg.) and she is the only player in the nation -- point guard or otherwise -- currently appearing among the top 50 on the NCAA statistical charts for scoring (50th), assists (16th) and assist/turnover ratio (14th).
Windy City Warrior
Fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters is in the midst of one of the best stretches of her college career, averaging 13.6 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game with a .537 field goal percentage (44-of-82) and five double-doubles in her last eight outings.
Here's a look at some of the rare feats Peters (the Jan. 23 BIG EAST Player of the Week and a member of the Jan. 30 and Feb. 20 BIG EAST Honor Roll) has been accomplished in the past month:
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted an 86-16 (.843) record in the past three seasons, 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 NCAA national championship game and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 14-9 record against AP Top 25 teams (7-7 vs. the AP Top 10) and a 63-game winning streak against unranked opponents (not appearing in the AP poll) from the start of the 2009-10 season before falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12.
Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 16 losses in Diggins' career primarily have been verdicts that could have gone either way, with 10 decided by single digits (six that were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.
With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted two of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 77.0 ppg. last year after logging 77.1 ppg. in her freshman season (and Notre Dame is on pace to go well beyond those figures this year).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.31 spg. career mark), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top two single-season steal marks in program history with 495 thefts last year and 450 steals the season before. Last season also saw Notre Dame post the third-best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing just 56.2 ppg. (the best since the 2000-01 Fighting Irish yielded 55.8 ppg. en route to the national championship).
The Rare Air Up There
With its 72-44 victory over Tennessee on Jan. 23 at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame became just the second school ever to defeat both Connecticut and Tennessee in consecutive seasons (the Fighting Irish downed Connecticut, 74-67 in overtime on Jan. 7, also at Purcell Pavilion).
North Carolina was the first program to pull off this feat, doing so in 2005-06 (77-54 at UConn; 75-63 vs. UT in Cleveland) and 2006-07 (82-76 vs. UConn at home; 70-57 vs. UT at home).
A Rally To Remember
Notre Dame tied a school record by digging out of an 18-point second-half hole to defeat No. 7/6 Duke, 56-54 on Nov. 26 in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division championship game at St. Georges High School in Freeport, Bahamas.
Nearly three years earlier on Dec. 30, 2008, the Fighting Irish trailed 46-28 at No. 20/19 Vanderbilt with 15:56 left and came back to win, 59-57 at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn.
This year's comeback victory over Duke marked the fourth time in program history Notre Dame has ralled from a deficit of 15 points or more to post a victory, with all four of these comebacks occurring in the past 11 seasons.
Beat The Clock
Senior guard Natalie Novosel hit a running bank shot at the foul line as the buzzer sounded to give Notre Dame a 56-54 win over No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26 in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division championship game at St. Georges High School in Freeport, Bahamas.
Novosel's buzzer-beater was the first winning shot at the horn by a Notre Dame player since Jan. 10, 2006, when Megan Duffy scored the last of her career-high 32 points with an off-handed layup at the overtime siren to earn a 67-65 win over Marquette at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame also has had several players nail winning shots in the final minute of games during recent seasons. Prior to Novosel, Ashley Barlow was the last Fighting Irish player to pull off such late-game heroics, canning a three-pointer with 34.2 seconds remaining to help Notre Dame take a 74-73 win at Syracuse on Jan. 30, 2010.
Another notable recent "beat-the-clock" moment for Notre Dame occurred on Dec. 5, 2007, when Charel Allen sank a foul-line jumper with 0.8 seconds remaining in overtime, lifting the Fighting Irish to an 86-84 win at Bowling Green.
The Model Of Consistency
The Jan. 23 win over No. 7/9 Tennessee marked the end to a remarkable streak, as senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel was held to four points, her first single-digit point total since March 7, 2011, when she had eight points in Notre Dame's 71-67 BIG EAST Championship semifinal win over No. 9/13 DePaul at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Novosel's 27-game double-digit scoring streak is the second-longest in school history, and was the longest by a Fighting Irish player in 15 seasons.
Katryna Gaither staked an ironclad claim to the school record with a remarkable 76-game double-figure scoring streak from 1994-97.
A Grand Trio
Notre Dame has had two of its captains score their 1,000th career point this season -- senior guard Natalie Novosel hit the milestone on a free throw with 14:20 remaining on Nov. 13 against Indiana State, while fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters reached the landmark on a layup 16:52 left on Dec. 28 vs. Longwood.
Novosel currently is 15th in school history with 1,379 points, while Peters became the 30th member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club and presently stands 22nd with 1,201 points.
Together with junior guard Skylar Diggins (ninth with 1,554 points), Notre Dame has three active players in that elite Fighting Irish club for the third time in school history. In both 2000-01 and 2009-10, Notre Dame also had three 1,000-point players on the roster, with the third reaching that total in her final career game (Kelley Siemon in 2001 NCAA national championship game vs. Purdue, Melissa Lechlitner in 2010 NCAA Sweet 16 game vs. Oklahoma).
The Fighting Irish could have a fourth player reach the scoring millennium later this season -- fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory has 919 career points. Should Mallory hit the 1,000-point mark, it would be the first time in the 35-year history of Notre Dame women's basketball that a quartet of active 1,000-point scorers were on the roster at the same time.
What's more, Peters became the seventh player from Notre Dame's 2009-10 NCAA Sweet 16 team to reach the 1,000-point plateau during her career, along with Diggins, Novosel, Lechlitner, Ashley Barlow (10th at 1,492), Lindsay Schrader (14th at 1,429) and Becca Bruszewski (25th at 1,148) -- and that doesn't even include Mallory, who also was part of that season's 13-player roster.
More Than Tough Enough
Fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Brittany Mallory reached a somewhat-overlooked and key career milestone on Feb. 7 at Syracuse, as she set a school record for career games played (currently at 140), topping the total of her former teammate and co-captain Becca Bruszewski, who played in 136 games from 2007-11.
Aside from the 2008-09 season that Mallory largely missed after injuring her knee in the seventh game at Michigan, she has missed only three other games in her career to date -- one as a freshman in 2007-08 (at Richmond) due to an acute illness and two last season (at Kentucky, vs. IUPUI) following an ankle injury suffered against UCLA.
Not bad for a player who also was an All-America lacrosse standout coming from the McDonogh School in suburban Baltimore. In fact, head coach Muffet McGraw foreshadowed Mallory's endurance at Notre Dame way back on Signing Day, when she said -- "You know she's going to be tough when she's used to getting beat in the head with a lacrosse stick every day."
Game #28 Recap: Louisville
Skylar Diggins felt the pressure building during Notre Dame's 21-game win streak. Now that it's firmly in the past, the guard and her teammates have their swagger back.
Diggins scored 21 points and sophomore Kayla McBride added 15 to lead the No. 3 Fighting Irish over No. 16 Louisville 68-52 on Monday at the KFC Yum! Center, and moving them one step closer to a BIG EAST title.
"I think we're finally getting back to playing with our swag, playing our style of basketball. And it feels good. We're having fun out there again," said Diggins, who added seven assists. "We're smiling, we're laughing, you know what I mean? With that tough schedule, we took it too serious, kind of lost the fun in it."
Notre Dame (26-2, 13-1) has won two straight since losing at home to West Virginia and controls its destiny in its quest for its first regular-season league championship since 2001, when the Fighting Irish tied Connecticut on the way to the national title.
Antonita Slaughter scored 12 points for the Cardinals (19-8, 8-6), who failed to reach the 20-win plateau with their fourth loss in six games.
"It's contagious when one of us is hitting," Diggins said. "It's a point guard's dream just to be able to pass to anybody and have the confidence they're going to make the shot."
The Fighting Irish struggled from the field in the first half before using a 12-4 run early in the second to take their first double-digit lead when Peters had a layup and made two free throws on the next possession to put Notre Dame ahead 44-33.
After Louisville cut it to 46-39 on a layup by Shawnta' Dyer off a pass from Shoni Schimmel with 8:55 left, Mallory answered with a three-pointer in the left corner following a timeout. She pumped her fist and clapped twice on a play that thwarted a potential run and silenced the Louisville crowd.
Mallory's shot turned out to be a big one. The Cardinals missed 14 of their 16 three-point attempts as Notre Dame surged ahead.
Diggins hit 11 of 12 free throws, and Notre Dame finished 17 of 18 overall, matching its best shooting performance at the line since Jan. 16, 2008 against Villanova.
Kaila Turner's three-pointer was the difference in a closely contested first half, giving Notre Dame a 28-25 lead at the break. The Fighting Irish looked like a different team when they returned to the floor.
"I thought we looked like our old selves again, we scored the ball well, shot the ball well, passed it well," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "Did pretty much everything we needed to do in the second half and was really pleased with that."
Beyond The Box Score -- Louisville
Notre Dame is ranked No. 3 in this week's Associated Press poll, its 16th consecutive week in the top five of the media balloting. The Fighting Irish also earned a preseason No. 2 ranking that was their highest since the final 2000-01 poll (taken before the the NCAA Championship), and also was the highest Notre Dame had ever been ranked in the AP preseason poll, topping its No. 4 debut in 2009-10.
Notre Dame received six first-place votes in the 2011-12 AP preseason poll (and four the following week), the first time it received consideration for the top spot since March 11, 2001, when the Fighting Irish earned five first-place votes (they were ranked No. 2 after falling at Connecticut, 79-76 in the BIG EAST tournament final). The previous week, Notre Dame had 33 first-place votes in its sixth week with the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll.
This week's No. 3 ranking marks the 93rd consecutive AP poll appearance for the Fighting Irish, extending the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001). In fact, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career, spending more than half (55) of those appearances in the AP Top 10.
This year's No. 2 preseason ranking also represents the 12th time in the past 13 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the initial AP poll, something only nine schools in the nation have done -- Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee have shown up in all 13 during that span, while Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Stanford join the Fighting Irish with 12 preseason AP poll berths.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 232 weeks during the program's 35-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 11th 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 are No. 3 in this week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, after being ranked as high as second for seven weeks earlier this season. Like the AP poll, Notre Dame earned its best-ever preseason ranking (second) in the coaches' poll, topping its No. 5 placement to begin the 2000-01 campaign. The Fighting Irish also collected five first-place votes in this year's preseason coaches' survey (and two a week later), their first nods for the top spot since the final '00-01 balloting, when they received all 40 first-place votes after winning the national championship.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 93 of the past 94 weeks, falling just outside the Top 25 in the final poll of the 2008-09 season. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish have appeared in the coaches' poll for a total of 225 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the fourth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 10 of the past 14 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 232 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).
Half And Half
During the past 11 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 240-19 (.927) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 168 of their last 181 such contests (.928).
What's more, in the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 77-2 (.975) 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 17 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 252-15 (.944) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 22 contests this year.
...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 17 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 165-6 (.965) 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 three years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 42-2 (.955) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level in 13 games this season and winning 12 times.
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 218 of their last 246 games (.886) 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 Feb. 12 vs. West Virginia). Notre Dame also has a 119-20 (.856) 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 101 of their last 109 non-BIG EAST contests (.927) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the eight losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents (four by 12 points or less) -- Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT), Indiana in 2006 (54-51) and Minnesota in 2009 (79-71) -- with the other defeats coming to Tennessee in 2005 (62-51) and 2008 (87-63), and to UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT). The Purdue loss also snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak which began after the UW setback.
Since its inaugural season in 1977-78, Notre Dame has played all of its games at the former Joyce Center, posting a 368-89 (.805) 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, capped by an 84-66 triumph over Vermont in the second round of the NCAA Championship.
Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
The past two 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 (8,553 fans per game in 2010-11) and most sellouts in a single season (six in 2009-10). And, as the old saying goes -- "you ain't seen nothin' yet."
For the third consecutive year, Notre Dame fans exhausted the program's season ticket packages (7,500) and snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish already sell out a school-record seven games this year (Dec. 18 vs. Kentucky, Dec. 28 vs. Longwood, Jan. 7 vs. Connecticut, Jan. 21 vs. Villanova, Jan. 23 vs. Tennessee, Feb. 5 vs. DePaul, Feb. 12 vs. West Virginia).
What's more, Notre Dame is averaging 8,789 fans per game (good for fifth in the nation), including those aforementioned seven sellouts (9,149). The Fighting Irish now have posted 18 sellouts in the past three seasons and 24 in program history.
Fighting Irish On Your Radio Dial
Beginning with the 2008-09 athletics year, the Notre Dame athletics department announced it had partnered with the LeSEA Broadcasting Network, making Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) the new radio home of Notre Dame women's basketball in the South Bend market.
LeSEA originates all Notre Dame women's basketball games, with those events carried on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), marking a return to the FM side of the dial for the first time since the 1998-99 season. Combined, these two stations blanket the nation's No. 91 media market (South Bend-Elkhart), covering a 21-county area in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan that contains more than 1.4 million listeners (more than 800,000 in the greater South Bend area alone). All told, Notre Dame's women's basketball network stretches from Kalamazoo, Mich., to the north, North Judson, Ind., to the west, Macy, Ind., (home of former All-America center Ruth Riley) to the south, and LaGrange, Ind., to the east.
Women's basketball game broadcasts also continue to be streamed live and free of charge on Notre Dame's official athletics web site (www.UND.com) through the Fighting Irish Digital Media package.
Bob Nagle, the voice of Notre Dame women's basketball from 1996-97 through 1998-99 (including the program's first NCAA Final Four berth in 1997), is now in the fourth season of his second stint as the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame On The Small Screen
Notre Dame will have at least 23 regular season games televised during the 2011-12 season. Highlighting this year's broadcast schedule are 11 nationally- or regionally-televised Fighting Irish women's basketball contests, including the program's fifth-ever appearance on network television, and second in as many years (Jan. 7 vs. Connecticut on CBS) and six showings on the ESPN family of networks, including three appearances on that entity's famed "Big Monday" telecast.
In addition, Notre Dame continues to expand its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. For the sixth consecutive season, all Fighting Irish regular-season home games not selected for commercial TV coverage (as well as the Nov. 2 exhibition vs. Windsor) will be webcast live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, www.UND.com, via the site's free Fighting Irish Video Channel.
This year's TV slate continues a trend that has seen the Fighting Irish become a regular fixture on television. Beginning with the NCAA championship season of 2000-01 and continuing through the Feb. 20 game against Louisville (televised live on ESPN), Notre Dame has played in 222 televised games, including 166 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, senior guard Natalie Novosel and fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters are serving as Notre Dame's team captains for the 2011-12 season. Mallory is in her second season as team captain, while Novosel and Peters received the captain's honor for the first time in their respective careers following a preseason vote by their teammates.
Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
It's year five of Notre Dame's wildly-successful "Big Mac" promotion, offering fans a coupon for a free Big Mac from South Bend-area McDonald's restaurants if the Fighting Irish score at least 88 points in a home game.
In the five-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 34 times, most recently in the Feb. 5 win over DePaul.
It should come as no surprise that in the short history of the promotion, the Notre Dame player with the most "Big Mac" baskets shares the same initials with the tasty burger -- fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, who has sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) five times, including four during the promotion's inaugural run in 2007-08.
And for those tracking such things (or perhaps falling under the heading of "the media relations director has way too much time on his hands"), 19 different players have converted the "burger ball", including eight current members of the Fighting Irish roster.
What's more, of the 34 Big Mac games, 16 have been reached on two-point baskets, 13 on free throws, and five on three-pointers.
Next Game: Connecticut
The Fighting Irish wrap up the regular season at 9 p.m. (ET) Monday, taking on No. 4 Connecticut at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. The game will air live on ESPN2 as part of that network's "Big Monday" package.
The Huskies (25-3, 12-2) is coming off an 86-37 win at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. UConn will visit Marquette Saturday afternoon.