March 21, 2013
NCAA Championship -- Norfolk Region/First Round
#2/2 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (31-1 / 16-0 BIG EAST) vs. [#16 seed] Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks (19-14 / 11-5 OVC West)
DATE: March 24, 2013
TIME: 5:05 p.m. ET
AT: Iowa City, Iowa - Carver-Hawkeye Arena (15,400)
SERIES: First meeting
TV: ESPN2/WatchESPN (live) (Holly Rowe, p-b-p / Brenda VanLengen, color)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1)/UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
No. 2 Fighting Irish Tip Off NCAA Tournament Sunday Against UT Martin
After sweeping the BIG EAST Conference regular season and tournament titles, No. 2 Notre Dame turns its attention to the NCAA Championship, as the top-seeded Fighting Irish open tournament play at 5:05 p.m. (ET) Sunday against No. 16 seed Tennessee-Martin at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa. The game will be televised live on ESPN2 via "whiparound coverage", while those in the South Bend area and nationally on WatchESPN/ESPN Full Court will see the game in its entirety.
Notre Dame (31-1) became the first school other than Connecticut in 20 years to take home both BIG EAST trophies after edging the Huskies, 61-59 in the BIG EAST final on March 12 in Hartford. It was the program's first BIG EAST postseason title in its final year in the league.
Junior forward Natalie Achonwa was the hero, taking a pass from senior guard Skylar Diggins for the winning layup with 1.8 seconds left. Junior guard Kayla McBride, who scored a game-high 23 points, was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
Other Notre Dame Notables
The Notre Dame-UT Martin Series
Notre Dame and Tennessee-Martin will be meeting on the hardwood for the first time when they square off Sunday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA Championship.
Other Notre Dame-UT Martin Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Ohio Valley Conference
Notre Dame is 3-0 all-time against Ohio Valley Conference schools, with two of those wins coming at home two years ago (91-28 vs. Morehead State; 97-21 vs. Southeast Missouri). This will mark the first time it has faced an OVC team in the NCAA Championship.
Prior to that 2010-11 season, the Fighting Irish had played just one current OVC member (Southern Illinois-Edwardsville) during its first 33 campaigns.
On Jan. 11, 1980, then-AIAW Division III member Notre Dame defeated SIU-E, 65-51 at the Huskie Invitational in DeKalb, Ill. Jane Politiski turned in a double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds) for Notre Dame, but this game was better known (and we use the term "better" loosely) for the combined 84 turnovers between the clubs, including SIU-E's 48 giveaways which stood as the Fighting Irish opponent record for more than 30 years until it was finally scrubbed from the Notre Dame record books on Nov. 12, 2010 (49 by New Hampshire).
Other Tidbits From Iowa City
Irish In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is making its 20th appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 18th in a row, as it takes the court Sunday afternoon for its NCAA tournament opener against Tennessee-Martin. The Fighting Irish have a .673 winning percentage (37-18) in NCAA Championship play, ranking eighth all-time in that category (minimum of 20 games played).
In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 18 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. 166-186 in this year's regular season media guide for box scores, results and records):
Sowing The Seeds
For the second consecutive season (and third time in program history), Notre Dame has earned a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Championship.
The Fighting Irish are 11-1 (.917) all-time as a top seed in the tournament, winning six in a row to claim the 2001 national championship, then going 5-1 last year on the way to an NCAA national runner-up finish.
Notre Dame has been awarded a top-eight seed for the 14th time in its 20 NCAA Championship visits (and a top-four seed for the seventh time). The Fighting Irish are 23-5 (.821) 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 19 NCAA tournament trips (55 games), the Fighting Irish are 21-2 (.913) when holding their opponent to 60 points or fewer, including wins in three of six tournament games last year (Liberty, Saint Bonaventure, Maryland).
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 16 of its last 19 NCAA tournament games, going 13-3 (.813) in those contests. What's more, the 2010 first-round win at home over Cleveland State (86-58) represents the highest point production by the Fighting Irish in the NCAA Championship since a 90-75 win over Connecticut in the 2001 NCAA national semifinals in St. Louis.
Notre Dame is 3-1 all-time when going to overtime in the NCAA tournament, following last year's national semifinal win 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. This season, the Fighting Irish are 2-0 in added time, most recently pulling out a 96-87 triple-overtime victory against No. 3 Connecticut on March 4 at Purcell Pavilion (in what was 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 weekend's NCAA Championship games in Iowa City.
And Don't Forget The Lime Green Shirts
The ever-present lime green t-shirts you might see many Notre Dame fans wearing around Carver-Hawkeye Arena 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, 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 83-59 win over No. 16/15 Louisville in the BIG EAST Championship semifinal on March 11 was Notre Dame's 30th victory of the season, marking the fifth time in program history the Fighting Irish have reached the 30-win mark, and the third consecutive season. Notre Dame also logged that milestone in 1996-97 (31-7), 2000-01 (34-2), 2010-11 (31-8) and 2011-12 (35-4).
Not only does this represent the first time the Fighting Irish have posted three consecutive 30-win seasons, but it also is the second year in a row they have registered their 30th win prior to the start of the NCAA Championship.
Start Me Up
Heading into the start of the NCAA Championship this weekend, Notre Dame has posted the best 32-game record in school history (31-1).
The 2000-01 Fighting Irish national championship squad previously had the best winning percentage of any Notre Dame team entering the NCAA tournament (28-2, .933), while last year's club had the prior standard for most wins going into the Championship (30-3).
Notre Dame's current 26-game winning streak has set the school record for consecutive victories, surpassing the mark of the 2000-01 club that opened the season with 23 consecutive wins.
What's more, the Fighting Irish have tied for the third-longest winning streak by any team in the modern era (since 1950) of Notre Dame athletics, duplicating the runs by the 1977-78 men's soccer team and 2008 women's soccer squad. Only the 1965-67 men's tennis team (29) and 2001 softball team (33) have posted longer winning streak among Fighting Irish squads (aside from a pair of lengthy success strings by the men's/women's fencing programs, which compete in dual matches, but rely on individual wins in each weapon to achieve NCAA Championship titles).
Notre Dame has strung together 13 double-digit winning streaks in the women's basketball program's 36-year history, with 11 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
Notre Dame has won a school-record 22 consecutive regular season road games and 28 of its last 33 overall, including all 12 contests this season. 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.
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.
Prior to the past two years, the school record for consecutive regular season road wins was held by Notre Dame's 2000-01 national championship team that won its first 10 road outings before a 54-53 loss at No. 11/14 Rutgers on Feb. 17, 2001.
The Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 16 consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular season road games, with their last loss coming on Feb. 28, 2011 (a last-second 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul).
The previous school record for consecutive BIG EAST regular season road wins was seven, set numerous times, most recently crossing between the 2001-02 and 2002-03 campaigns.
The previous Notre Dame record for consecutive regular season road victories in any conference was 15, which the Fighting Irish set from Feb. 25, 1989-Feb. 14, 1991 during their time in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (Horizon League).
A Class By Themselves
Led by its two-player senior class of guards/co-captains Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, Notre Dame has posted the best four-year record (126-19, .869) in school history, topping the win total (117) compiled by last year's seniors.
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 12-year WNBA veteran Ruth Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey.
The Rare Air Up There
With its 77-67 win at No. 9 Tennessee on Jan. 28, Notre Dame made NCAA Division I history in two ways. The Fighting Irish not only became the first school ever to defeat both Connecticut and Tennessee in three consecutive seasons, but they also were the first program in the NCAA era (since 1981-82) to defeat both the Huskies and Lady Vols on the road in the same season (the latter victory was Notre Dame's first in nine games against UT in Knoxville).
Starting with its 2011 NCAA Elite Eight win over Tennessee in Dayton, Ohio, Notre Dame has gone a combined 10-1 against Connecticut and Tennessee, with no other senior class at any school having compiled that many wins against those two traditional powers since 1988-89 (when Connecticut made its first NCAA postseason appearance).
Finding A Way
Facing its largest deficit of the season (22-7) less than eight minutes into its Feb. 26 Senior Night game against No. 22/20 Syracuse at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame reminded observers there are numerous ways to play this game -- and win.
In this case, the Fighting Irish flipped the script with a 40-10 surge that covered 14:55 during the middle of the game, starting with 3:56 left in the first half when Notre Dame trailed 39-25, and ending when the Fighting Irish held a 65-49 lead at the 9:01 mark of the second half.
The 15-point comeback win tied Notre Dame's largest rally at home in its BIG EAST era (72-65 win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 28, 2006 - coincidentally, also a Senior Night game), and it was the largest for the Fighting Irish in any contest since Nov. 26, 2011, when Notre Dame tied a school record with an 18-point comeback win (56-54) over No. 7/6 Duke in the title game of the Junkanoo Jam in Freeport, Bahamas.
What's more, the 31-point swing in momentum was the largest in a Fighting Irish game since March 30, 2001, against Connecticut in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals at the Savvis Center (now Scottrade Center) in St. Louis. On that night, Notre Dame trailed the Huskies, 47-31, with 2:02 left in the first half, but stormed back to win, 90-75 en route to the program's first national championship.
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 19 games this year. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 71-4 (.947) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 41-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul).
Everyone Pitches In
With the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-Americans (and 2012 WNBA first-round draft picks) Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame entered this season searching to find a way to make up for the talented duo's 27.0 points and 13.4 rebounds per game.
Thus far in 2012-13, it would appear the Fighting Irish are making this mission truly a team effort. On the scoring side, 10 of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including junior forward Ariel Braker (eight times, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined), sophomore guards Madison Cable (three times) and Whitney Holloway (once - the first double-digit games of Cable and Holloway's careers) and freshman guards Jewell Loyd (19 times) and Michaela Mabrey (three times).
On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.3 rebounds per game and has piled up 16 of her 18 career double-digit rebounding games this year, including the program's first 20-rebound outing since Jan. 20, 1988 (Heidi Bunek at DePaul). The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading (and school record-tying) 16 double-doubles (seven against ranked opponents, eight in conference play) after logging one double-double in her career prior to this season.
The Best Things In Life Are Free
Throughout the 2012-13 season, Notre Dame has displayed a penchant for making opponents pay at the free throw line.
Through 32 games, the Fighting Irish rank second in the nation in free throw percentage, shooting a remarkable .797 (574-of-720) from the charity stripe, including a season-high .941 (16-of-17) on Jan. 23 in a victory at Pittsburgh (not including a 6-for-6 effort in the BIG EAST Championship final at Connecticut on March 12).
On average, Notre Dame is getting to the line better than 22 times per game, converting nearly 18 free throws a night. At the same time, the Fighting Irish have made almost 33 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (574 made, 433 opponent attempts).
Last year, Notre Dame set a school record by connecting at a .763 clip from the foul line, leading the BIG EAST with a stellar .807 percentage during conference play.
Junior guard Kayla McBride has had the most success cashing in on this strategy during the past two seasons, making 75 of 82 free throws (.915) to lead the BIG EAST (and ranking second during conference play with an .891 percentage). She also would rank sixth in the nation, but she is five made free throws shy of the minimum needed for qualification (2.5 free throws made/game).
McBride is one of four Notre Dame players who appear among the top 15 in the current BIG EAST free throw rankings, with senior guard Skylar Diggins ranking third (.820), freshman guard Jewell Loyd placing fourth (.819) and junior forward Natalie Achonwa ranking 11th (.782).
For her career, McBride has logged an .888 free throw percentage, putting her ahead of Alicia Ratay's school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.
Irish Trio Collects All-Region Honors
For the fourth consecutive year (and the fourth time in school history), three Notre Dame players earned all-region status in the same season and now are in position to contend for places on the 2013 State Farm Coaches' All-America Team, it was announced March 19 by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The Fighting Irish are the only team in the country 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 past four years.
Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins earned her fourth all-region citation in as many seasons, while junior forward Natalie Achonwa and junior guard Kayla McBride both garnered all-region honors for the first time in their respective careers. The trio is among the 52 all-region selections, and three of the 12 honorees from the WBCA's Region I, which includes players from schools in the BIG EAST, Atlantic 10, America East and Northeast conferences, as well as the Ivy Group and Patriot League. All told, 14 Fighting Irish players have collected all-region laurels a total of 26 times in the program's 36-year history.
Diggins' selection is particularly noteworthy, as she becomes the first Notre Dame player to collect four all-region citations in her career, surpassing three-time selections Ruth Riley (1999-2001) and Jacqueline Batteast (2002, 2004-05). 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 both 2011 and 2012.
From this year's list of 52 all-region nominees, a group of 10 will be chosen by the State Farm Coaches' All-America Team selection committee for this year's State Farm Coaches' All-America Team. The 2013 State Farm Coaches' All-America Team will be announced at 2:10 p.m. (ET) on April 6 at New Orleans Arena during events surrounding the NCAA Women's Final Four.
Those all-region nominees 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 since 1991 -- Karen Robinson (1991), Katryna Gaither (1996, 1997), current associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham (1996, 1997), Riley (1999, 2000), Batteast (2002, 2004), Megan Duffy (2005, 2006), Charel Allen (2007), Diggins (2010), Lindsay Schrader (2010), Natalie Novosel (2011, 2012) and Devereaux Peters (2011, 2012).
Irish Clean Up On BIG EAST Awards Circuit
The 2012-13 BIG EAST Conference women's basketball awards press conference had a distinct Notre Dame flavor to it, as the Fighting Irish swept the three major individual honors that were announced March 8.
For the second consecutive season, senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins was selected as the BIG EAST Player of the Year. She was joined on the BIG EAST awards dais by freshman guard Jewell Loyd, who was named the BIG EAST Freshman of the Year, and head coach Muffet McGraw, who took home Coach of the Year honors.
All three award recipients were chosen for their respective honors through a vote of the league's head coaches, who were not allowed to select their own players. This marks just the second time since the BIG EAST began sponsoring women's basketball in 1982-83 that a school other than Connecticut swept the conference's top three individual awards -- in that inaugural '82-83 season, St. John's had all three honorees (Player of the Year Debbie Beckford, Freshman of the Year Ann Marie McNamee and Coach of the Year Don Perrelli).
Diggins is the first Notre Dame player to be BIG EAST Player of the Year twice (first in any conference since Karen Robinson won consecutive Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League honors in 1990 and 1991), and one of three Fighting Irish players to earn the award, following the path blazed in 2001 by consensus National Player of the Year Ruth Riley and 2005 recipient Jacqueline Batteast. Diggins also is the first player from a school other than Connecticut to be chosen as BIG EAST Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons since 1985-87, when Villanova's Shelly Pennefather became the only other non-Husky to take home the award in consecutive years.
Meanwhile, Loyd is the third Notre Dame player to be selected as BIG EAST Freshman of the Year, and the first since Batteast in 2002 (the other was Alicia Ratay in 2000).
Both Diggins and Loyd also earned all-conference recognition, with Diggins a unanimous first-team all-BIG EAST pick for the third consecutive season (joining Riley as the only Notre Dame players to achieve that distinction in their careers), while Loyd was an honorable mention all-league choice, as well as a unanimous selection to the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team.
Diggins was joined on the All-BIG EAST First Team by junior forward Natalie Achonwa and junior guard Kayla McBride, the first all-conference citation of each player's career. It marked the third consecutive year the Fighting Irish had three first-team all-BIG EAST honorees and just the second time in program history that Notre Dame has fielded four all-conference selections in the same year. In 2001, Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey were first-team selections, while Ratay copped third-team status and Kelley Siemon was an honorable mention pick.
Prior to 2010-11, the Notre Dame women's basketball program had never had three players garner first-team all-conference honors in the same season in any of their league memberships (BIG EAST since 1995-96, plus Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League from 1988-95 and North Star Conference from 1983-88). Notre Dame also is the first school in BIG EAST history to have three first-team all-conference selections in three consecutive seasons, and just the second program to have three seasons (at any time) with three first-team all-BIG EAST players -- the latter feat is something only Connecticut (2001-02, 2007-08 and 2009-10) has managed to duplicate since the BIG EAST began women's basketball competition in 1982-83.
McGraw now is a two-time BIG EAST Coach of the Year, having previously earned the honor in 2001. What's more, she is a five-time conference Coach of the Year, also garnering recognition from the East Coast Conference (1983 - when she coached at Lehigh), North Star Conference (1988) and the Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League (1991).
McGraw's Milestone Moment
With a 59-52 victory at Villanova on Feb. 5, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw became the 13th NCAA Division I coach to register 700 career victories. McGraw currently has a 31-year record of 710-257 (.734), including a 622-216 (.742) record in 26 seasons with the Fighting Irish, ranking 12th in NCAA history, and seventh among active coaches for career wins.
McGraw also became the eighth-fastest Division I coach to reach the 700-win milestone, hitting the mark in 957 games and quicker than several other notable coaches such as North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell (966 games), Ohio State's Jim Foster (973), former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan (998) and two now-deceased Hall of Fame coaches -- Sue Gunter (1,004, most notably at LSU) and Kay Yow (1,021, primarily at North Carolina State).
Diggins Challenging School Records
Throughout the 2012-13 season, senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins will continue to close the gap that separates her from the highest eschelon of Notre Dame women's basketball players in a number of the program's top career categories. Here's a look at just a few of the notable milestones Diggins will have a shot to reach this season:
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 126-19 (.869) record in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), 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 and 2012 NCAA national championship games and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 30-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (15-10 vs. the AP Top 10) and an 88-1 record against unranked opponents (not appearing in the AP poll), including a 63-game winning streak from the start of the 2009-10 season before falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012.
Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 19 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 three of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 78.9 ppg. last year, after logging 77.0 ppg. in 2010-11, and 77.2 ppg. in her freshman season of 2009-10. Notre Dame is on pace to mirror those figures this season, currently averaging 80.8 ppg. (which ranks third nationally as of March 18).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.52 spg. career mark that is third-best in school history), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top three single-season steal marks in program history with 502 thefts last year, 495 steals in 2010-11, and 450 thefts in 2009-10. Notre Dame isn't far off those marks this season, currently averaging 10.9 spg. (which has given the Fighting Irish 350 steals entering this weekend's NCAA Championship).
The past two years also have seen Notre Dame post two of the four best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing a school-record 52.9 ppg., last season (well ahead of the previous mark of 55.1 ppg., in 1981-82) and giving up just 56.2 ppg., in 2010-11. The Fighting Irish are in position to challenge those totals again this year, presently allowing 57.8 points per game.
According to the time-honored adage, "there's no substitute for experience." In the case of Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa, that experience was second to none and it's paid off exceptionally well for the veteran Fighting Irish frontliner this season.
During the summer of 2012, Achonwa was a key contributor on Canada's Senior National Team, helping leading her country to its first Olympic appearance in 12 years. Not content to merely qualify, Canada then earned two hard-fought wins in the group stage to reach the Olympic quarterfinals (medal round) for the first time since 1984.
As the second-youngest player in the London Olympic Basketball Tournament at the tender age of 19, Achonwa averaged 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, highlighted by a 14-point, eight-rebound effort against eventual Olympic silver medalist France during the preliminary round.
Parlaying her Olympic experience, Achonwa has moved seamlessly into Notre Dame's starting lineup this season after spending her first two years as an important reserve. The Guelph, Ontario, native was expected to take on a larger role this year with the graduation of two-time All-American Devereaux Peters, but Achonwa has taken that growth to a whole new level, nearly doubling her averages in scoring (7.6 to 13.8 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.3 rpg.), while scoring in double figures 26 times and grabbing double-digit rebounds on 16 occasions (including a career-best 20 rebounds on March 10 against South Florida, part of the first 20-point/20-rebound game by a Notre Dame player since Jan. 20, 1988, when Heidi Bunek did it against DePaul).
What's more, Achonwa came into this season with one career double-double and a career scoring high of 20 points. This year, she leads the BIG EAST in double-doubles (16, including seven against ranked teams and nine against conference foes) and has six 20-point games to her credit (career-high 23 vs. Utah State on Dec. 8).
Achonwa's 16 double-doubles also have tied the school record set by Katryna Gaither in 1996-97. However, it took Gaither all 38 games that season to achieve that mark, something Achonwa did in 30 games.
Achonwa ranks among the top 20 in the BIG EAST in scoring (17th - 13.8 ppg.), rebounding (2nd - 9.3 rpg.), field goal percentage (4th - .531; also 16th nationally) and free throw percentage (11th - .782).
Although she was passed over for selection as the BIG EAST's Most Improved Player, Achonwa's development has not gone entirely unnoticed, as she was a first-team all-conference choice and a WBCA All-Region I Team pick this season.
The Erie Warrior
Along with her classmate Natalie Achonwa, junior guard (and Erie, Pa., native) Kayla McBride has been a major reason for Notre Dame's success this season, capably stepping into a larger role within the Fighting Irish system following the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-America wing Natalie Novosel.
McBride currently ranks seventh in the BIG EAST in scoring (15.4 ppg.) and leads the conference in free throw percentage (.915). In both areas, she is posting career-high marks, including an improvement of better than 30 percent in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).
McBride also is among the team leaders this season with 27 double-figure scoring games, including at least 15 points in 11 of Notre Dame's 12 games against ranked opponents this season (18.8 ppg.). Among her highlights against Top 25 teams are a 23.3-ppg. average in three matchups vs. Connecticut, led by a career-high 26 points in a triple-overtime win on March 4 and 23 points in the BIG EAST title game on the road on March 12.
In fact, in her last 27 games against Top 25 opponents, McBride is averaging 15.6 points per game, scoring in double figures 24 times and posting both of her career double-doubles (10 points, career-high 12 rebounds vs. No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 7, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion; 13 points, 10 rebounds at No. 13/14 Rutgers on Jan. 31, 2012).
Freshman guard Jewell Loyd is rapidly making her presence felt as one of the top rookies, not only in the BIG EAST Conference, but around the country.
The Lincolnwood, Ill., native was chosen as the BIG EAST Freshman of the Year and was an honorable mention all-conference choice (as well as a unanimous BIG EAST All-Freshman Team pick) after appearing in 31 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 30 times), scoring in double figures 19 times, earning her first career double-double (18 points/13 rebounds at South Florida on Jan. 8) and posting three "5-5-5" games.
Loyd currently ranks among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (26th - 11.8 ppg.) and free throw percentage (4th - .819), and would be fifth in the conference in three-point percentage (.391), but she is short of the minimum needed for qualification (1.0 3FGM/game).
Loyd first opened eyes on the national scene with a season- (and game-) high 24 points and team-best seven rebounds in the 73-61 loss to Baylor on Dec. 5 at Purcell Pavilion. The 5-foot-10 guard connected on her first four three-point attempts of the evening (finishing 4-of-5 from beyond the arc) on the way to notching the most points by a Fighting Irish rookie against a ranked opponent since Jan. 26, 2002, when Jacqueline Batteast scored 26 points in Notre Dame's 64-57 win over No. 16/17 Virginia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.
What's more, Loyd also scored the most points by a Notre Dame freshman against an opponent ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll since Feb. 19, 2000, when Alicia Ratay netted 26 points (including a school-record 7-for-7 three-pointers) in a 78-74 overtime win at No. 8/11 Rutgers.
Notre Dame was ranked a season-best No. 2 for the 11th consecutive Associated Press poll when the final survey came out March 18, its 46th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 116 consecutive weeks in the AP poll.
The Fighting Irish reached a milestone on Nov. 26 with their No. 5 ranking, which was 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 (77 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (66) 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. The 2000-01 national championship squad was second in the last media survey that season, taken just after a last-second 78-76 loss at Connecticut in the BIG EAST title game (when the Fighting Irish had been ranked No. 1).
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 255 weeks during the program's 36-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks ninth 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 held steady at a season-best No. 2 for the fifth consecutive week in the last pre-NCAA Championship ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll (released March 18), after spending the previous six weeks in the No. 3 spot. Notre Dame also has earned at least one first-place vote in the coaches' poll for the past 11 surveys, including four on Jan. 8 and two on March 5.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 116 of the past 117 weeks (and 80 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 249 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the fifth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 11 of the past 15 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 255 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, 16 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart in PDF version of this notes package), 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).
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 45 seasons of head coaching experience, which ranks fifth among Division I schools behind only Stanford (52), Villanova (50), Ohio State (48) and Rutgers (46).
Notre Dame made a bit of women's basketball history on Nov. 9, joining with Ohio State to play the first women's game ever on the deck of an aircraft carrier, as the teams squared off outdoors in the second annual Carrier Classic aboard the decommissioned USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C. (Charleston Harbor).
The game was played to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project, which aids returning veterans who have been injured while in the service of our country, and the Fighting Irish were exceptionally proud and honored to have former Notre Dame guard, U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green ('00) join the team on the bench for their historic game against Ohio State. Green, who lost her left (shooting) hand in May 2004 during a rocket-propelled grenade attack while on patrol on the roof of a police station in Baghdad, Iraq, delivered an inspiring pre-game speech to the current Fighting Irish squad before they came out to face Ohio State.
Notre Dame won this year's Carrier Classic game, 57-51, behind the second career double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) from junior forward Natalie Achonwa and 16 points from junior guard Kayla McBride. After the game, head coach Muffet McGraw said the victory was dedicated to Green.
An added postscript -- Green recently accepted a job with the South Bend Veterans Administration Clinic and has relocated from her hometown of Chicago.
Half And Half
During the past 12 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 275-19 (.935) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 203 of their last 216 such contests (.940).
What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 112-2 (.982) 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 18 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 277-15 (.949) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 19 outings 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 18 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 182-6 (.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, an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008, and a 94-81 setback at Baylor in 2011.
In the past four years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 59-2 (.967) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level 14 times this season.
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 234 of their last 263 games (.890) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51, 25 and 20 games in that span (the latter ending on Feb. 12, 2012, vs. West Virginia).
Since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 61-5 (.924) -- including wins in 37 of its last 39 home games -- and three of the five Fighting Irish losses in their refurbished facility have come by three points or fewer (two in overtime).
Notre Dame also has a 128-20 (.865) 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 especially strong when it comes to non-conference home games, winning 108 of their last 117 non-BIG EAST contests (.923) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the nine 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), UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT) and Baylor in 2012 (73-61). The Purdue loss snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak that 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 384-90 (.810) 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, a mark that lasted only two seasons before the Fighting Irish posted a 17-1 record at Purcell Pavilion last year.
Coming Soon: Irish in the ACC
On Sept. 12, 2012, the University of Notre Dame announced that it had accepted an offer of admission into the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for all sports except football (the league does not offer championships in ice hockey or fencing). Subsequently on March 12, 2013, Notre Dame announced it would join the ACC in time for the 2013-14 season.
The change in conference affiliation will be the first for Notre Dame since 1995, when the Fighting Irish moved from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) to the BIG EAST Conference.
In its 18 seasons in the BIG EAST, Notre Dame was the one of the conference's best, winning three regular season titles (2001, 2012 and 2013) and one tournament crown (2013) and compiling a 232-64 (.784) record in league play that stands as the second-best regular season winning percentage in BIG EAST women's basketball history.
Next Game: NCAA Second Round
With a victory over Tennessee-Martin, Notre Dame would advance to the second round of the NCAA Championship, where it would meet either eighth-seeded Miami (Fla.) or No. 9 seed Iowa at 9:30 p.m. ET (8:30 p.m. CT) Tuesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.
The Fighting Irish are 14-3 all-time against Miami, but have not faced the Hurricanes since their final season in the BIG EAST (a 93-58 win at home on Feb. 25, 2004). Meanwhile, Notre Dame is 1-0 all-time against Iowa, earning a 61-50 victory in Iowa City on Nov. 17, 1996, in the second round of the Preseason WNIT.