March 3, 2013
#2/2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (27-1 / 15-0 BIG EAST) vs. #3/3 Connecticut Huskies (27-2 / 14-1 BIG EAST)
DATE: March 4, 2013
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
SERIES: UCONN leads 29-9
1ST MTG: UCONN 87-64 (1/18/96)
LAST MTG: ND 73-72 (1/5/13)
TV: ESPN2/WatchESPN (live) (Pam Ward, p-b-p / Rebecca Lobo, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (574) 631-7356 / UND.com/tickets
No. 2 Fighting Irish Host No. 3 Connecticut Monday In Regular Season Finale
Now that the calendar has turned, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Connecticut will get an early jump on March Madness when they tangle in the BIG EAST Conference regular-season finale at 7 p.m. (ET) Monday at Purcell Pavilion. The game will be televised live on ESPN2 as part of its "Big Monday" package (as well as worldwide via WatchESPN), with the winner earning the No. 1 seed for next weekend's BIG EAST Championship.
Notre Dame (27-1, 15-0) staked its claim to at least a share of its second consecutive BIG EAST regular-season title on Saturday with a 92-57 win at Providence. Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins piled up game highs of 28 points and six assists, while junior guard Kayla McBride scored 24 points (on 10-of-15 shooting) as the Fighting Irish ran their winning streak to 22 games.
Other Notre Dame Notables
Only seven points separate Connecticut from an undefeated season at this late stage of the regular season, with the Huskies (27-2, 14-1 BIG EAST) only finding blemishes at home against No. 5 Notre Dame (73-72 on Jan. 5) and No. 1 Baylor (76-70 on Feb. 18).
Connecticut has won its last three since the Baylor loss, most recently earning an 85-51 victory at South Florida on Saturday afternoon. Sophomore forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored a career-high 32 points and junior center Stefanie Dolson added 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Huskies, who also were sharp at the free throw line (22-of-23).
Mosqueda-Lewis ranks second in the BIG EAST in scoring (17.6 ppg.) and tops in the nation in three-point percentage (.503), as well as fourth in the conference in overall field goal percentage (.547). Dolson leads the nation in field goal percentage (.605), and is second on the team in scoring (14.4 ppg.), as well as tied for the team lead in rebounding (6.6 rpg.).
Head coach Geno Auriemma is in his 28th season at Connecticut with an 831-131 (.864) career record, including a 29-9 (.763) mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
Notre Dame and Connecticut will square off for the 39th time on Monday night, including the 13th time in the past four seasons. The Huskies lead the all-time series 29-9, including a 9-3 record at Purcell Pavilion.
The Fighting Irish have won five of the past six meetings with Connecticut, including this year's first matchup (73-72 on Jan. 5 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.).
The Last Time Notre Dame And Connecticut Met
Skylar Diggins scored 19 points, hitting big shot after big shot in the second half, to lift fifth-ranked Notre Dame to a 73-72 victory over the top-ranked Huskies on Jan. 5, 2013, at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.
This was the latest victory for the Fighting Irish, who also ended UConn's season the past two years by beating the Huskies in past two Final Fours.
With UConn poised to pull away in the second half, Diggins hit back-to-back three-pointers to keep her team in the game.
Later with the shot clock about to run out, Diggins hit a leaner from the wing.
Finally, with the Fighting Irish down by one with 49.4 seconds left, she got fouled on a drive and calmly sank both free throws. It would be the last points of the game.
The Huskies had a few chances to pull out the win in the final 30 seconds, but in front of a sellout crowd of 10,127, they fell short.
Breanna Stewart had her shot blocked in the lane. The Huskies maintained possession and then after a timeout, Stewart missed a jumper from the top of the key. Kelly Faris grabbed the rebound giving UConn one more chance, but Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis caught the ball in the corner and her wide-open three-point try fell off the rim.
The Fighting Irish grabbed the loose ball and Diggins ran out the clock.
UConn trailed by two at the half and took a 48-44 lead on Stefanie Dolson's layup with 16:18 left in the game. The Huskies led 63-60 with eight minutes left before Notre Dame scored five quick points. Neither team could get more than a two-point lead the rest of the way.
Mosqueda-Lewis finished with 17 points.
Stewart, the high school player of the year last season, scored all 10 of her points in the second half after missing her first five shots. She also had six blocks and nine rebounds.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Connecticut Met At Purcell Pavilion
Skylar 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.
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 got a game-high 25 points from Bria Hartley in the loss.
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.
Other Notre Dame-Connecticut Series Tidbits
The Brains Of The Operation
Monday's 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 enshrined in June 2011.
McGraw also is the only coach in the nation with nine wins against Auriemma since the start of the 2000-01 season. What's more, McGraw is one of just four coaches all-time to have nine or more victories against Auriemma on his/her resume (with Villanova's Harry Perretta is the only other active coach who can make that claim, having bested Auriemma's UConn clubs 11 times).
Start Me Up
For the second time in school history, Notre Dame has matched its best 28-game record with a 27-1 record.
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
Notre Dame is off to a 15-0 start in BIG EAST Conference play for the second time since it joined the league 18 seasons ago.
The school record for the best start to a BIG EAST season also is 15-0, set in 1999-2000.
Aside from their two BIG EAST debuts, the only other time the Fighting Irish began any conference season with a 15-0 record was when they were part of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League) in 1989-90 (finished 16-0, the only time in Notre Dame's 36-year history it has completed a conference season undefeated).
Streak Stats, Part I
Notre Dame's current 22-game winning streak is the second-longest success string in program history, one shy of the school record for consecutive victories set by the 2000-01 club that opened the season with 23 consecutive wins.
Notre Dame 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 has set a program record by winning 19 consecutive BIG EAST regular-season games. The Fighting Irish last dropped a BIG EAST game on Feb. 12, 2012, falling 65-63 to West Virginia at Purcell Pavilion (on two free throws by WVU's Brooke Hampton with 4.6 seconds left).
Notre Dame's current streak is one better than the previous school record of 18 consecutive BIG EAST victories set 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.
Notre Dame has won a school-record 22 consecutive regular season road games and 27 of its last 32 overall, including all 11 contests this season. 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.
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 16 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 previous Notre Dame record for consecutive regular season road victories in any conference was 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
With its 84-56 win at DePaul on Feb. 24, Notre Dame registered its 25th victory of the season, marking the fourth consecutive year (and fifth time in six years) the Fighting Irish have reached that level.
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.
A Class By Themselves
Led by its two-player senior class of guards/co-captains Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, Notre Dame has earned the most victories (122) in a four-year span in school history, topping the total (117) compiled by last year's seniors.
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.
The Rare Air Up There
With its 77-67 win at No. 9 Tennessee on Jan. 28, Notre Dame made NCAA Division I history in two ways. The Fighting Irish not only became the first school ever to defeat both Connecticut and Tennessee in three consecutive seasons, but they also were the first program in the NCAA era (since 1981-82) to defeat both the Huskies and Lady Vols on the road in the same season (the latter victory was Notre Dame's first in nine games against UT in Knoxville).
Starting with its 2011 NCAA Elite Eight win over Tennessee in Dayton, Ohio, Notre Dame has gone a combined 8-1 against Connecticut and Tennessee, with no other senior class at any school having compiled that many wins against those two traditional powers since 1988-89 (when Connecticut made its first NCAA postseason appearance).
Since the start of the 2008-09 season, Notre Dame has played 45 times when it has had a short one-day break (or less) between games.
When faced with such a tight turnaround, the Fighting Irish have risen to the occasion in recent seasons, going 36-9 (.800) on the back half of these two-game (or more) blitzes during the past five years.
Notre Dame is 8-0 on short rest this season, including four wins over ranked teams -- at No. 9 Tennessee (Jan. 28 on ESPN2's "Big Monday"), home vs. No. 10/11 Louisville (Feb. 11, also on ESPN2's "Big Monday"), home vs. No. 22/20 Syracuse (Feb. 26), 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).
Finding A Way
Facing its largest deficit of the season (22-7) less than eight minutes into its Feb. 26 Senior Night game against No. 22/20 Syracuse at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame reminded observers there are numerous ways to play this game -- and win.
In this case, the Fighting Irish flipped the script with a 40-10 surge that covered 14:55 during the middle of the game, starting with 3:56 left in the first half when Notre Dame trailed 39-25, and ending when the Fighting Irish held a 65-49 lead at the 9:01 mark of the second half.
The 15-point comeback win tied Notre Dame's largest rally at home in its BIG EAST era (72-65 win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 28, 2006 - coincidentally, also a Senior Night game), and it was the largest for the Fighting Irish in any contest since Nov. 26, 2011, when Notre Dame tied a school record with an 18-point comeback win (56-54) over No. 7/6 Duke in the title game of the Junkanoo Jam in Freeport, Bahamas.
What's more, the 31-point swing in momentum was the largest in a Fighting Irish game since March 30, 2001, against Connecticut in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals at the Savvis Center (now Scottrade Center) in St. Louis. On that night, Notre Dame trailed the Huskies, 47-31, with 2:02 left in the first half, but stormed back to win, 90-75 en route to the program's first national championship.
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 17 games this year. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 69-4 (.945) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 39-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul).
Everyone Pitches In
With the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-Americans (and 2012 WNBA first-round draft picks) Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame entered this season searching to find a way to make up for the talented duo's 27.0 points and 13.4 rebounds per game.
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 9.3 rebounds per game and has piled up 15 of her 17 career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading 15 double-doubles (seven against ranked opponents, eight in conference play) after logging one double-double in her career prior to this season.
The Best Things In Life Are Free
Throughout the 2012-13 season, Notre Dame has displayed a penchant for making opponents pay at the free throw line.
Through 28 games, the Fighting Irish rank fourth in the nation in free throw percentage, shooting a remarkable .794 (497-of-626) 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 nearly 35 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (497 made, 370 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 67 of 73 free throws (.918) to lead the conference. She also would rank eighth in the nation, but she is three made free throws shy of the minimum needed for qualification (2.5 free throws made/game).
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 (.821), freshman guard Jewell Loyd standing sixth (.805) and junior forward Natalie Achonwa ranking seventh (.802).
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
With a 59-52 victory at Villanova on Feb. 5, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw became the 13th NCAA Division I coach to register 700 career victories. McGraw currently has a 31-year record of 706-257 (.733), including a 616-216 (.741) record in 26 seasons with the Fighting Irish.
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
Throughout the 2012-13 season, senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins will continue to close the gap that separates her from the highest eschelon of Notre Dame women's basketball players in a number of the program's top career categories. Here's a look at just a few of the notable milestones Diggins will have a shot to reach this season:
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 122-19 (.865) record in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), 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 and 2012 NCAA national championship games and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 27-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (13-10 vs. the AP Top 10) and an 87-1 record against unranked opponents (not appearing in the AP poll), including a 63-game winning streak from the start of the 2009-10 season before falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012.
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 81.1 ppg. (which ranks third nationally as of last Friday).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.48 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 56.3 points per game.
According to the time-honored adage, "there's no substitute for experience." In the case of Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa, that experience was second to none and it's paid off exceptionally well for the veteran Fighting Irish frontliner this season.
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 13.8 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.3 rpg.), while scoring in double figures 23 times and grabbing double-digit rebounds on 15 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 (15, including seven against ranked teams and eight against conference foes) and has five 20-point games to her credit (career-high 23 vs. Utah State on Dec. 8). Her 15 double-doubles also are one shy of the school record set by Katryna Gaither in 1996-97 (in a 38-game season).
Achonwa ranks among the top 15 in the BIG EAST in scoring (15th - 13.8 ppg.), rebounding (2nd - 9.3 rpg.), field goal percentage (6th - .536; also 23rd nationally), free throw percentage (7th - .802) 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
Along with her classmate Natalie Achonwa, junior guard (and Erie, Pa., native) Kayla McBride has been a major reason for Notre Dame's success this season, capably stepping into a larger role within the Fighting Irish system following the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-America wing Natalie Novosel.
McBride currently ranks 10th in the BIG EAST in scoring (14.9 ppg.) and leads the conference in free throw percentage (.918). In both areas, she is posting career-high marks, including an improvement of better than 28 percent in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).
McBride also is among the team leaders this season with 23 double-figure scoring games, including at least 15 points in eight of Notre Dame's nine games against ranked opponents to date (17.7 ppg.). Among her highlights against Top 25 teams are a career-high 25 points against No. 22/20 Syracuse on Feb. 26, and 21 points at No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 5.
In fact, in her last 24 games against Top 25 opponents, McBride is averaging 14.8 points per game, scoring in double figures 21 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).
Freshman guard Jewell Loyd is rapidly making her presence felt as one of the top rookies, not only in the BIG EAST Conference, but around the country.
The Lincolnwood, Ill., native has appeared in 27 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 26 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 (26th - 11.9 ppg.) and free throw percentage (6th - .805), and would be fifth in the conference in three-point percentage (.393), but she is five 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 Feb. 25 after scoring a game-high 19 points in an 84-56 victory at DePaul on Feb. 24.
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 #28 Recap: Providence
Skylar Diggins scored 28 points and Kayla McBride added 24 as second-ranked Notre Dame clinched a share of its second straight BIG EAST regular-season title with a 92-57 rout at Providence on Saturday afternoon at Alumni Hall.
Natalie Achonwa chipped in 14 points and eight rebounds for the Fighting Irish (27-1, 15-0 BIG EAST) who extended their winning streak to 22 games.
McBride hit 10 of her 15 shots from the field Saturday. Diggins was 8 of 15.
Symone Roberts had 22 points for Providence (7-21, 2-13), which has lost six straight and 13 of its last 15 games.
The Fighting Irish led by 20 points at halftime and opened the second half on a 10-2 run.
Notre Dame shot better than 52 percent from the floor, and hit seven of their 15 shots from three-point range. Diggins had a season-high four three-pointers on seven attempts.
Notre Dame also outrebounded Providence 51-21.
Notre Dame has won 22 straight road games and Saturday's game was never in doubt.
Diggins grabbed the opening tap, raced for a layup and the Fighting Irish never trailed, going on a 13-4 run to open the game.
Notre Dame hit seven of its first 10 shots and its first six shots from three-point range.
Brianna Edwards tried to keep the Friars close, scoring all 10 of her points in the first half. But when she picked up her third foul, with just under four minutes to go in the half, Notre Dame was already up 46-27.
Diggins had 17 points before intermission and McBride had 16 as the Fighting Irish went into the half leading 52-32.
Tori Rule chipped in 13 points for the Friars.
Beyond The Box Score: Providence
Notre Dame was ranked a season-best No. 2 for the eighth consecutive Associated Press poll last week, its 43rd consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 113 consecutive weeks in the AP poll.
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 held steady at a season-best No. 2 for the second consecutive week 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 113 of the past 114 weeks (and 77 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 246 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
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 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 in PDF version of this notes package), 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
Notre Dame is in the unique position of essentially having three head coaches on its bench, with current Fighting Irish skipper Muffet McGraw enjoying the expertise of two former head coaches on her staff -- associate head coach Carol Owens (who guided her alma mater Northern Illinois from 2005-10) and associate coach Beth Cunningham (who piloted VCU from 2003-12).
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).
Notre Dame made a bit of women's basketball history on Nov. 9, joining with Ohio State to play the first women's game ever on the deck of an aircraft carrier, as the teams squared off outdoors in the second annual Carrier Classic aboard the decommissioned USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C. (on the shores of Charleston Harbor).
The game was played to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project, which aids returning veterans who have been injured while in the service of our country, and the Fighting Irish were exceptionally proud and honored to have former Notre Dame guard, U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green ('00) join the team on the bench for their historic game against Ohio State. Green, who lost her left (shooting) hand in May 2004 during a rocket-propelled grenade attack while on patrol on the roof of a police station in Baghdad, Iraq, delivered an inspiring pre-game speech to the current Fighting Irish squad before they came out to face Ohio State.
Notre Dame won this year's Carrier Classic game, 57-51, behind the second career double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) from junior forward Natalie Achonwa and 16 points from junior guard Kayla McBride. After the game, head coach Muffet McGraw said the victory was dedicated to Green.
An added postscript -- Green recently accepted a job with the South Bend Veterans Administration Clinic and has relocated from her hometown of Chicago.
Half And Half
During the past 12 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 272-19 (.935) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 200 of their last 213 such contests (.939).
What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 109-2 (.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...
During the past 18 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 275-15 (.948) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 17 outings this season.
...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 18 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 180-6 (.968) 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 four years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 57-2 (.966) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level 12 times this season.
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 233 of their last 262 games (.889) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51, 25 and 20 games in that span (the latter ending on Feb. 12, 2012, vs. West Virginia).
Since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 60-5 (.923) -- including wins in 36 of its last 38 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 127-20 (.864) 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 383-90 (.810) 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
The past three 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 (8,571 fans per game in 2011-12) and most sellouts in a single season (eight in 2011-12). And, as the old saying goes -- "you ain't seen nothin' yet."
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 10 sellouts in 12 home games (including eight of the past nine 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 35 sellout crowds in the program's 36-year tenure, including 29 in the past four years alone (2009-10 to present).
The Fighting Irish currently rank sixth in the nation in average attendance, drawing 8,965 fans per game, which is nearly 400 fans better than last year's school record and 98 percent of Purcell Pavilion's listed capacity of 9,149.
Coming Soon: Irish in the ACC
On Sept. 12, 2012, the University of Notre Dame announced that it had accepted an offer of admission into the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for all sports except football (the league does not offer championships in ice hockey or fencing).
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 231-64 (.783) record in league play that remains the second-best regular season winning percentage in BIG EAST women's basketball history.
Next Game: BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame will compete in the BIG EAST Championship for the 18th consecutive season when it tips off postseason play with a quarterfinal game on Sunday, March 10 at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
The Fighting Irish have earned a double-bye through the quarterfinals, but their matchup in that round is dependent on Monday's result. With a win over Connecticut, Notre Dame will be the top seed and play at 2 p.m. (ET) on ESPNU. With a loss to Connecticut, the Fighting Irish would be the No. 2 seed and play at 6 p.m. (ET) on the BIG EAST Network (and online at bigeast.tv).
The full tournament bracket will be posted on the official BIG EAST Conference web site (bigeast.org) late Monday night following the completion of all conference games.