March 16, 2012
NCAA Championship -- Raleigh Region/First Round
#4/4 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (30-3 / 15-1 BIG EAST) vs. [#16 seed] Liberty Lady Flames (24-8 / 16-2 Big South)
DATE: March 18, 2012
TIME: Approximately 2:30 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
SERIES: ND leads 2-0
1ST MTG: ND 113-35 (11/24/89)
LAST MTG: ND 85-68 (12/5/99)
TV: ESPN2/ESPN3/ESPN Full Court (live) (Dave O'Brien, p-b-p / Doris Burke, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TOURNAMENT CENTRAL: UND.com
No. 4 Fighting Irish Host Liberty In NCAA Championship Opener Sunday
Following a highly-successful regular season and conference tournament that built a resume fit for a top seed in the NCAA Championship, fourth-ranked Notre Dame will tip off its 17th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance at approximately 2:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday when it plays host to 16th-seeded Liberty in a first-round game at Purcell Pavilion. ESPN2 will have live television coverage of the game (via its "whiparound" format), while viewers in protected markets (the state of Indiana, Chicagoland area and western Virginia), as well as ESPN3/WatchESPN and ESPN Full Court will see the game in its entirety.
Notre Dame (30-3) has not seen action since March 6, when it dropped a hard-fought 63-54 decision at then-No. 4 Connecticut in the BIG EAST Championship final.
Other Notre Dame Notables
The Notre Dame-Liberty Series
Notre Dame and Liberty will meet for the third time on Sunday afternoon, with the Fighting Irish winning both prior series games, each of which was played at a neutral site.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Liberty Met
Junior center and tournament Most Valuable Player Ruth Riley scored a game-high 32 points and notched seven rebounds to lead the No. 11 ranked Fighting Irish to an 85-68 victory over Liberty to claim the 1999 Wachovia Women's Invitational Tournament title on Dec. 5, 1999, at the Robins Center in Richmond, Va.
Riley notched 20 points in the second half which saw Notre Dame shoot 60.9 percent from the field and 62.7 percent for the game. Fighting Irish freshman guard and all-tournament team honoree Alicia Ratay scored 17 points and handed out five assists. Senior guard Niele Ivey had eight points and six assists.
Liberty placed four players in double-figures with senior guard Sarah Faley and freshman forward Zandrique Cason posting 17 points each. Senior guard Sharon Wilkerson added 11 points, while senior forward Elena Kisseleva notched 10 points. Wilkerson and Farley each garnered all-tournament team recognition.
Leading 39-36 at halftime, Notre Dame opened the second half with an 13-6 spurt. In that stretch, Riley had eight points, courtesy of two layups and four free throws. Thereafter, Notre Dame led by eight or more points the remainder of the game. Notre Dame's defense limited Liberty to just 38.2 percent shooting in the second half and forced 22 turnovers.
Notre Dame led 3-2 in the first half following an Ivey three-pointer at 18:56 and never trailed again. The Lady Flames closed the gap to to 68-59 with 5:01 remaining in the game, but the Fighting Irish went on a 12-5 run to balloon its lead to 80-64 spearheaded by Riley's six points.
Other Notre Dame-Liberty Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Big South
Liberty is the only Big South Conference team Notre Dame has ever played, with those two Fighting Irish series wins over the Lady Flames serving as the sum total of Notre Dame's experience against that conference. Liberty also will be the first Big South team to play at Purcell Pavilion when it squares off with the Fighting Irish on Sunday.
Irish In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is making its 19th appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 17th in a row, as it takes the Purcell Pavilion court Sunday afternoon for its NCAA tournament opener against Liberty. The Fighting Irish have a .653 winning percentage (32-17) in NCAA Championship play, ranking ninth all-time in that category (minimum of 20 games played).
In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 17 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances ranks sixth in the record books (and eighth-longest at any time in tournament history).
Here are some other facts about the Fighting Irish in the "Big Dance" (see pp. 160-178 in this year's regular season media guide for box scores, results and records):
Sowing The Seeds
For the second time in program history, Notre Dame has earned a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Championship.
In 2001, the top-seeded Fighting Irish opened the tournament with victories at Purcell Pavilion over 16th-seeded Alcorn State (98-49) and No. 8 seed Michigan (88-54), before moving on to defeat fifth-seeded Utah (69-54) and No. 3 seed Vanderbilt (72-64) in the NCAA Midwest Regional at the Pepsi Center in Denver (site of this year's NCAA Women's Final Four).
Notre Dame then went on to win its first NCAA national championship, defeating fellow No. 1 seed Connecticut in the national semifinals (90-75) and third-seeded Purdue (68-66) in the title game.
Notre Dame has been awarded a top-eight seed for the 13th time in its 19 NCAA Championship visits (and a top-four seed for the sixth time). The Fighting Irish are 19-5 (.792) 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 18 NCAA tournament trips (49 games), the Fighting Irish are 18-2 (.900) when holding their opponent to 60 points or fewer, including wins in three of six tournament games last year (Utah, Oklahoma and Tennessee) -- and nearly two others, as both Temple and Connecticut scored exactly 63 points in their second-round and national semifinal games.
Notre Dame's two losses to teams scoring 60 points or fewer 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 has reached the 70-point mark in 11 of its last 13 NCAA tournament games, with the 2010 first-round win at home over Cleveland State (86-58) 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 Lafayette, Ind.), and also defeated Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), 69-65, in extra time in their 2004 NCAA opener.
Notre Dame is 17-17 (.500) all-time when going to overtime, including a 5-4 record in its last nine contests. This season, the Fighting Irish won their lone overtime game, a 74-67 thriller over No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 7 at Purcell Pavilion.
Don't Mess With Tradition
The Notre Dame women's basketball program has developed some traditions that should be quite evident during this weekend's NCAA Championship games at Purcell Pavilion.
And Don't Forget The Lime Green Shirts
The ever-present lime green t-shirts you might see many Notre Dame fans wearing around Purcell Pavilion this weekend are given out annually to Fighting Irish women's basketball season ticket holders, a group affectionately known as the "Spirit Patrol". Created by coordinator of basketball operations Stephanie Menio, the shirts are based on one of head coach Muffet McGraw's favorite colors, which she sported on the sidelines during the 2001 national championship game win over Purdue.
The 73-45 win over No. 25 West Virginia in the BIG EAST Championship semifinal on March 5 was Notre Dame's 30th victory of the season, marking the fourth time in program history the Fighting Irish have reached the 30-win mark, and the second consecutive season. Notre Dame also logged that milestone in 1996-97 (31-7), 2000-01 (34-2) and 2010-11 (31-8).
Not only does this represent the first time the Fighting Irish have posted back-to-back 30-win seasons, but it also is the first time they have ever registered their 30th win prior to the NCAA Championship.
Pieces of Silver
With its 66-47 win at home over Providence on Feb. 14, Notre Dame registered its 25th victory of the season, marking the third consecutive year (and fourth time in four years) the Fighting Irish have reached that level.
Notre Dame has recorded nine 25-win seasons in its 35 varsity campaigns, but only once before had the Fighting Irish done so in back-to-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.
Notre Dame's current stretch of four 25-win seasons in five years (and 137 total wins in that time) bears similarities to the Fighting Irish stretch from 1996-97 through 2000-01, a span that started with a 31-7 record and NCAA Women's Final Four berth in 1996-97. Notre Dame won a total of 140 games in that span, the most in a five-year period in school history.
One other note -- current Fighting Irish fifth-year seniors/tri-captains Brittany Mallory and Devereaux Peters have been key contributors on all four of the latest 25-win campaigns for Notre Dame, missing only the majority of the 2008-09 season with knee injuries when the Fighting Irish went 22-9.
With its 72-59 victory at No. 4 Connecticut on Feb. 27, Notre Dame secured the outright 2012 BIG EAST Conference regular-season title. It's the second championship for the Fighting Irish since they joined the conference in 1995-96 (they were co-champions in 2001), and their first outright BIG EAST championship. What's more, it's their first solo league crown since 1995, when the Fighting Irish won the last of their five regular-season titles in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League).
Also, for the 16th time in its 17-year membership in the BIG EAST, Notre Dame has 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 14 times.
This year's 15 victories were the most for the Fighting Irish in BIG EAST play since 2000-01, when they finished 15-1 en route to a co-championship. Also, Notre Dame's 8-0 road record marked the first time it completed a BIG EAST season without a road loss (first in any conference since a 6-0 mark during the 1993-94 MCC campaign).
Taking it a step further, Notre Dame now has registered double-digit conference wins in 22 of head coach Muffet McGraw's 25 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 MCC, 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).
Notre Dame's 21-game winning streak from Nov. 25-Feb. 7 was the second-longest success string in program history, and the longest since the Fighting Irish opened their 2000-01 national championship season on a school-record 23-game winning streak.
The Rare Air Up There
With its 72-44 victory over Tennessee on Jan. 23 at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame became just the second school ever to defeat both Connecticut and Tennessee in consecutive seasons (the Fighting Irish downed Connecticut, 74-67 in overtime on Jan. 7, also at Purcell Pavilion).
North Carolina was the first program to pull off this feat, doing so in 2005-06 (77-54 at UConn; 75-63 vs. UT in Cleveland) and 2006-07 (82-76 vs. UConn at home; 70-57 vs. UT at home).
Since its Nov. 20 loss at No. 1 Baylor, Notre Dame has won 12 of its last 13 games against ranked opponents (including five against top-10 teams), earning nine of those victories by double digits (and four by 25 points or more).
The major driving force in this turnaround has been the play of the Fighting Irish defense, which has held those last 13 Top 25 opponents to just 58.9 points per night, including nine games when the opposition scored 60 points or fewer.
Notre Dame also has held its ranked foes to a .369 field goal percentage (.246 from the three-point line), and posted a +3.2 rebounding margin after being outrebounded by 15 at Baylor.
Fighting Irish Scoring Early TKOs
Part of Notre Dame's success this season can be traced to its penchant for jumping out to huge early leads and then keep its foot on the gas the rest of the way.
In 13 games this year, the Fighting Irish have charged to a 20-point lead inside the opening 14 minutes of the game, going on to win all 13 of those contests by an average of 49.2 points per game.
Overall, Notre Dame is outscoring its opponents in the first half this season by a wide margin (1,376-808), with an average halftime score of 42-24.
Born To Run
In the latest NCAA statistics report released on March 12, Notre Dame ranks second in the nation in scoring offense (79.6 ppg.) and scoring margin (+27.5 ppg.). Those are just two of seven NCAA offensive categories in which the Fighting Irish rank among the top 25, along with field goal percentage (third at .473), assists (fourth at 17.9 apg.), assist/turnover ratio (13th at 1.10), free throw percentage (16th at .765) and three-point percentage (24th at .350).
Notre Dame also has topped the 100-point mark twice (first time since 1998-99, second time in school history), and has scored at least 90 points in a game eight times this year, tying the school record set last season.
What's more, Notre Dame has done an excellent job of putting teams away, recording 20 20-point wins, and 11 victories by at least 30 points (second-most in school history behind the 12 30-point wins last year).
Twice this season, Notre Dame has gone "over the top", scoring 100 points in a game during victories at Mercer (128-42 on Dec. 30) and at home against BIG EAST Conference rival Pittsburgh (120-44 on Jan. 17).
Prior to this season, the Fighting Irish had never scored more than 113 points in a game (113-35 win over Liberty on Nov. 24, 1989, at the UCF Rotary Classic in Orlando, Fla.), and had scored in triple digits just 13 times in the program's first 34 seasons.
What's more, this marks just the second time Notre Dame has ever posted multiple 100-point games in the same season -- in 1998-99, the Fighting Irish defeated No. 25/23 Illinois, 101-93, on Nov. 24 at Purcell Pavilion, before defeating West Virginia, 111-90, on Jan. 7, also at home.
As one might expect, Notre Dame's two offensive explosions rank as the top two single-game point totals in the nation in 2011-12. Oklahoma is third with a 117-point night against visiting Sacramento State on Nov. 13.
Lock It Up
Notre Dame ranks among the top 25 in the nation in five NCAA defensive statistical categories -- steals (fifth at 13.2 spg.), turnover margin (eighth at +6.61), scoring defense (11th at 52.1 ppg.), rebound margin (12th at +9.1 rpg.) and three-point percentage defense (24th at .267).
The Fighting Irish have held 26 opponents to 61 points or fewer, with a school-record 17 failing to score more than 50 points against Notre Dame -- last year's Fighting Irish squad had 14 games in which it allowed 50 points or fewer.
Notre Dame's defensive effort has extended to smaller increments as well. In their last 55 halves of basketball (dating back to the second half against No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26), the Fighting Irish have held their opponents to 25 points or fewer 52.7 percent of the time (29 halves), including 30.9 percent of the time (17 halves) when the opposition didn't crack 20 points.
Gimme Some Of That
Fueled by its aggressive defense, Notre Dame has been in the taking mood this year, forcing its opponents into at least 20 turnovers in 20 games thus far, with Fighting Irish foes averaging 22.9 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +6.61 turnover margin that is eighth-best in the nation (as of March 12).
The Fighting Irish wasted little time in setting the tone this season, forcing a combined 112 turnovers in their first three games, an average of 37.3 per night, and converting those into 142 points (47.3 ppg.). That run was highlighted by an opponent season-high 46 turnovers against Akron on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion, the third-most takeaways in school history, and second-most in the program's Division I era (49 vs. New Hampshire on Nov. 12, 2010).
The Fighting Irish have been especially hard on opponents in their 16 home games this season, forcing 26.3 turnovers per game and collecting at least 17 in each Purcell Pavilion contest thus far.
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into this weekend's tournament ranked fifth in the nation in steals with 13.2 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 25 games this season, including three contests with 20-plus steals.
Highlighting this year's takeaway brigade for Notre Dame was a season-high 29-steal performance in the opening night victory against Akron on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish followed that up two days later with 25 thefts in a win over Indiana State, and nabbed 26 steals in a Dec. 28 win over Longwood.
Prior to last season, Notre Dame had posted 23 steals in a game just seven times in the first 33 years (and 991 games) 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. What's more, Notre Dame had not earned a conference steals title since 1989-90, when it led the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) with 10.9 spg.
Yet, in the past two years (72 games), the Fighting Irish have had eight 23-steal games, with five outings of at least 25 thefts, and they have earned the last two BIG EAST steals crowns with 11.8 spg. (2010-11) and 11.4 spg. (2011-12) during regular-season league play.
Individually, Notre Dame has 10 different players with double-digit steals this season (including three with at least 65 thefts), led by junior guard Skylar Diggins, who is averaging a BIG EAST-best 2.7 steals per game, and fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Brittany Mallory, who is tied for seventh at 2.2 spg.
Continuing a trend from last season, Notre Dame has shared the basketball very well to date this year.
In the March 12 NCAA statistics report, the Fighting Irish were fourth in the nation (and second in the BIG EAST) at 17.9 assists per game, including a season-high 33 assists against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17 (one of 13 games with 20-or-more assists this year, including six with 25 assists).
Individually, junior guard Skylar Diggins is 16th in the nation in assists (BIG EAST-best 5.7 apg.) and 18th in the country with a 2.08 assist/turnover ratio (also tops in the conference).
What's more, Notre Dame has assisted on 62.4 percent of its field goals this season (592 of 948), compared to last year when the Fighting Irish registered assists on 60.9 percent of their baskets (669 of 1,099), with 16 games of at least 20 assists.
Notre Dame has benefited from an experienced lineup this season, using the same starting five (guards Skylar Diggins, Brittany Mallory, Kayla McBride and Natalie Novosel, and forward Devereaux Peters) for all but three games this year (Dec. 30 at Mercer, when senior guard and Atlanta-area native Fraderica Miller earned the nod in her homecoming game; Jan. 7 vs. No. 2 Connecticut; Feb. 25 vs. USF, when Miller again started for Senior Day).
The foundation of this stable lineup has been the quartet of Diggins, Mallory, Novosel and Peters, which has started all 33 games this year and also started 34 of 39 games last year (Mallory missed two games with an ankle injury and came off the bench for two more, while Diggins relinquished her starting spot for Senior Day last year to allow walk-on forward Mary Forr to make the start). In the four games Mallory was not in the lineup last year, McBride earned the first starts of her college career.
Collectively, the current Notre Dame lineup has started 359 games in their careers (Diggins-101, Novosel-76, Peters-75, Mallory-73, McBride-34).
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has featured a balanced offense thus far, with at least three players scoring in double figures in 28 games, and at least four double-digit scorers in 16 games, including a season-high (and school record-tying) eight with at least 10 points against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17.
During the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 50-4 (.926) when it has at least four players score in double figures, with two of those losses coming in overtime (March 28, 2010 - 77-72 vs. Oklahoma in NCAA Sweet 16 at Kansas City; Nov. 18, 2010 - 86-83 in double overtime vs. UCLA at Purcell Pavilion) and a third by a single point (Feb. 28, 2011 - 70-69 at DePaul).
The Fighting Irish also have had six different players lead them in scoring this season. Five of the six leading scorers this year also have registered at least one 20-point game to date (two topping the 30-point mark), while 10 different Notre Dame players (of the 11 healthy Fighting Irish who have seen action to date) have scored in double figures at least once this year.
Improvement Continues On The Glass
After averaging 37.2 rebounds in its first six games (and holding the upper hand in that category only three times, with an aggregate minus-2 rebounding margin), Notre Dame has featured a marked improvement on the boards since its return from the Bahamas after the Thanksgiving weekend.
In their last 27 games, the Fighting Irish are averaging 41.7 rebounds a night, with an average +11.1 rpg. margin. Furthermore, Notre Dame has grabbed at least 40 rebounds 20 times in the past 27 games after not reaching that mark once in its first six contests.
According to the March 12 NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame ranks 12th in the country in rebounding margin (+9.1 rpg.) this year.
Fighting Irish Trio Nabs All-Region Honors
For the third consecutive year (and the third time in school history), three Notre Dame women's basketball players have earned all-region status in the same season and now are in position to contend for places on the 2012 State Farm Coaches' All-America Team, it was announced Thursday afternoon by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The Fighting Irish are one of only three programs in the country (along with Baylor and St. John's) to field three all-region honorees this season, and Notre Dame is the only school in the land to have three all-region selections each of the last three years.
Junior guard Skylar Diggins earned her third all-region citation in as many seasons, while senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel and fifth-year senior forward/tri-captain Devereaux Peters both garnered all-region honors for the second time in their respective careers. All told, 11 Fighting Irish players have collected all-region laurels a total of 23 times in the program's 35-year history.
Diggins' selection is particularly noteworthy, as she becomes just the third Notre Dame player to collect three all-region citations in her career, joining Ruth Riley (1999-2001) and Jacqueline Batteast (2002, 2004-05) in that elite sorority. All three of those players also made the 10-member State Farm Coaches All-America Team at some point during their careers, with Riley making the 2001 squad, Batteast doing likewise in 2005 and Diggins the most recent Fighting Irish All-America choice in 2011.
Thursday's announcement is the latest in a recent spate of awards for all three Fighting Irish players, each of whom was tabbed for first-team all-BIG EAST Conference honors earlier this month. Diggins -- who also was named the BIG EAST Player of the Year and is a finalist for both the Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award -- was a unanimous choice (her third consecutive all-league award and second unanimous honor), while Novosel and Peters were first-team all-BIG EAST selections for the second year in a row. What's more, Peters was chosen as the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, becoming just the fourth player in conference history to earn that award twice, along with Rutgers' Essence Carson (2006-08), Riley (1999-2001) and Connecticut's Nykesha Sales (1997-98).
From this year's list of 52 all-region nominees, a group of 40 will be chosen by the State Farm Coaches' All-America Team selection committee to remain in the running for spots on the 2012 State Farm Coaches' All-America Team. The slate of 40 finalists -- who can be selected from any of the WBCA's eight regions -- will be announced Monday (March 19), with this year's State Farm Coaches' All-America Team set to be unveiled at 1:05 p.m. MT (3:05 p.m. ET) on March 31 in Denver during events surrounding the NCAA Women's Final Four.
The 30 finalists not chosen for the 10-member State Farm Coaches' All-America Team will be designated as State Farm Coaches' All-America Honorable Mentions, a status earned by 11 Fighting Irish players, all in the past two decades -- Karen Robinson (1991), Katryna Gaither (1996, 1997), Beth Morgan (1996, 1997), Riley (1999, 2000), Batteast (2002, 2004), Megan Duffy (2005, 2006), Charel Allen (2007), Diggins (2010), Lindsay Schrader (2010), Novosel (2011) and Peters (2011).
Windy City Warrior
Fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters is winding down her college career in the best way possible -- at the top of her game. In her last 13 outings (beginning with the Jan. 23 win over No. 7/9 Tennessee), the Chicago native is averaging 13.0 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game with a .515 field goal percentage (67-of-130) and seven double-doubles.
Here's a closer look at some of the rare feats Peters (the two-time BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year and first-team all-BIG EAST pick) has been accomplished in the past two months:
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 90-17 (.841) record in the past three seasons, a mark that can be traced in no small part to the arrival of guard Skylar Diggins. The South Bend native has helped lead the Fighting Irish to a spot in the 2011 NCAA national championship game and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 16-10 record against AP Top 25 teams (8-8 vs. the AP Top 10) and a 63-game winning streak against unranked opponents (not appearing in the AP poll) from the start of the 2009-10 season before falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12 (now 66-1 vs. unranked teams).
Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 17 losses in Diggins' career primarily have been ones that could have gone either way, with 11 decided by single digits (six were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.
With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted two of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 77.0 ppg. last year after logging 77.1 ppg. in her freshman season (and Notre Dame is on pace to go well beyond those figures this year).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.36 spg. career mark that is fourth-best in school history), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top two single-season steal marks in program history with 495 thefts last year and 450 steals the season before. Last season also saw Notre Dame post the third-best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing just 56.2 ppg. (the best since the 2000-01 Fighting Irish yielded 55.8 ppg. en route to the national championship).
A Rally To Remember
Notre Dame tied a school record by digging out of an 18-point second-half hole to defeat No. 7/6 Duke, 56-54 on Nov. 26 in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division championship game at St. Georges High School in Freeport, Bahamas.
Nearly three years earlier on Dec. 30, 2008, the Fighting Irish trailed 46-28 at No. 20/19 Vanderbilt with 15:56 left and came back to win, 59-57 at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn.
This year's comeback victory over Duke marked the fourth time in program history Notre Dame has ralled from a deficit of 15 points or more to post a victory, with all four of these comebacks occurring in the past 11 seasons.
Beat The Clock
Senior guard Natalie Novosel hit a running bank shot at the foul line as the buzzer sounded to give Notre Dame a 56-54 win over No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26 in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division championship game at St. Georges High School in Freeport, Bahamas.
Novosel's buzzer-beater was the first winning shot at the horn by a Notre Dame player since Jan. 10, 2006, when Megan Duffy scored the last of her career-high 32 points with an off-handed layup at the overtime siren to earn a 67-65 win over Marquette at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame also has had several players nail winning shots in the final minute of games during recent seasons. Prior to Novosel, Ashley Barlow was the last Fighting Irish player to pull off such late-game heroics, canning a three-pointer with 34.2 seconds remaining to help Notre Dame take a 74-73 win at Syracuse on Jan. 30, 2010.
Another notable recent "beat-the-clock" moment for Notre Dame occurred on Dec. 5, 2007, when Charel Allen sank a foul-line jumper with 0.8 seconds remaining in overtime, lifting the Fighting Irish to an 86-84 win at Bowling Green.
A Grand Trio
Notre Dame has had two of its captains score their 1,000th career point this season -- senior guard Natalie Novosel hit the milestone on a free throw with 14:20 remaining on Nov. 13 against Indiana State, while fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters reached the landmark on a layup 16:52 left on Dec. 28 vs. Longwood.
Novosel currently is 11th in school history with 1,474 points, while Peters became the 30th member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club and presently stands 19th with 1,261 points.
Together with junior guard Skylar Diggins (sixth with 1,629 points), Notre Dame has three active players in that elite Fighting Irish club for the third time in school history. In both 2000-01 and 2009-10, Notre Dame also had three 1,000-point players on the roster, with the third reaching that total in her final career game (Kelley Siemon in 2001 NCAA national championship game vs. Purdue, Melissa Lechlitner in 2010 NCAA Sweet 16 game vs. Oklahoma).
The Fighting Irish could have a fourth player reach the scoring millennium later this season -- fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory has 948 career points. Should Mallory hit the 1,000-point mark, it would be the first time in the 35-year history of Notre Dame women's basketball that a quartet of active 1,000-point scorers were on the roster at the same time.
What's more, Peters became the seventh player from Notre Dame's 2009-10 NCAA Sweet 16 team to reach the 1,000-point plateau during her career, along with Diggins, Novosel, Lechlitner, Ashley Barlow (10th at 1,492), Lindsay Schrader (15th at 1,429) and Becca Bruszewski (25th at 1,148) -- and that doesn't even include Mallory, who also was part of that season's 13-player roster.
The Model Of Consistency
The Jan. 23 win over No. 7/9 Tennessee marked the end to a remarkable streak, as senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel was held to four points, her first single-digit point total since March 7, 2011, when she had eight points in Notre Dame's 71-67 BIG EAST Championship semifinal win over No. 9/13 DePaul at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Novosel's 27-game double-digit scoring streak is the second-longest in school history, and was the longest by a Fighting Irish player in 15 seasons.
Katryna Gaither staked an ironclad claim to the school record with a remarkable 76-game double-figure scoring streak from 1994-97.
More Than Tough Enough
Fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Brittany Mallory reached a somewhat-overlooked and key career milestone on Feb. 7 at Syracuse, as she set a school record for career games played (currently at 145), topping the total of her former teammate and co-captain Becca Bruszewski, who played in 136 games from 2007-11 (a mark senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel also now has passed with 138 games played).
Aside from the 2008-09 season that Mallory largely missed after injuring her knee in the seventh game at Michigan, she has missed only three other games in her career to date -- one as a freshman in 2007-08 (at Richmond) due to an acute illness and two last season (at Kentucky, vs. IUPUI) following an ankle injury suffered against UCLA.
Not bad for a player who also was an All-America lacrosse standout coming from the McDonogh School in suburban Baltimore. In fact, head coach Muffet McGraw foreshadowed Mallory's endurance at Notre Dame way back on Signing Day, when she said -- "You know she's going to be tough when she's used to getting beat in the head with a lacrosse stick every day."
McGraw Is Naismith Coach Of Year Finalist
For the fifth time in her storied career, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw has been selected as a finalist for the Naismith National Coach of the Year award, it was announced Friday by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. McGraw previously was chosen as a finalist for the Naismith Award in 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2005, and she was accorded the honor in '01 when the Fighting Irish won their first NCAA national championship.
Joining McGraw on this year's list of Naismith National Coach of the Year finalists are Jim Crowley (St. Bonaventure), Kim Mulkey (Baylor) and Tara VanDerveer (Stanford). The finalists were determined by the Atlanta Tipoff Club's National Voting Academy, comprised of leading basketball journalists, coaches and administrators from around the country. The academy based its criteria on coaching performances this season.
Now in its 25th year, the Naismith Award is among the most prestigious national honors presented annually to the women's college basketball coach of the year. This year's recipient will be announced in early April.
Notre Dame is ranked No. 4 in the final 2011-12 Associated Press poll, its school-record 19th consecutive week in the top five of the media balloting (old mark was the final 18 weeks in 2000-01). The Fighting Irish also earned a preseason No. 2 ranking that was their highest since the final 2000-01 poll (taken before the the NCAA Championship), and also was the highest Notre Dame had ever been ranked in the AP preseason poll, topping its No. 4 debut in 2009-10.
Notre Dame received six first-place votes in the 2011-12 AP preseason poll (and four the following week), the first time it received consideration for the top spot since March 11, 2001, when the Fighting Irish earned five first-place votes (they were ranked No. 2 after falling at Connecticut, 79-76 in the BIG EAST tournament final). The previous week, Notre Dame had 33 first-place votes in its sixth week with the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll.
The No. 4 final ranking marks the 96th 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). In fact, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career, spending more than half (58) of those appearances in the AP Top 10.
This also signals the third consecutive season and sixth time overall that Notre Dame has been ranked in the top five of the final AP poll. The Fighting Irish were second in 2000-01, fifth in 1999-2000, seventh in 2009-10, eighth in 1998-99 and ninth last year.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 235 weeks during the program's 35-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 11th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and 20th all-time in that category.
In addition, the Fighting Irish are No. 4 in the last regular-season ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, after being ranked as high as second for seven weeks earlier this season. Like the AP poll, Notre Dame earned its best-ever preseason ranking (second) in the coaches' poll, topping its No. 5 placement to begin the 2000-01 campaign. The Fighting Irish also collected five first-place votes in this year's preseason coaches' survey (and two a week later), their first nods for the top spot since the final '00-01 balloting, when they received all 40 first-place votes after winning the national championship.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 96 of the past 97 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 228 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the fourth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 10 of the past 14 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 31 people in NCAA Division I women's basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Besides her 235 AP poll appearances while coaching at Notre Dame, McGraw was the starting point guard at Saint Joseph's (Pa.) as a senior in 1977, helping the Hawks to No. 3 in the nation.
Of the 31 people on this list, 14 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart), with McGraw and Baylor's Kim Mulkey are the only active skippers to play for and coach a team in the AP poll, and coach that team to a national title (McGraw in 2001, Mulkey in 2005).
Half And Half
During the past 11 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 244-19 (.928) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 172 of their last 185 such contests (.930).
What's more, in the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 81-2 (.976) when leading at the half, with the only losses coming on April 5, 2011, in the NCAA national championship game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (Notre Dame led Texas A&M, 35-33 at intermission before falling 76-70), and Feb. 12, 2012, against West Virginia (Fighting Irish led 33-30 at the break before the visiting Mountaineers rallied to win in the closing seconds, 65-63).
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 17 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 255-15 (.944) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 25 contests this year.
...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 17 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 166-6 (.965) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are three overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995 and UCLA (86-83 in double OT) in 2010, as well as a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008, and a 94-81 setback at Baylor in 2011.
In the past three years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 43-2 (.956) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level in 14 games this season and winning 13 times.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame's success has been its stellar play at home. In fact, the Fighting Irish have been virtually untouchable at home in recent years, winning 219 of their last 247 games (.887) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51, 25 and 20 games in that span (the latter from 2011-12, ending Feb. 12 vs. West Virginia). Notre Dame also has a 120-20 (.857) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the former Joyce Center, sporting a program-record 31-game league winning streak at home before it ended with a 48-45 loss to Villanova in the '02 home finale.
The Fighting Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 101 of their last 109 non-BIG EAST contests (.927) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the eight losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents (four by 12 points or less) -- Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT), Indiana in 2006 (54-51) and Minnesota in 2009 (79-71) -- with the other defeats coming to Tennessee in 2005 (62-51) and 2008 (87-63), and to UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT). The Purdue loss also snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak which began after the UW setback.
Since its inaugural season in 1977-78, Notre Dame has played all of its games at the former Joyce Center, posting a 369-89 (.806) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Fighting Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, which was the school record for home victories in a season prior to the 2009-10 campaign, when Notre Dame went 16-1, capped by an 84-66 triumph over Vermont in the second round of the NCAA Championship.
Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
The past two seasons have seen 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 in 2009-10), highest average attendance (8,553 fans per game in 2010-11) and most sellouts in a single season (six in 2009-10). And, as the old saying goes -- "you ain't seen nothin' yet."
For the third consecutive year, Notre Dame fans exhausted the program's season ticket packages (7,500) and bought single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish sell out a school-record eight games this year (Dec. 18 vs. Kentucky, Dec. 28 vs. Longwood, Jan. 7 vs. Connecticut, Jan. 21 vs. Villanova, Jan. 23 vs. Tennessee, Feb. 5 vs. DePaul, Feb. 12 vs. West Virginia, Feb. 25 vs. USF).
What's more, Notre Dame is averaging 8,811 fans per game (good for fifth in the nation), including those aforementioned eight sellouts (9,149). The Fighting Irish now have posted 19 sellouts in the past three seasons and 25 in program history.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, senior guard Natalie Novosel and fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters are serving as Notre Dame's team captains for the 2011-12 season. Mallory is in her second season as team captain, while Novosel and Peters received the captain's honor for the first time in their respective careers following a preseason vote by their teammates.
Next Game: NCAA Second Round
Should Notre Dame defeat Liberty in Sunday's NCAA Championship first-round game, the Fighting Irish would advance to the second round in the Raleigh Region and play host to a matchup against the winner of the first-round game between No. 8 seed California and ninth-seeded Iowa (to be played earlier Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion).
Tuesday's second-round game would be played at a time to be announced (likely to be in the evening, but awaiting official notice from the NCAA and its television partners), and coverage expected to be provided by ESPN2, ESPN3/WatchESPN and ESPN Full Court.
Notre Dame is 1-0 all-time against California, defeating the Golden Bears, 62-59 in the first round (Dallas Region) of the 2007 NCAA Championship at Pittsburgh, Pa.
The Fighting Irish also are 1-0 all-time against Iowa, downing the Hawkeyes, 61-50 on Nov. 17, 1996, in the quarterfinals of the Preseason WNIT in Iowa City, Iowa.