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2011-12 ND Women's Basketball: Game 38
NCAA Women's Final Four -- National Semifinal
#4/4 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (34-3 / 15-1 BIG EAST) vs. #3/3 [#1 seed] Connecticut Huskies (33-4 / 13-3 BIG EAST)
DATE: April 1, 2012
TIME: 4:30 p.m. MT
AT: Denver, Colo. - Pepsi Center (19,155)
SERIES: UCONN leads 29-7
1ST MTG: UCONN 87-64 (1/18/96)
LAST MTG: UCONN 63-54 (3/6/12)
TV: ESPN/ESPN3 (live) (Dave O'Brien, p-b-p / Doris Burke, color / Holly Rowe, sideline / Rebecca Lobo, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1)/UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TOURNAMENT CENTRAL: UND.com
StorylinesNotre Dame and Connecticut will be playing in the national semifinals for the second consecutive season and third time overall.
The Fighting Irish lead all teams in this year's NCAA Championship in scoring defense (47.2 ppg.) and scoring margin (+29.3 ppg.).
No. 4 Fighting Irish To Meet No. 3 Connecticut Sunday At NCAA Women's Final Four
For the fourth time this season and the eighth time in the past two years, No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 3 Connecticut will square off as the two BIG EAST powers are slated to meet at 4:30 p.m. MT (6:30 p.m. ET) in a national semifinal contest at the NCAA Women's Final Four from the Pepsi Center in Denver. ESPN will televise the game live to a national cable audience, with additional coverage on ESPN3.
The Fighting Irish (34-3) advanced to their second consecutive NCAA Women's Final Four (and fourth in school history) with a dominating 80-49 win over No. 5 Maryland in the NCAA Raleigh Regional final on Tuesday.
Junior guard Skylar Diggins posted a triple-double (22 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds) to pace Notre Dame, while sophomore forward Natalie Achonwa provided an solid boost from the bench with 18 points and seven rebounds.
RankingsNotre Dame was No. 4 in the final Associated Press poll and is No. 4 in the current ESPN/USA Today poll.
Connecticut was No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll and is No. 3 in the current ESPN/USA Today poll.
Quick HittersNotre Dame has reached the NCAA Women's Final Four for the second consecutive season (a first in program history), and the fourth time overall (also 1997 and 2001).
Notre Dame earned its second BIG EAST title, and first outright championship (first in any league since the 1995 Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League crown).
Notre Dame appeared in the top 20 of 11 different NCAA statistical categories, including nine top-10 appearances (as of March 28). The Fighting Irish rank second in scoring offense (79.2 ppg.) and scoring margin (+27.7 ppg.), third in steals (13.0 spg.), fourth in field goal percentage (.473) and assists (18.1 apg.), fifth in scoring defense (51.5 ppg.) and turnover margin (+6.65), ninth in rebounding margin (+9.5 rpg.) and assist/turnover ratio (1.12), 13th in free throw percentage (.764) and 20th in three-point defense (.263).
Notre Dame is 14-2 against Top 25 opponents this season (10-2 away from home), including six victories in eight outings against teams in the top 10. The 14 wins over ranked opponents is a school record for a single season (10 in 2000-01).
Notre Dame is just the second school ever to defeat both Connecticut and Tennessee in consecutive seasons, matching the feat first pulled off by North Carolina in 2005-06 and 2006-07.
Notre Dame is the first school to win three consecutive series games against Connecticut since North Carolina (2004-07) and Tennessee (2005-07), and the first BIG EAST program to do so since Miami (1992-93).
Eleven of the 14 Fighting Irish victories against Top 25 opponents this season have been by double digits, including six by at least 25 points -- notably a 79-35 victory over No. 21/25 St. Bonaventure on March 25 (largest margin of victory ever against a ranked opponent), a 71-41 win at No. 13/14 Rutgers on Jan. 31 (largest margin of victory ever on the road at a ranked opponent), an 80-49 win over No. 5 Maryland on March 27 (largest margin of victory over a top-10 opponent) and a 72-44 victory over No. 7/9 Tennessee on Jan. 23 (fewest points allowed against a top-10 team and UT's fewest points scored in the Pat Summitt era).
Notre Dame has tied the school record with 34 wins this season and posted back-to-back 30-win campaigns for the first time in school history, reaching that mark for the fourth time in school history (31-7 in 1996-97; 34-2 in 2000-01; 31-8 in 2010-11). The Fighting Irish also notched their 30th win prior to the NCAA Championship for the first time ever.
Of the 34 Fighting Irish wins, 23 have come by 20+ points, and a school-record 14 by at least 30 points. In 28 victories this year, Notre Dame has held its opponent to 60 points or fewer, with a school-record 20 when the opponent had 50 points or fewer (and a school-record seven of 40 or fewer).
The Fighting Irish have scored at least 100 points twice this year, while going over 90 points a school-record nine times (including a school-record four in a row from Dec. 18-30) and topping the 80-point mark 15 times.
Notre Dame is ranked No. 4 in the latest Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls, marking the 19th consecutive week the Fighting Irish appeared in the top five of both major national polls. That's the longest uninterrupted streak of consensus top-five poll appearances in school history, topping the previous standard set during the final 18 weeks of the 2000-01 season (Notre Dame was sixth in the preseason AP poll that year).
With its No. 4 ranking in the final AP poll of the season, Notre Dame has appeared in the media rankings for 96 consecutive weeks, extending a program record that dates back to the 2007-08 preseason poll. In fact, every current Fighting Irish player has competed for a ranked Notre Dame squad throughout her career, with more than half that time (58 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
With 590 victories in 25 seasons at Notre Dame, head coach Muffet McGraw ranks second on the Fighting Irish athletics all-time coaching wins list (across all sports), trailing only men's/women's fencing coach Michael DeCicco (774-80 from 1962-95).
Other Notre Dame NotablesNotre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past 16 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking fourth with 408 victories.
Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in attendance annually since 2000-01 (including top-five rankings the past three years). This season, the Fighting Irish ranked fifth in the nation with 8,571 fans per home game, setting a school record for average attendance for the third consecutive season. The Fighting Irish also have drawn 5,000-or-more fans to 176 of their last 178 home games, logging 25 Purcell Pavilion sellouts, including 19 in the past three seasons, and a school-record eight this year (most recently on Feb. 25 vs. USF).
The Fighting Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as seven Notre Dame players have been selected in the past 11 seasons. Charel Allen was the most recent Fighting Irish player to be chosen, going to the Sacramento Monarchs in the third round (43rd overall pick) of the 2008 WNBA Draft. Ruth Riley (San Antonio) was active in the league during the '11 season, helping the Silver Stars return to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season (she recently signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Sky). Three of Notre Dame's eight WNBA alums have won a total of four league championships -- Riley won a pair of crowns with the Detroit Shock (2003 Finals MVP, 2006), Coquese Washington toiled for the 2000 Houston Comets, while Jacqueline Batteast was Riley's teammate on the 2006 title-winning squad in Detroit.
For the fifth year in a row, the Fighting Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October. What's more, since Muffet McGraw became head coach in 1987, every Notre Dame women's basketball player who has completed her athletic and academic eligibility at the University has earned her bachelor's degree (a 64-for-64 success rate). The Fighting Irish also are one of only four schools in the past four years to record a 100-percent GSR and play for a national championship in the same season.
The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
Notre Dame and Connecticut will be playing for the fourth time this season, and eighth time in the past two years when they square off Sunday night in an NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinal at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The Huskies lead the all-time series with the Fighting Irish, 29-7, although Notre Dame has won three of the past four meetings. Sunday's matchup also marks the second consecutive year (and third overall) that the Fighting Irish and Huskies have met in the NCAA national semifinals -- in 2001, Notre Dame posted a 90-75 victory in St. Louis, and last season, the Fighting Irish earned a 72-63 win in Indianapolis.
Other Notre Dame-Connecticut Series TidbitsWhen the Fighting Irish and Huskies tip off Sunday night, it will be the 37th meeting between the two programs, matching Notre Dame's series with BIG EAST (and Midwest) rivals DePaul and Marquette as the most frequent series in school history.
All seven of Notre Dame's wins in the series have come since the start of the 2000-01 season.
This will mark the 14th time both teams have been ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll at tipoff, with the Fighting Irish earning six of their seven series wins to date in these top-10 matchups.
Sunday's game also will be the 26th time in the 37-game series that both teams will be ranked at tipoff. At least one team has been ranked in every game of the series.
Notre Dame and Connecticut are part of an elite group of 14 schools who have won NCAA national championships since the NCAA began sponsoring the Division I women's basketball tournament in 1982. The seven-time champion Huskies are one of five former NCAA champions the Fighting Irish have faced this season (along with 2005 titleist Baylor, 1983 & 1984 winner USC, 1999 champion Purdue and 2006 victor Maryland), with Notre Dame going 36-86 (.295) all-time against other former or current national champions. Among that group, the Fighting Irish have a series record of .500 or better against USC (8-2), North Carolina (2-1) and Texas (1-1).
Connecticut is one of three BIG EAST Conference opponents to hold a series edge over Notre Dame, leading the Fighting Irish, 29-7. The only other league foes with winning records vs. Notre Dame are Rutgers (16-12) and DePaul (19-18; ND leads 9-5 since Blue Demons joined BIG EAST in 2005-06).
Since the start of the 1998-99 season, Connecticut has lost by 15-plus points seven times, with nearly half (three) of those losses coming to Notre Dame (twice in 2000-01, once in 2003-04).
With seven victories over the Huskies since 2000-01, Notre Dame is the only team in the nation to defeat Connecticut at least seven times in the past 12 seasons. Rutgers has five wins over the Huskies during that span, while Tennessee (4), North Carolina (3) and Stanford (3) are the only other schools with at least three victories against Connecticut since the start of the new century.
Notre Dame junior guard Skylar Diggins and Connecticut junior guard Kelly Faris finished 1-2 in the 2009 Indiana Miss Basketball voting and were teammates on the 2009 Indiana All-Star Team that swept a two-game series from its Kentucky counterpart.
Diggins also was a teammate of Connecticut redshirt junior guard Caroline Doty and senior guard Tiffany Hayes on the White Team at the 2007 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs. The trio helped the White squad to a 5-0 record and the gold medal that weekend.
Notre Dame freshman forward Markisha Wright (Des Moines, Iowa/Des Moines East) and Connecticut freshman center Kiah Stokes (Marion, Iowa/Linn-Mar) were unquestionably the top two players in the state of Iowa last year. Stokes was named the state's Player of the Year, while Wright was the Most Valuable Player of the state tournament last spring while leading her Des Moines East side to a perfect 26-0 record and the Class 4A state title (the first by the school since 1979).
Two of Sunday's assistant coaches have seen the Notre Dame-Connecticut rivalry from the perspective of both a coach and a player. Fifth-year Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey and fourth-year UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph saw their teams meet 14 times during their respective five-year careers from 1996-2001 (both sat out a season with knee injuries -- Ivey in 1996-97, Ralph in 1997-98), with Connecticut winning 12 times before Ivey led Notre Dame to two victories in three tries during her final season (2000-01).
Other NCAA Women's Final Four TidbitsThe Notre Dame women's basketball program is no stranger to the Pepsi Center. In 2001, the Fighting Irish defeated Utah (69-54) and Vanderbilt (72-64) to win the NCAA Midwest Regional title on the road to the program's first national championship.
Notre Dame is 4-2 all-time when playing in the state of Colorado, having last visited the Centennial State on Dec. 29, 2003, and pulling out a 63-59 victory at Colorado State.
Another Notre Dame team has visited the arena in the past few years. In 2008, the Fighting Irish hockey team advanced to its first NCAA Frozen Four, played that year at the Pepsi Center. Notre Dame defeated Michigan (5-4 in OT) in the national semifinals before falling to Boston College (4-1) in the national championship game.
Half of the roster from last summer's USA Basketball World University Games Team will be suiting up for this week's NCAA Women's Final Four in Denver. Notre Dame junior guard Skylar Diggins, senior guard Natalie Novosel and fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters were joined by Stanford's Chiney and Nnemkadi Ogwumike and Baylor's Odyssey Sims to form the backbone of a team that went 6-0 and hammered its opponents by a record-setting 45.0 points per game en route to the gold medal. It was the third time in four years that Diggins and Nnemkadi Ogwumike helped lead a USA Basketball team to a gold medal.
Four of the core members from the 2009 USA Basketball U19 World Championship Team that struck gold in Thailand are on hand in Denver this week. Diggins and Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike served as co-captains for that squad, which also featured Connecticut's Kelly Faris and Baylor's Destiny Williams and was coached by current Notre Dame associate coach Carol Owens. Team USA went 8-1 in the tournament, with two of those wins coming over a Canadian team that was led by current Fighting Irish sophomore forward Natalie Achonwa.
Diggins and Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike started their gold rush in 2008 as part of the USA Basketball U18 National Team that took top honors at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship in Argentina. Joining them on that squad (and appearing with their teams in this week's NCAA Women's Final Four) were Stanford's Sarah Boothe and Joslyn Tinkle, and Connecticut's Kelly Faris, while Notre Dame associate coach Carol Owens served as Team USA's head coach and went on to be named USA Basketball Developmental Coach of the Year in 2008.
Another USA Basketball team that produced numerous familiar faces in this week's NCAA Women's Final Four was the 2010 U18 National Team. Notre Dame sophomore guard Kayla McBride was a starter on the team, and was joined on the roster by Connecticut's Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, and Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike, as the United States went 5-0 and won the FIBA U18 Americas Championship gold in Colorado Springs.
One of Diggins' closest friends is former Stanford All-America guard (and current member of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx) Candice Wiggins, whom Diggins refers to as one of her mentors. The two crossed paths after Diggins mentioned her appreciation for Wiggins' game during an interview at the 2009 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, and the Stanford star reached out to Diggins shortly thereafter, striking up a friendship that has existed ever since.
The Brains Of The Operation
Sunday's two head coaches -- Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw and Connecticut's Geno Auriemma -- have more than a few connections. Both are from the Philadephia metro area (McGraw from West Chester, Auriemma from Norristown), both cut their coaching teeth at Saint Joseph's under current Ohio State head coach Jim Foster (McGraw replaced Auriemma on Foster's staff in 1980 when Auriemma left to take an assistant position at Virginia), and both are members of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, with McGraw having been enshrined in June 2011.
McGraw also is the only coach in the nation with seven wins against Auriemma since the start of the 2000-01 season. What's more, McGraw is one of just six coaches all-time (four that are active head coaches) that have seven or more victories against Auriemma on their resume.
Irish In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is in the midst of its 19th appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 17th in a row, as it takes the Pepsi Center court Sunday for its NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinal against Connecticut. The Fighting Irish have a .679 winning percentage (36-17) in NCAA Championship play, ranking seventh 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):
Notre Dame is one of seven schools to advance to the NCAA Women's Final Four at least four times.
Notre Dame is one of five schools to make four trips to the NCAA Women's Final Four and come away with at least one national championship, going to the semifinals in 1997, the title game in 2011, and winning it all in 2001 (with the 2012 result pending). Two of the others in this elite club -- Connecticut and Stanford -- also advanced to this year's Women's Final Four.
The Fighting Irish have a 4-2 (.667) record at the NCAA Women's Final Four, owning the fourth-best winning percentage (minimum of three games played).
Notre Dame is one of seven schools in the country to have advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 10 times in the past 16 years (1997-2012).
Counting this year's first-round win over Liberty, the Fighting Irish now have won their NCAA tournament opener in 15 of the past 17 seasons, dating back to the start of their membership in the BIG EAST Conference (1995-96 to present).
Including this year's two victories, Notre Dame is 10-2 (.833) all-time in NCAA tournament play at Purcell Pavilion. Between first-round losses to Minnesota in 1994 and 2009, the Fighting Irish won six consecutive NCAA tourney games at home, and they have reached the Sweet 16 five times from Purcell Pavilion (2000, 2001, 2004, 2010, 2012), going on to make the Final Four twice (2001 and 2012).
Each of Notre Dame's 19 NCAA tournament appearances have come during the tenure of 25th-year head coach Muffet McGraw.
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 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 23-5 (.821) all-time as the higher seed in NCAA tournament play, and 10-0 all-time as a No. 1 seed.
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 19 NCAA tournament trips (53 games), the Fighting Irish are 21-2 (.913) when holding their opponent to 60 points or fewer, adding to that mark three times in their four tournament games this season (74-43 vs. Liberty in first round; 79-35 vs. No. 21/25 St. Bonaventure in regional semifinal; 80-49 vs. No. 5 Maryland in regional final).
Notre Dame's two losses to teams scoring 60 points or fewer both came against 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 at the Savvis (now Scottrade) Center 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 15 of its last 17 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 TraditionGreen nails -- each of the Fighting Irish players and female coaches wear green nail polish throughout the NCAA Championship. This tradition started during the 1997 tourney, when the Fighting Irish added the green polish to their fingers prior to their second-round St. Patrick's Day game at Texas, which Notre Dame won 86-83. The Fighting Irish ended up going to their first NCAA Final Four that season and the green nail polish was here to stay. As a show of solidarity, the male members of the travel party usually paint their left pinky green, and some (including associate head coach Jonathan Tsipis) have even gone so far as to shave their heads for the tournament.
The Notre Dame women's basketball program has developed some traditions that should be quite evident during this week's NCAA Women's Final Four at the Pepsi Center:
Green uniforms -- though not limited exclusively to NCAA tournament play, Notre Dame's distinctive kelly green road uniforms have become a staple of the postseason in keeping with the St. Patrick's Day holiday, which often falls during the early rounds of the tournament (and came this year on the day before Notre Dame took the floor for its first-round game against Liberty). The Fighting Irish most recently wore the alternate green road threads in the NCAA Championship for last year's national championship game against Texas A&M (a 76-70 loss) -- Notre Dame is 8-8 (.500) all-time in the NCAA tournament when featuring the "wearing o' the green." The Fighting Irish also have broken out their alternate home whites with green trim for some tournament games during the past five seasons, posting a 8-1 (.889) record in those uniforms (2008 - a 75-62 win over SMU in West Lafayette, Ind.; 2009 - a 79-71 home loss to Minnesota; 2010 - an 86-58 home win over Cleveland State and 84-66 home win over Vermont; 2011 - a 67-54 win at Utah and 77-64 win over Temple in Salt Lake City; 2012 - a 74-43 win at home over Liberty; a 73-62 home win over California; a 79-35 win over St. Bonaventure in Raleigh, N.C., and an 80-49 win over Maryland, also in Raleigh), the first time they have been worn in NCAA tournament play.
Irish jig -- this unique pre-game ritual has become one of the widely-recognized traditions of Notre Dame women's basketball. Just prior to the introduction of the starting lineups, the Fighting Irish players will circle up in the lane with a basketball at their feet. As the Notre Dame pep band plays, the team will perform the Irish Jig (a popular step with Notre Dame fans, especially the student body) with the ball bouncing around in the midst of their dance. This tradition is believed to have started during the 1999-2000 season, but picked up steam during Notre Dame's 2000-01 national championship run and has been part of the Fighting Irish pre-game ritual ever since.
And Don't Forget The Lime Green Shirts
The ever-present lime green t-shirts you might see many Notre Dame fans wearing around Denver this week 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.
Turn It Up To Eleven
It was clear to many who watched Notre Dame's second-round win over California on March 20 at Purcell Pavilion that the raucous Fighting Irish faithful were a big reason for Notre Dame's success, and a record-setting 17th home win of the season.
In fact, during the second half of that 73-62 Fighting Irish victory, Josh Flynt (a blogger for Notre Dame's official web site, UND.com) measured the noise level in the arena with an iPhone app and came up with a n unofficial peak reading of 99 decibels -- nearly equivalent to the noise produced by a motorcycle or snowmobile and loud enough that sustained exposure to it could cause hearing damage.
Notre Dame averaged 6,648 fans for its two NCAA Championship home games this year, the highest average from any of the 16 first/second-round host sites. What's more, the two single-game attendance figures (6,777 for round one; 6,519 for round two) were the two highest single-game marks in the first two rounds of the 2012 NCAA Championship, as well as the third- and fourth-largest crowds for an NCAA postseason game in program history. The record is 9,597, set on March 19, 2001, for a second-round win over Michigan (prior to the renovation of Purcell Pavilion that reduced the seating capacity to its current figure of 9,149).
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.
The 80-49 win over No. 5 Maryland in the NCAA Raleigh Regional final on March 27 was Notre Dame's 34th victory of the year, tying the school record for single-season wins set in 2000-01.
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.
A Class Like None Other
Led by its remarkable senior class -- forward Devereaux Peters, and guards Brittany Mallory, Fraderica Miller and Natalie Novosel -- Notre Dame's current stretch of four 25-win seasons in five years (and a record-setting 141 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, at the time piling up the most wins in a five-year period in school history.
This year's group also is responsible for the highest four-year win total by a senior class in school history (116), easily topping the mark of 109 set by the Class of 2001 that included (among others) consensus national player of the year and 11-year WNBA veteran Ruth Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey.
One other note -- as fifth-year seniors/tri-captains, Mallory and 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.
Since its Nov. 20 loss at No. 1 Baylor, Notre Dame has won 14 of its last 15 games against ranked opponents (including six against top-10 teams), earning 11 of those victories by double digits (and six 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 15 Top 25 opponents to just 54.3 points per night, including 11 games when the opposition scored 60 points or fewer.
Notre Dame also has held its ranked foes to a .353 field goal percentage (.221 from the three-point line), and posted a +6.3 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 14 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 14 of those contests by an average of 47.9 points per game.
Overall, Notre Dame is outscoring its opponents in the first half this season by nearly a 2-to-1 margin (1,526-892), with an average halftime score of 41-24.
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).
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.
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).
Born To Run
According to the March 28 NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame ranks second in the nation in scoring offense (79.2 ppg.) and scoring margin (+27.7 ppg.). Those are just two of six NCAA offensive categories in which the Fighting Irish rank among the top 15, along with field goal percentage (fourth at .473), assists (fourth at 18.1 apg.), assist/turnover ratio (ninth at 1.12) and free throw percentage (13th at .764).
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 23 20-point wins, and 14 victories by at least 30 points (topping the school record set 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 20 in the nation in five NCAA defensive statistical categories -- steals (third at 13.0 spg.), scoring defense (fifth at 51.5 ppg.), turnover margin (fifth at +6.65), rebound margin (ninth at +9.5 rpg.) and three-point defense (20th at .263).
The Fighting Irish have held 28 opponents to 60 points or fewer, with a school-record 20 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 63 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 54.0 percent of the time (34 halves), including 30.2 percent of the time (19 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 23 games thus far, with Fighting Irish foes averaging 22.7 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +6.65 turnover margin that is fifth-best in the nation (as of March 28).
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 were especially hard on opponents in their 18 home games this season, forcing 25.7 turnovers per game and collecting at least 17 in each Purcell Pavilion contest.
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into Sunday's game ranked third in the nation in steals with 13.0 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 28 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 Horizon League) with 10.9 spg.
Yet, in the past two years (76 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 75 thefts for the second consecutive year), led by junior guard Skylar Diggins, who is averaging a BIG EAST-best 2.6 steals per game (school-record 97 steals), and fifth-year senior forward/tri-captain Devereaux Peters, who is eighth at 2.1 spg.
Continuing a trend from last season, Notre Dame has shared the basketball very well to date this year.
In the March 28 NCAA statistics report, the Fighting Irish are fourth in the nation (second in the BIG EAST) at 18.1 assists per game, including a season-high 33 assists against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17 (one of 15 games with 20-or-more assists this year, including seven with at least 25 assists).
Individually, junior guard Skylar Diggins is 15th in the nation in assists (BIG EAST-best 5.8 apg.) and 10th in the country with a 2.17 assist/turnover ratio (also tops in the conference).
What's more, Notre Dame has assisted on 62.7 percent of its field goals this season (669 of 1,067), 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 37 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 379 games in their careers (Diggins-105, Novosel-80, Peters-79, Mallory-77, McBride-38). That total includes 47 NCAA Championship starts between the group (Diggins-13, Mallory-10, Novosel-10, Peters-10, McBride-4).
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has featured a balanced offense thus far, with at least three players scoring in double figures in 32 games, and at least four double-digit scorers in 17 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 51-4 (.927) 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 31 games, the Fighting Irish are averaging 41.8 rebounds a night, with an average +11.4 rpg. margin. Furthermore, Notre Dame has grabbed at least 40 rebounds 23 times in the past 30 games after not reaching that mark once in its first six contests.
This improvement on the glass was never more apparent than in the this year's NCAA Championship, when the Fighting Irish faced three of the nation's top three teams (in terms of rebounding margin), finishing with an aggregate +33 (+11.0 rpg.) advantage on the boards against Liberty, California and Maryland. In the case of Liberty and Cal, it was just the second time all season the Lady Flames and Golden Bears had not finished on the positive side of the rebounding ledger, while it was only the third time this year Maryland did not win the rebounding battle.
According to the March 28 NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame ranks ninth in the country in rebounding margin (+9.5 rpg.) this year.
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 94-17 (.847) 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 berths in the 2012 NCAA Women's Final Four and 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as an 18-10 record against AP Top 25 teams (9-8 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 68-1 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 three of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 79.2 ppg. this year, after logging 77.0 ppg., and 77.1 ppg. in her freshman season.
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 three single-season steal marks in program history with 495 thefts last year, 482 steals (to date) this season, and 450 thefts in 2009-10.
The past two years also have seen Notre Dame post two of the four best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing just 51.5 ppg., this season (well ahead of the record-setting pace of 55.1 ppg., set in 1981-82) and giving up just 56.2 ppg., last season.
Make Mine A Triple (Double)
Junior guard Skylar Diggins carved a special place in Notre Dame history on March 27, becoming the first Fighting Irish player ever to record a triple-double in the NCAA Championship with 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in an 80-49 win over No. 5 Maryland in the NCAA Raleigh Regional final.
Diggins is just the 13th player in NCAA Championship history to post a triple-double, and only the second to do in a regional final -- Old Dominion's Anne Donovan (20 points, 13 rebounds, 12 blocks) pulled off thay feat at Penn State on March 26, 1983.
The last player to register a triple-double at any stage of the tournament was Michigan State's Kristin Haynie (13 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) against Vanderbilt on March 27, 2005, in the Kansas City Regional semifinals (the only other time a player had a triple-double later than the first two rounds of the tournament).
What's more, Diggins' triple-double was just the third in Notre Dame women's basketball history, and the first since Feb. 15, 1990, when Sara Liebscher piled up 17 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against Detroit at Purcell Pavilion.
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 16 outings (beginning with the Jan. 23 win over No. 7/9 Tennessee), the Chicago native is averaging 11.9 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.0 steals per game with eight double-doubles.
The two-time BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year and first-team all-BIG EAST pick, as well as one of five finalists for the 2012 WBCA National Defensive Player of the Year award, Peters has tied the school record with seven 15-rebound games in a single season, and she is the first to do so in Notre Dame's Division I era. Jane Politiski is the only other player in this elite club -- she had seven 15-rebound games during the program's inaugural season of 1977-78, when the Fighting Irish were competing at the AIAW Division III level.
What's more, Peters also has tied the school record with four games of 15 points and 15 rebounds in a single season, becoming the first Fighting Irish player to manage that feat since 1996-97, when Katryna Gaither had four such outings, matching the marks first set by Politiski (1977-78) and Shari Matvey (1979-80).
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 10th in school history with 1,544 points, while Peters became the 30th member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club and presently stands 17th with 1,295 points.
Together with junior guard Skylar Diggins (sixth with 1,687 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).
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 (11th at 1,492), Lindsay Schrader (15th at 1,429) and Becca Bruszewski (25th at 1,148).
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 149), 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 142 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 National 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 March 16 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.
Last week, McGraw also was named the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Region I Coach of the Year, making her one of eight finalists for that group's award. It's the third time McGraw has been a region selection (also 1996 and 2001), and she took home top honors in 2001.
The other 2012 WBCA regional coaches of the year are: Mulkey, VanDerveer, Brenda Frese (Maryland), Tom Collen (Arkansas), Curt Miller (Bowling Green), former Notre Dame guard/assistant coach Coquese Washington (Penn State) and Raegan Pebley (Utah State).
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 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.
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 247-19 (.929) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 175 of their last 188 such contests (.931).
What's more, in the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 84-2 (.977) 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 258-15 (.945) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 28 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 167-6 (.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 44-2 (.957) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level in 15 games this season and winning 14 times.
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 National Championship
With a victory over Connecticut on Sunday, Notre Dame would advance to the NCAA national championship game at 6:30 p.m. MT (8:30 p.m. ET) Tuesday against either top-ranked Baylor or second-ranked Stanford (both also No. 1 seeds) at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo. -- ESPN will televise the game live to a national cable audience.
Notre Dame is 0-2 all-time against Baylor, most recently dropping a 94-81 decision to the Lady Bears on Nov. 20 in the Preseason WNIT championship game at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.
The Fighting Irish also are 0-2 all-time against Stanford, but have not played the Cardinal since Nov. 24, 1991, when Stanford posted an 88-76 victory at Purcell Pavilion.
-- ND --