March 6, 2012
BIG EAST Conference Championship -- Final
#3/3 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (30-2 / 15-1 BIG EAST) vs. #4/4 [#3 seed] Connecticut Huskies (28-4 / 13-3 BIG EAST)
DATE: March 6, 2012
TIME: 7 p.m. ET
AT: Hartford, Conn. - XL Center (16,294)
SERIES: UCONN leads 28-7
1ST MTG: UCONN 87-64 (1/18/96)
LAST MTG: ND 72-59 (2/27/12)
TV: ESPN / WatchESPN (live) (Beth Mowins, p-b-p / Rebecca Lobo, color / Allison Williams, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com / bigeast.org
#3 Fighting Irish To Meet #4 Connecticut In BIG EAST Title Game
For the sixth time, No. 3 Notre Dame will take the court in search of BIG EAST Championship hardware, and for the sixth time, No. 4 Connecticut will provide the opposition, as the Fighting Irish and Huskies square off for the third time this season (and second in eight days) in the BIG EAST Championship title game at 7 p.m. (ET) Tuesday from the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. The game will be televised to a national cable audience by ESPN, and it also can be viewed live on-line through WatchESPN (formerly known as ESPN3).
Notre Dame (30-2) will be making its second consecutive appearance in the conference final after a wire-to-wire 73-45 victory over No. 25 West Virginia on Monday night at the XL Center. The Fighting Irish jumped out to a 20-4 lead and never looked back while eliminating the one BIG EAST team that it lost to during the regular season.
Senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel led four Notre Dame players in double figures with 18 points and became the fourth player in tournament history to go 4-for-4 from the three-point line. Sophomore guard Kayla McBride added 15 points, while fifth-year seniors/tri-captains Devereaux Peters (11 points) and Brittany Mallory (10 points) rounded out the Fighting Irish double-digit quartet.
The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
Notre Dame and Connecticut will be playing for the 36th time on Tuesday night, with the Huskies holding a 28-7 edge in the all-time series, including a 17-2 advantage in the state of Connecticut (7-1 in Hartford). The teams also will be squaring off for the third time this season, and the 10th time in the past three years, with the Huskies winning the first six and the Fighting Irish taking the past three.
Tuesday will represent the sixth time Notre Dame and Connecticut have played with the BIG EAST Championship trophy on the line. The Huskies have won each of the five prior matchups in the conference title game -- 1996 (71-54), 1997 (86-77), 1999 (96-75), 2001 (78-76) and 2011 (73-64).
The Last Time Notre Dame and Connecticut Met
There are few things missing from Muffet McGraw's impressive resume as coach of Notre Dame.
Skylar Diggins and Natalie Novosel filled one of the holes by guiding the third-ranked Fighting Irish to their first outright BIG EAST championship with a 72-59 victory over No. 4 Connecticut on Feb. 27, 2012, at the XL Center in Hartford.
Novosel scored 21 points, and Diggins added 20 for the Fighting Irish.
With the game tied at 51, Notre Dame went on an 11-2 run with Diggins scoring the first eight points. She hit two layups on the fast break then connected on a deep three-pointer. Dolson's layup broke up the junior guard's spurt. A free throw by Diggins and a three-pointer by Brittany Mallory made it 62-53 with 9:16 left.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who was scoreless in the first half, had five quick points to get UConn within four. That's as close as the Huskies could get. Devereaux Peters followed up a free throw with a block on the other end that led to an easy lay-in by Diggins. Mallory hit another three-pointer with just under five minutes left that made it 69-59.
A three-pointer with 3:11 left by Novosel made it a 13-point game and capped the scoring, handing UConn its first double-digit home loss since Dec. 5, 2005, against North Carolina.
Tiffany Hayes scored 22 points and Stefanie Dolson added 18 for UConn, which lost consecutive games at home for the first time in 19 years.
The Last Time Notre Dame and Connecticut Met In The BIG EAST Championship
Maya Moore, who never lost in the conference tournament, scored 22 points to help No. 1 Connecticut beat 10th-ranked Notre Dame, 73-64 on March 8, 2011, at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., for the Huskies' fourth straight BIG EAST championship.
Even though she earned her second outstanding player award of the BIG EAST tournament, Moore would have cast her vote for Stefanie Dolson, who played all 40 minutes and matched her career high with 24 points that she set two days earlier in the tournament quarterfinals.
Leading 41-40 early in the second half, UConn went on an 11-0 run to break open a close game. Moore had three points and two assists during the burst. She also had a huge block on Diggins' drive that led to an easy layup on the other end by Bria Hartley.
The senior followed that with a three-pointer from the corner with 12:44 left to cap the spurt and tie her with Penn State great Kelly Mazzante for ninth place on the career NCAA scoring list with 2,919 points.
Notre Dame didn't go away, going on a 15-6 spurt to close to 58-55 with 5:07 left. Novosel, who had left the game at the end of UConn's spurt, returned a few minutes later and scored the final seven points of the Fighting Irish burst.
Moore wouldn't let Notre Dame get any closer, hitting a jumper from the corner to move past Mazzante. Dolson followed with a layup to restore the seven-point lead. The Fighting Irish couldn't get within five the rest of the game.
Other Notre Dame-Connecticut Series Tidbits
The Brains Of The Operation
The two head coaches -- Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw and Connecticut's Geno Auriemma -- have more than a few connections. Both are from the Philadephia metro area (McGraw from West Chester, Auriemma from Norristown), both cut their coaching teeth at Saint Joseph's under current Ohio State head coach Jim Foster (McGraw replaced Auriemma on Foster's staff in 1980 when Auriemma left to take an assistant position at Virginia), and both are members of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, with McGraw having been inducted last June.
McGraw also is the only coach in the nation with seven wins against Auriemma since the start of the 2000-01 season. What's more, McGraw is one of just six coaches all-time (four that are active) that have seven or more victories against Auriemma on their career resumes -- the others are Villanova's Harry Perretta (11), former Providence coach Bob Foley (10), Tennessee's Pat Summitt (9), Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer (8) and former St. John's coach Joe Mullaney, Jr. (7).
Fighting Irish In The BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame is wrapping up in its 17th BIG EAST Championship appearance this week, having compiled a 21-16 (.568) record at the conference tournament. Counting Tuesday's appearance, the Fighting Irish now have advanced to the title game six times (1996, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2011, 2012). Ironically, this will be the fifth of Notre Dame's six BIG EAST finals appearances to come when the tournament was held in the state of Connecticut (1996, 1997 and 2001 on the UConn campus at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs; 2011 and 2012 at the XL Center in Hartford).
Prior to joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96, Notre Dame was a member of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League). During its seven-year affiliation with that conference, the Fighting Irish won the MCC Tournament five times, with Notre Dame's most recent conference tourney title (of any kind) coming in 1994, following a 72-63 championship game win over Xavier at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Other BIG EAST Championship Tidbits
Since the start of the 2008-09 season, Notre Dame has played 33 times when it has had a short one-day break (or less) between games, including games on consecutive days this year at the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas (Nov. 25-26 vs. USC and No. 7/6 Duke) and earlier this week at the BIG EAST Championship (March 4-5 vs. No. RV/23 DePaul and No. 25/RV West Virginia).
When faced with such a tight turnaround, the Fighting Irish have risen to the occasion in recent seasons, going 26-7 (.788) on the back half of these two-game (or more) blitzes during the past four years, including a 10-0 record this season (wins over Indiana State, No. 7/6 Duke, Creighton, UCF, Mercer, No. 7/9 Tennessee, Syracuse, Providence, No. 4 Connecticut and No. 25/RV West Virginia).
With Monday's 73-45 win over No. 25 West Virginia in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals, Notre Dame reached the 30-win mark for the second consecutive season and the fourth time in program history. Prior to this year, the Fighting Irish had never had back-to-back 30-win seasons, with its three previous campaigns of at least 30 victories coming in 1996-97 (31-7), 2000-01 (34-2) and 2010-11 (31-8).
Notre Dame has a 750-312 (.706) record in 35 seasons of varsity competition, starting with its roots as an AIAW Division III independent program in 1977-78. With Monday's victory over West Virginia, the Fighting Irish became the 25th Division I program to reach the 750-win mark, and the second to do so this season -- Virginia recorded its 750th all-time victory on Dec. 28 with an 84-41 conquest of Wagner.
Since its Nov. 20 loss at No. 1 Baylor, Notre Dame has won its last 12 games against ranked opponents (including five against top-10 teams), earning nine of those victories by double digits (four by 25 points or more).
The major driving force in this turnaround has been the play of the Fighting Irish defense, which has held those last 12 Top 25 opponents to just 55.6 points per night, including nine games when the opposition scored 60 points or fewer.
Notre Dame also has held its ranked foes to a .356 field goal percentage (.245 from the three-point line), and posted a +5.8 rebounding margin after being outrebounded by 15 at Baylor.
Improvement Continues On The Glass
After averaging 37.2 rebounds in its first six games (and holding the upper hand in that category only three times, with an aggregate minus-2 rebounding margin), Notre Dame has featured a marked improvement on the boards since its return from the Bahamas after the Thanksgiving weekend.
In their last 26 games, the Fighting Irish are averaging 42.0 rebounds a night, with an average rebounding margin of +12.0 rpg., winning or finishing even in the rebounding battle all but three times in that span (41-33 against West Virginia on Feb. 12; 35-28 at No. 16 Louisville on Feb. 20; 37-33 vs. No. 25 West Virginia on March 5). Furthermore, Notre Dame has grabbed at least 40 rebounds 20 times in the past 26 games after not reaching that mark once in its first six contests.
According to Monday's NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame ranks ninth in the country in rebounding margin (now +9.8 rpg.) this year.
Windy City Warrior
Fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters is in the midst of one of the best stretches of her college career, averaging 13.5 points, 12.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game with a .537 field goal percentage (65-of-121) and seven double-doubles in her last 12 outings.
Here's a look at some of the rare feats Peters (the two-time BIG EAST Conference Defensive Player of the Year and first-team all-BIG EAST selection) has been accomplished in the past six weeks:
Game #32 Recap: West Virginia (BIG EAST Championship Semifinal)
Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame are one victory away from crossing another item off this season's to-do list.
Notre Dame has played in the BIG EAST title game five times and come up short each trip, losing to UConn each time. The Fighting Irish haven't had any problems with the Huskies lately, winning the last three meetings -- including beating UConn in Hartford last Monday night to earn its first outright BIG EAST regular season title.
"We're in a position right where we want to be," Novosel said. "Going into (Tuesday) night's game, we want to go in and win that for Coach."
"It's great for our school, particular in the season we've been having," Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins said. "We're excited for the opportunity to compete for the BIG EAST championship. How much it would mean for us, our program, and Coach McGraw."
Notre Dame (30-2) got a measure of revenge on the Mountaineers (23-9), who ended the Fighting Irish's 21-game winning streak on Feb. 12 with 65-63 win at Purcell Pavilion. It was Notre Dame's only BIG EAST loss.
"We're happy to be able to avenge our loss," McGraw said. "We played well right from the start and got out of the gate offensively, and shot the ball extremely well. We did a great job on their guards and had good balance (Monday), which we didn't have last time."
On Monday night, the Fighting Irish scored the first seven points and had built a 20-4 lead 8 1/2 minutes in as five different players scored. Devereaux Peters, who had four points and missed seven of her eight shots in the loss, had seven by the half as Notre Dame led 37-19.
"I think we came out here with a little fire in us," Novosel said. "We were excited when we saw we were playing West Virginia. We started out really well tonight."
West Virginia couldn't get within 16 in the second half, closing to 51-35 midway through the period, but Notre Dame scored 18 of the next 22 points to end any hope of a comeback.
"We knew they were going to come out with a chip on their shoulder," Ayana Dunning said. "Coach (Mike Carey) said the first eight minutes they'd try to get a lead on us and we didn't come out ready to play. We got ourselves down so much in the beginning of the game we were trying to fight back the entire time."
This was West Virginia's final game in the BIG EAST before leaving for the Big 12 next season.
The Mountaineers advanced to the semis with a 39-32 win over then-No. 12 Georgetown on Sunday. That was the lowest scoring game in the history of the BIG EAST tournament, easily surpassing the previous record of 78 set in 2005 by Boston College and Villanova.
Buoyed by that victory, West Virginia entered the Top 25 for the first time this season.
Asya Bussie scored 15 points and Dunning added 12 to lead the Mountaineers. The pair was 12 for 16, but got little help from the rest of the team, which missed 31 of its 38 shots.
Beyond The Box Score -- West Virginia