Feb. 26, 2012
#3/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (27-2 / 14-1 BIG EAST) vs. #4/4 Connecticut Huskies (26-3 / 13-2 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 27, 2012
TIME: 9:00 p.m. ET
AT: Hartford, Conn. - XL Center (16,294)
SERIES: UCONN leads 28-6
1ST MTG: UCONN 87-64 (1/18/96)
LAST MTG: ND 74-67, ot (1/7/12)
TV: ESPN2 (live) (Dave O'Brien, p-b-p / Doris Burke, color / Rebecca Lobo, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1)/UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
No. 3 Fighting Irish Wrap Up Regular Season Monday At No. 4 Connecticut
With a piece of the BIG EAST title and the top seed for the conference tournament already secured, No. 3 Notre Dame goes in search of something it hasn't attained in 17 years -- an outright league championship -- as the Fighting Irish close out the regular season at No. 4 Connecticut at 9 p.m. (ET) Monday. ESPN2 will televise the game live from the XL Center in Hartford, also the site of this year's BIG EAST Championship.
Notre Dame (27-2, 14-1) put one hand on the league hardware Saturday with an 80-68 victory over USF at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish ran into a hot-shooting Bulls' club, but used a 14-4 run early in the second half to take the lead for good and pocket the win on Senior Day.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At Connecticut
With a blend of wily veterans and new faces within a familiar system, Connecticut has hardly skipped a beat with the graduation of four-time All-American Maya Moore, remaining among the top five teams in both major polls all season.
The fourth-ranked Huskies are coming off an 85-45 win at Marquette on Saturday behind a career-high 27 points from freshman forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and a double-double (20 points, 10 rebounds) from senior guard Tiffany Hayes. Connecticut led by 13 at the half and blew the game open in the second stanza, shooting 57.7 percent (15-of-26) from the field after the break.
Hayes ranks fifth in the BIG EAST in scoring (15.7 ppg.) and tops in three-point percentage (.452), while Mosqueda-Lewis is 11th in the loop in scoring (14.6 ppg.) and sixth from distance (.381). Sophomore guard Bria Hartley adds 13.9 points per game (14th in the league), while sophomore center Stefanie Dolson has a BIG EAST-best .585 field goal percentage.
Hall of Fame head coach Geno Auriemma is in his 27th season at Connecticut with a 797-127 (.863) record, including a 28-6 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
Notre Dame and Connecticut will meet for the 35th time on Monday night, with the Huskies owning a 28-6 edge in the series (17-1 in the Nutmeg State). However, the Fighting Irish have won the past two meetings with Connecticut, following the Huskies' series-long 12-game winning streak from 2005-11.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Connecticut Met
Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame ended another Connecticut run.
Diggins scored 22 points and Natalie Novosel added 20, including six free throws in overtime, to help the No. 3 Fighting Irish rally to beat No. 2 Connecticut, 74-67 on Jan. 7, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion, snapping the Huskies 57-game BIG EAST regular season winning streak.
The Fighting Irish, who hadn't beaten Connecticut at home since 2004, also topped the Huskies in the national semifinals last April, marking the first time they've won consecutive games against UConn -- a feat not many teams have accomplished.
Notre Dame forced UConn into a season-high 27 turnovers (the third-most in that program's history) and held the Huskies without a field goal over the final 3:49 of regulation and all through the five-minute overtime period.
Connecticut, which had beaten Notre Dame 12 consecutive times before losing to the Fighting Irish at the NCAA Women's Final Four last April in Indianapolis, got a game-high 25 points from Bria Hartley.
The Huskies, who hadn't lost a regular-season conference game since falling to Rutgers in 2008, had a 61-57 lead and the ball with just under four minutes left in regulation but couldn't hold off the Fighting Irish. UConn had several chances late to ice the game with a lead but couldn't pull it off.
Diggins shot just 7-for-19 but came up with a big steal near the end of regulation that ended in the tying basket by Kayla McBride with 20.2 seconds left in the frenzied game that saw 10 ties and 11 lead changes before a green-clad sellout crowd at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame won despite shooting just 35.8 percent.
McBride also had a key basket in overtime and finished with 10 points and a career-high 12 rebounds for her first career double-double.
Hartley had a driving basket, a free throw and a three-pointer to spark a 10-2 UConn spurt as the Huskies opened up a 47-42 lead with 13 minutes remaining. After a timeout, she caught a long pass and hit another layup and Connecticut had built its lead to seven with 11 minutes to go.
Trailing by eight, the Fighting Irish rallied again as Diggins scored five straight points and Devereaux Peters got free for a layup after a mad scramble on the floor for a loose ball. The 9-2 run cut UConn's lead to 55-54.
After the eight-minute media timeout, Diggins sank a three-pointer to complete the 12-2 run and give the Fighting Irish a two-point lead. But UConn responded and Caroline Doty hit a three-pointer and then made an alert follow of a missed layup, giving the Huskies a 61-57 lead. That turned out to be UConn's final field goal.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Connecticut Met At The XL Center
Maya Moore, who had never lost in the conference tournament, scored 22 points to help No. 1 Connecticut beat 10th-ranked Notre Dame 73-64 on March 8, 2011, for their fourth consecutive BIG EAST championship.
Even though she earned her second outstanding player award of the BIG EAST tournament, Moore would have cast her vote for freshman Stefanie Dolson, who led the Huskies with 24 points.
Dolson played all 40 minutes and matched her career-high scoring total that she had set two days earlier.
Leading 41-40 early in the second half, UConn went on an 11-0 run to break open a close game.
Moore had three points and two assists during the burst. She also had a huge block on Diggins' drive that led to an easy layup on the other end by Bria Hartley.
The senior followed that with a three-pointer from the corner with 12:44 left to cap the spurt and tie her with Penn State great Kelly Mazzante for ninth place on the career NCAA scoring list with 2,919 points.
Notre Dame didn't go away, going on a 15-6 spurt to close to 58-55 with 5:07 left. Novosel, who left the game with an injury at the end of UConn's spurt, returned a few minutes later and scored the final seven points of the burst.
Moore wouldn't let Notre Dame get any closer, hitting a jumper from the corner to move past Mazzante. Dolson followed with a layup to restore the seven-point lead. The Fighting Irish couldn't get within five the rest of the game.
Other Notre Dame-Connecticut Series Tidbits
The Brains Of The Operation
The two head coaches -- Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw and Connecticut's Geno Auriemma -- have more than a few connections. Both are from the Philadephia metro area (McGraw from West Chester, Auriemma from Norristown), both cut their coaching teeth at Saint Joseph's under current Ohio State head coach Jim Foster (McGraw replaced Auriemma on Foster's staff in 1980 when Auriemma left to take an assistant position at Virginia), and both are members of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, with McGraw having been inducted last June.
McGraw also is the only coach in the nation with six wins against Auriemma since the start of the 2000-01 season. What's more, McGraw is one of just eight coaches all-time (five that are active) that have six or more victories against Auriemma on their resume.
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).
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 98-28 (.778) in February games, including a 56-6 (.903) mark at home.
In the 25-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-present), the Fighting Irish are 146-43 (.772) in the month of February, including a 78-12 (.867) home record. In that time, Notre Dame has not had a losing February (including this year's 5-1 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 27-2 record or better through 29 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.
This year marks the first time Notre Dame has won 27 games in the regular season. During that 2000-01 campaign, the Fighting Irish closed out the regular season at 26-1.
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 134 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'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.
With its 80-68 victory over USF on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame secured a piece of the 2012 BIG EAST Conference regular-season title. It's the second championship for the Fighting Irish since they joined the conference in 1995-96, and their first since they shared the 2000-01 hardware with Connecticut.
A victory over the Huskies on Monday night would give Notre Dame the outright BIG EAST championship, their first solo league crown since 1995, when the Fighting Irish won the last of their five regular-season titles in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League).
Also, for the 16th time in its 17-year membership in the BIG EAST, 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. This year's 14 victories are the most for the Fighting Irish in BIG EAST play since 2000-01, when they finished 15-1 en route to a co-championship.
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 released on Friday, Notre Dame leads the nation in both scoring offense (now at 81.3 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 +29.7 ppg.), assists (fourth at 18.8 apg.), assist/turnover ratio (10th at 1.11) and free throw percentage (18th at .765).
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 (1,233-697), 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, now at 13.5 spg.), scoring defense (fifth at 51.6 ppg.), turnover margin (seventh at +6.62), rebound margin (10th at +10.0 rpg.) and field goal percentage defense (15th at .347).
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 47 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 57.4 percent of the time (27 halves), including 34 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 23.4 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +6.62 turnover margin that was seventh-best in the nation (as of last Friday).
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 16 home games this season, forcing 26.3 turnovers per game and collecting at least 17 in each Purcell Pavilion contest thus far.
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into Monday's game ranked fourth in the nation in steals with 13.5 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 (68 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 2.6 steals per game, and fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, who is sixth at 2.3 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), currently at 18.8 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 5.9 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 63.9 percent of its field goals this season (544 of 851), 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 three 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; Feb. 25 vs. USF, when Miller again started for Senior Day).
The foundation of this stable lineup has been the quartet of Diggins, Mallory, Novosel and Peters, which has started all 29 games this year and 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 339 games in their careers (Diggins-97, Novosel-72, Peters-71, Mallory-69, McBride-30).
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has featured a balanced offense thus far, with at least three players scoring in double figures in 25 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 (two topping the 30-point mark), 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 23 games, the Fighting Irish are averaging 42.5 rebounds a night, with an average rebounding margin of +12.7 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 18 times in the past 23 games after not reaching that mark once in its first six contests.
According to last Friday's NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame ranked 10th in the country in rebounding margin (now +10.0 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).
As of last Friday, Diggins ranked among the top 16 in the nation (and led the BIG EAST) in both assists (16th - now at 5.9 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 14.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game with a .543 field goal percentage (50-of-92) and six double-doubles in her last nine 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 Weekly Honor Rolls) has been accomplished in the past month:
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted an 87-16 (.845) 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 (now 65-1 vs. unranked teams).
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 2.32 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).
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.
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 1,411 points, while Peters became the 30th member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club and presently stands 21st with 1,218 points.
Together with junior guard Skylar Diggins (eighth with 1,572 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 926 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.
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.
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 141), 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 #29 Recap: South Florida
Nothing comes easy in the BIG EAST. That's how Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw sees it and why clinching a tie for the conference title Saturday was so satisfying.
The third-ranked Fighting Irish needed all their energy and talent Saturday in their final regular-season home game to beat a stubborn and relentless South Florida team 80-68 to earn at least a share of the league title.
Skylar Diggins added 18 for the Fighting Irish (27-2, 14-1), who also set a school regular-season mark with their 27th victory. But this one was not easy against the scrappy Bulls (15-14, 7-8), who got 18 points apiece from Inga Orekhova and Jasmine Wynne.
The Fighting Irish, who trailed early in the second half, could not the Bulls away until Novosel led a late spurt.
Peters had a three-point play and Novosel hit a three-pointer, added four free thows and then threw in a shot before the shot clock expired with about a minute left as Notre Dame finally pulled away with a 78-64 lead.
Beyond The Box Score -- South Florida
Notre Dame was ranked No. 3 in last 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.
Last week's No. 3 ranking marked 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 were No. 3 in last 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 241-19 (.927) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 169 of their last 182 such contests (.929).
What's more, in the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 78-2 (.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 166-6 (.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 43-2 (.956) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level in 14 games this season and winning 13 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 219 of their last 247 games (.887) 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 120-20 (.857) 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 369-89 (.806) 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 bought single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish sell out a school-record eight 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, Feb. 25 vs. USF).
What's more, Notre Dame is averaging 8,811 fans per game (good for fifth in the nation), including those aforementioned eight sellouts (9,149). The Fighting Irish now have posted 19 sellouts in the past three seasons and 25 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. 25 game against USF (webcast live on UND.com), Notre Dame has played in 223 televised games, including 167 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.
Next Game: BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame has earned the No. 1 seed for next week's BIG EAST Championship and will have a bye through the first two rounds of the tournament. The Fighting Irish will open up with a quarterfinal game against an opponent to be determined at 2 p.m. (ET) Sunday (March 4) at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. -- the game to be televised live to a national cable audience on ESPNU.