Feb. 26, 2014
2013-14 ND Women's Basketball: Game 28
#2/2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (27-0 / 14-0 ACC) vs. #14/11 North Carolina Tar Heels (21-7 / 9-5 ACC)
DATE: Feb. 27, 2014
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
SERIES: ND leads 2-1
1ST MTG: ND 99-86 (12/4/99)
LAST MTG: NC 60-51 (3/20/07)
TV: ESPN3/WatchESPN (live)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1)/WatchND (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (574) 631-7356; UND.com/buytickets
StorylinesNotre Dame faces back-to-back Top 25 teams in the regular season for the first time since Dec. 21 & 29, 2012, when it downed No. 22 Texas A&M and No. 11 Purdue.
Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw will coach the 1,000th game of her career on Thursday night.
No. 2 Fighting Irish Face No. 14/11 North Carolina Thursday In Home Finale
With postseason play right around the corner, No. 2 Notre Dame continues its preparation during a demanding final week of the regular season as it plays host to No. 14/11 North Carolina in its home finale at 7 p.m. (ET) Thursday at Purcell Pavilion. The game will be streamed live on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN mobile app, while the Notre Dame Radio Network broadcast can be heard live and free of charge on the official Fighting Irish athletics multimedia platform, WatchND.
Notre Dame (27-0, 14-0) clinched its first ACC title on Sunday with a wire-to-wire 81-70 win over No. 7 Duke at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish jumped out to a 20-2 lead and never looked back en route to their second win of the season over the Blue Devils.
Senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride scored a career-high 31 points, while sophomore guard Jewell Loyd added 21 and senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa had 15.
RankingsNotre Dame is No. 2 in this week's Associated Press poll and is No. 2 in this week's WBCA/USA Today poll.
North Carolina is No. 14 in this week's Associated Press poll and is No. 11 in this week's WBCA/USA Today poll.
Quick HittersNotre Dame has clinched the outright ACC regular season title in its first season in the conference. It's the first time the Fighting Irish have won three consecutive outright regular season conference titles (following BIG EAST crowns in 2011-12 and 2012-13), and just the second time they have won three consecutive regular season conference titles in the program's 37-year history (they shared the 1988-89 Midwestern Collegiate/Horizon League championship before claiming the top spot outright the following two seasons).
Notre Dame is the first school to win the ACC regular season women's basketball title in its first year in the conference since the ACC began sponsoring the sport in 1977-78.
Notre Dame is the first NCAA Division I program to win consecutive conference titles in different leagues since 2000-01, when both TCU and Louisiana Tech did so.
At 27-0, Notre Dame is off to the best start to a season in program history, surpassing the 23-0 debut by the 2000-01 club.
The current Fighting Irish 27-game winning streak is the second-longest in program history beyond only last year's 30-game run.
Notre Dame has won a school-record 50 consecutive regular season games and 25 consecutive home games, dating back to Dec. 5, 2012 (a 73-61 loss to No. 3 Baylor). The 25-game home winning streak is tied for the second-longest in school history and tied for the third-longest active run in NCAA Division I.
The Fighting Irish have won a school-record 34 consecutive regular season road games (41 of their last 46, as well as 25 in a row overall, the fifth-longest streak in NCAA Division I history) since a 94-81 loss at top-ranked Baylor on Nov. 20, 2011, in the Preseason WNIT championship game.
Now in its inaugural season in the ACC, Notre Dame has won 34 consecutive conference games, as well as 23 consecutive league road games. The Fighting Irish last lost a regular season conference game on Feb. 12, 2012 (65-63 at home vs. West Virginia), and dropped a regular season league contest on the road on Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 at No. 12/11 DePaul), both in BIG EAST play.
Since the start of the 2011-12 season, Notre Dame is 34-5 (.872) against ranked opponents (13-2 on the road).
Notre Dame stands at No. 2 in the AP and WBCA/USA Today polls, the third consecutive season that the Fighting Irish have earned the second position in both surveys.
Notre Dame is ranked among the top 11 in seven NCAA statistical categories, including No. 2 rankings in scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and assists (but not including won-loss percentage, for which they are one of two remaining teams in the nation without a loss).
Notre Dame has appeared in the AP poll for 133 consecutive weeks (including the past 63 weeks in the AP Top 10), extending a program record that dates back to the 2007-08 preseason poll, and ranking sixth in the nation among active AP poll appearances. What's more, every current Fighting Irish player has competed for a ranked Notre Dame squad during her career, with the vast majority of that time (83 of 94 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
Senior forwards Natalie Achonwa and Ariel Braker, and senior guard Kayla McBride have helped Notre Dame to a 128-14 (.901) record in their careers, putting them on pace to challenge last year's senior class of Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, who helped Notre Dame to 130 wins in their careers.
Of the 14 losses suffered by the current Fighting Irish senior class, eight were decided by single digits (and three others by 10-13 points).
Notre Dame aims to continue its remarkable success at Purcell Pavilion, with the Fighting Irish owning a 398-90 (.816) all-time record in 37 seasons at the facility, including a 75-5 (.938) record since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season.
Notre Dame ranks fourth in this week's NCAA attendance rankings (8,650 fans per game), and is the only school in the country to fill its arena to better than 90 percent capacity, something the Fighting Irish have done each season since 2009-10.
With a 106-72 victory over Central Michigan on Dec. 22, the Fighting Irish became the 27th NCAA Division I women's basketball program to record 800 all-time wins.
With 653 victories in her 27 seasons at Notre Dame, head coach Muffet McGraw ranks second on the Fighting Irish athletics all-time coaching wins list (across all sports), trailing only men's/women's fencing coach Michael DeCicco (774-80 from 1962-95).
With 741 career wins, McGraw has moved into 10th place on the NCAA Division I career list. She is one of two ACC coaches in the top 10 along with current North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell (second with 929).
McGraw reaches a remarkable career milestone on Thursday, as she is slated to coach her 1,000th game when Notre Dame plays host to North Carolina in its regular season home finale at Purcell Pavilion.
The Notre Dame-North Carolina Series
Notre Dame and North Carolina will be meeting for just the fourth time in their series history, and the first time on the campus of one of the participating schools following three consecutive neutral-site games.
The Fighting Irish hold a 2-1 all-time edge against the Tar Heels, although UNC won the last matchup between the schools, 60-51 in the second round of the 2007 NCAA Championship.
The Last Time Notre Dame And North Carolina Met
LaToya Pringle led a 15-0 second-half run and Ivory Latta made six free throws in the final minute as top-seeded (and second-ranked) North Carolina avoided the upset and rallied to defeat Notre Dame 60-51 on March 20, 2007, in the second round of the NCAA Championship at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh.
Latta scored 17 points despite an off shooting night (4-of-12) and Pringle added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels as the nation's highest-scoring team was slowed considerably, but still managed to recover after trailing 38-31 with 13 1/2 minutes remaining.
Charel Allen, playing a few miles from her hometown of Monessen, Pa., scored a game-high 21 points as the Fighting Irish threatened to pull off one of the biggest victories in school history only to falter down the stretch while being outscored 27-10.
Just when the Tar Heels looked to be in serious trouble, after Allen hit a three-pointer from several feet beyond the arc to make it 41-33, they regrouped and rallied to seize a 48-41 lead.
Pringle scored on consecutive possessions during the 15-0 run and, after the Fighting Irish cut it to 50-46, blocked an Allen shot before scoring herself at the other end. Latta then sealed it with her free throw shooting.
Other Notre Dame-North Carolina Series TidbitsNotre Dame closes out the regular season with four consecutive games against teams from the state of North Carolina. The Fighting Irish are 18-2 (.900) all-time against North Carolina schools (including an active eight-game winning streak), with a 6-0 record at home.
In its 37-year history, Notre Dame has had just two North Carolina natives on its all-time roster -- Raleigh product Mary Joan Forbes (1980-81) and Charlotte resident Erica Williamson (2006-10).
The top two high school players in the state of Indiana last year will be in the building on Thursday. Both Notre Dame freshman forward Taya Reimer (Fishers/Hamilton Southeastern HS) and North Carolina freshman forward Stephanie Mavunga (Indianapolis/Brownsburg HS) earned McDonald's and WBCA High School All-America status, with Mavunga edging out Reimer for Indiana Miss Basketball honors by a mere five votes.
Reimer and Mavunga, along with Fighting Irish freshman guard Lindsay Allen and North Carolina freshman guard Diamond DeShields played on the East Team at the 2013 McDonald's High School All-America Game inside Chicago's United Center. The East lost to the West Team (whose roster included UNC rookie guard Jessica Washington), 92-64.
Allen and Reimer were teammates with DeShields and Washington on the 2012 USA Basketball U17 Women's National Team that claimed the gold medal at the FIBA U17 World Championships in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Allen, DeShields and Reimer comprised three-fifths of that team's starting lineup, while Washington and a future Notre Dame player, Class of 2014 forward Brianna Turner, were key reserves as the squad went 8-0 and won by 35 points per game.
Reimer and Mavunga were teammates on the 2011 USA Basketball U16 Women's National Team that struck gold at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Merida, Mexico, winning all five games by 43.2 ppg.
Notre Dame sophomore guard Jewell Loyd and North Carolina sophomore forward Xylina McDaniel were teammates on the West Team at the 2012 McDonald's High School All-America Game in Chicago, but they dropped a slim 79-78 decision to the East Team (whose roster included Fighting Irish sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey).
North Carolina women's basketball athletic trainer Nicole Alexander spent five years (2008-13) as assistant athletic trainer at Notre Dame, working with the Fighting Irish softball and fencing programs.
North Carolina director of athletics Bubba Cunningham is a "Double Domer", having earned his bachelor's degree from the University in 1984 and his master's degree in 1988, while also playing on the Fighting Irish golf team from 1982-83. Cunningham later served in Notre Dame's athletics administration from 1988-2002, notably working with the University's athletics facilities and helping oversee the mid-1990s expansion of Notre Dame Stadium, as well as the construction of the award-winning Warren Golf Course that opened in 2000 on the north side of campus.
North Carolina executive associate athletics director Larry Gallo was the head baseball coach at Notre Dame from 1980-87, and also served as the chair of the University's Department of Physical Education from 1984-87.
UNC associate director of compliance Tom Timmermans is a 2004 graduate of Notre Dame and was a four-year monogram winner with the Fighting Irish men's basketball team from 2000-04, helping Notre Dame reach the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2003.
One Tough Stretch
Notre Dame is in the midst of one of the most challenging schedule stretches in the program's 37-year history, playing eight of its final 13 games against teams that are ranked or receiving votes, all during the closing six weeks of the regular season (five of those eight coming on the road).
With its 88-67 win at third-ranked Duke on Feb. 2, Notre Dame earned its third road win over a top-10 opponent this season, something the Fighting Irish had never done in a single regular season campaign during the program's 37-year history (Notre Dame has numerous postseason road wins over top-10 foes).
What made the Duke win even more remarkable is that it was the third consecutive road game against a top-10 opponent for the Fighting Irish, following ESPN2 Big Monday visits to No. 11/10 Tennessee (86-70 win) and No. 8/6 Maryland (87-83 win) on Jan. 20 and 27, respectively.
Before its recent run, Notre Dame had never even played top-10 teams in three consecutive road games during the same regular season, let alone defeated all three and done so in such a short period of time (13 days).
In fact, prior to last year, the Fighting Irish had not defeated two top-10 teams on the road in the same regular season before they earned victories at No. 1 Connecticut (73-72) and No. 9 Tennessee (77-67) -- and those wins came more than three weeks apart.
For the season, Notre Dame is 7-0 against ranked opponents (5-0 against top-10 teams) and has won six of those seven games by double figures, the lone exception being an 87-83 victory at No. 8/6 Maryland on Jan. 27 (a game in which the Fighting Irish led by 22 points late in the first half).
A Grand Accomplishment
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw will reach a personal milestone on Thursday when she coaches the 1,000th game of her career as the Fighting Irish play host to North Carolina at Purcell Pavilion.
McGraw owns a 741-258 (.742) record in 32 seasons on the sidelines, the vast majority of those coming at Notre Dame, where she is 653-217 (.751) in 27 years at the helm of the Fighting Irish program.
Getting The Jump
At 27-0, Notre Dame is off to the best start in the program's 37-year history. This year's start surpasses the debut of the 2000-01 Fighting Irish squad, which reeled off a (then) school-record 23 consecutive wins en route to a 34-2 final record and the program's first national championship.
Notre Dame's current 27-game winning streak is the second-longest success string in program history, and it's the third consecutive season the Fighting Irish have posted a winning streak of 20 games or longer, including last year's school-record 30-game run.
What's more, the Fighting Irish have cobbled together the fourth-longest winning streak by any team in the modern era (since 1950) of Notre Dame athletics. In fact, the women's basketball program holds three of the seven longest winning streaks in Fighting Irish athletics history during the past six decades.
Notre Dame also has strung together 14 double-digit winning streaks in the program's 37-year history, with 12 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
Dating back to the start of last season, the Fighting Irish are 62-2 (.969) and have won 50 consecutive regular season games. In that span, their lone losses have come against a pair of third-ranked teams -- Baylor (73-61 on Dec. 5, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion) and Connecticut (83-65 on April 7, 2013, in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, La.).
In addition, Notre Dame currently shares the nation's longest winning streak against unranked opponents (in the Associated Press poll), having earned 48 consecutive victories since a last-second 65-63 home loss to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012 (research for this note provided by STATS via the AP).
The Comforts Of Home
Notre Dame has won 25 consecutive home games since a 73-61 loss to third-ranked Baylor on Dec. 5, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion. As of Monday, the Fighting Irish are tied with Dayton for the nation's third-longest active home winning streak, with this run also tying the second-longest in school history (longest since another 25-game stretch from Feb. 1, 2003-Nov. 22, 2004).
What's more, Notre Dame has won its last 17 conference home games since a 65-63 loss to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012, when both the Fighting Irish and Mountaineers were members of the BIG EAST Conference.
Notre Dame has won a school-record 34 consecutive regular season road games (and 41 of its last 46, and 25 in a row overall), including the Feb. 20 victory at Wake Forest. The Fighting Irish last tasted defeat on the road in the regular season on Nov. 20, 2011, a 94-81 setback at No. 1 Baylor in the Preseason WNIT championship game.
Notre Dame's current 25-game road winning streak also is the longest active run in the nation, more than doubling the next-closest pursuer (11 by Connecticut and Chattanooga, as of Monday), as well as the fifth-longest in NCAA Division I history.
The highlight of this current run came on Jan. 5, 2013, when Notre Dame edged No. 1 Connecticut, 73-72, in Storrs, Conn., earning its fourth all-time win over a top-ranked opponent and first-ever victory on the road.
The Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 23 consecutive conference road games, with their last loss coming as part of the BIG EAST Conference on Feb. 28, 2011 (a last-second 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul).
With its 81-70 victory over No. 7 Duke on Feb. 23 at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame secured its third consecutive outright conference regular season title, and first as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Fighting Irish are the first program to earn the ACC title in their first year in the conference since the ACC began sponsoring the sport in 1977-78.
Notre Dame also has won three consecutive outright conference regular season championships for the first time in its 37-year history, and won three in a row of any kind for just the second time. In their first three seasons (1988-89 through 1990-91) in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League), the Fighting Irish won the regular season title each time, although they shared the MCC crown in their inaugural season in that league with Loyola-Chicago.
Different Address, Same Result
According to STATS, Notre Dame is the first NCAA Division I school to win consecutive regular season championships in different conferences since 2000-01, when TCU (WAC to Conference USA) and Louisiana Tech (Sun Belt to WAC) pulled off the feat. Middle Tennessee could follow Notre Dame's path this year, as it currently leads C-USA in its first season there after winning last year's Sun Belt crown.
Loyd Earns Weekly National/ACC Honors
For the second time this season, both in the past three weeks, a Notre Dame player has earned a pair of major weekly honors, this time with sophomore guard Jewell Loyd having been selected as both the espnW National Player of the Week and the ACC Player of the Week, it was announced Monday.
Loyd was chosen as the ACC Player of the Week via a vote of the conference's Blue Ribbon Panel. She becomes the second Notre Dame player to earn the award in the program's inaugural ACC season, following the path of senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride, who was chosen for the honor (plus the espnW national award) on Feb. 3.
Last week, Loyd averaged 25.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game with a .509 field goal percentage as Notre Dame picked up three ACC wins, including an 81-70 victory over No. 7 Duke on Sunday that clinched the ACC regular season title for the Fighting Irish in their inaugural season in the conference.
Peaking When It Counts
When the regular season enters its stretch run in the month of February, Notre Dame historically seems to raise its level of play. Since 1995-96, the Fighting Irish are 113-28 (.801) in February games (including an active 18-game winning streak), as well as a 62-6 (.912) mark at home.
In the 27-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present), the Fighting Irish are 161-43 (.789) in the month of February, including an 84-12 (.875) home record. In that time, Notre Dame has never posted a losing record in February, and only once did the Fighting Irish end the month at .500 (4-4 in 1988-89, McGraw's second year in South Bend).
That's Some Sharp Shooting
Notre Dame currently is in a virtual tie for the national lead with a .513 field goal percentage, highlighted by 17 games this season in which the Fighting Irish have shot better than 50 percent, including six games where they topped 60 percent from the field.
In addition, Notre Dame had a remarkable three-game stretch from Dec. 7-22 when it connected at better than a 55-percent clip in each contest. It was the first time the Fighting Irish had three consecutive 55-percent outings since Nov. 20-29, 1997, when they did so in victories over North Carolina State (.565), Bowling Green (.558) and Ohio University (.567).
Notre Dame's sharpshooting brigade has been led by senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa, who is third in the ACC (fourth in the nation) with a .600 field goal percentage, along with a .621 mark in conference play (second in the ACC).
Achonwa has been very efficient from the field in her last nine games, connecting at a .662 clip (49-of-74), including a 10-of-12 effort on Feb. 6 at Florida State, en route to a game-high 24 points.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (.529) has moved into 12th in the ACC in field goal percentage (fifth in conference play at .545), thanks in part to her own recent hot streak that has seen Loyd shoot .572 (91-of-159) during her last 11 outings, notably going 9-of-11 for a game-high 23 points in the Feb. 9 win over Syracuse.
Eight other Notre Dame players are shooting better than 50 percent from the field this season, led by freshman forward Kristina Nelson (.568), junior forward Markisha Wright (.563) and freshman guard Lindsay Allen (.538), but none has made the minimum number of shots (three per game) to qualify for ACC ranking.
Life In The 60s
Not only has Notre Dame shot better than 60 percent from the field in six games this season, but the Fighting Irish have put up similar sizzling shooting numbers in single halves this year.
In fact, Notre Dame has posted a field goal percentage of .600 or better in 16 of its 54 halves, equating to a 60-percent performance approximately one out of every three periods of basketball it plays, with the distribution almost even (seven times in the first half, nine times in the second half).
The Fighting Irish also have shot better than 60 percent in both halves of a game twice this season (UNC Wilmington and Pittsburgh), along with a season-high single-half percentage of .710 in the second period against Central Michigan, a rate that just missed the top 10 on the school's all-time chart.
A pair of marks that did make it into one of the program's top 10 lists were Notre Dame's first-half shooting percentages at Michigan (.688) and Maryland (.667), which now rank as the sixth- and eighth-best figures during the opening 20 minutes in school history.
Dialing Long Distance
Although not usually a primary part of the Notre Dame arsenal, the Fighting Irish have found the three-point shot much to their liking this season. Notre Dame ranks second in the nation with a .409 three-point percentage, with three different players connecting at 40 percent or better from beyond the arc (and two more at .384-.399).
Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey leads the way for the Fighting Irish with a .409 three-point percentage that ranks fifth in the ACC, while senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (.384) stands eighth in the conference.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (.397) would rank just behind of Mabrey on the ACC overall chart, but she is three made three-pointers shy of meeting the minimum qualification standard (1.0 3FG/game).
During ACC play, Loyd (.471) is second in the conference, while Mabrey right behind her in the third position (.438).
In addition, Mabrey is tied for ninth in the ACC with 2.1 three-pointers per game (sixth in ACC play at 2.3 per game), a mark she bolstered on Feb. 9 against Syracuse with a career-high (and Purcell Pavilion record-tying) six triples. It's one of seven times this season Mabrey has canned at least three treys in a game, and the third time this year a Notre Dame player has made five three-pointers in a contest (Mabrey went 5-for-6 against Boston College on Jan. 9, while junior guard Madison Cable posted a 5-for-6 effort against UCLA on Dec. 7).
In fact, Cable (.429) and freshman guard Lindsay Allen (.467) would rank among the top five in the ACC as well, but like Loyd, they don't quite meet the minimum standard for the overall ACC rankings despite their efficiency from distance.
As a team, the Fighting Irish have connected on 10 three-pointers in a game three times this season (UCLA, Tennessee and Syracuse), their highest production outside the arc in nearly four years, dating back to a similar 10-triple performance on Jan. 30, 2010, at Syracuse.
What's more, Notre Dame's .750 three-point mark (9-of-12) on Jan. 16 at Pittsburgh was its best performance from long range (with a minimum of five attempts) in more than five years, stretching back to Nov. 23, 2008, against Boston College at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass., when the Fighting Irish made 7-of-8 three-pointers (.875) in a 102-54 win.
A Helping Hand
As of Monday, the Fighting Irish rank second in assists at 21.3 per game (Connecticut is first at 22.2).
Notre Dame also has dished out at least 20 helpers in 17 games thus far, plus 19 assists in four other outings (along with a season-high 31 dimes against UCLA on Dec. 7), with the Fighting Irish piling up assists on 64.4 percent of their made field goals this year (575 of 893).
Notre Dame also ranks fifth in the nation (and tops in the ACC) in assist/turnover ratio (1.43), led by two players who rank among the top 10 in the ACC in that category -- freshman guard Lindsay Allen (3rd - 1.96) and senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (7th - 1.76).
What's more, McBride (104 assists) and Allen (102) are the fourth set of Notre Dame teammates in the past decade to register 100 assists in the same season, and the first since 2010-11, when Skylar Diggins (186) and Brittany Mallory (101) pulled off the feat.
Visiting Century City
Notre Dame has scored at least 100 points in a school-record four games this season (with three other games of 95-99 points), topping last year's mark of three triple-digit outings.
The Fighting Irish have piled up nine 100-point games in the past three seasons (and eight other games of 95-99 points), a remarkable offensive explosion considering Notre Dame had 13 triple-digit games in the first 34 years of the program's existence (and just four in the 12 seasons prior to its current run).
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 19 games this year, going 19-0 in those contests. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 94-5 (.949) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including wins in 64 of their last 65 such outings (the lone loss coming in last year's NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinal against Connecticut).
Nearly In A Class By Themselves
For the third consecutive season, a Notre Dame senior class is threatening to re-set the bar in terms of career wins by one group. The current class of tri-captains Natalie Achonwa, Ariel Braker and Kayla McBride is second all-time with 128 wins (128-14, .901), behind only the seniors from 2012-13.
Last year, led by its two-player senior class of Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, Notre Dame posted the best four-year record (130-20, .867) in school history, topping the win total (117) compiled by the previous year's seniors (Brittany Mallory, Fraderica Miller, Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters).
Prior to the 2011-12 season, the highest four-year win total by a senior class was 109, set by the Class of 2001 that included (among others) consensus national player of the year and 13-year WNBA veteran Ruth Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Niele Ivey.
Notre Dame's 1,000-Point Scorers
Senior tri-captains Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa will spend their final season at Notre Dame steadily climbing the program's all-time scoring list, after both entered the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club last year.
McBride currently is seventh in program history with 1,679 career points, passing both Trena Keys (1,589 from 1982-86) and Karen Robinson (1,590 from 1987-91) with her 18 points against Syracuse on Feb. 9. McBride also is one of just seven players ever to score 1,600 points under the Golden Dome.
Meanwhile, Achonwa stands 17th in Notre Dame history with 1,394 points, moving up another rung on the ladder past Shari Matvey (1,373 from 1979-83) with her seven points at Wake Forest on Feb. 20.
Another current Fighting Irish player could join the program's 1,000-Point Club in the coming weeks. Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd currently has 935 points in 62 career games, putting her on pace to become one of the fastest players ever to reach 1,000 points at Notre Dame, and just the third to do so before the end of her sophomore season (the others being Beth Morgan in 1994-95 and Skylar Diggins in 2010-11).
McBride Is Money
Following Sunday's win over No. 7 Duke, sophomore guard Jewell Loyd described her senior backcourt mate and tri-captain Kayla McBride quite simply:
"She's money. Kayla McBride is money. That's cash. Every time she shoots that thing, it's going in."
McBride's career-high 31 points against the Blue Devils were just the latest in what has been a series of peak performances for the Erie, Pa., native in her final season at Notre Dame. As a returning All-American and prime candidate for both ACC and National Player of the Year honors as well as every major All-American and specialty player award in the country, McBride's play already was receiving notice on numerous levels, but she's taken that effort up more than a notch this season.
McBride is averaging career highs in scoring (17.5 ppg.), rebounding (5.6 rpg.), assists (3.9 apg.), assist/turnover ratio (1.76) and three-point percentage (.384), ranking among the top 15 in the ACC in scoring (11th), free throw percentage (2nd - .871), assist/turnover ratio (7th), assists (8th) and three-point percentage (8th).
In addition, McBride ranks second on the team with nine 20-point games, has a double-double to her credit (23 points/11 rebounds at No. 3 Duke on Feb. 2) and eight "5-5-5" games (at least "5" in three of the five statistical categories - points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals).
Yet, what puts McBride a cut above virtually every other player in the land in her uncanny ability to raise her game on the biggest stages. In Notre Dame's seven games against Top 25 opponents this season, she is averaging 20.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game with a .473 field goal percentage (53-of-112). She's even better against top-10 teams, averaging 21.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game with a .513 field goal percentage (41-of-80) in those five outings.
In fact, dating back to last season, McBride is averaging 18.5 points per game in her last 21 games against ranked opponents, including eight 20-point games.
Coming Up Aces
Senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa (nicknamed "Ace") is making her way up Notre Dame's career charts in both rebounds and double-doubles. She currently ranks sixth on the rebounding list (900) and is tied for sixth on the double-doubles chart (26), moving up one spot on the latter rundown with her 21 points and 10 boards against Georgia Tech on Feb. 17.
Achonwa continues to remain among the top 10 in school history with a .555 career field goal percentage (sixth in program annals) and 136 games played (tied for fourth all-time at Notre Dame; tied for third among active NCAA players).
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd has continued her development as one of the top young talents in the country this season, building on last year's selection as the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) National Freshman of the Year.
The Lincolnwood, Ill., product currently ranks sixth in the ACC in scoring (18.7 ppg.), eighth in free throw percentage (.809), and 12th in field goal percentage (.529) and steals (1.7 spg.), while sporting career-high marks in scoring, rebounding (6.2 rpg.), assists (2.5 apg.), steals and field goal percentage. She also has a team-high 10 20-point games thus far (including a career-high 31 points at No. 8/6 Maryland on Jan. 27) after scoring 20 points twice during her rookie campaign.
What's more, Loyd has two 30-point games to her credit this season, having also dropped in an even 30 against Central Michigan on Dec. 22 at Purcell Pavilion. Loyd is the first Fighting Irish player to have two 30-point games in the same season since 1999-2000, when Ruth Riley did so against Liberty (32) and Miami (36).
Perhaps giving a preview of things to come, Loyd stormed out of the gates this season, piling up 63 points in Notre Dame's first three games, wins over UNC Wilmington (19 points), No. 19/18 Michigan State (22 points) and Valparaiso (22 points).
Loyd's opening-week point production was the highest for a Fighting Irish player in the first three contests of a season since 1998-99, when Danielle Green had 66 combined points in wins against No. 6 UCLA at home (23 points), at Butler (23) and No. 6/4 Duke at home (20).
The Model Of Consistency
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd has scored in double figures in 32 consecutive games, dating back to March 11, 2013, when she had eight points in Notre Dame's 83-59 BIG EAST Championship semifinal win over No. 16/15 Louisville at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Loyd's 32-game double-digit scoring streak is the second-longest in school history, surpassing Natalie Novosel's 27-game run from March 8, 2011-Jan. 21, 2012. In fact, Loyd has scored in double figures in 50 of her 62 career games (and 10 of those 12 single-digit games saw her within one basket of double figures).
Katryna Gaither has staked an ironclad claim to the school record with a remarkable 76-game double-figure scoring streak from 1994-97.
Jewell Of Denial
Twice this year, Notre Dame has recorded key wins over top-10 opponents thanks to strong defense from a player better known for her offense.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd, who in her spare time leads the Fighting Irish in scoring this season, was given the assignment of marking Penn State's Maggie Lucas (Dec. 4) and Duke's Tricia Liston (Feb. 23) and embraced both challenges with aplomb.
In Notre Dame's 77-67 win at No. 10/11 Penn State, Loyd led a Fighting Irish defense that held Lucas (averaging 22.2 ppg. at tipoff) to just seven points (1-8 FG, 4-4 FT), and held the sharpshooting All-American and Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year scoreless until 5:18 remained in the game, when she converted a pair of 1+1 free throws in the bonus situation.
In the second of two meetings with No. 7 Duke (an 81-70 Fighting Irish win), Loyd was again equal to the task of guarding the opponent's top scorer. This time, she shadowed Liston across virtually every inch of the Purcell Pavilion court, helping to hold the Blue Devil guard (who came in averaging 18.4 ppg., and scored 23 in the teams' first matchup three weeks earlier) to just nine points (3-8 FG), with five of those points coming in the final 90 seconds after the outcome was well in hand.
Freshman Lindsay Allen got the call from head coach Muffet McGraw to start at point guard in Notre Dame's season opener against UNC Wilmington on Nov. 9 at Purcell Pavilion. Allen finished with 11 points in her debut game, including the team's first five points of the season.
It was the first time a Fighting Irish rookie point guard started the season opener since Nov. 26, 1994, when Mollie Peirick cracked the lineup and played 38 minutes (two points, five rebounds, three assists) in a 65-60 overtime loss at No. 25 Seton Hall.
One of two freshmen among 22 candidates for the 2014 Nancy Lieberman Award (given to the nation's top point guard), Allen has not disappointed in her debut campaign, averaging 6.9 points and 3.8 assists per game (the latter ranking 10th in the ACC). She also is third in the ACC with a 1.96 assist/turnover ratio, and is third on the team with 1.22 steals per game.
Allen (102 assists) also is only the fifth Notre Dame freshman to dish out 100 assists in her rookie season, and just the second in the past 20 years (Skylar Diggins had 112 assists in 2009-10). Mary Gavin holds the Fighting Irish freshman assist record with 116 in 1984-85.
What's more, Allen's 3.8 apg. average is the best for a Notre Dame freshman since 1994-95 (Peirick - 3.9 apg.) and makes Allen a candidate to be just the second Notre Dame freshman ever to average 4.0 apg. as a rookie (Gavin logged 4.5 apg. in that 1984-85 season).
Leading a winning lineup is not an unfamiliar feeling for Allen, who is a combined 54-1 in her last 55 games as a starting point guard. Last year as a senior at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C., she guided her squad to a 27-1 record and the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) title -- the highest level of play in the District of Columbia, which does not have a state tournament.
The Second Platoon
Another reason for Notre Dame's success this season has been the performance of its reserves, who are averaging nearly 27 points per game and have outscored the opponent's bench by close to a 2-to-1 margin (26.6 ppg. to 15.4 ppg.).
The Fighting Irish second unit has outscored its opposite number in 19 games this season, including a season-high 55 points on Jan. 9 against Boston College, outscoring the entire BC roster by two points (not to mention the Notre Dame starters by 15).
Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey (9.4 ppg.), freshman forward Taya Reimer (8.1 ppg.) and junior guard Madison Cable (5.3 ppg.) head up the strong Fighting Irish bench contingent, which has seen at least one reserve score in double figures in 20 games this season (total of 23 double-figure outings).
Call Her Mabrey
Certainly a leading candidate as one of the nation's most improved players would have to be Notre Dame sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey. The Belmar, N.J., resident has emerged as a key reserve for the Fighting Irish, averaging 9.4 points and 2.5 assists per game along with a very solid 1.79 assist/turnover ratio, after logging 3.0 ppg. and 1.3 apg. with a 1.06 A/TO mark last year.
Mabrey also has proven to be a dynamic three-point threat for Notre Dame, ranking fifth in the ACC with a .409 three-point percentage (third in the league with a .438 mark in ACC play) and tying for ninth in the conference with 2.1 three-pointers made per game (sixth at 2.3 per game in league play), thanks in part to making at least three triples in seven games this year, including a career-high 6-of-14 vs. Syracuse on Feb. 9.
What's more, Mabrey already has scored in double figures 13 times this year (including a career-high 19 points in the season opener against UNC Wilmington) after doing so three times in 30 games last season.
Next Game: North Carolina State
The Fighting Irish wrap up the regular season at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday when they travel to Raleigh, N.C., to take on No. 13/17 North Carolina State at Reynolds Coliseum. The game, which was pushed back one half-hour due to broadcast considerations, will stream live on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN mobile app, with ESPNU providing live look-ins.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director