March 9, 2014
Atlantic Coast Conference Championship -- Final
#2/2 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (31-0 / 16-0 ACC) vs. #10/10 [#2 seed] Duke Blue Devils (27-5 / 12-4 BIG EAST)
DATE: March 9, 2014
TIME: 7 p.m. ET
AT: Greensboro, N.C. - Greensboro Coliseum (23,500)
SERIES: ND leads 8-1
1ST MTG: ND 74-67 (3/22/86)
LAST MTG: ND 81-70 (2/23/14)
TV: ESPN/WatchESPN (live) (Pam Ward, p-b-p / Debbie Antonelli, color / LaChina Robinson, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1)/WatchND (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: theacc.com
No. 2 Fighting Irish Meet No. 10 Duke Sunday In ACC Championship Game
For the third time in the past five weeks, top-10 ACC rivals Notre Dame and Duke will square off, this time with the conference's top prize at stake as the No. 2 (and top-seeded) Fighting Irish take on the 10th-ranked (and second-seeded) Blue Devils in the ACC Championship title game at 7 p.m. (ET) Sunday at Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum. The game will be televised live on ESPN and through the WatchESPN mobile app, while the Notre Dame Radio Network broadcast can be heard live and free of charge on the official Fighting Irish athletics multimedia platform, WatchND.
Notre Dame (31-0) punched its ticket for the ACC title contest with an emphatic 83-48 win over No. 14/17 (and fourth-seeded) North Carolina State in the ACC semifinals on Saturday in Greensboro. The Fighting Irish scored the game's first 12 points and never looked back, leading by as many as 37 points in the second half en route to the victory.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd led a balanced Notre Dame attack with a game-high 16 points, while senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride, junior guard Madison Cable and sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey each chipped in with 10 points for the Fighting Irish.
The Notre Dame-Duke Series
Notre Dame and Duke will be squaring off for the third time this season, all within the past five weeks. The Fighting Irish are 8-1 all-time against the Blue Devils and have won the past six games in the series, including five by double figures.
Notre Dame and Duke also have played twice before in the postseason, with the Fighting Irish winning both of those contests -- the 1986 National Women's Invitation Tournament (NWIT) in Amarillo, Texas (74-67) and last year's NCAA Norfolk Regional final in Norfolk, Va. (87-76).
The Last Time Notre Dame and Duke Met
Kayla McBride finished with a career-high 31 points to pace No. 2 Notre Dame to an 81-70 victory over No. 7 Duke on Feb. 23 at Purcell Pavilion, giving the Fighting Irish the ACC title in its inaugural season in the league.
McBride was 6-of-9 shooting in the first half and finished 13-of-25 for the game. The Fighting Irish opened a 20-2 lead early on, making 8-of-13 shots while holding Duke to 1-of-10 shooting with eight turnovers. They eventually extended the lead 46-26 on a jumper by McBride with 32 seconds left in the first half.
Elizabeth Williams led Duke with 20 points, while leading scorer Tricia Liston was held to just nine points, five coming in the final 1:30.
The Blue Devils scored six points in the final seven seconds of the first half and would cut the lead to seven points three times, the last when Kendall McCravey-Cooper hit a jumper to make it 66-59. However, McBride answered with back-to-back baskets, one inside, the other a three-pointer to spark an 8-0 run that put the game away.
Other Notre Dame-Duke Series Tidbits
Notre Dame is 10-0 against ranked opponents (5-0 against top-10 teams) and has won nine of those 10 games by double figures, the lone exception being an 87-83 victory at No. 8/6 Maryland on Jan. 27 (a game in which the Fighting Irish led by 22 points late in the first half).
All told, Notre Dame has outscored its 10 ranked foes this season by an average of 18.1 points per game, including a 23.8 ppg. margin in the past four Fighting Irish games against Top 25 teams.
What's more, Notre Dame had several notable program achievements involving ranked teams earlier this season:
Fighting Irish In The ACC Championship
Notre Dame is in the midst of its first ACC Championship appearance this weekend, looking to build upon its success in prior conference tournaments, a tradition that has included six postseason crowns and 13 championship game appearance, dating back to 1988-89, when the Fighting Irish debuted in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League).
Since 1995-96, the Fighting Irish have compiled a 26-17 (.605) record in conference tournament play. Notre Dame also won the 2013 BIG EAST title (61-59 at Connecticut on a layup by Natalie Achonwa with 1.8 seconds left) in the last of their seven title game appearances (1996, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2011, 2012, 2013).
Prior to joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96, Notre Dame was a member of the MCC for seven years. During their affiliation with that conference, the Fighting Irish won the MCC Tournament five times, all in six-year span (1989-92, 1994).
Other ACC Championship Tidbits
With Friday's ACC quarterfinal win over Florida State, Notre Dame has reached the 30-win mark for the fourth consecutive season and the sixth time in program history. Prior to 2010-11, the Fighting Irish had never had back-to-back 30-win seasons, with its five prior campaigns of at least 30 victories coming in 1996-97 (31-7), 2000-01 (34-2), 2010-11 (31-8), 2011-12 (35-4) and 2012-13 (35-2).
Getting The Jump
At 31-0, Notre Dame is off to the best start in the program's 37-year history. This year's start surpasses the debut of the 2000-01 Fighting Irish squad, which reeled off a (then) school-record 23 consecutive wins en route to a 34-2 final record and the program's first national championship.
Notre Dame's current 31-game winning streak is the longest success string in program history, and it's the third consecutive season the Fighting Irish have posted a winning streak of 20 games or longer, including last year's (then) school-record 30-game run.
What's more, the Fighting Irish now own the second-longest winning streak by any team in the modern era (since 1950) of Notre Dame athletics, exceeded only by the 2001 Fighting Irish softball team that won 33 consecutive games. In fact, the Notre Dame women's basketball program holds three of the seven longest winning streaks in Fighting Irish athletics history during the past six decades.
Notre Dame also has strung together 14 double-digit winning streaks in the program's 37-year history, with 12 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
Dating back to the start of last season, the Fighting Irish are 66-2 (.971) and have won 52 consecutive regular season games. In that span, their lone losses have come against a pair of third-ranked teams -- Baylor (73-61 on Dec. 5, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion) and Connecticut (83-65 on April 7, 2013, in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, La.).
In addition, Notre Dame currently is tied for the nation's longest winning streak against unranked opponents (in the Associated Press poll), having earned 49 consecutive victories since a last-second 65-63 home loss to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012 (research for this note provided by STATS via the AP).
Since the start of the 2008-09 season, Notre Dame has played 52 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 43-9 (.827) on the back half of these two-game (or more) blitzes during the past six years.
This weekend's ACC Championship marks just the second and third times this season Notre Dame has played twice in less than 48 hours, having also done so back on the opening weekend of the season (Nov. 9 and 11) when it defeated both UNC Wilmington (99-50) and No. 19/18 Michigan State (81-62) at Purcell Pavilion.
That's Some Sharp Shooting
Notre Dame currently leads the nation with a .514 field goal percentage, highlighted by 20 games this season in which the Fighting Irish have shot better than 50 percent, including seven games where they topped 60 percent from the field.
In addition, Notre Dame had a remarkable three-game stretch from Dec. 7-22 when it connected at better than a 55-percent clip in each contest. It was the first time the Fighting Irish had three consecutive 55-percent outings since Nov. 20-29, 1997, when they did so in victories over North Carolina State (.565), Bowling Green (.558) and Ohio University (.567).
Notre Dame's sharpshooting brigade has been led by senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa, who is third in the ACC (fourth in the nation) with a .612 field goal percentage, along with a .634 mark in conference play (second in the ACC).
Achonwa has been very efficient from the field in her last 13 games, connecting at a .670 clip (73-of-109), including 10-of-12 on Feb. 6 at Florida State, en route to a game-high 24 points.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (.525) has moved into 13th in the ACC in field goal percentage (sixth in conference play at .536), thanks in part to her own recent hot streak that has seen Loyd shoot .554 (112-of-202) during her last 14 outings, notably going 9-of-11 for a game-high 23 points in the Feb. 9 win over Syracuse.
Eight other Notre Dame players are shooting at or better than 50 percent from the field this season, led by junior forward Markisha Wright (.575), freshman forward Kristina Nelson (.551) and senior forward/tri-captain Ariel Braker (.533), but none has made the minimum number of shots (three per game) to qualify for ACC ranking.
Life In The 60s
Not only has Notre Dame shot better than 60 percent from the field in seven games this season, but the Fighting Irish have put up similar sizzling shooting numbers in single halves this year.
In fact, Notre Dame has posted a field goal percentage of .600 or better in 19 of its 62 halves, equating to a 60-percent performance approximately one out of every three periods of basketball it plays, with the distribution almost even (nine times in the first half, 10 times in the second half).
The Fighting Irish also have shot better than 60 percent in both halves of a game twice this season (UNC Wilmington and Pittsburgh), along with a season-high single-half percentage of .710 in the second period against Central Michigan, a rate that just missed the top 10 on the school's all-time chart.
A pair of marks that did make it into one of the program's top 10 lists were Notre Dame's first-half shooting percentages at Michigan (.688) and Maryland (.667), which now rank as the sixth- and eighth-best figures during the opening 20 minutes in school history.
Dialing Long Distance
Although not usually a primary part of the Notre Dame arsenal, the Fighting Irish have found the three-point shot much to their liking this season. Notre Dame ranks second in the nation with a .407 three-point percentage, with three different players connecting at 40 percent or better from beyond the arc (and two others above 35 percent).
Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey leads the way for the Fighting Irish with a .417 three-point percentage that ranks fifth in the ACC, while senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (.366) stands 10th in the conference.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (.394) would rank fourth on the ACC overall chart, but she is four made three-pointers shy of meeting the minimum qualification standard (1.0 3FG/game).
During ACC play, Loyd (.474) finished second in the conference, while Mabrey not far behind her in the sixth position (.423).
In addition, Mabrey is 10th in the ACC with 2.0 three-pointers per game (tied for 10th in ACC play at 2.1 per game), a mark she bolstered on Feb. 9 against Syracuse with a career-high (and Purcell Pavilion record-tying) six triples. It's one of six times this season Mabrey has canned at least four treys in a game, and the third time this year a Notre Dame player has made five three-pointers in a contest (Mabrey went 5-for-6 against Boston College on Jan. 9, while junior guard Madison Cable posted a 5-for-6 effort against UCLA on Dec. 7).
In fact, Cable (.457) and freshman guard Lindsay Allen (.417) would rank among the top five in the ACC as well, but like Loyd, they don't quite meet the minimum standard for the overall ACC rankings despite their efficiency from distance.
As a team, the Fighting Irish have connected on 10 three-pointers in a game three times this season (UCLA, Tennessee and Syracuse), their highest production outside the arc in nearly four years, dating back to a similar 10-triple performance on Jan. 30, 2010, at Syracuse.
What's more, Notre Dame's .750 three-point mark (9-of-12) on Jan. 16 at Pittsburgh was its best performance from long range (with a minimum of five attempts) in more than five years, stretching back to Nov. 23, 2008, against Boston College at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass., when the Fighting Irish made 7-of-8 three-pointers (.875) in a 102-54 win.
A Helping Hand
As of Friday, the Fighting Irish rank second in assists at 21.0 per game (Connecticut is first at 21.8).
Notre Dame also has dished out at least 20 helpers in 18 games thus far, plus 19 assists in six other outings (along with a season-high 31 dimes against UCLA on Dec. 7), with the Fighting Irish piling up assists on 63.9 percent of their made field goals this year (650 of 1,018).
Notre Dame also ranks sixth in the nation (and tops in the ACC) in assist/turnover ratio (1.43), led by two players who rank among the top 10 in the ACC in that category -- freshman guard Lindsay Allen (3rd - 1.97) and senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (7th - 1.82), who both are on pace to finish with two of the top six single-season assist/turnover ratios in school history.
What's more, Allen (118 assists) and McBride (118) are the fourth set of Notre Dame teammates in the past decade to register 100 assists in the same season, and the first since 2010-11, when Skylar Diggins (186) and Brittany Mallory (101) pulled off the feat.
In addition, Allen has set the Fighting Irish record for assists by a freshman, eclipsing the mark held for 29 seasons by Mary Gavin (116 in 1984-85).
Visiting Century City
Notre Dame has scored at least 100 points in a school-record five games this season (with three other games of 95-99 points), topping last year's mark of three triple-digit outings.
The Fighting Irish have piled up 10 100-point games in the past three seasons (and eight other games of 95-99 points), a remarkable offensive explosion considering Notre Dame had 13 triple-digit games in the first 34 years of the program's existence (and just four in the 12 seasons prior to its current run).
In addition, Notre Dame's 100-75 win over No. 14/11 North Carolina on Feb. 27 was just the second time in program history (and first in more than 15 years) the Fighting Irish reached the century mark against a ranked opponent, following a 101-93 win over No. 25/23 Illinois on Nov. 24, 1998, at Purcell Pavilion.
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 22 games this year, going 22-0 in those contests. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 97-5 (.951) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including wins in 67 of their last 68 such outings (the lone loss coming in last year's NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinal against Connecticut).
In A Class By Themselves
For the third consecutive season, a Notre Dame senior class has re-set the bar in terms of career wins by one group. Thanks to Friday's victory over Florida State in the ACC quarterfinals, the current class of tri-captains Natalie Achonwa, Ariel Braker and Kayla McBride is now first all-time with 131 wins (132-14, .904), surpassing the seniors from 2012-13.
Last year, led by its two-player senior class of Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, Notre Dame posted (at the time) the best four-year record (130-20, .867) in school history, topping the win total (117) compiled by the previous year's seniors (Brittany Mallory, Fraderica Miller, Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters).
Prior to the 2011-12 season, the highest four-year win total by a senior class was 109, set by the Class of 2001 that included (among others) consensus national player of the year and 13-year WNBA veteran Ruth Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Niele Ivey.
Notre Dame's 1,000-Point Scorers
Senior tri-captains Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa will spend their final season at Notre Dame steadily climbing the program's all-time scoring list, after both entered the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club last year.
McBride currently is seventh in program history with 1,742 career points, passing both Trena Keys (1,589 from 1982-86) and Karen Robinson (1,590 from 1987-91) with her 18 points against Syracuse on Feb. 9. McBride also is one of just seven players ever to score 1,600 points under the Golden Dome.
Meanwhile, Achonwa stands 14th in Notre Dame history with 1,456 points, having passed Sheila McMillen (1,439 from 1995-99) with 11 points against Florida State in the ACC quarterfinals on Friday. Achonwa could move up another spot shortly, as she is just four points behind Sandy Botham (1,460 from 1984-88) for 13th place in Notre Dame history.
Another current Fighting Irish player could join the program's 1,000-Point Club in the coming weeks. Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd currently has 998 points in 66 career games, putting her on pace to become one of the fastest players to reach 1,000 points at Notre Dame, and just the third to do so before the end of her sophomore season (the others being Beth Morgan in 1994-95 and Skylar Diggins in 2010-11). Morgan is the fastest to reach 1,000 points in terms of games played (56), with Shari Matvey in second place (66 games during career from 1979-83) and 2014 ACC Legend designee Ruth Riley in third place (71 games during career from 1997-2001).
Game #31 Recap: North Carolina State (ACC Championship Semifinal)
North Carolina State's offense had run through Markeisha Gatling inside all season. It's no surprise then that the No. 14/17 Wolfpack would struggle without her.
The 6-foot-5 senior didn't play in Saturday's 83-48 loss to No. 2 Notre Dame in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals due to a knee injury suffered in Friday's quarterfinal win against Syracuse. Without her, N.C. State lacked its most efficient offensive player who was a reliable scorer and rebounder in the post.
"We've run quick hitters and we have other things that we can do offensively, but Keisha's a big part of what we try to do," first-year coach Wes Moore said. "We work inside out. These other kids obviously can do a lot of things on their own as well, but it runs through her. Obviously you take her out, that changes things."
Gatling was averaging 18 points and seven rebounds while shooting a national-best 67.6 percent. She had started all 31 games this season, so it was the first time N.C. State had to go without her.
With Gatling leading the way, the Wolfpack had ranked near the top of the league by shooting almost 46 percent. Without her Saturday, N.C. State shot 31 percent and managed just 18 points in the paint.
"It was difficult for North Carolina State without Gatling," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "They'll be fine. They just didn't have enough time to prepare. I know she'll be back for the NCAA tournament and we wish them luck."
The top-seeded Fighting Irish (31-0) had no trouble putting away the injury-depleted Wolfpack. Notre Dame scored the first 12 points, led by 28 at halftime and by 37 from there to continue their dominating run in their new league.
The Fighting Irish, who shot 60 percent in a 26-point win against Florida State in Friday's quarterfinals, shot 52 percent in the first half on the way to their second lopsided win against the fourth-seeded Wolfpack (25-7) in a week.
That sent Notre Dame to Sunday's championship game, where the Fighting Irish will try to become the first team to go 19-0 through ACC regular-season and tournament play since Duke in 2001-02 and 2002-03.
Freshman Miah Spencer scored 11 points to lead the Wolfpack, who will play in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.
Gatling dressed out and stood under the basket while rebounding for her teammates during pregame warm-ups, but spent the rest of the day on the bench.
Gatling's absence was a tough blow for a team that was already down two seniors, guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman and forward Lakeesa Daniel, due to season-ending knee injuries suffered on consecutive days in mid-February.
Second-leading scorer Kody Burke managed just four points on 1-for-8 shooting as N.C. State shot 31 percent for the game, including 4 for 20 from three-point range as it searched for a new flow.
As for Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish got a jumper from Lindsay Allen to cap its 12-0 run in the opening five-plus minutes, then ran off an 11-0 burst midway through the opening half to blow the game open and take a 42-15 lead on Taya Reimer's layup at the 1:50 mark on the way to a 46-18 halftime lead.
N.C. State, which lost to Notre Dame by 24 at home last weekend, got no closer than 27 points in the second half.
Beyond The Box Score -- North Carolina State
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director