March 10, 2013
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
#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.
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.
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
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
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).
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).
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).
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