March 19, 2014
NCAA Championship -- Notre Dame Region/First Round
#2/2 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (32-0 / 16-0 ACC) vs. [#16 seed] Robert Morris Colonials (21-11 / 14-4 NEC)
DATE: March 22, 2014
TIME: 1:30 p.m. ET
AT: Toledo, Ohio - Savage Arena (7,300)
SERIES: First meeting
TV: ESPN (full national)/WatchESPN (live) (Beth Mowins, p-b-p / Stephanie White, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1)/WatchND (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
TOURNAMENT CENTRAL: UND.com
LIVE STATS: UND.com
No. 2 Fighting Irish Tip Off NCAA Championship Saturday Against Robert Morris
After completing the first undefeated regular season in program history and collecting both the ACC regular season and tournament titles, second-ranked Notre Dame has earned a No. 1 seed for this year's NCAA Championship and will open tournament play at 1:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday with a Notre Dame Region first-round game against 16th-seeded Robert Morris at Savage Arena in Toledo, Ohio. The game will be televised live to a national audience on ESPN and the WatchESPN platform, while the Fighting Irish Radio Network broadcast can be heard live and free of charge at WatchND.
Notre Dame (32-0) became the first ACC team in 11 seasons to run the table in conference play, capping its unblemished inaugural league campaign in grand style by defeating No. 10 Duke, 69-53 on March 9 to win the ACC Championship in Greensboro, N.C.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd was named the tournament MVP after scoring a game-high 26 points in the title game.
The Notre Dame-Robert Morris Series
Notre Dame and Robert Morris will be meeting for the first time on Saturday.
Other Notre Dame-Robert Morris Series Tidbits
Unlocking The Keystone State
Notre Dame will be playing its fifth opponent from the state of Pennsylvania this season (all away from home), having previous defeated Penn (76-54), Duquesne (100-61 in Toronto), Penn State (77-67) and Pittsburgh (109-66).
The Fighting Irish are 58-26 (.690) all-time against schools from the Keystone State, including a 31-21 (.596) record away from home (road/neutral combined). The Fighting Irish also have won their last 15 games against Pennsylvania schools, following this year's quartet of victories.
Notre Dame also has won its last nine games away from home (road/neutral combined) against teams from the Keystone State, with Villanova the most recent Pennsylvania school to defeat the Fighting Irish at any time (58-47 on March 10, 2009, in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.).
Notre Dame is 11-0 against ranked opponents (6-0 against top-10 teams) and has won 10 of those 11 games by double figures, the lone exception being an 87-83 victory at No. 8/6 Maryland on Jan. 27 (a game in which the Fighting Irish led by 22 points late in the first half).
What's more, Notre Dame had several notable program achievements involving ranked teams this season:
Irish In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is beginning its 21st appearance in the NCAA Championship (and 19th in a row) this weekend. The Fighting Irish have a .683 winning percentage (41-19) in NCAA Championship play, ranking eighth all-time in that category (minimum of 20 games played).
In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 19 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. 162-184 in this year's regular season media guide for box scores, results and records):
Sowing The Seeds
For the third consecutive season (and fourth time in program history), Notre Dame has earned a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Championship.
The Fighting Irish are 15-2 (.882) all-time as a top seed in the tournament, winning six in a row to claim the 2001 national championship, then going 5-1 in 2012 on the way to an NCAA national runner-up finish before posting a 4-1 record en route to the Final Four last year.
Notre Dame has been awarded a top-eight seed for the 15th time in its 21 NCAA Championship visits (and a top-four seed for the eighth time). The Fighting Irish are 27-5 (.844) 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 20 previous NCAA tournament trips (60 games), the Fighting Irish are 22-2 (.917) when holding their opponent to 60 points or fewer, including a current eight-game winning streak dating back to the 2010 tournament.
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.
Stoking The Offensive Fires
Notre Dame has reached the 70-point mark in 20 of its last 24 NCAA tournament games, going 17-3 (.850) in those contests.
Last year marked the third time the Fighting Irish scored at least 80 points in three NCAA Championship games (97 vs. UT-Martin in the first round; 93 vs. Kansas in the regional semifinals; 87 vs. Duke in the regional final). Notre Dame also pulled off that feat in 1997 and 2001, with the latter season being the only other time the Fighting Irish had multiple 90-point outings in the same NCAA Championship run.
What's more, last year's 97-64 first-round win over UT-Martin represented the second-highest point total posted by the Fighting Irish in an NCAA tournament game, topped only by a 98-49 win over Alcorn State on March 17, 2001 (NCAA Midwest Region first-round game at Purcell Pavilion).
Notre Dame is 3-1 all-time when going to overtime in the NCAA tournament, most recently going to OT to win its 2012 Women's Final Four national semifinal over Connecticut (83-75 in Denver). The Fighting Irish had previously split two OT games with Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament (79-75 in a 2008 second-round game at West Lafayette, Ind.; 77-72 loss in 2010 regional semifinal in Kansas City), and also defeated Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), 69-65, in extra time in their 2004 NCAA opener.
Notre Dame is 20-17 (.541) all-time when going to overtime, including an 8-4 record in its last 12 contests. The Fighting Irish last win to OT on March 3, 2013, pulling out a 96-87 triple-overtime victory against No. 3 Connecticut at Purcell Pavilion (the longest game in program history).
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 Championship games in Toledo.
And Don't Forget The Lime Green Shirts
The ever-present lime green t-shirts you might see many Notre Dame fans wearing around Toledo 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 former coordinator of basketball operations Stephanie Menio (now the assistant AD/senior woman administrator at Army) 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 83-57 win over Florida State in the ACC Championship quarterfinals on March 7 in Greensboro, N.C., was Notre Dame's 30th victory of the season, marking the sixth time in program history the Fighting Irish have reached the 30-win mark, and the fourth consecutive season. Notre Dame also logged that milestone in 1996-97 (31-7), 2000-01 (34-2), 2010-11 (31-8), 2011-12 (35-4) and 2012-13 (35-2).
Not only does this represent the first time the Fighting Irish have posted four consecutive 30-win seasons, but it also is the third year in a row they registered their 30th win prior to the start of the NCAA Championship (this season's 32 victories are the most for Notre Dame heading into NCAA postseason play, topping last year's 31 wins and 30 the year before).
Getting The Jump
At 32-0, Notre Dame is off to the best start in the program's 37-year history. This year's start surpasses the debut of the 2000-01 Fighting Irish squad, which reeled off a (then) school-record 23 consecutive wins en route to a 34-2 final record and the program's first national championship.
Notre Dame's current 32-game winning streak is the longest success string in program history, and it's the third consecutive season the Fighting Irish have posted a winning streak of 20 games or longer, including last year's 30-game run (the previous school record before this season's string).
What's more, the Fighting Irish have compiled the second-longest winning streak by any team in the modern era (since 1950) of Notre Dame athletics. In fact, the women's basketball program holds three of the seven longest winning streaks in Fighting Irish athletics history during the past six decades.
Notre Dame also has strung together 14 double-digit winning streaks in the program's 37-year history, with 12 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
Dating back to the start of last season, the Fighting Irish are 67-2 (.971) and have won 52 consecutive regular season games. In that span, their lone losses have come against a pair of third-ranked teams -- Baylor (73-61 on Dec. 5, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion) and Connecticut (83-65 on April 7, 2013, in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, La.).
In addition, Notre Dame currently shares the nation's longest winning streak against unranked opponents (in the Associated Press poll), having earned 49 consecutive victories since a last-second 65-63 home loss to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012 (research for this note provided by STATS via the AP).
With its 81-70 victory over No. 7 Duke on Feb. 23 at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame secured its third consecutive outright conference regular season title, and first as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Notre Dame also has won three consecutive outright conference regular season championships for the first time in its 37-year history, and won three in a row of any kind for just the second time. In their first three seasons (1988-89 through 1990-91) in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League), the Fighting Irish won the regular season title each time, although they shared the MCC crown in their inaugural season in that league with Loyola-Chicago.
Some other notables about Notre Dame's first ACC title:
A Clean (ACC) Sweep
Notre Dame completed a sweep of the ACC crowns in its inaugural conference season by winning the ACC Championship on March 9 with a 69-53 victory over No. 10 Duke in the title game in Greensboro, N.C.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, while senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride joined Loyd on the ACC Championship All-Tournament First Team, and senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa earned a spot on the ACC Championship All-Tournament Second Team.
A few added tidbits on Notre Dame's first ACC postseason crown:
Notre Dame has won a school-record 26 consecutive road games (35 in a row in the regular season, and 42 of its last 47 overall), including the March 2 victory at No. 13/17 North Carolina State. The Fighting Irish last tasted defeat on the road in the regular season on Nov. 20, 2011, a 94-81 setback at No. 1 Baylor in the Preseason WNIT championship game.
Notre Dame's current 26-game road winning streak also is the longest active run in the nation, doubling the next-closest pursuers (13 by Connecticut, as of March 17), as well as tying the fourth-longest road winning streak in NCAA Division I history.
The highlight of this current run came on Jan. 5, 2013, when Notre Dame edged No. 1 Connecticut, 73-72, in Storrs, Conn., earning its fourth all-time win over a top-ranked opponent and first-ever victory on the road.
The Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 24 consecutive conference road games, with their last loss coming as part of the BIG EAST Conference on Feb. 28, 2011 (a last-second 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul).
The Comforts Of Home
Notre Dame has won 26 consecutive home games since a 73-61 loss to third-ranked Baylor on Dec. 5, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion. As of March 17, the Fighting Irish are tied with Dayton for the nation's second-longest active home winning streak, with this run also the second-longest in school history (longest since a school-record 51-game stretch from Dec. 12, 1998-Feb. 19, 2002).
What's more, Notre Dame has won its last 18 conference home games since a 65-63 loss to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012, when both the Fighting Irish and Mountaineers were members of the BIG EAST Conference.
That's Some Sharp Shooting
Notre Dame currently leads the nation with a .511 field goal percentage, highlighted by 20 games this season in which the Fighting Irish have shot better than 50 percent, including seven games where they topped 60 percent from the field.
In addition, Notre Dame had a remarkable three-game stretch from Dec. 7-22 when it connected at better than a 55-percent clip in each contest. It was the first time the Fighting Irish had three consecutive 55-percent outings since Nov. 20-29, 1997, when they did so in victories over North Carolina State (.565), Bowling Green (.558) and Ohio University (.567).
Notre Dame's sharpshooting brigade has been led by senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa, who is fourth in the ACC (seventh in the nation) with a .595 field goal percentage, along with a .634 mark in conference play (second in the ACC).
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (.528) has moved up to 11th in the ACC in field goal percentage (sixth in conference play at .536), thanks in part to her own recent hot streak that has seen Loyd shoot .560 (122-of-218) during her last 15 outings, notably going 9-of-11 for a game-high 23 points in the Feb. 9 win over Syracuse.
Eight other Notre Dame players are shooting better than 50 percent from the field this season, led by junior forward Markisha Wright (.575), freshman forward Kristina Nelson (.551) and freshman forward Taya Reimer (.523), but none has made the minimum number of shots (three per game) to qualify for ACC ranking.
Life In The 60s
Not only has Notre Dame shot better than 60 percent from the field in seven games this season, but the Fighting Irish have put up similar sizzling shooting numbers in single halves this year.
In fact, Notre Dame has posted a field goal percentage of .600 or better in 19 of its 64 halves, equating to a 60-percent performance more than one out of every four periods of basketball it plays, with the distribution almost even (nine times in the first half, 10 times in the second half).
The Fighting Irish also have shot better than 60 percent in both halves of a game twice this season (UNC Wilmington and Pittsburgh), along with a season-high single-half percentage of .710 in the second period against Central Michigan, a rate that just missed the top 10 on the school's all-time chart.
A trio of marks that did make it into one of the program's top 10 lists were Notre Dame's first-half shooting percentages at Michigan (.688) and Maryland (.667), and in the ACC quarterfinals against Florida State (.654), which now rank as the sixth-, eighth- and 10th-best figures during the opening 20 minutes in school history.
Dialing Long Distance
Although not usually a primary part of the Notre Dame arsenal, the Fighting Irish have found the three-point shot much to their liking this season. Notre Dame ranks second in the nation with a .406 three-point percentage, with three different players connecting at 40 percent or better from beyond the arc (and two more at .368 or better).
Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey leads the way for the Fighting Irish with a .417 three-point percentage that ranks fourth in the ACC (22nd in the nation), while senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (.368) stands 10th in the conference.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (.394) would rank sixth on the ACC overall chart, but she is three made three-pointers shy of meeting the minimum qualification standard (1.0 3FG/game).
During ACC play, Loyd (.474) finished second in the conference, while Mabrey was not far behind her in the sixth position (.423).
In addition, Mabrey is 10th in the ACC with 2.0 three-pointers per game (tied for 10th in ACC play at 2.1 per game), a mark she bolstered on Feb. 9 against Syracuse with a career-high (and Purcell Pavilion record-tying) six triples. It's one of 20 times this season Mabrey has canned multiple treys in a game (including seven contests with at least four triples), and the third time this year a Notre Dame player has made five three-pointers in a contest (Mabrey went 5-for-6 against Boston College on Jan. 9, while junior guard Madison Cable posted a 5-for-6 effort against UCLA on Dec. 7).
In fact, Cable (.457) and freshman guard Lindsay Allen (.417) would rank among the top five in the ACC as well, but like Loyd, they don't quite meet the minimum standard for the overall ACC rankings despite their efficiency from distance.
As a team, the Fighting Irish have connected on 10 three-pointers in a game three times this season (UCLA, Tennessee and Syracuse), their highest production outside the arc in nearly four years, dating back to a similar 10-triple performance on Jan. 30, 2010, at Syracuse.
What's more, Notre Dame's .750 three-point mark (9-of-12) on Jan. 16 at Pittsburgh was its best performance from long range (with a minimum of five attempts) in more than five years, stretching back to Nov. 23, 2008, against Boston College at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass., when the Fighting Irish made 7-of-8 three-pointers (.875) in a 102-54 win.
A Helping Hand
As of March 17, the Fighting Irish rank second in assists at 20.7 per game (Connecticut is first at 21.6).
Notre Dame also has dished out at least 20 helpers in 18 games thus far, plus 19 assists in six other outings (along with a season-high 31 dimes against UCLA on Dec. 7), with the Fighting Irish piling up assists on 63.3 percent of their made field goals this year (662 of 1,045).
Notre Dame also ranks fourth in the nation (and tops in the ACC) in assist/turnover ratio (1.42), led by two players who rank among the top five in the ACC in that category -- freshman guard Lindsay Allen (3rd - 1.97) and senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (5th - 1.82); both are on pace to finish with two of the top six single-season assist/turnover ratios in school history.
What's more, Allen (122 assists) and McBride (120) are the fourth set of Notre Dame teammates in the past decade to register 100 assists in the same season, and the first since 2010-11, when Skylar Diggins (186) and Brittany Mallory (101) pulled off the feat.
Visiting Century City
Notre Dame has scored at least 100 points in a school-record five games this season (with three other games of 95-99 points), topping last year's mark of three triple-digit outings.
The Fighting Irish have piled up 10 100-point games in the past three seasons (and eight other games of 95-99 points), a remarkable offensive explosion considering Notre Dame had 13 triple-digit games in the first 34 years of the program's existence (and just four in the 12 seasons prior to its current run).
In addition, Notre Dame's 100-75 win over No. 14/11 North Carolina on Feb. 27 was just the second time in program history (and first in more than 15 years) the Fighting Irish reached the century mark against a ranked opponent, following a 101-93 win over No. 25/23 Illinois on Nov. 24, 1998, at Purcell Pavilion.
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 22 games this year, going 22-0 in those contests. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 97-5 (.951) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including wins in 67 of their last 68 such outings (the lone loss coming in last year's NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinal against Connecticut).
In A Class By Themselves
For the third consecutive season, a Notre Dame senior class has re-set the bar in terms of career wins by one group. The current class of tri-captains Natalie Achonwa, Ariel Braker and Kayla McBride now stands first all-time with 133 wins (133-14, .905), surpassing the seniors from 2012-13.
Last year, led by its two-player senior class of Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, Notre Dame posted (at the time) the best four-year record (130-20, .867) in school history, topping the win total (117) compiled by the previous year's seniors (Brittany Mallory, Fraderica Miller, Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters).
Prior to the 2011-12 season, the highest four-year win total by a senior class was 109, set by the Class of 2001 that included (among others) consensus national player of the year and 13-year WNBA veteran Ruth Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Niele Ivey.
Notre Dame's 1,000-Point Scorers
Senior tri-captains Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa will spend their final season at Notre Dame steadily climbing the program's all-time scoring list, after both entered the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club last year.
McBride currently is sixth in program history with 1,767 career points, passing Alicia Ratay (1,763 from 1999-2003) with her 25 points against No. 10 Duke in the ACC title game on March 9. McBride also is one of just seven players ever to score 1,600 points under the Golden Dome.
Meanwhile, Achonwa stands 13th in Notre Dame history with 1,464 points, having passed Sandy Botham (1,460 from 1984-88) with eight points against No. 10 Duke in the ACC final on March 9.
Another current Fighting Irish player joined the program's 1,000-Point Club earlier this month at the ACC Championship. Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd earned her membership card in that ACC title contest vs. No. 10 Duke on March 9 with the first basket in her game-high 26-point performance. Loyd, who currently ranks 31st in school history with 1,024 points, reached the milestone in just 67 career games, making her the third-fastest player to reach 1,000 points at Notre Dame, and just the third to do so before the end of her sophomore season (the others being Beth Morgan in 1994-95 and Skylar Diggins in 2010-11).
Loyd also has a chance to approach Diggins' mark for the most points by a Fighting Irish player in her first two seasons -- Diggins had 1,069 points at the end of her sophomore year in 2010-11.
"She's money. Kayla McBride is money. That's cash. Every time she shoots that thing, it's going in."
McBride's career-high 31 points against the Blue Devils (followed by a 28-point effort four nights later against No. 14/11 North Carolina) are just some of the latest in what has been a series of peak performances for the Erie, Pa., native in her final season at Notre Dame.
As not only the ACC Player of the Year and a unainimous first-team all-ACC choice, but also a prime candidate for numerous National Player of the Year and All-America honors, McBride's play already was receiving notice on several levels, but she's taken that effort up more than a notch this season.
McBride is averaging career highs in scoring (17.5 ppg.), rebounding (5.5 rpg.), assists (3.8 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (1.82), ranking among the top 15 in the ACC in scoring (11th), free throw percentage (3rd - .874; also 20th in nation), assist/turnover ratio (5th), assists (10th) and three-point percentage (10th - .368).
In addition, McBride is tied for the team lead with 11 20-point games, has a double-double to her credit (23 points/11 rebounds at No. 3 Duke on Feb. 2) and nine "5-5-5" games (at least "5" in three of the five statistical categories - points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals).
Yet, what puts McBride a cut above virtually every other player in the land in her uncanny ability to raise her game on the biggest stages. In Notre Dame's 11 games against Top 25 opponents this season, she is averaging 19.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game with a .466 field goal percentage (82-of-176). She's even better against top-10 teams, averaging 22.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game with a .505 field goal percentage (51-of-101) in those six outings.
In fact, dating back to last season, McBride is averaging 18.6 points per game in her last 25 games against ranked opponents, including 10 20-point games.
Coming Up Aces
Senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa (nicknamed "Ace") is making her way up Notre Dame's career charts in both rebounds and double-doubles. She currently ranks sixth on the rebounding list (931) and is tied for sixth on the double-doubles chart (26), moving up one spot on the latter rundown with her 21 points and 10 boards against Georgia Tech on Feb. 17.
Achonwa continues to remain among the top 10 in school history with a .556 career field goal percentage (sixth in program annals) and 141 games played (fourth all-time at Notre Dame; tied for third among active NCAA players).
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd has continued her development as one of the top young talents in the country this season, already collecting ACC Tournament Most Valuable Player honors and first-team all-ACC and All-ACC Defensive Team accolades, in addition to being a central figure on virtually every major national player of the year watch list.
The Lincolnwood, Ill., product currently ranks seventh in the ACC in scoring (18.5 ppg.), sixth in free throw percentage (.824), 11th in field goal percentage (.528) and tied for 12th in steals (1.6 spg.), while sporting career-high marks in scoring, rebounding (6.2 rpg.), assists (2.4 apg.), steals, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. She also has a team high-tying 11 20-point games thus far (including a career-high 31 points at No. 8/6 Maryland on Jan. 27) after scoring 20 points twice during her rookie campaign.
What's more, Loyd has two 30-point games to her credit this season, having also dropped in an even 30 against Central Michigan on Dec. 22 at Purcell Pavilion. Loyd is the first Fighting Irish player to have two 30-point games in the same season since 1999-2000, when Ruth Riley did so against Liberty (32) and Miami (36).
Perhaps giving a preview of things to come, Loyd stormed out of the gates this season, piling up 63 points in Notre Dame's first three games, wins over UNC Wilmington (19 points), No. 19/18 Michigan State (22 points) and Valparaiso (22 points).
Loyd's opening-week point production was the highest for a Fighting Irish player in the first three contests of a season since 1998-99, when Danielle Green had 66 combined points in wins against No. 6 UCLA at home (23 points), at Butler (23) and No. 6/4 Duke at home (20).
The Model Of Consistency
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd has scored in double figures in 37 consecutive games, dating back to March 11, 2013, when she had eight points in Notre Dame's 83-59 BIG EAST Championship semifinal win over No. 16/15 Louisville at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Loyd's 37-game double-digit scoring streak is the second-longest in school history, surpassing Natalie Novosel's 27-game run from March 8, 2011-Jan. 21, 2012. In fact, Loyd has scored in double figures in 55 of her 67 career games (and 10 of those 12 single-digit games saw her within one basket of double figures).
Loyd's teammate, senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride, has put together the fifth-longest run of double-digit scoring games in school history (23 in a row, beginning Dec. 22 vs. Central Michigan).
Katryna Gaither has staked an ironclad claim to the school record with a remarkable 76-game double-figure scoring streak from 1994-97.
Jewell Of Denial
Three times this year, Notre Dame has recorded key wins over top-10 opponents thanks to strong defense from a player better known for her offense.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd, who in her spare time leads the Fighting Irish in scoring this season, was given the assignment of marking Penn State's Maggie Lucas (Dec. 4) and Duke's Tricia Liston (Feb. 23 and March 9) and embraced each challenge with aplomb.
In Notre Dame's 77-67 win at No. 10/11 Penn State, Loyd led a Fighting Irish defense that held Lucas (averaging 22.2 ppg. at tipoff) to just seven points (1-8 FG, 4-4 FT), and held the sharpshooting All-American and Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year scoreless until 5:18 remained in the game, when she converted a pair of 1+1 free throws in the bonus situation.
In the final two meetings with Duke (an 81-70 Fighting Irish win on Feb. 23 and a 69-53 win in the ACC final on March 9), Loyd was again equal to the task of guarding the opponent's top scorer. In both cases, she shadowed Liston across virtually every inch of the court, helping to hold the Blue Devil guard (who came into both games averaging better than 17 ppg., and scored 23 in the teams' first matchup on Feb. 2) to a combined 13 points (6.5 ppg.) on 5-of-19 shooting (.263).
Freshman Lindsay Allen got the call from head coach Muffet McGraw to start at point guard in Notre Dame's season opener against UNC Wilmington on Nov. 9 at Purcell Pavilion. Allen finished with 11 points in her debut game, including the team's first five points of the season.
It was the first time a Fighting Irish rookie point guard started the season opener since Nov. 26, 1994, when Mollie Peirick cracked the lineup and played 38 minutes (two points, five rebounds, three assists) in a 65-60 overtime loss at No. 25 Seton Hall.
One of two freshmen among 22 candidates for the 2014 Nancy Lieberman Award (given to the nation's top point guard), Allen has not disappointed in her debut campaign, averaging 6.4 points and 3.8 assists per game (the latter tying for eighth in the ACC). She also is third in the ACC with a 1.97 assist/turnover ratio, and is tied for second on the team with 1.31 steals per game.
Allen (122 assists) already has topped the 29-year old program record for assists by a freshman (116 by Mary Gavin in 1984-85), and she also is only the fifth Notre Dame freshman to dish out 100 assists in her rookie season, as well as the second in the past 20 years (Skylar Diggins had 112 assists in 2009-10).
What's more, Allen's 3.81 apg. average is the best for a Notre Dame freshman since 1994-95 (Peirick - 3.93 apg.) and makes Allen a candidate to be just the second Notre Dame freshman ever to average 4.0 apg. as a rookie (Gavin logged 4.5 apg. in that 1984-85 season).
Leading a winning lineup is not an unfamiliar feeling for Allen, who is a combined 59-1 in her last 60 games as a starting point guard. Last year as a senior at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C., she guided her squad to a 27-1 record and the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) title -- the highest level of play in the District of Columbia, which does not have a state tournament.
The Second Platoon
Another reason for Notre Dame's success this season has been the performance of its reserves, who are averaging more than 26 points per game and have outscored the opponent's bench by a double-digit margin (26.3 ppg. to 15.6 ppg.).
The Fighting Irish second unit has outscored its opposite number in 23 games this season, including a season-high 55 points on Jan. 9 against Boston College, outscoring the entire BC roster by two points (not to mention the Notre Dame starters by 15).
Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey (9.1 ppg.), freshman forward Taya Reimer (7.8 ppg.) and junior guard Madison Cable (5.4 ppg.) head up the strong Fighting Irish bench contingent, which has seen at least one reserve score in double figures in 22 games this season (total of 26 double-figure outings).
Call Her Mabrey
Certainly a leading candidate as one of the nation's most improved players would have to be Notre Dame sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey. The Belmar, N.J., resident has emerged as a key reserve for the Fighting Irish, averaging 9.1 points and 2.4 assists per game along with a very solid 1.71 assist/turnover ratio, after logging 3.0 ppg. and 1.3 apg. with a 1.06 A/TO mark last year.
Mabrey also has proven to be a dynamic three-point threat for Notre Dame, ranking fourth in the ACC with a .417 three-point percentage (sixth in the league with a .423 mark in ACC play) and 10th in the conference with 2.0 three-pointers made per game (tied for 10th at 2.1 per game in league play), thanks in part to making multiple treys in 20 games (and at least four triples in six games this year), including a career-high 6-of-14 vs. Syracuse on Feb. 9.
In fact, Mabrey's 65 three-pointers this season are the most by a Notre Dame player since 2000-01 (Alicia Ratay - 81) and rank sixth on the Fighting Irish single-season chart.
What's more, Mabrey already has scored in double figures 15 times this year (including a career-high 19 points in the season opener against UNC Wilmington) after doing so three times in 30 games last season.
The Benefits Of Leadership
Notre Dame is in the unique position of essentially having three head coaches on its bench, with current Fighting Irish skipper Muffet McGraw enjoying the expertise of two former head coaches on her staff -- associate head coach Carol Owens (who guided her alma mater Northern Illinois from 2005-10) and associate coach Beth Cunningham (who piloted VCU from 2003-12).
Collectively, the Notre Dame staff has 46 seasons of head coaching experience, which ranks third among Division I schools behind only Villanova (51) and Rutgers (47).
Notre Dame is ranked a season-high No. 2 in the final 2013-14 Associated Press poll, its 66th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 136 consecutive weeks in the AP poll.
The Fighting Irish reached a milestone on Nov. 26, 2012, with their 100th consecutive AP poll appearance. It not only extended the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001), but it made the Fighting Irish are one of six teams in the nation with an active streak of 100 consecutive AP poll appearances.
What's more, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career (97 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (86) of those appearances in the AP Top 10 (and never lower than 18th).
Notre Dame's year-end No. 2 ranking matches the highest final AP poll appearance in program history, first set by the 2000-01 national championship squad, and duplicated last year.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 275 weeks during the program's 37-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw is eighth among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and 16th all-time in that category.
In addition, the Fighting Irish are ranked a season-best No. 2 in the latest WBCA/USA Today coaches' poll (like the AP poll, their 13th consecutive week at that spot), and are earning one first-place vote for the fourth consecutive week, after nabbing at least one such vote for 11 weeks last year.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 137 of the past 138 weeks (and 101 in a row), 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 269 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the sixth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the WBCA/USA Today poll, as well as 12 of the past 16 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 32 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 275 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 32 people on this list, 17 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches, 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 and 2012).
Half And Half
During the past 14 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 307-19 (.942) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 235 of their last 248 such contests (.948).
What's more, in the past five seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 144-2 (.986) 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 19 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, the Fighting Irish have an amazing 291-15 (.951) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including a 13-0 record this season.
...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 19 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 209-6 (.972) 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 five years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 86-2 (.977) when topping the 80-point mark, including a 24-0 record this season.
Next Game: NCAA Second Round
With a victory over Robert Morris, Notre Dame would advance to the second round of the NCAA Championship, where it would meet either eighth-seeded Vanderbilt or No. 9 seed Arizona State at 6:30 p.m. (ET) Monday at Savage Arena in Toledo, Ohio. The game will be televised either on ESPN or ESPN2, as well as available on the WatchESPN platform.
The Fighting Irish are 4-1 all-time against Vanderbilt, last facing the Commodores on Dec. 31, 2009, at Purcell Pavilion (a 74-69 victory). Meanwhile, Notre Dame is 1-2 all-time against Arizona State, with the Sun Devils winning the teams' most recent encounter, 70-61 on March 21, 2005, in the second round of the NCAA Championship (Tempe Region) in Fresno, Calif.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director