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    #2 Irish Tangle With #13/15 Louisville In BIG EAST Semifinal Monday Night

    FIGHTING IRISH Junior forward Natalie Achonwa became the first Notre Dame player in more than 25 years to register 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game, hitting those totals exactly in Sunday's BIG EAST quarterfinal win over South Florida.
    FIGHTING IRISH
    Junior forward Natalie Achonwa became the first Notre Dame player in more than 25 years to register 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game, hitting those totals exactly in Sunday's BIG EAST quarterfinal win over South Florida.
    FIGHTING IRISH

    March 10, 2013

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    2012-13 ND Women's Basketball: Game 31
    BIG EAST Conference Championship -- Semifinal #2/2 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (29-1 / 16-0 BIG EAST) vs. #13/15 [#4 seed] Louisville Cardinals (24-7 / 11-5 BIG EAST)

    DATE: March 11, 2013
    TIME: 6 p.m. ET
    AT: Hartford, Conn. - XL Center (16,294)
    SERIES: ND leads 9-4
    1ST MTG: LOU 80-75 (3/22/91)
    LAST MTG: ND 93-64 (2/11/13)
    TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN (live) (Beth Mowins, p-b-p / Brooke Weisbrod, color / Allison Williams, sideline)
    RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
    LIVE STATS: bigeast.org
    TWITTER: @ndwbbsid

    Storylines

  • Notre Dame has advanced to the BIG EAST Championship semifinals for the 11th time in its 18 seasons as a conference member.
  • The Fighting Irish will be playing their 11th ranked opponent of the season, having gone 9-1 against Top 25 teams thus far, including an active seven-game winning streak.
  • #2 Fighting Irish Tangle With #13/15 Louisville In BIG EAST Semifinal Monday Night
    For the fourth consecutive year and the 11th time overall, No. 2 Notre Dame finds itself in the semifinals of the BIG EAST Conference Championship, as the top-seeded Fighting Irish take on No. 13/15 (and fourth-seeded) Louisville at 6 p.m. (ET) Monday inside the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience on ESPNU, and can also be seen around the world on the WatchESPN platform.

    Notre Dame (29-1) extended its winning streak to a school-record 24 games on Sunday afternoon with a hard-fought 75-66 victory over a hot-shooting South Florida club. The Fighting Irish led by double digits in both halves, but the Bulls stayed in contention by making 10 three-pointers on 21 attempts. However, Notre Dame had the final say with a 10-1 run midway through the second half to keep USF at arm's length down the stretch.

    Junior forward Natalie Achonwa etched her spot in Fighting Irish (and BIG EAST Championship) history with 20 points and a career-high 20 rebounds, becoming the first Notre Dame player in 25 years with a 20/20 game (and the first in the BIG EAST tournament since 1993). Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins added 15 points and five assists, while freshman guard Jewell Loyd chipped in 14 points and junior forward Ariel Braker pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds.

    Rankings

  • Notre Dame was ranked No. 2 in last week's Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.
  • Louisville was ranked No. 13 in last week's Associated Press poll and No. 15 in last week's ESPN/USA Today poll.
  • Quick Hitters

  • Notre Dame won its second consecutive outright BIG EAST title and third crown since joining the conference in 1995-96. It's also the first time the Fighting Irish have won back-to-back regular season league titles since 1993-94 and 1994-95 when they won outright crowns in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now Horizon League).
  • Notre Dame completed BIG EAST play with a perfect 16-0 record, just the second undefeated conference season in school history and first since 1989-90 (MCC/Horizon League). The Fighting Irish also are the first BIG EAST school other than Connecticut to run the table in league play since 2005-06 (Rutgers) and just the third all-time (the other being Miami-Fla., 18-0 in 1991-92).
  • The Fighting Irish are 9-1 against ranked opponents this year, defeating No. 19/21 Ohio State (57-51), No. 19/22 UCLA (76-64), No. 22 Texas A&M (83-74), No. 11 Purdue (74-47), No. 1 Connecticut (73-72), No. 9 Tennessee (77-67), No. 10/11 Louisville (93-64), No. 22/20 Syracuse (79-68) and No. 3 Connecticut (96-87, 3ot), while falling to No. 3 Baylor, 73-61 (a game Notre Dame led 50-49 with less than eight minutes left).
  • The Fighting Irish made history with their Jan. 28 win at Tennessee, becoming the first program ever to defeat both Connecticut and UT in three consecutive seasons, as well as the first in the NCAA era (since 1981-82) to defeat both the Huskies and Lady Vols on the road in the same season.
  • Notre Dame is in the midst of a school-record 24-game winning streak, one better than the season-opening run set by the 2000-01 Fighting Irish national championship team.
  • In those 24 games since its only loss of the season (Dec. 5 vs. third-ranked Baylor), Notre Dame has averaged 82.9 points per game (winning by 24.9 ppg.), shot .462 from the field (.350 from three-point range), posted a rebound margin of +12.8 per game, and forced opponents into an average of 20.5 turnovers per night.
  • According to the March 4 NCAA statistical report, the Fighting Irish are ranked seventh or better in seven categories -- scoring offense (2nd - now 81.4 ppg.), free throw percentage (2nd - .792), scoring margin (3rd - +23.7 ppg.), rebounding margin (3rd - +11.6 rpg.), assists (3rd - 19.4 apg.), field goal percentage (5th - .457) and assist/turnover ratio (7th - 1.22).
  • Notre Dame has shown remarkably balanced offensive production this season, with 10 of the 11 players on the roster having scored in double figures at least once, including five different players who have scored 20 points in a game.
  • The Fighting Irish have set a school record with three 100-point games this season. The highlight came on Dec. 31 at home against Saint Francis (Pa.) in a 128-55 victory, marking the highest offensive output by any NCAA Division I team this season (and matching the highest by any D-I program since 2002 - Notre Dame also scored 128 points last year at Mercer).
  • With its No. 2 ranking in the March 4 Associated Press poll, Notre Dame has appeared in the media poll for 114 consecutive weeks, extending a program record that dates back to the 2007-08 preseason poll. In fact, every current Fighting Irish player has competed for a ranked Notre Dame squad throughout her career, with the vast majority of that time (64 of 75 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
  • With 620 victories in her 26 seasons at Notre Dame, head coach Muffet McGraw ranks second on the Fighting Irish athletics all-time coaching wins list (across all sports), trailing only men's/women's fencing coach Michael DeCicco (774-80 from 1962-95).
  • McGraw became the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and the eighth-fastest to reach the mark, doing so in 957 career games), registering the milestone win on Feb. 5 at Villanova. McGraw also is the third BIG EAST Conference head coach to hit that landmark, along with C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers) and Geno Auriemma (Connecticut), both of whom are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
  • The Notre Dame-Louisville Series
    Notre Dame and Louisville will square off for the 14th time in series history on Monday night, with the Fighting Irish holding a 9-4 edge all-time against the Cardinals, including an active six-game winning streak. The teams met earlier this season, with Notre Dame earning a 93-64 victory on Feb. 11 at Purcell Pavilion.

    Monday will mark the third time Notre Dame and Louisville have played in the BIG EAST Championship, all in the past four seasons. The Fighting Irish won both prior matchups in the conference tournament, defeating the Cardinals in the second round of the 2010 Championship (89-52) and the quarterfinals of the 2011 tournament (63-53).

    The Last Time Notre Dame and Louisville Met
    Second-ranked Notre Dame got its inside game going in the second half and overwhelmed No. 10 Louisville.

    The Fighting Irish outrebounded the Cardinals 26-8 in the second half and outscored them 26-10 in the paint in the final 20 minutes en route to a 93-64 victory on Feb. 11, 2013, at Purcell Pavilion, marking the 18th straight win for Notre Dame. Natalie Achonwa led the Irish with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds.

    Louisville managed to cut Notre Dame's lead to seven points early in the second half, but the Fighting Irish quickly responded with a 10-0 run and the Cardinals didn't threaten again.

    The loss ended a six-game winning streak for Louisville, its second longest BIG EAST winning streak since joining the league in 2005-06. Bria Smith led the Cardinals with 18 points.

    Kayla McBride added 15 points, Jewell Loyd 12 points and nine rebounds, and Ariel Braker scored 10 for the Fighting Irish. Antonita Slaughter had 16 points and Shoni Schimmel had 13.

    The Last Time Notre Dame and Louisville Met In The BIG EAST Championship
    When Devereaux Peters is on the court, Notre Dame is a very tough team to beat.

    Peters had 19 points, nine rebounds, and tied her career high with six blocks to help the No. 7 Fighting Irish top Louisville 63-53 on March 6, 2011, in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST tournament.

    "She's a big key for us," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I only sat her for five minutes and they really went off on runs when she wasn't in the game. Her on the floor makes us a very different team."

    Leading 26-24 with two minutes left in the first half, Peters keyed a 22-5 spurt over the next eight minutes to help the Fighting Irish take control. Louisville could only get within six the rest of the game.

    Shoni Schimmel scored 12 to lead the Cardinals (20-12).

    Peters was all over the court for the Fighting Irish. She scored 13 points during the game-changing run, including eight straight at one point. With Notre Dame leading 40-29, she had a block on one end of the floor and a three-point play on the other side. Her effort impressed Cardinals coach Jeff Walz.

    "She played fantastic," he said. "I'm pretty good friends with their staff and I've told them the entire time when Devereaux comes to play they're as good a basketball team as there is. She's such an impact player."

    Diggins followed with a three-pointer and Peters another layup to give the Fighting Irish a 19-point advantage.

    "I thought she carried us through a large stretch of the game," McGraw said.

    Louisville wasn't done, rallying over the next six minutes with Peters on the bench. Schimmel's pull-up in the lane started a 16-4 spurt. Charmaine Tay followed with a three-point play and Schimmel's three-pointer with 8:12 left made it 52-45.

    "Charmaine Tay played her heart out," Schimmel said. "She got everyone going and feeding off it. We went out there and kept going as a team."

    Peters was on the bench during the Cardinals' run and McGraw put her back in to restore order.

    Diggins hit a three to make it a 10-point game and had a key steal late in the game that she converted into a basket.

    Louisville cut it to six with 2:32 left on Monique Reid's lay-in, but the Fighting Irish scored the next five points to seal the win.

    Reid, who leads the Cardinals in scoring, was held to just six points.

    Louisville hung around for the first 20 minutes despite shooting 38 percent and committing 13 turnovers. The Cardinals finished the game at the same shooting clip, but made just two of their 18 three-pointers and were outshot 25-7 at the free throw line.

    Other Notre Dame-Louisville Series Tidbits

  • Eight of the 13 games in the series have been decided by 15 points or fewer. When Louisville joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06, the first four series games were decided by 10 points or fewer, before five of the next six series matchups, all Notre Dame victories, exceeded that margin. The lone exception was a 63-53 Fighting Irish win in the 2011 BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
  • Only seven times in the 13-game series has either team scored at least 70 points, and ironically, both teams did it in the same game twice. The Cardinals won the first-ever matchup, 80-75, in the 1991 National Women's Invitation Tournament (NWIT) consolation semifinals at Amarillo, Texas, while the Fighting Irish won in 2008 at Freedom Hall, 82-74. In four of its past six matchups with Louisville, Notre Dame has topped 70 points, including a 93-64 victory earlier this season.
  • The home team has won only four of the 10 on-campus games in the series, with the Cardinals winning at Freedom Hall in 2006 (61-51) and the Fighting Irish taking contests at Purcell Pavilion in 2007 (64-55) and 2011 (80-60).
  • Carole Banda, the Director of Olympic Sports Medicine at Louisville, spent 10 years on the sports medicine staff at Notre Dame from 1991-2000, the last four as the athletic trainer for the Fighting Irish women's basketball team (including Notre Dame's 1996-97 NCAA Final Four squad).
  • Fighting Irish In The BIG EAST Championship
    Notre Dame is in the midst of its 18th BIG EAST Championship this weekend, having compiled a 22-17 (.564) record all-time. The Fighting Irish now have reached the semifinals in 11 of its 18 years in the conference 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

  • Notre Dame is the No. 1 seed for the second consecutive year, and third time in 18 tournament appearances (also 2001). Both prior times the Fighting Irish were the top seed, they reached the championship game, only to lose to Connecticut (78-76 in 2001; 63-54 last year).
  • The Fighting Irish are 16-7 (.696) all-time at the BIG EAST Championship when playing as the higher seed.
  • Beginning with the classic 2001 BIG EAST title game against Connecticut (won by the Huskies on Sue Bird's fadeaway jumper at the buzzer), 17 of the past 23 Fighting Irish games in the tournament have been decided by 11 points or fewer, including 10 by single digits. That trend continued in Sunday's quarterfinal, which Notre Dame won 75-66 over South Florida.
  • All told, more than half (22) of Notre Dame's 39 career games in the BIG EAST Championship have featured margins of 11 points or fewer, with the Fighting Irish going 10-12 (.455) in those contests.
  • The (Somewhat) Friendly Confines
    The Fighting Irish having a 11-13 (.458) 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 (10-5, .667) all-time in Hartford.

    Of the 24 games the Fighting Irish have played at the XL Center, 19 of them have come during BIG EAST Championship play, with Notre Dame sporting a 10-9 (.526) 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).

    Thirty Deeds
    Notre Dame needs one victory to reach the 30-win mark for the third consecutive season and the fifth time in program history. Prior to last year, the Fighting Irish had never had back-to-back 30-win seasons, with its four prior campaigns of at least 30 victories coming in 1996-97 (31-7), 2000-01 (34-2), 2010-11 (31-8) and 2011-12 (35-4).

    Streak Stats
    Notre Dame has set a school record with its current 24-game winning streak, topping the previous program mark for consecutive victories, set by the 2000-01 club that opened the season with 23 consecutive wins from Nov. 17, 2000-Feb. 14, 2001.

    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).

    48 Hours
    Since the start of the 2008-09 season, Notre Dame has played 46 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 37-9 (.804) on the back half of these two-game (or more) blitzes during the past five years.

    Notre Dame is 9-0 on short rest this season, including four wins over ranked opponents -- at No. 9 Tennessee (Jan. 28 on ESPN2's "Big Monday"), home vs. No. 22/20 Syracuse (Feb. 26, also on "Big Monday") and No. 3 Connecticut (March 4, likewise on "Big Monday"), and 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).

    Spreading The Wealth
    Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 18 games this year, going 18-0 in those contests. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 70-4 (.946) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 40-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul).

    Game #30 Recap: South Florida (BIG EAST Championship Quarterfinal)
    Natalie Achonwa's stellar performance means Notre Dame will keep playing.

    Achonwa had 20 points and 20 rebounds to lead the second-ranked Fighting Irish to a 75-66 win over South Florida on Sunday in the BIG EAST quarterfinals at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

    "Achonwa's numbers were record setting at Notre Dame -- 20-20 is a phenomenal accomplishment," coach Muffet McGraw said.

    It was the first 20-20 in BIG EAST tournament play since Rebecca Lobo did it in 1993.

    But McGraw called Ariel Braker, who had eight points and 12 rebounds, the player of the game.

    "She made so many big plays when she needed them," McGraw said. "Totally above and beyond her call. She's one of our best defenders and rebounders; she helped us on offense tonight."

    Notre Dame and South Florida met in early January, and the Irish came away with a 75-71 overtime victory. Sunday's game was more of the same.

    Notre Dame (29-1) trailed 51-47 midway through the second half before scoring eight straight points, including four by Achonwa.

    The Smith sisters -- Andrell and Andrea -- did all they could to keep the Bulls (21-10) in the game, but they couldn't regain the lead. Andrell finished with 27 points while Andrea had 18.

    "I was happy that Andrell had such a good game," South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. "She had been struggling a little bit offensively. To ask her to guard an All-American for 40 minutes and play as well offensively -- that was a great performance."

    Andrea Smith hit the first of two free throws with 5:08 left to pull within 61-57. But Notre Dame scored the next six points -- including four by Kayla McBride, who had 10 points in a foul-shortened afternoon -- to put the game away.

    With the Fighting Irish's win, every top seed in the history of the BIG EAST tournament has reached the semifinals. Notre Dame had to work hard to keep that streak alive.

    Achonwa came up with almost every big play to help the Fighting Irish, whether grabbing an offensive rebound or making a key defensive play.

    "The second half I worked before I got the ball," Achonwa said. "A lot was catch and shoot -- the guards did a great job of finding me."

    With the Bulls trailing 39-31 early in the second half, the Smith sisters rallied the team. They scored 15 of the next 17 points for the Bulls to give South Florida a 48-45 lead with 12:50 left after Andrea Smith hit a three-pointer. Inga Orehkova's three-pointer made it 51-47.

    "I think anytime you make shots you can beat anybody," McGraw said. "They made 10 threes. I think they are a great team. Great team speed. They push the ball well. They know their role and they can shoot."

    Beyond The Box Score -- South Florida

  • Notre Dame moves to 10-2 all-time against South Florida, including a current seven-game winning streak (and victories in both BIG EAST Championship matchups, having previously won 73-66 in the 2006 first round).
  • Of the nine games between Notre Dame and USF since the Bulls joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06, six have been decided by single digits, including three that have gone to overtime.
  • The Fighting Irish are 28-5 (.848) all-time against Florida schools, including a 17-2 (.895) mark against the Sunshine State away from home; Notre Dame also has won its last nine games against Florida schools.
  • Junior forward Natalie Achonwa tied a school record with her 16th double-double of the season, collecting 20 points and a career-high 20 rebounds -- Katryna Gaither had 16 double-doubles in 1996-97 (doing so in 38 games).
  • Achonwa is the first Notre Dame player with 20 points/20 rebounds in the same game since Jan. 20, 1988, when Heidi Bunek had 25 points and 20 rebounds in an 80-77 loss at DePaul.
  • Achonwa is the first player from any school with a 20/20 game in the BIG EAST Championship since March 6, 1993, when Connecticut's Rebecca Lobo had 23 points and a tournament-record 24 rebounds in a win over Seton Hall at Alumni Hall in Providence, R.I.
  • Achonwa is the first Fighting Irish player with a 20-rebound game since Bunek's performance at DePaul in 1988.
  • For the second consecutive game, junior forward Ariel Braker set a new career rebounding high with 12 boards, topping her previous best of 10 rebounds last Monday night in a triple-overtime win over Connecticut at Purcell Pavilion.
  • With Sunday's win, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw picks up her 708th career victory, tying her for 12th on the NCAA Division I all-time coaching wins list with the legendary late skipper, Sue Gunter, who amassed 708 victories from 1969-2004 at Middle Tennessee, Stephen F. Austin and (most notably) LSU.
  • -- ND --
     

     

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