March 16, 2011
NCAA Championship -- Dayton Region/First Round
#9/7 [#2 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (26-7 / 13-3 BIG EAST) vs. [#15 seed] Utah Utes (18-16 / 7-9 MWC)
DATE: March 19, 2011
TIME: 6:35 p.m. ET/4:35 p.m. MT
AT: Salt Lake City, Utah - Huntsman Center (15,000)
SERIES: ND leads 2-0
1ST MTG: ND 69-54 (3/24/01)
LAST MTG: ND 68-55 (12/18/05)
TV: ESPN2/ESPN3.com (live) (Holly Rowe, p-b-p / Sean Farnham, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
No. 9/7 Irish Tip Off NCAA Championship Play At Utah Saturday
For the 16th consecutive season, and the 18th time in program history, No. 9/7 Notre Dame has advanced to the NCAA Championship. Seeded second in the Dayton Region, the Fighting Irish will open tournament play at approximately 6:35 p.m. ET (4:35 p.m. MT) Saturday against No. 15 seed Utah at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Fighting Irish (26-7) last took the court on March 8, going toe-to-toe with No. 1 Connecticut for the third time this season, but ultimately falling 73-64 in the BIG EAST Conference title game in Hartford, Conn. Notre Dame led by as many as seven points in the first half, and was within five points of the Huskies with less than three minutes to go before succumbing.
Junior guard Natalie Novosel led three Notre Dame players in double figures with 17 points. Novosel and sophomore guard Skylar Diggins (14 points, five rebounds, five assists vs. UConn) made the all-tournament team.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At Utah
After a one-year absence and despite challenges brought upon by injuries and inexperience, Utah (18-16) is back in the NCAA Championship, fueled by a remarkable stretch of four wins in five days to claim the Mountain West Conference tournament title.
Along the way, the Utes picked off the top two seeds in the tournament field, defeating No. 1 seed BYU (50-49) in the semifinals and No. 2 seed TCU (52-47 in overtime) in the championship game. Freshman forward Michelle Plouffe was the hero in those two wins, hitting the buzzer-beating shot against BYU, then exploding for 24 points and 11 rebounds in the final against TCU. Plouffe and redshirt sophomore guard Iwalani Rodrigues were named to the all-tournament team, while junior guard Janita Badon was the Most Outstanding Player.
Utah is led by its pair of second-team all-Mountain West selections in Rodrigues (14.7 ppg., 2.9 rpg., .444 3FG%) and the MWC Freshman of the Year, Plouffe (13.9 ppg., 7.3 rpg., 1.2 bpg.). Badon (12.6 ppg., 6.4 rpg., 5.6 apg., 2.4 spg.) was an honorable mention all-league choice this year and also made the conference's All-Defensive Team.
Anthony Levrets assumed the reins as Utah's interim head coach this season while head coach Elaine Elliott took a leave of absence. Levrets, an assistant at Utah from 2007-09, will be facing Notre Dame for the first time in his career.
The Notre Dame-Utah Series
Saturday will mark just the third time Notre Dame and Utah have squared off on the hardwood. The Fighting Irish won both of the previous meetings with the Utes, earning a 69-54 victory in the 2001 NCAA Midwest Regional semifinals, and a 68-55 regular-season win in 2005 (recaps of both games follow this note).
The Last Time Notre Dame And Utah Met
Melissa D'Amico scored 13 points and Lindsay Schrader had 10 points and 10 rebounds in No. 13/14 Notre Dame's 68-55 victory over No. 22/21 Utah on Dec. 18, 2005, in the Gray Division title game at the Duel in the Desert tournament at UNLV's Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas.
D'Amico, the tournament MVP, was 4-for-5 from the field and had seven rebounds for the Fighting Irish. Crystal Erwin added 12 points and seven rebounds, and Breona Gray also scored 12 points for Notre Dame.
Kim Smith led Utah with 18 points, and Shona Thorburn had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Utes.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Utah Met In The NCAA Championship
All-America center Ruth Riley recorded her ninth double-double of the season with 24 points and 14 rebounds to lead top-seeded Notre Dame to a 69-54 win over No. 5 seed Utah in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal on March 24, 2001 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.
Riley, who also recorded a career-high six assists, led four Irish players in double figures. All-America guard (and current Notre Dame assistant coach) Niele Ivey added 15 points, while guard Alicia Ratay and forward Ericka Haney contributed 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Erin Gibbons led Utah with 14 points as Notre Dame limited the Utes to just 35.8 percent shooting (19-53) in the game.
The Fighting Irish jumped out to a 32-25 halftime lead behind eight points apiece from Ratay and Ivey, as well as six from Riley and forward Kelley Siemon. As a team, Notre Dame shot 52 percent from the floor (13-25) in the opening half.
The second half belonged to Riley, as the Fighting Irish center recorded 18 of her 24 points and nine of her 14 rebounds after intermission. That included 12 of Notre Dame's first 13 points in the period, as the Fighting Irish held off an early Utah run before opening up the 15-point final margin of victory.
NOTE: A full box score from this game can be found on page 177 of the 2010-11 Notre Dame women's basketball media guide.
Other Notre Dame-Utah Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Mountain West
Notre Dame is 9-2 (.818) all-time against the current Mountain West Conference alignment, with a 8-2 (.800) record in the 24-year Muffet McGraw era, and a 6-2 (.750) record away from home (road and neutral sites combined).
The Fighting Irish will be playing a Mountain West school for the second consecutive season, having toppled No. 23/24 San Diego State, 84-79 on Nov. 26, 2009, at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Current Notre Dame sophomore guard Skylar Diggins came off the bench to lead the Fighting Irish with 21 points, while current senior guard Brittany Mallory chipped in 15 points, also in a reserve role.
In its history, Notre Dame has faced six of the nine MWC schools, all since McGraw took the reins at Notre Dame in 1987-88.
Podcenter: Other Tidbits On Salt Lake City
Irish In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is making its 18th appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 16th in a row, as it takes the Huntsman Center court Saturday for its Dayton Regional first-round game at Utah. The Fighting Irish have a .628 winning percentage (27-16) in NCAA tournament play, ranking 12th all-time in that category (minimum of 20 games played).
In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 16 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances ranks sixth in the record books.
Here are some other facts about the Fighting Irish in the "Big Dance" (see pp. 172-188 in this year's media guide for box scores, results and records):
Sowing The Seeds
For the second consecutive season, Notre Dame has earned a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Championship. It's also the third time in 18 NCAA tournament appearances that the Fighting Irish have been seeded second, with Notre Dame holding a 4-2 (.667) record on that line of the bracket.
This year's seed is the highest for the Fighting Irish when they have not opened the tournament at home. Prior to 2011, Notre Dame's highest seed when opening away from Purcell Pavilion was a No. 4 seed in 2005, when they also came west, playing in Fresno, Calif.
In 2000, the No. 2-seeded Fighting Irish opened the tournament with victories at Purcell Pavilion over 15th-seeded San Diego (87-61) and No. 7 seed George Washington (95-60), before bowing to third-seeded Texas Tech (69-65) in the Mideast Regional semifinals at The Pyramid in Memphis, Tenn.
Last year, Notre Dame used its No. 2 seed to post home victories over 15th-seeded Cleveland State (86-58) and No. 10 seed Vermont (84-66) before falling to third-seeded Oklahoma (77-72 in OT) in the Kansas City Regional semifinals at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
Notre Dame has been awarded a top-eight seed for the 12th time in its 18 NCAA Championship visits (and a top-four seed for the fifth time). The Fighting Irish are 16-5 (.762) all-time as the higher seed in NCAA tournament play.
It Hinges On Defense
Notre Dame's success in the NCAA Championship can be directly traced to its performance at the defensive end of the floor. In its previous 17 NCAA tournament trips (43 games), the Fighting Irish are 15-2 (.882) when holding their opponent to 60 points or fewer. The two losses both came at the hands of top-seeded clubs -- Penn State (55-49) in the 2004 East Regional semifinals, and North Carolina (60-51) in the second round of the 2007 Dallas Region.
Re-Stoking The Offensive Fires
Prior to the 2008 NCAA Championship, Notre Dame had gone 13 consecutive games without scoring more than 61 points in a regulation NCAA tournament contest, dating back to its 2001 national championship game win over Purdue (68-66 in St. Louis).
However, that 2008 tournament saw the Fighting Irish offense roar to life, as Notre Dame topped the 70-point mark in its first two games (75-62 over SMU and 79-75 in overtime over Oklahoma) before a hard-fought 74-64 loss to Tennessee at the regional semifinals at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.
The back-to-back 70-point outings were the first for the Fighting Irish in the NCAA Championship since their Midwest Regional final and Final Four games in 2001, as they downed Vanderbilt (72-64) and Connecticut (90-75), respectively.
Notre Dame now has topped the 70-point mark in each of its last four NCAA tournament games (and six of its last seven), with last year's 86-58 first-round win at home over Cleveland State representing the highest point production by the Fighting Irish in the NCAA Championship since that 2001 NCAA national semifinal win over Connecticut in St. Louis.
Notre Dame is 2-1 all-time when going to overtime in the NCAA tournament, following its 2010 regional semifinal loss to Oklahoma (77-72 in Kansas City). The Fighting Irish had previously beaten the Sooners in OT in the NCAA tournament (79-75 in a 2008 second-round game at West Lafayete, Ind.), and also defeated Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), 69-65, in extra time in their 2004 NCAA opener.
Notre Dame is 16-17 (.485) all-time when going to overtime, having split its last eight OT contests. This season, the Fighting Irish dropped their lone overtime game, an 86-83 double-OT thriller to No. 15 UCLA on Nov. 18 at Purcell Pavilion.
No, the title of this note doesn't haven't anything to do with the notorious tavern from Patrick Swayze's 1989 movie "Road House", but rather it's all about Notre Dame basketball.
For the first time in school history, both Fighting Irish hoops teams have garnered No. 2 seeds for their respective NCAA Championships. Mike Brey's crew (26-6) is the second seed in the Southwest Region, with a first-round contest in Chicago against No. 15 Akron on the docket for Friday (and a potential second-round game with No. 7 seed Texas A&M or 10th-seeded Florida State looming on Sunday).
Notre Dame is one of only two schools in the country to have both of its basketball teams seeded No. 2 or better in both the men's and women's tournaments (Duke's men earned a No. 1 seed, while the Blue Devil women are seeded second in the Philadelphia Region).
The NCAA tournament seeds are just the latest highlight in a historic season for Fighting Irish basketball. The 2010-11 campaign marks the first time ever that both Notre Dame teams have recorded at least 26 wins in the same season (each squad had 25 victories in 2007-08). The school record for combined men's/women's basketball victories in a single season currently stands at 54, set in 2000-01 (women 34-2; men 20-10).
A BIG EAST Bonanza
Notre Dame is one of a record-setting nine BIG EAST Conference schools that earned invitations to the 2011 NCAA Championship, joining a club that also includes seven-time national champion Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Rutgers, St. John's and West Virginia.
This year's nine selections are one better than the previous conference (and NCAA Championship) record for the highest number of teams from one league invited to a single NCAA tournament. The BIG EAST (2004, 2008) and SEC (1999, 2002) hit that mark twice, while the Big 12 reached that total for the first time in 2008.
Don't Mess With Tradition
The Notre Dame women's basketball program has developed some traditions that should be quite evident during this week's NCAA tournament games in Salt Lake City.
Pieces of Silver
With its 63-53 win over Louisville in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals on March 6 in Hartford, Conn., Notre Dame registered its 25th victory of the season, marking the second consecutive year (and third time in four years) the Fighting Irish have reached that level.
Notre Dame has recorded eight 25-win seasons in its 34 varsity campaigns, but only once before had the Fighting Irish done so in back-to-back years. From 1998-99 through 2000-01, Notre Dame topped that mark each season (26-5, 27-5 and 34-2), including a school-record 34 wins in the final year of that run, which culminated with the program's first national championship.
What's more, this year's seniors have become the fourth group in program history to contribute to three 25-win seasons during their careers, joining the senior classes of 1999-00 (Danielle Green and Julie Henderson), 2000-01 (Imani Dunbar, Meaghan Leahy, Niele Ivey, Ruth Riley and Kelley Siemon) and 2001-02 (Ericka Haney).
Notre Dame reached the 20-win mark for the 17th time in the past 18 seasons with its 76-68 victory at South Florida on Feb. 5. The Fighting Irish now have registered 20-or-more wins 21 times in the 24-year Muffet McGraw era and 25 times in the program's 34-year history.
McGraw herself has coached 23 20-win seasons (adding in two during her five-year tenure at Lehigh from 1982-87), tying her for ninth all-time among NCAA Division I coaches.
For the 15th time in its 16-year membership in the BIG EAST Conference, Notre Dame posted double-digit league wins. With the exception of 2005-06 (when they went 8-8), the Fighting Irish have never posted fewer than 10 BIG EAST wins in a season, finishing among the top four in the conference 13 times in their 16 seasons in the league, including this year.
In addition, Notre Dame collected 13 conference wins this season, the most for the Fighting Irish in a BIG EAST campaign since 2004-05, when they also went 13-3.
Taking it a step further, Notre Dame has registered double-digit conference wins in 21 of head coach Muffet McGraw's 24 seasons under the Golden Dome, with the only other exceptions coming in 1987-88 (her first season when the Fighting Irish went 7-3 in the now-defunct North Star Conference) and 1991-92 (when Notre Dame went 8-4 in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League, then won three in a row at the conference tournament to earn the program's first-ever NCAA Championship berth, despite a losing overall record of 14-16, becoming the first school ever to pull off that feat).
Celebrating The Bicentennial
With its 72-60 win at No. 19/18 West Virginia on Feb. 22, Notre Dame became just the third BIG EAST Conference school to record 200 regular season league wins, joining Connecticut (379) and Villanova (251) in that elite company. The Fighting Irish now have a 201-63 (.761) all-time record in BIG EAST Conference regular season play
What makes Notre Dame's feat even more impressive is the fact the Fighting Irish have reached their bicentennial in only 16 seasons (1995-96 to present), while both Connecticut and Villanova were charter members of the BIG EAST when it debuted women's basketball competition in 1982-83 -- 13 seasons before Notre Dame came aboard. Another charter member (Providence) is fourth all-time with 197 BIG EAST victories.
The Fighting Irish also rank second in conference history with a .761 winning percentage, trailing only Connecticut (.819) and joining the Huskies and Rutgers as the only programs in BIG EAST history (current or former) to have won at least 70 percent of their conference games (Rutgers is third at .701).
The current Notre Dame senior class (Becca Bruszewski, Mary Forr, Brittany Mallory, Devereaux Peters) reached a collective career milestone with a 66-48 Senior Day win over Cincinnati on Feb. 26 at Purcell Pavilion. With that victory, the group has led the Fighting Irish to a 102-31 (.767) record since they arrived on campus in 2007-08.
Only five other senior classes in program history have registered 100 wins in their four-year tenures, led by the 2000-01 national championship seniors (Imani Dunbar, Meaghan Leahy, Niele Ivey, Ruth Riley and Kelley Siemon), who amassed 109 victories from 1997-2001 (Ivey was a fifth-year senior in '00-01, following a knee injury five games into her rookie season of '96-97).
It should be noted that Forr joined the Fighting Irish roster as a walk-on prior to this season, while both Mallory and Peters have the option to return for a fifth year of eligibility next season after both suffered knee injuries early in the 2008-09 campaign.
The Rare Air Up There
Beginning on Jan. 31 (and the first time since Dec. 9, 2002), both Notre Dame basketball teams have been ranked in the top 10 of their respective Associated Press polls. In the final 2010-11 polls released on Monday, the Fighting Irish women were ranked ninth, while Mike Brey's men checked in at No. 5.
Notre Dame is one of only three schools in the country with two top-10 basketball programs, along with Connecticut (No. 1 women/No. 9 men) and Duke (No. 6 women/No. 3 men).
If you want to go one further, this marks the first time in Notre Dame athletics history that both Fighting Irish basketball teams AND the Notre Dame hockey team are ranked in the top 10 at the same time (the Fighting Irish icers currently stand eighth in the nation as they enter this weekend's Central Collegiate Hockey Association semifinals/final at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena).
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into the NCAA Championship ranked third in the nation in steals with 13.3 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 24 games this season, including four contests with 20-plus steals.
Highlighting this year's takeaway brigade for Notre Dame was a school-record 36-steal performance in the season-opening victory against New Hampshire on Nov. 12 at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish followed that up three days later with 26 thefts in a win over Morehead State, and also logged 24 steals at Valparaiso (Dec. 2) and 23 steals against IUPUI (Nov. 26).
Prior to this season, Notre Dame had posted 23 steals in a game just seven times in the first 33 years of the Fighting Irish women's basketball program (and only three games with 25-plus steals in that time, none since a then-record tying 29 steals at Saint Louis on Jan. 31, 1991).
Individually, Notre Dame has 11 different players with double-digit steals this season, including a school-record four with at least 60 thefts. The Fighting Irish are led by senior guard Brittany Mallory, who has collected a career-high 2.1 steals per game (eighth in the BIG EAST).
Notre Dame also enters the tournament ranked ninth in the country in assists (17.3 apg.), having dished out at least 20 assists in 13 games this season.
Further illustrating the Fighting Irish giving spirit, Notre Dame has assisted on 60.6 percent of its baskets this season, with 571 assists on 942 field goals.
At the head of the Fighting Irish assist company is sophomore Skylar Diggins, who has adapted well to her role as Notre Dame's primary point guard, ranking fifth in the BIG EAST Conference at 4.6 assists per game, and just outside the top 15 in the league with a 1.25 assist/turnover ratio. She also has handed out at least five assists in 19 games this season, after tallying seven five-assist games during her entire freshman campaign.
Notre Dame also ranks fourth in the nation with a .480 field goal percentage, shooting 50 percent or better from the floor in 16 games this season, and at least 45 percent in 25 outings.
Notre Dame also has seen a rise in its three-point shooting numbers following a slow start this season. During the past 24 games, the Fighting Irish are connecting at a 38.7 percent clip (82-of-212) from beyond the arc. Compare that with the first nine contests of the season, when Notre Dame had a .269 (29-of-108) three-point percentage.
Notre Dame ranks among the top 15 in the nation in eight categories according to the Monday's pre-NCAA Championship statistics report -- third in steals (13.3 spg.); fourth in field goal percentage (.480); seventh in scoring margin (+22.5 ppg.); ninth in assists (17.3 apg.), rebounding margin (+9.1 rpg.) and three-point percentage defense (.261); 11th in scoring offense (77.8 ppg.); and 13th in turnover margin (+5.15).
Yet for all of these high team statistical marks, no Fighting Irish individual ranked higher than No. 60 in any single category -- senior forward Devereaux Peters is 60th in the nation in blocked shots (1.8 per game).
High Octane Offense
Behind one of the nation's top 15 scoring offenses (77.8 ppg., 11th as of Monday), Notre Dame is moving into uncharted territory in the school's record books.
The Fighting Irish have scored 90 points in a game in eight contests this season, setting a new school record for 90-point games in a season (the previous mark was seven on three occasions - 1996-97, 1998-99 and 2007-08).
Notre Dame also has set a new school record with nine wins by at least 35 points, more than doubling the previous program record of four 35-point wins set in 2008-09.
What's more, the Fighting Irish have won 12 games by at least 30 points, topping the school record of 10 30-point victories, which was set during the program's 2000-01 national championship season.
Last year, Notre Dame averaged 77.2 points per game, the fifth-highest single-season scoring average in school history, and best since the Fighting Irish logged a school-record 81.0 ppg. mark in 1998-99.
One of Notre Dame's greatest areas of improvement this season has been in the rebounding column, where the Fighting Irish are averaging 41.1 caroms per game, up two rebounds from last year's total at this time (39.3 rpg.) and good enough for third in the BIG EAST.
Notre Dame also is giving up just 32.0 rebounds per game, close to five caroms better than last year at this time (36.0 rpg.), also placing third in the conference.
With a +9.1 rpg. margin this season, the Fighting Irish rank third in the BIG EAST and ninth in the country as of Monday. Notre Dame has won or tied the battle on the boards in 29 of 33 games this year (including 22 of its last 23), and has not has a negative rebounding margin of more than five all season (at Baylor on Dec. 1; vs. Louisville on March 6.
What's more, Notre Dame has outrebounded its opponent by double digits in 15 games this season, including eight games in which the Fighting Irish posted rebound margins of +15 or better, topped by a season-high +42 mark (66-24) on Jan. 2 against Southeast Missouri State at Purcell Pavilion.
Everyone Gets Into The Act
The Fighting Irish have spread the wealth so far this season, with six different players leading the team in scoring in at least one game thus far, with four different 20-point scorers along the way.
Notre Dame also has seen no fewer than eight different players claim team-high rebounding and assist honors at some point this year.
Missed It By That Much
Notre Dame may hold a 26-7 record coming into the NCAA Championship, but the Fighting Irish are oh-so-close to owning a much better mark, with all seven losses coming to top-15 opponents by an average margin of just 7.6 points per game -- five by single digits (four by five points or fewer), and a sixth by 11 points.
What's more, Notre Dame led inside the final 30 seconds of regulation in three of those losses (No. 15 UCLA, also at the end of the first overtime; No. 2 Connecticut; No. 12/11 DePaul), and the Fighting Irish also had a possession to tie the game in the final 30 seconds at No. 9/10 Kentucky.
The 76-65 loss at No. 2/3 Baylor on Dec. 1 saw Notre Dame battle to within six points (65-59) with five minutes remaining and have a look at a three-pointer to halve the margin further on their next possession, but the shot rattled out and the Lady Bears managed to put the game away with nine free throws (despite making only one field goal during the final 8:23).
Despite making the tricky move to point guard this season, sophomore Skylar Diggins hasn't missed a beat, averaging career highs in scoring (14.2 ppg.), rebounding (4.1 rpg.) and assists (4.6 apg.).
The South Bend native also is tied with junior teammate Natalie Novosel for the team lead with 27 double-figure scoring games this season, including six 20-point outings, and she has stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of a team-best eight "5-5-5" outings (at least "5" in three of the five major statistical categories, or a mini triple-double).
Diggins has been tapped as a prime candidate for all of the major national player-of-the-year awards, including a spot on the final ballot for this year's John R. Wooden Award, as well as a semifinalist berth for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the nation's top point guard.
In addition, Diggins was a unanimous first-team all-BIG EAST selection, one of three Fighting Irish players (along with Novosel and senior forward Devereaux Peters) to make the WBCA All-Region I Team, and she made her second consecutive appearance on the BIG EAST Championship All-Tournament Team, just the fourth Notre Dame player to make that squad twice (along with multi-time All-Americans Beth Morgan, Katryna Gaither and Ruth Riley).
Diggins also is closing in on an extremely rare accomplishment, as she has 953 career points through 68 games. That leaves within striking distance of becoming just the second Fighting Irish player ever to reach the 1,000-point mark in her first two seasons at Notre Dame -- Morgan (the program's all-time leading scorer) had exactly 1,000 points from 1993-95.
Novosel Is Just Plain Nasty
Nicknamed "Nasty" for her playmaking abilities, junior guard Natalie Novosel emerged as easily the most improved player in the BIG EAST Conference, if not the entire country.
The Lexington, Ky., native currently leads the Fighting Irish (and ranks seventh in the league) in scoring at 14.6 points per game, nearly tripling her offensive output from a season ago. She also has scored at least 20 points in a game five times this year (after coming into the campaign with a career single-game high of 19 points) and has scored in double figures a team-high 27 times after doing so a total of 14 times in her first two seasons combined at Notre Dame.
In addition to collecting the BIG EAST Most Improved Player award (the third by a Notre Dame player and first since Megan Duffy in 2005), Novosel added other hardware to her personal trophy case as well, taking home first-team all-BIG EAST and WBCA All-Region I Team honors, as well as Most Valuable Player plaudits at the WBCA Classic. She also earned a spot on the BIG EAST Championship and State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic all-tournament teams and also garnered three mentions on the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll (Nov. 29, Feb. 7, March 1).
Thus, it's no surprise that ESPN.com's Graham Hays tweeted the following comment after Novosel's career-high 27 points (8-11 FG, 2-2 3FG, 9-9 FT) vs. Gonzaga in a 70-61 Fighting Irish win on Dec. 29 in Seattle:
"Is Natalie Novosel the most improved player in the nation? Gotta be on the short list."
Peters Showing Her Own Dev-elopment
If Novosel is among the nation's most improved players, senior forward Devereaux Peters can't be far behind. The veteran frontliner is playing some of the best basketball of her career this season, putting a pair of knee injuries and three surgeries well in the rearview mirror.
Peters currently is averaging career highs of 11.6 points per game (24th in the BIG EAST) and 7.2 rebounds per game (sixth), along with a .583 field goal percentage (second), 1.8 blocks per game (fourth), 1.8 steals per game and a career-high .792 free throw percentage.
Peters' numbers in BIG EAST play were even more eye-popping, as she ranked among the top five in the league in field goal percentage (first - .621), rebounding (second - 7.9 rpg.) and blocks (third - 1.9 bpg.), while ranking 15th in scoring (12.9 ppg.). She also placed second in the BIG EAST with five double-doubles during conference action.
Like Novosel, Peters regularly has been pulling in accolades this season, most notably being named the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year (the first Fighting Irish cager to earn that award since Ruth Riley's three-year run from 1999-2001). Peters also was a first-team all-BIG EAST and WBCA All-Region I selection, while earning a spot on the WBCA Classic All-Tournament Team and garnering MVP honors at the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic in Seattle. During the latter tournament on Dec. 29-30, she averaged 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.5 blocks per game with a .684 field goal percentage (13-of-19) in wins over Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount.
That tournament effort has been the cornerstone of Peters' post-Christmas surge. In the past 21 games, the Chicago native is averaging 13.5 points and 8.4 rebounds with seven double-doubles and a .604 field goal percentage (116-of-192).
Peters Adds Griner To SWAT Team
Senior forward Devereaux Peters has made a living as a shot blocking presence in the paint for Notre Dame throughout her career, with her 6-foot-2 frame and 77-inch wingspan. However, on Dec. 1 at No. 2/3 Baylor, she added another notch to her belt in historic fashion.
At the 10:22 mark of the second half, the Lady Bears threw an entry pass in to their 6-foot-8 sophomore All-America center Brittney Griner, but as she turned to shoot, Peters rotated perfectly from the weak side and rejected Griner's shot out of bounds. It was one of the highlights in a 17-2 Fighting Irish run that pulled Notre Dame within six points of Baylor with five minutes left.
It's believed to be the first time in Griner's two-year college career that she has had a shot blocked. A video clip of Peters' block has been posted on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball YouTube channel (search for "notredameirishhoops" or click the link through the sidebar on the women's basketball page at www.UND.com).
Bruszewski Joins 1,000-Point Club
With 12 points vs. Syracuse on Feb. 1, senior forward/co-captain Becca Bruszewski became the 27th Notre Dame women's basketball player to score 1,000 points in her career. She currently ranked 23rd on the program's all-time scoring list with 1,098 points.
Bruszewski also became the fifth player from Notre Dame's 2007-08 NCAA Sweet 16 team to hit the 1,000-point mark, joining Charel Allen (1,566 from 2004-08), Ashley Barlow (1,492 from 2006-10), Lindsay Schrader (1,429 from 2005-10) and Melissa Lechlitner (1,005 from 2006-10) in that group.
Five other teams in Fighting Irish women's basketball history have featured at least five current or future 1,000-point scorers on the same roster -- from 1995-96 through 1999-2000, every Notre Dame squad had five or more players who had reached or would reach the 1,000-point plateau during their careers (including a school-record six on the 1996-97 and 1997-98 squads).
Aside from head coach Muffet McGraw and current associate coach Carol Owens, the one common link between those teams was guard Danielle Green, who scored 1,106 points from 1995-2000, missing the 1996-97 Final Four season with a preseason Achilles injury and coming back for a fifth year of eligibility in 1999-2000.
Notre Dame were ranked No. 9 in the final 2010-11 Associated Press poll, its eighth consecutive week in the top 10. That marked the 77th consecutive AP poll appearance for the Fighting Irish, extending the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001).
With its current poll position, Notre Dame now has appeared in the top 10 of the AP poll in each of the past four seasons and 11 of the past 15 seasons (1996-97 to present), as well as 103 weeks overall since the Fighting Irish earned their initial AP top-10 ranking (No. 9 on Nov. 24, 1996).
This year's No. 9 year-end ranking also represents the fifth time (and the second consecutive year) that Notre Dame has appeared in the top 10 of the final AP poll. The Fighting Irish were second in 2000-01, fifth in 1999-2000, seventh in 2009-10 and eighth in 1998-99).
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 216 weeks during the program's 34-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 13th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also is 22nd all-time in that category.
In addition, the Fighting Irish are ranked No. 7 in Monday's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, matching their season-best position for the third time in four weeks. Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 77 of the past 78 weeks, 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 208 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the third consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as nine of the past 13 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 30 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 216 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 rise to No. 3 in the nation.
Of the 30 people on this list, 16 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart on this page), including former Fighting Irish point guard and assistant coach Coquese Washington ('92), who helped Notre Dame to its first AP poll ranking in 1990-91, and is in her fourth season as head coach at Penn State, guiding the Lady Lions into the AP poll for two weeks in mid-February.
Nine of the 16 active coaches in this group led their teams to this year's NCAA Championship (including McGraw, Washington and Arizona State's Charli Turner Thorne, also in the Salt Lake City subregional), while 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).
Half And Half
During the past decade, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 212-17 (.926) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 140 of their last 151 such contests, and 49 in a row since a 58-47 loss to Villanova on March 8, 2009, in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at Hartford's XL Center (Notre Dame led 25-21 at intermission).
The Fighting Irish have been up at the break in 24 games this year, including their March 6 win over Louisville in the BIG EAST quarterfinals, when they led 32-24 through the first 20 minutes.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 16 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 228-15 (.938) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including victories in 20 contests this season (New Hampshire, Morehead State, IUPUI, Butler, Purdue, Providence, Creighton, Valparaiso, Loyola Marymount, Southeast Missouri State, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova, Syracuse, Seton Hall, Rutgers, Cincinnati, Louisville).
...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 16 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 153-5 (.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, and an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008.
Notre Dame has topped the 80-point mark in 14 games this year (13-1 record) after going 17-0 last season when it scored at least 80 points.
Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
The 2009-10 season saw an unprecedented surge in fan support for Notre Dame women's basketball, as the Fighting Irish set new program records for the highest year-end NCAA attendance ranking (fourth), highest average attendance (8,377 fans per game) and most sellouts (six) in a single season. And, as the old saying goes -- "you ain't seen nothin' yet."
For the second consecutive preseason, Notre Dame fans all but exhausted the program's season ticket packages (close to 7,500) and snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish make short work of their freshly-minted single-season average attendance record in 2010-11.
For the second consecutive year, Notre Dame set a new single-season attendance record, averaging 8,553 fans for its 17 home games this season (fifth in the country according to this week's NCAA attendance report), including sellout crowds of 9,149 for its games against Purdue (Dec. 5), Connecticut (Jan. 8), St. John's (Jan. 23), Rutgers (Feb. 12) and Cincinnati (Feb. 26).
Part of the appeal of Notre Dame women's basketball can be traced to the renovated Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, which has yet another new feature this season with the addition of a four-sided LED video scoreboard high above center court, as well as LED auxiliary scoreboards above all four court-level entrance ramps and at the scorer's table.
McGraw Is Simply Legendary
The announcement on July 10, 2010, may have made it official, but it really only confirmed what Notre Dame fans have known for a very long time -- head coach Muffet McGraw is a Hall of Famer.
McGraw, the 2001 consensus national coach of the year and winner of more than 600 games in her illustrious career, was one of six people -- and the lone coach -- named to the 2011 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Class, as announced in Uncasville, Conn., during the "WNBA vs. USA Basketball: The Stars at the Sun Game" that was televised live nationally on ESPN from Mohegan Sun Arena.
The others in McGraw's Hall of Fame class include former Olympic gold medalists Ruthie Bolton (Auburn) and Vicky Bullett (Maryland), as well as Val Ackerman, the first WNBA president (1996-2005) and first female president of USA Basketball (2005-08), and a pair of three-time All-America players from the pre-NCAA era, Pearl Moore (Frances Marion) and Lometa Odom (Wayland Baptist).
The '11 class offically was introduced at the 2010 State Farm Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 16 at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., before the Connecticut-Baylor game. The group will be enshrined June 10-12, 2011, during the 13th annual Induction Weekend at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.
McGraw becomes the first Notre Dame selection for the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. The Fighting Irish skipper also is the third BIG EAST Conference coach chosen for the honor, joining Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer (2001) and Connecticut's Geno Auriemma (2006) in that elite company. First-year Seton Hall head coach Anne Donovan also was a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inaugural class in 1999, going in primarily for her accomplishments as a player at Old Dominion.
McGraw also will be the ninth active college head coach to enter the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame on the basis of her success on the sidelines. Besides Stringer and Auriemma, the others on this list are: Pat Summitt (1999 - Tennessee), Van Chancellor (2001 - LSU), Tara VanDerveer (2002 - Stanford), Sylvia Hatchell (2004 - North Carolina), Andy Landers (2007 - Georgia) and Debbie Ryan (2008 - Virginia).
Oh Captain, My Captain
Senior forward Becca Bruszewski and senior guard Brittany Mallory are serving as Notre Dame's team captains for the 2010-11 season. Both players received the captain's honor for the first time in their respective careers following a preseason vote by their teammates.
Notre Dame Sets Pace For Pink Zone
Following last year's wildly-successful fundraising efforts for the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's Pink Zone breast cancer initiative, Notre Dame reached even higher this season, as the Fighting Irish have raised a program-record $116,405 for the initiative, among the most by any Division I school in the country this year. That also lifts Notre Dame's combined Pink Zone fundraising total in the last three years to more than a quarter of a million dollars (approximately $260,000).
In 2009-10, the Fighting Irish collected nearly $104,000 for the global unified effort by the WBCA's membership to assist in raising breast cancer awareness on the court, across campuses, in communities and beyond.
Notre Dame's local Pink Zone drive is led by primary sponsor Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, with donations divided between the Foundation for Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center's Women's Task Force and the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.
This year, Notre Dame brought back some of its more popular fundraising activities, including the Fighting Irish Three-Point Pledge (fans donate a certain amount for every three-pointer made by Notre Dame this season) and the Notre Dame Pink Zone Store (sales of various Pink Zone items, including t-shirts, buttons, tote bags, etc., in the Joyce Center's Heritage Hall at all Fighting Irish home games). The Notre Dame Gameday Silent Auction also was a huge hit again in 2010-11, with more than 100 items generating $13,000 in bids for this year's effort.
Some new events added for this year included the Pink Zone Treadmill Campaign (celebrities walked on a courtside treadmill during the Jan. 23, Feb. 1, 8 and 12 games) and the Notre Dame Women's Basketball SPIN-A-THON (a 24-hour event to ride stationary bikes on Jan. 22-23 at South Bend's Knollwood Country Club, which raised $30,000 for the cause).
In addition, NBC correspondent Anne Thompson (a Notre Dame alumna and breast cancer survivor) was the keynote speaker at the inaugural "Docs in Pink" luncheon at Club Naimoli in Purcell Pavilion, an event that generated more than $20,000.
For more information, or to make a donation, please visit the Notre Dame Pink Zone web page at www.UND.com/pinkzone.
Nice Threads, Coach
While Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw and assistant coach Niele Ivey are well-known for their fashion sense on the sidelines, another Fighting Irish assistant stole the spotlight at Notre Dame's Pink Zone game on Feb. 12 against Rutgers.
Associate head coach Jonathan Tsipis took the floor wearing a snappy pink blazer, courtesy of none other than former Villanova men's basketball coach and 1985 NCAA national champion Rollie Massimino.
For the past few years, Tsipis has visited Massimino's current home at NAIA Division II member Northwood University (West Palm Beach, Fla.) to observe the legendary coach's practices. Last summer, the Notre Dame coach noticed Massimino wearing a pink sportcoat in one of his school's media guides and asked where he could obtain one of his own. Massimino quickly offered to loan his jacket to Tsipis, and the rest is "Pink Zone" history.
Next Game: NCAA Second Round
Should Notre Dame defeat Utah in Saturday's NCAA first-round game, the Fighting Irish would advance to a second-round contest in the Dayton Region against either No. 7 seed Arizona State or 10th-seeded Temple at 9:30 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. MT) on Monday in Salt Lake City, with the game to be televised on either ESPN or ESPN2, as well as ESPN3.com.
Notre Dame has not faced ASU since the second round of the 2005 NCAA Championship, when the Sun Devils rallied past the Fighting Irish, 70-61 in Fresno, Calif. Notre Dame is 1-2 all-time against Arizona State.
The Fighting Irish and Temple have split their four series meetings, each successfully defending their home court twice. Notre Dame last faced the Owls on Dec. 14, 2002, earning an 84-61 victory at Purcell Pavilion.