Feb. 26, 2014
#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
No. 2 Fighting Irish Face No. 14/11 North Carolina Thursday In Home Finale
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.
The Notre Dame-North Carolina Series
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
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 Tidbits
One Tough Stretch
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
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
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
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'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).
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
Loyd Earns Weekly National/ACC Honors
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Nearly In A Class By Themselves
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
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).
"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
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).
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
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
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.
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
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
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
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director