Feb. 25, 2013
#2/2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-1 / 13-0 BIG EAST) vs. #22/18 Syracuse Orange (22-4 / 10-3 BIG EAST)
DATE: February 26, 2013
No. 2 Fighting Irish Take On No. 22/18 Syracuse Tuesday On Senior Night
Notre Dame (25-1, 13-0) is playing for the second time in three days, following an 84-56 win at DePaul Sunday afternoon. The Fighting Irish led by double digits after just four minutes and kept building the margin the rest of the day.
Other Notre Dame Notables
Syracuse (22-4, 10-3) had its six-game winning streak snapped on Feb. 23, dropping a last-second 68-66 decision at South Florida. Senior guard Carmen Tyson-Thomas came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points, including the tying basket in the final minute, but USF answered to escape with the victory.
Senior center Kayla Alexander is one of the BIG EAST's top post players, ranking among the league leaders in scoring (16.9 ppg.), rebounding (8.3 rpg.) and blocks (3.3 bpg.), leading the BIG EAST in the latter category. She also ranks second behind Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa with nine double-doubles this year.
Tyson-Thomas and senior guard Elashier Hall are second on the team in scoring (10.2 ppg. each), with Hall adding 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game with a .348 three-point percentage.
Head coach Quentin Hillsman is in his seventh season at Syracuse, owning a 142-84 (.628) career record, including an 0-6 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Syracuse Series
The Last Time Notre Dame And Syracuse Met
Skylar Diggins, the Fighting Irish's leading scorer, finished with 11 points, all in the second half, and they were key. She scored five straight points to get the Fighting Irish going after the Orange had pulled within 49-39 on a three-pointer by Rachel Coffey and two free throws by Shakeya Leary midway through the half.
Iasia Hemingway had 15 points to lead the Orange, but 11 came from the free throw line as she finished 2 of 13 from the field. Kayla Alexander added 11 points for Syracuse.
After a slow start -- both teams combined to shoot 5 of 22 in the first five minutes -- the Fighting Irish settled down and pulled away with a 16-4 run despite little help from Diggins. McBride more than made up for that with six points in the spurt, her jumper from the right wing giving Notre Dame a 20-8 lead midway through the period.
The lead ballooned to 30-12 with 4:39 left on consecutive layups by McBride and Peters. The Orange were held scoreless for nearly five minutes until Leary's follow with 3:26 left and trailed 38-19 at halftime. Syracuse shot 18.8 percent (6 of 32) in the half, repeatedly misfiring from in close, and finished the game 18 of 61 (29.5 percent).
After Syracuse made its charge to get within 10 points in the second half, the Fighting Irish iced the game with a 13-4 run, keyed by Diggins, who scored five consecutive points, the last on a rebound of her missed free throw. Consecutive three-point plays by McBride and Peters gave Notre Dame a 62-43 lead with 7:30 left.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Syracuse Met At Purcell Pavilion
The Fighting Irish dominated in the paint, outscoring the Orange, 36-16 inside. Notre Dame also outrebounded Syracuse, 44-34.
Syracuse struggled offensively all night, shooting 25.5 percent from the field and turning the ball over 24 times. From behind the arc, the Orange were 2 for 14.
Elashier Hall, Syracuse's leading scorer, was scoreless on 0 for 3 from the field.
Kayla Alexander led the Orange with 19 points and five rebounds.
Natalie Achonwa had 13 points off the bench for the Fighting Irish.
Skylar Diggins did a little bit of everything for the Fighting Irish, scoring eight points and adding seven rebounds, five assists and five steals for good measure.
Other Notre Dame-Syracuse Series Tidbits
New York State Of Mind
The Fighting Irish are facing the second of two New York schools this season, having defeated St. John's, 74-50 on Jan. 20 at Purcell Pavilion.
Coincidentally, St. John's and Syracuse account for all five New York wins over Notre Dame (three for the Red Storm, two for the Orange -- four road, one neutral site).
When faced with such a tight turnaround, the Fighting Irish have risen to the occasion in recent seasons, going 35-9 (.795) on the back half of these two-game (or more) blitzes during the past five years.
Notre Dame is 7-0 on short rest this season, including three wins over ranked teams -- at No. 9 Tennessee (Jan. 28 on ESPN2's "Big Monday"), vs. No. 10/11 Louisville (Feb. 11, also on ESPN2's "Big Monday") and at a neutral site against No. 22 Texas A&M (Dec. 21 as part of a successful three-game run to the World Vision Classic title in Las Vegas).
Peaking When It Counts
In the 26-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present), the Fighting Irish are 153-43 (.781) in the month of February, including an 80-12 (.870) home record. In that time (and including this season), Notre Dame has never posted a losing record in February, and only once did the Fighting Irish end the month at .500 (4-4 in 1988-89, McGraw's second year in South Bend).
Going Out On Top
Notre Dame is 29-6 (.829) all-time on Senior Night, including a 22-3 (.880) record in the Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present). In fact, the Fighting Irish lost their first Senior Night game under McGraw (69-68 vs. DePaul in 1988), but have proceeded to win on 22 of the past 24 Senior Nights 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.
A Class By Themselves
Prior to the 2011-12 season, the highest four-year win total by a senior class was 109, set by the Class of 2001 that included (among others) consensus national player of the year and 12-year WNBA veteran Ruth Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey.
Start Me Up
The 2000-01 Fighting Irish national championship squad opened with 23 consecutive wins before losing in game No. 24 (54-53 at No. 11/14 Rutgers on Feb. 17, 2001). They would then win their next five in a row before their second (and final) loss of that title-winning season (78-76 at No. 2 Connecticut in the BIG EAST Championship final on March 6, 2001).
Making The Turn For Home
The school record for the best start to a BIG EAST season is 15-0, set back in 1999-2000.
Aside from their two BIG EAST debuts, the only other times the Fighting Irish began any conference season with a 13-0 record or better were when they were part of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League) in 1989-90 (finished 16-0) and 1990-91 (started 14-0, finished 15-1).
Streak Stats, Part I
Notre Dame also has strung together 13 double-digit winning streaks in the program's 36-year history, with 11 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
Streak Stats, Part II
Notre Dame's current streak is its longest in the BIG EAST since a school-record 18-game run from Feb. 17, 1999-Feb. 22, 2000 -- that streak included wins in the final three conference games of the 1998-99 season, plus 15 in a row to start the 1999-2000 league slate.
The highlight of this current run came on Jan. 5, 2013, when Notre Dame edged No. 1 Connecticut, 73-72, in Storrs, Conn., earning its fourth all-time win over a top-ranked opponent and first-ever victory on the road.
Prior to the past two years, the school record for consecutive regular season road wins was held by Notre Dame's 2000-01 national championship team that won its first 10 road outings before a 54-53 loss at No. 11/14 Rutgers on Feb. 17, 2001.
The Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 15 consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular season road games, with their last loss coming on Feb. 28, 2011 (a last-second 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul).
The previous school record for consecutive BIG EAST regular season road wins was seven, set numerous times, most recently crossing between the 2001-02 and 2002-03 campaigns.
The Notre Dame record for consecutive regular season road victories in any conference also is 15, which the Fighting Irish set from Feb. 25, 1989-Feb. 14, 1991 during their time in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (Horizon League).
Pieces of Silver
Notre Dame has recorded 10 25-win seasons in its 36 varsity campaigns, but never before had the Fighting Irish done so in four consecutive years. From 1998-99 through 2000-01, Notre Dame topped that mark each season (26-5, 27-5 and 34-2), including a (then) school-record 34 wins in the final year of that run, which culminated with the program's first national championship.
Spreading The Wealth
Everyone Pitches In
Thus far in 2012-13, it would appear the Fighting Irish are making this mission truly a team effort. On the scoring side, 10 of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including junior forward Ariel Braker (eight times, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined), sophomore guards Madison Cable (three times) and Whitney Holloway (once - the first double-digit games of Cable and Holloway's careers) and freshman guards Jewell Loyd (17 times) and Michaela Mabrey (three times).
On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.2 rebounds per game and has piled up 14 of her 16 career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading 14 double-doubles (six against ranked opponents, seven in conference play) after logging one double-double in her career prior to this season.
The Best Things In Life Are Free
Through 26 games, the Fighting Irish rank fourth in the nation in free throw percentage, shooting a remarkable .790 (455-of-576) from the charity stripe, including a season-high .941 (16-of-17) on Jan. 23 in a victory at Pittsburgh.
On average, Notre Dame is getting to the line better than 22 times per game, converting nearly 18 free throws a night. At the same time, the Fighting Irish have made more than 30 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (455 made, 347 opponent attempts).
Last year, Notre Dame set a school record by connecting at a .763 clip from the foul line, leading the BIG EAST with a stellar .807 percentage during conference play.
Junior guard Kayla McBride has had the most success cashing in on this strategy during the past two seasons, shooting .872 from the stripe last year (a league-leading .919 in BIG EAST games) and making 58 of 63 free throws (.921) to lead the conference.
McBride is one of four Notre Dame players who appear among the top 10 in the current BIG EAST free throw rankings, with senior guard Skylar Diggins ranking fourth (.815), freshman guard Jewell Loyd tied for seventh (.800) and junior forward Natalie Achonwa ranking ninth (.793).
For her career, McBride has logged an .888 free throw percentage, putting her ahead of Alicia Ratay's school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.
McGraw's Milestone Moment
McGraw also became the eighth-fastest Division I coach to reach the 700-win milestone, hitting the mark in 957 games and quicker than several other notable coaches such as North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell (966 games), Ohio State's Jim Foster (973), former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan (998) and two now-deceased Hall of Fame coaches -- Sue Gunter (1,004, most notably at LSU) and Kay Yow (1,021, primarily at North Carolina State).
Diggins Challenging School Records
The Diggins Factor
Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 19 losses in Diggins' career primarily have been ones that could have gone either way, with 11 decided by single digits (six were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.
With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted three of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 78.9 ppg. last year, after logging 77.0 ppg. in 2010-11, and 77.2 ppg. in her freshman season of 2009-10. Notre Dame is on pace to mirror those figures this season, currently averaging 80.8 ppg. (which ranks third nationally as of Monday).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.45 spg. career mark that is fourth-best in school history), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top three single-season steal marks in program history with 502 thefts last year, 495 steals in 2010-11, and 450 thefts in 2009-10. Notre Dame isn't far off those marks this season, currently averaging 11.2 spg. (which would put the Fighting Irish around 325 steals by the end of the regular season).
The past two years also have seen Notre Dame post two of the four best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing a school-record 52.9 ppg., last season (well ahead of the previous mark of 55.1 ppg., in 1981-82) and giving up just 56.2 ppg., in 2010-11. The Fighting Irish are in position to challenge those totals again this year, presently allowing 55.8 points per game.
During the summer of 2012, Achonwa was a key contributor on Canada's Senior National Team, helping leading her country to its first Olympic appearance in 12 years. Not content to merely qualify, Canada then earned two hard-fought wins in the group stage to reach the Olympic quarterfinals (medal round) for the first time since 1984.
As the second-youngest player in the London Olympic Basketball Tournament at the tender age of 19, Achonwa averaged 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, highlighted by a 14-point, eight-rebound effort against eventual Olympic silver medalist France during the preliminary round.
Parlaying her Olympic experience, Achonwa has moved seamlessly into Notre Dame's starting lineup this season after spending her first two years as an important reserve. The Guelph, Ontario, native was expected to take on a larger role this year with the graduation of two-time All-American Devereaux Peters, but Achonwa has taken that growth to a whole new level, nearly doubling her averages in scoring (7.6 to 13.9 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.2 rpg.), while scoring in double figures 21 times and grabbing double-digit rebounds on 14 occasions (including a career-best 17 rebounds on Dec. 29 against No. 11 Purdue).
What's more, Achonwa came into this season with one career double-double and a career scoring high of 20 points. This year, she leads the BIG EAST in double-doubles (14, including six against ranked teams and seven against conference foes) and has five 20-point games to her credit (career-high 23 vs. Utah State on Dec. 8). She also ranks among the top 15 in the BIG EAST in scoring (15th - 13.9 ppg.), rebounding (2nd - 9.2 rpg.), field goal percentage (6th - .540; also 22nd nationally), free throw percentage (9th - .793) and blocked shots (tied-15th - 1.0 bpg.).
Achonwa's development has not gone entirely unnoticed, as she was named to the World Vision Classic All-Tournament Team, helping to lead the Fighting Irish to the title with 22 points and a (then) career-high 14 rebounds in the championship game win over No. 22 Texas A&M. Achonwa also is one of three Notre Dame players (along with senior guard Skylar Diggins and junior guard Kayla McBride) to make the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll at least three times this season, earning a spot on the Dec. 10, Jan. 14 and Feb. 11 rundowns.
The Erie Warrior
McBride currently ranks 12th in the BIG EAST in scoring (14.2 ppg.) and leads the conference in free throw percentage (.921). In both areas, she is posting career-high marks, including an improvement of better than 22 percent in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).
McBride also is among the team leaders this season with 21 double-figure scoring games, including at least 15 points in seven of Notre Dame's eight games against ranked opponents to date (16.8 ppg.) and a career-high 21 points at No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 5.
In fact, in her last 23 games against Top 25 opponents, McBride is averaging 14.3 points per game, scoring in double figures 20 times and posting both of her career double-doubles (10 points, career-high 12 rebounds vs. No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 7, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion; 13 points, 10 rebounds at No. 13/14 Rutgers on Jan. 31, 2012).
The Lincolnwood, Ill., native has appeared in all 26 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 25 times), scoring in double figures 17 times, earning her first career double-double (18 points/13 rebounds at South Florida on Jan. 8) and posting three "5-5-5" games.
Loyd currently ranks among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (25th - 12.1 ppg.) and free throw percentage (tied-7th - .800), and would be fourth in the conference in three-point percentage (.407), but she is four made three-pointers shy of the minimum (1.0 3FGM/game).
She also leads all conference rookies this season as a four-time BIG EAST Freshman of the Week selection, most recently copping the honor on Monday after scoring a game-high 19 points in an 84-56 victory at DePaul
Loyd first opened eyes on the national scene with a season- (and game-) high 24 points and team-best seven rebounds in the 73-61 loss to Baylor on Dec. 5 at Purcell Pavilion. The 5-foot-10 guard connected on her first four three-point attempts of the evening (finishing 4-of-5 from beyond the arc) on the way to notching the most points by a Fighting Irish rookie against a ranked opponent since Jan. 26, 2002, when Jacqueline Batteast scored 26 points in Notre Dame's 64-57 win over No. 16/17 Virginia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.
What's more, Loyd also scored the most points by a Notre Dame freshman against an opponent ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll since Feb. 19, 2000, when Alicia Ratay netted 26 points (including a school-record 7-for-7 three-pointers) in a 78-74 overtime win at No. 8/11 Rutgers.
Game #26 Recap: DePaul
Jewell Loyd added a game-high 19 points. Kayla McBride scored 16, and the Fighting Irish (25-1, 13-0 BIG EAST) cruised to another easy victory, winning by 20 or more for the fourth straight game while sending the Blue Demons to their second straight blowout loss.
Notre Dame forced 21 turnovers and held DePaul to 33.3-percent shooting.
Loyd hit 8 of 15 shots. McBride was 7 of 13 from the field. Natalie Achonwa added 14 points and eight rebounds, and Notre Dame beat DePaul for the eighth time in nine games to tie the all-time series at 19 apiece.
Brittany Hrynko scored 15 points but shot just 4 of 19, and the Blue Demons lost for the fourth time in six games.
Beyond The Box Score: DePaul
The Fighting Irish reached a milestone on Nov. 26 with their No. 5 ranking, which was their 100th consecutive AP poll appearance. It not only extended the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001), but it made the Fighting Irish are one of six teams in the nation with an active streak of 100 consecutive AP poll appearances.
What's more, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career (74 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (63) of those appearances in the AP Top 10 (and never lower than 18th).
Notre Dame started the year at No. 7 in the preseason AP poll, representing the 13th time in the past 14 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the initial AP poll, something only seven schools in the nation have done -- Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee have shown up in all 14 during that span, while Georgia, Oklahoma and Stanford join the Fighting Irish with 13 preseason AP poll berths.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 252 weeks during the program's 36-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks ninth among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and 20th all-time in that category.
In addition, the Fighting Irish rose to a season-best No. 2 in last week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, after spending the previous six weeks in the No. 3 spot.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 112 of the past 113 weeks (and 76 in a row), falling just outside the Top 25 in the final poll of the 2008-09 season. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish have appeared in the coaches' poll for a total of 245 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the fifth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 11 of the past 15 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Besides her 252 AP poll appearances while coaching at Notre Dame, McGraw was the starting point guard at Saint Joseph's (Pa.) as a senior in 1977, helping the Hawks to No. 3 in the nation.
Of the 31 people on this list, 16 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart), with McGraw and Baylor's Kim Mulkey are the only active skippers to play for and coach a team in the AP poll, and coach that team to a national title (McGraw in 2001, Mulkey in 2005 and 2012).
The Benefits Of Leadership
Collectively, the Notre Dame staff has 45 seasons of head coaching experience, which ranks fifth among Division I schools behind only Stanford (52), Villanova (50), Ohio State (48) and Rutgers (46).
Half And Half
What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 108-2 (.982) when leading at the half, with the only losses coming on April 5, 2011, in the NCAA national championship game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (Notre Dame led Texas A&M, 35-33 at intermission before falling 76-70), and Feb. 12, 2012, against West Virginia (Fighting Irish led 33-30 at the break before the visiting Mountaineers rallied to win in the closing seconds, 65-63).
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
In the past four years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 56-2 (.966) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level 11 times this season.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
Since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 59-5 (.922) -- including wins in 35 of its last 37 home games -- and three of the five Fighting Irish losses in their refurbished facility have come by three points or fewer (two in overtime).
Notre Dame also has a 126-20 (.863) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the former Joyce Center, sporting a program-record 31-game league winning streak at home before it ended with a 48-45 loss to Villanova in the '02 home finale.
The Fighting Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 108 of their last 117 non-BIG EAST contests (.923) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the nine losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents (four by 12 points or less) -- Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT), Indiana in 2006 (54-51) and Minnesota in 2009 (79-71) -- with the other defeats coming to Tennessee in 2005 (62-51) and 2008 (87-63), UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT) and Baylor in 2012 (73-61). The Purdue loss also snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak which began after the UW setback.
Since its inaugural season in 1977-78, Notre Dame has played all of its games at the former Joyce Center, posting a 382-90 (.809) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Fighting Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, which was the school record for home victories in a season prior to the 2009-10 campaign, when Notre Dame went 16-1, a mark that lasted only two seasons before the Fighting Irish posted a 17-1 record at Purcell Pavilion last year.
Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
For the fourth consecutive preseason, Notre Dame fans all but exhausted the program's season ticket packages (approximately 7,500) and snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish produce two advanced sellouts (Dec. 5 vs. Baylor; March 4 vs. Connecticut).
Notre Dame is setting records at the box office again this season with nine sellouts in 11 home games (including seven of the past eight contests), topping last year's record of eight sellouts. In addition, the Nov. 18 game against Massachusetts marked the first home-opening sellout in school history. All told, the Fighting Irish have welcomed 34 sellout crowds in the program's 36-year tenure, including 28 in the past four years alone (2009-10 to present).
The Fighting Irish currently rank sixth in the nation in average attendance, drawing 8,950 fans per game, which is nearly 400 fans better than last year's school record and factors to nearly 98 percent of Purcell Pavilion's listed capacity of 9,149.
Coming Soon: Irish in the ACC
The change in conference affiliation (for which a timetable has not yet been established) will be the first for Notre Dame since 1995, when the Fighting Irish moved from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) to the BIG EAST Conference.
In its 18 seasons in the BIG EAST, the Notre Dame women's basketball program has been the one of the conference's best, winning two BIG EAST regular season titles (2001 and 2012) and compiling a 229-64 (.782) record in league play that remains the second-best regular season winning percentage in BIG EAST women's basketball history.
Next Game: Providence