March 7, 2013
BIG EAST Conference Championship -- Quarterfinal
#2/2 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (28-1 / 16-0 BIG EAST) vs. [#8 seed] South Florida Bulls (20-9 / 9-7 BIG EAST) or [#9 seed] Rutgers Scarlet Knights (16-13 / 7-9 BIG EAST)
DATE: March 10, 2013
TIME: 2:00 p.m. ET
AT: Hartford, Conn. - XL Center (16,294)
SERIES: ND leads USF 9-2 / RU leads ND 16-13
TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN (live) (Beth Mowins, p-b-p / Brooke Weisbrod, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: bigeast.org
No. 2 Fighting Irish Head To Hartford For BIG EAST Championship
After securing its second consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular season title, No. 2 Notre Dame turns its attention to the one prize that has eluded the program during its 18-year league membership -- the BIG EAST Championship trophy. The top-seeded Fighting Irish will open tournament play at 2 p.m. (ET) Sunday with a quarterfinal game against eighth-seeded South Florida or ninth-seeded Rutgers at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. (with the contest televised live nationally on ESPNU).
Notre Dame (28-1) locked up the outright BIG EAST title on Monday with an epic 96-87 triple-overtime win over No. 3 Connecticut at Purcell Pavilion. Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins posted a double-double (29 points, 11 rebounds), and junior guard Kayla McBride added a career-high 26 points to spark the Irish to the win in the longest game in school history.
Other Notre Dame Notables
The Notre Dame-South Florida Series
Notre Dame and South Florida could meet for the 11th time on Sunday afternoon, with the Fighting Irish holding a 9-2 edge in the series with the Bulls, including a current six-game winning streak following a 75-71 overtime victory on Jan. 8 at the Sun Dome in Tampa.
Notre Dame also won the only previous time the teams met in the BIG EAST Championship, taking a 73-66 decision in the first round of the 2006 tournament.
The Last Time Notre Dame And South Florida Met
Hardly resembling the Notre Dame team that handed No. 1 Connecticut its first loss of the season three days earlier, Skylar Diggins and Co. had to work overtime to hold off South Florida 75-71 on Jan. 8 at the Sun Dome in Tampa.
Diggins scored four of her 19 points in overtime, Natalie Achonwa had 20 points and Jewell Loyd finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Fighting Irish, who trailed by six midway through the second half. Kayla McBride missed the majority of the first half with foul trouble and was limited to 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting, but keyed a surge that helped Notre Dame take its first lead since early in the game.
Andrea Smith tied a career high with 33 points (on 13-of-37 shooting) and 11 rebounds for USF, including her team's last nine points of regulation and first four of overtime. Smith's twin, Andrell, had 15 points before fouling out less than a minute into the extra period, and Inga Orekhova added 13.
USF led 35-32 at the break despite shooting 37.8 percent and pushed Notre Dame to overtime for the third time in the last nine meetings between the teams despite shooting 33.3 percent (25 of 75) for the game. The Fighting Irish were only slightly better, shooting 36.8 percent and making the same number of field goals while taking seven fewer shots.
McBride made a long three-pointer and added a three-point play during a 13-2 run Notre Dame put together to turn a 46-42 deficit into their biggest lead of the night, 55-48. But just when it appeared that the Fighting Irish were taking over the game, Andrea Smith found a way to keep USF close.
While Notre Dame was going scoreless from the field over the last six minutes of regulation, the 5-foot-8 senior made a pair of free throws, a 3-pointer and a contested 15-foot jumper to make it 61-61 with 2:02 remaining. After Loyd made two free throws to put the Fighting Irish in front again, Smith answered with another jumper to send it into overtime at 63-all.
Diggins, who missed the final shot of regulation, put Notre Dame ahead for good with a basket a little more than a minute into overtime. She sank free throws for a 74-69 lead with 23.4 seconds left in the extra period, and Michaela Mabrey ensured the Fighting Irish would hold on for their eighth straight victory by making one of two free throws.
Other Notre Dame-South Florida Series Tidbits
Sunshine State Success
Notre Dame is 27-5 (.844) all-time against Florida schools, including a 16-2 (.889) record against Sunshine State teams away from home (road/neutral combined).
The only true road losses the Fighting Irish have taken in the state of Florida came on Feb. 3, 1998, at Miami (77-76 on Octavia Blue's free throw after time expired) and Jan. 13, 2007, at South Florida (87-78 in overtime).
Notre Dame also has won its last eight games against Florida schools, with USF the last team from the Sunshine State to defeat Notre Dame (an 87-78 overtime win in Tampa in 2007).
The Notre Dame-Rutgers Series
Sunday could mark the 30th installment in the series between Notre Dame and Rutgers, with the Scarlet Knights maintaining a 16-13 lead over the Fighting Irish. However, Notre Dame has had the upper hand of late, winning a series-best four in a row against RU, including a 71-46 victory on Jan. 13 at Purcell Pavilion.
The Fighting Irish and Scarlet Knights have played four times in the BIG EAST Championship, splitting those four matchups. Notre Dame won the first two (1997 quarterfinal and 1999 semifinal) before Rutgers came back to win the past two (2000 semifinal and 2004 quarterfinal).
The Last Time Notre Dame And Rutgers Met
Call it a glimpse of the future: Notre Dame women's basketball in the post-Skylar Diggins era.
While Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw surely will miss her All-American senior point guard next year, she can take solace in the promise shown Jan. 13 by freshman guard Jewell Loyd in a 71-46 win over Rutgers.
Diggins scored 15 points to lead No. 2 Notre Dame, despite playing limited minutes after picking up her second foul with 8:55 to go in the first half.
Loyd, playing in only her third BIG EAST game, finished with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, and she was 2-of-2 from three-point range. The Fighting Irish won their sixth conference home opener in the past seven seasons.
Erica Wheeler scored 17 points (all in the final 12 minutes) to lead Rutgers, which is off to its worst start in the BIG EAST (0-3) since joining the conference in 1995.
The Fighting Irish built much of their lead with three big spurts, two of them in the first half. First came a 13-4 run over a four-minute span midway through the half, in which they stretched their lead to 21-10. The spurt included threes by Diggins and Loyd, and a three-point play by Diggins.
Notre Dame closed the final 3:34 of the first half on a 9-1 run, thanks to two jumpers and a layup by Loyd. That run stretched their lead to 20, giving them a 37-17 lead at the break. Notre Dame then opened the second half with an 11-3 run over the first 4:14.
Rutgers was unable to take advantage of Diggins' down time in the first half, hitting only one field goal over that time. The Fighting Irish, on the other hand, did capitalize on frequent fouls committed by Rutgers.
Monique Oliver, Kahleah Copper and Chelsey Lee each picked up two fouls within the first six minutes of the game for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights committed 11 fouls in the first half, and the Fighting Irish hit all nine free throws in the half.
Other Notre Dame-Rutgers Series Tidbits
Irish In The BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame opens play in its 18th BIG EAST Championship this weekend, having compiled a 21-17 (.553) record in its 17 previous appearances. The Fighting Irish have reached the semifinals in 10 of the past 17 years and advanced to the title game six times (1996, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2011, 2012). Ironically, five of Notre Dame's six BIG EAST finals appearances came 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 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
The (Somewhat) Friendly Confines
The Fighting Irish having a 10-13 (.435) all-time record at the XL Center (formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center). However, take out a 1-8 record against Connecticut (which uses the building as one of its home courts during the regular season) and Notre Dame has a winning record (9-5, .643) all-time in Hartford.
Of the 23 previous games the Fighting Irish have played at the XL Center, 18 of them have come during BIG EAST Championship play, with Notre Dame sporting a 9-9 (.500) record since the tournament moved to Hartford in 2004.
The other five XL Center games include four regular season matchups with Connecticut (2000, 2002, 2009, 2012) and a 2004 NCAA Sweet 16 contest with Penn State (55-49 loss).
Start Me Up
For the second time in school history, Notre Dame has matched its best 29-game record with a 28-1 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).
With its 96-87 triple-overtime victory over No. 3 Connecticut on March 4 at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame secured its second consecutive outright BIG EAST Conference regular-season title. The Fighting Irish are just the second program other than Connecticut to earn back-to-back outright BIG EAST championships since the conference began offering the sport in 1982-83 (Rutgers in 2004-05 and 2005-06).
This also is the third BIG EAST title for the Fighting Irish since they joined the conference in 1995-96 (they were co-champions in 2001), and marks the first time they have won back-to-back league titles since 1993-94 and 1994-95, when they earned outright crowns in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League).
Notre Dame completed this year's BIG EAST slate with a perfect 16-0 record, the second time in program history the Fighting Irish have run the table in conference play and first since 1989-90, when they went 16-0 in ithe MCC/Horizon League.
What's more, Notre Dame is just the third program other than Connecticut ever to go undefeated in BIG EAST play, joining the 2005-06 Rutgers squad (16-0) and the 1991-92 Miami (Fla.) club (18-0).
Notre Dame's current 23-game winning streak has tied 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).
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 posted the best record (123-19, .866) in a four-year span in school history, topping the win 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 9-1 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).
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 9.2 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 29 games, the Fighting Irish rank second in the nation in free throw percentage, shooting a remarkable .795 (522-of-657) 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 nearly 23 times per game, converting 18 free throws a night. At the same time, the Fighting Irish have made more than 33 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (522 made, 391 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, making 70 of 77 free throws (.909) to lead the BIG EAST (and ranking second during conference play with an .891 percentage). She also would rank ninth 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 third (.818), freshman guard Jewell Loyd tied for fifth (.810) and junior forward Natalie Achonwa ranking seventh (.806).
For her career, McBride has logged an .885 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 707-257 (.733), including a 619-216 (.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 123-19 (.866) 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 28-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (14-10 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 81.7 ppg. (which ranks third nationally as of March 4).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.49 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 11.4 spg. (which gave the Fighting Irish 330 steals at 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 57.4 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 13.9 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.2 rpg.), while scoring in double figures 24 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 (14th - 13.9 ppg.), rebounding (2nd - 9.2 rpg.), field goal percentage (5th - .534; also 22nd nationally) and free throw percentage (7th - .806).
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 eighth in the BIG EAST in scoring (15.3 ppg.) and leads the conference in free throw percentage (.909). In both areas, she is posting career-high marks, including an improvement of better than 30 percent in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).
McBride also is among the team leaders this season with 24 double-figure scoring games, including at least 15 points in nine of Notre Dame's 10 games against ranked opponents this season (18.5 ppg.). Among her highlights against Top 25 teams are a career-high 26 points against No. 3 Connecticut on March 4, 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 25 games against Top 25 opponents, McBride is averaging 15.2 points per game, scoring in double figures 22 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 28 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 27 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 - 11.7 ppg.) and free throw percentage (tied-5th - .810), and would be tied for third in the conference in three-point percentage (.393), but she is short of the minimum needed for qualification (1.0 3FGM/game).
She also led 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 #29 Recap: Connecticut
Skylar Diggins found another way to beat Connecticut -- maybe the toughest way yet.
The second-ranked Fighting Irish trailed by six in the first overtime, then five in the second overtime before finally beating the third-ranked Huskies 96-87 in three overtimes on March 4 at Purcell Pavilion to win BIG EAST regular-season title outright for the second straight year.
The Fighting Irish (28-1, 16-0) went undefeated in the conference for the first time since joining in 1995-96 and became the first team to win six of seven games against Connecticut (27-3, 14-2) in more than two decades. Diggins finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds and Kayla McBride added a career-high 26 points before fouling out in the second overtime.
The Fighting Irish took their first lead in overtime when Kaila Turner hit a free throw 18 seconds into the third overtime. After Kelly Faris answered with a bank shot for the Huskies to regain the lead, Notre Dame took over. Ariel Braker starter it with a free throw, then Jewell Loyd muscled in a basket inside and nearly a minute later added a pair of free throws to give the Irish an 87-83 lead. Diggins then stole the ball from Breanna Stewart and scored on a fastbreak layup, then Braker, Diggins and Natalie Achonwa each made two free throws to put the game away.
The Fighting Irish managed to win despite going just 1 of 12 from three-point range and being outshot 46 percent to 39 percent, but Notre Dame forced 35 turnovers. Achonwa added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Fighting Irish.
The Huskies missed three free throws in the first overtime, including one by Morgan Tuck that would have given the Huskies a four-point lead with 13 seconds left.
McBride then hit Notre Dame's only three-pointer with 5.2 seconds left to tie the score at 71 and force the second overtime.
The Huskies got up by five in the second overtime, but then had three turnovers and a missed free throw.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led UConn with 26 points, Faris added 21, Stefanie Dolson had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Bria Hartley finished with 10 points.
Beyond The Box Score: Connecticut
Notre Dame is ranked a season-best No. 2 for the ninth consecutive Associated Press poll this week, its 44th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 114 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 (75 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (64) 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 253 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 third consecutive week in this week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, after spending the previous six weeks in the No. 3 spot. Notre Dame also has earned at least one first-place vote in the coaches' poll for the past nine weeks, including four on Jan. 8 and two on March 5.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 114 of the past 115 weeks (and 78 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 247 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 253 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 181-6 (.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 58-2 (.967) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level 13 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 234 of their last 263 games (.890) 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 61-5 (.924) -- including wins in 37 of its last 39 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 128-20 (.865) 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 384-90 (.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.
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 three BIG EAST regular season titles (2001, 2012 and 2013) and compiling a 232-64 (.784) record in league play that remains the second-best regular season winning percentage in BIG EAST women's basketball history.
Next Game: NCAA Championship
Following this weekend's BIG EAST Championship, Notre Dame will return home to await the announcement of the 64-team field for the 2013 NCAA Championship. The Fighting Irish are seeking their 18th consecutive tournament berth (and 20th overall).
The full NCAA tournament bracket will be unveiled at 7 p.m. (ET) March 18 live on ESPN, with the ESPN family of networks once again set to broadcast all 63 games of this year's tournament. Official tip times also will be announced on Selection Monday.