March 31, 2011
NCAA Women's Final Four -- National Semifinals
#9/7 [#2 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (30-7 / 13-3 BIG EAST) vs. #1/1 [#1 seed] Connecticut Huskies (36-1 / 16-0 BIG EAST)
DATE: April 3, 2011
TIME: Approximately 9:30 p.m. ET
AT: Indianapolis, Ind. - Conseco Fieldhouse (18,345)
SERIES: UCONN leads 28-4
1ST MTG: UCONN 87-64 (1/18/96)
LAST MTG: UCONN 73-64 (3/8/11)
TV: ESPNHD/ESPN3.com (live) (Dave O'Brien, p-b-p / Doris Burke, color / Holly Rowe, sideline / Rebecca Lobo, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
No. 9/7 Irish Take On No. 1 Connecticut In NCAA Final Four Sunday Night
The magical road trip that has been the 2010-11 Notre Dame women's basketball season makes its final pit stop at the crossroads of America, as the No. 9/7 Fighting Irish prepare to face top-ranked Connecticut in the NCAA Women's Final Four at approximately 9:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday inside Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (the game will be televised live on ESPNHD).
Notre Dame (30-7) grabbed its ticket to the Final Four on Monday night with a 73-59 win over No. 4 (and top-seeded) Tennessee in the NCAA Dayton Regional final. Except for a pair of early two-point deficits, the Fighting Irish led all the way in collecting their first win in 21 tries against the Lady Vols.
Sophomore guard Skylar Diggins was the regional's Most Outstanding Player after scoring a season-high 24 points in Monday's victory.
Other Notre Dame Notables
The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
Notre Dame and Connecticut will be meeting for the 33rd time, all since the Fighting Irish joined the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96. The rivalry is the third-most played series in program history, trailing only the matchups with Midwest opponents and current fellow BIG EAST members Marquette (36) and DePaul (35).
The Huskies hold a 28-4 series lead, including an active (and series-long) 12-game winning streak. The teams are playing in the NCAA Championship for the second time, with Notre Dame winning the first contest, 90-75 in the 2001 national semifinals at St. Louis, Mo.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Connecticut Met
Maya Moore, who had never lost in the conference tournament, scored 22 points to help No. 1 Connecticut beat 10th-ranked Notre Dame 73-64 on March 8 for their fourth straight BIG EAST championship.
Even though she earned her second outstanding player award of the BIG EAST tournament, Moore would have cast her vote for freshman Stefanie Dolson, who led the Huskies with 24 points.
Freshman Stefanie Dolson played all 40 minutes and matched her career high with 24 points that she set two days earlier.
Leading 41-40 early in the second half, UConn went on an 11-0 run to break open a close game.
Moore had three points and two assists during the burst. She also had a huge block on Diggins' drive that led to an easy layup on the other end by Bria Hartley.
The senior followed that with a three-pointer from the corner with 12:44 left to cap the spurt and tie her with Penn State great Kelly Mazzante for ninth place on the career NCAA scoring list with 2,919 points.
Notre Dame didn't go away, going on a 15-6 spurt to close to 58-55 with 5:07 left. Novosel, who had left the game at the end of UConn's spurt, returned a few minutes later and scored the final seven points of the Fighting Irish burst.
Moore wouldn't let Notre Dame get any closer, hitting a jumper from the corner to move past Mazzante. Dolson followed with a layup to restore the seven-point lead. The Fighting Irish couldn't get within five the rest of the game.
A Closer Look At This Year's Notre Dame-Connecticut Matchups
Other Notre Dame-Connecticut Series Tidbits
Time Capsule: Notre Dame 90, Connecticut 75 (2001 NCAA National Semifinal)
Notre Dame will finish its season of success in the biggest game of all. All it took was the biggest comeback in the 20 years of the NCAA Women's Final Four.
Down 16 points in the first half, its point guard in foul trouble and All-America center Ruth Riley neutralized, Notre Dame made a stunning turnaround to beat BIG EAST rival Connecticut 90-75 on March 30, 2001, at the Savvis Center in St. Louis to earn a berth in the national championship game.
The Fighting Irish got 21 points from St. Louis native Niele Ivey in a balanced offense and denied the defending champions a return to the title game. Instead, it will be an all-Indiana final with Notre Dame meeting Purdue.
Notre Dame never led until Ratay hit a three-pointer with UConn's Diana Taurasi in her face, making it 61-59 with 12:37 left. Connecticut (32-3) led twice after that, the last time at 65-63 on Tamika Williams' reverse layup with 10:30 remaining. Then the Huskies went cold and Notre Dame kicked it in.
Ratay hit a jumper, Ivey sank two free throws and Ratay - the nation's most accurate three-point shooter at 54 percent - hit another from behind the arc. That made it 70-65.
Ivey's steal set up two free throws by Jeneka Joyce, Riley scored on a putback and then sank a free throw. When Haney made two free throws, Notre Dame had scored 14 straight points, the lead was 77-65 and the Fighting Irish were on their way to the title game.
Connecticut went more than five minutes without scoring, finally ending its drought when Taurasi hit a free throw with 5:24 left. Sue Bird made a three-pointer 35 seconds later, but it was too little, too late.
Bird led Connecticut with 18 points, while Kelly Schumacher scored 12 and grabbed 17 rebounds -- one short of the record for a national semifinal. The Huskies shot only 33.8 percent and were 6-for-30 from three-point range.
Passing The Torch
Notre Dame celebrated the 10th anniversary of its 2001 NCAA national championship season with a reunion weekend Nov. 12-14 on campus. Included as part of the festivities was the Fighting Irish season opener this year, a 99-48 win over New Hampshire on Nov. 12 at Purcell Pavilion (which featured the elevation of Ruth Riley's ubiquitous No. 00 into Notre Dame's new Ring of Honor at the arena).
In an on-court ceremony following the game, the members of the 2000-01 squad, led by captains Riley and (current Notre Dame assistant coach) Niele Ivey presented this year's Fighting Irish team with a basketball autographed by each player from the 2000-01 team with inspirational messages and reminders about carrying on the Notre Dame championship tradition.
Other NCAA Women's Final Four Tidbits
Irish In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is making its 18th appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 16th in a row, as it takes the Conseco Fieldhouse court Sunday for its NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinal against Connecticut. The Fighting Irish have a .660 winning percentage (31-16) in NCAA tournament play, ranking 12th all-time in that category (minimum of 20 games played).
In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 16 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances ranks sixth in the record books.
Here are some other facts about the Fighting Irish in the "Big Dance" (see pp. 172-188 in this year's regular season media guide for box scores, results and records):
Sowing The Seeds
For the second consecutive season, Notre Dame earned a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Championship. It's also the third time in 18 NCAA tournament appearances that the Fighting Irish have been seeded second, with Notre Dame holding a 8-2 (.800) record on that line of the bracket.
This year's seed was the highest for the Fighting Irish when they did not open the tournament at home. Prior to 2011, Notre Dame's highest seed when opening away from Purcell Pavilion was a No. 4 seed in 2005, when they also came west, playing in Fresno, Calif.
In 2000, the No. 2-seeded Fighting Irish opened the tournament with victories at Purcell Pavilion over 15th-seeded San Diego (87-61) and No. 7 seed George Washington (95-60), before bowing to third-seeded Texas Tech (69-65) in the Mideast Regional semifinals at The Pyramid in Memphis, Tenn.
Last year, Notre Dame used its No. 2 seed to post home victories over 15th-seeded Cleveland State (86-58) and No. 10 seed Vermont (84-66) before falling to third-seeded Oklahoma (77-72 in OT) in the Kansas City Regional semifinals at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
Notre Dame has been awarded a top-eight seed for the 12th time in its 18 NCAA Championship visits (and a top-four seed for the fifth time). The Fighting Irish are 19-5 (.792) all-time as the higher seed in NCAA tournament play.
It Hinges On Defense
Notre Dame's success in the NCAA Championship can be directly traced to its performance at the defensive end of the floor. In 18 NCAA tournament trips (47 games), the Fighting Irish are 18-2 (.900) when holding their opponent to 60 points or fewer, including wins in three of four tournament games this year (Utah, Oklahoma and Tennessee) -- and nearly all four, were it not for a meaningless last-second three-pointer by Temple in a 77-63 second-round win.
Notre Dame's two losses to teams scoring 60 points or fewer both came at the hands of top-seeded clubs -- Penn State (55-49) in the 2004 East Regional semifinals, and North Carolina (60-51) in the second round of the 2007 Dallas Region.
Re-Stoking The Offensive Fires
Prior to the 2008 NCAA Championship, Notre Dame had gone 13 consecutive games without scoring more than 61 points in a regulation NCAA tournament contest, dating back to its 2001 national championship game win over Purdue (68-66 in St. Louis).
However, that 2008 tournament saw the Fighting Irish offense roar to life, as Notre Dame topped the 70-point mark in its first two games (75-62 over SMU and 79-75 in overtime over Oklahoma) before a hard-fought 74-64 loss to Tennessee at the regional semifinals at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.
The back-to-back 70-point outings were the first for the Fighting Irish in the NCAA Championship since their Midwest Regional final and Final Four games in 2001, as they downed Vanderbilt (72-64) and Connecticut (90-75), respectively.
Notre Dame now has topped the 70-point mark in nine of its last 11 NCAA tournament games, with last year's 86-58 first-round win at home over Cleveland State representing the highest point production by the Fighting Irish in the NCAA Championship since that 2001 NCAA national semifinal win over Connecticut in St. Louis.
It's A Beautiful Day-ton
Most members of the Notre Dame women's basketball team didn't know it ahead of time, but the locker room they used at the University of Dayton Arena for Monday's NCAA Dayton Regional final against Tennessee ended up having some good karma within its walls.
As it turns out, that same locker room (innocuously called Locker Room #4) was the same one used by the VCU men's basketball team for its game against Southern California in the inaugural NCAA Men's First Four event on March 16 in Dayton. The Rams defeated the Trojans that night, 59-46, sparking a memorable five-game NCAA Championship run to this weekend's Final Four in Houston, capped by a 71-61 Elite Eight win over top-seeded Kansas in San Antonio.
In a strange twist, one of the VCU supporters in the Alamodome stands for the Rams' regional final win over Kansas was the school's women's basketball coach -- Beth (Morgan) Cunningham, Notre Dame's all-time scoring leader with 2,322 points and a two-time honorable mention All-America selection who led the Fighting Irish to the 1997 NCAA Women's Final Four in Cincinnati.
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 16-17 (.485) all-time when going to overtime, having split its last eight OT contests. This season, the Fighting Irish dropped their lone overtime game, an 86-83 double-OT thriller to No. 15 UCLA on Nov. 18 at Purcell Pavilion.
No, the title of this note doesn't haven't anything to do with the notorious tavern from Patrick Swayze's 1989 movie "Road House", but rather it's all about Notre Dame basketball.
For the first time in school history, both Fighting Irish hoops teams garnered No. 2 seeds for their respective NCAA tournaments. Mike Brey's crew (27-7) advanced to the second round of the NCAA Southwest Region before falling to Florida State, 71-57 in Chicago.
Notre Dame is one of only two schools in the country to have both of its basketball teams seeded No. 2 or better in both the men's and women's tournaments (Duke's men earned a No. 1 seed, while the Blue Devil women are seeded second in the Philadelphia Region).
The NCAA tournament seeds are just the latest highlight in a historic season for Fighting Irish basketball. The 2010-11 campaign marks the first time ever that both Notre Dame teams have recorded at least 27 wins in the same season (each squad had 25 victories in 2007-08). This year's clubs also have set a new school record for combined men's/women's basketball victories in a single season with 57, topping the old mark of 54 set in 2000-01 (women 34-2; men 20-10).
One added note -- with the Fighting Irish hockey team also earning a berth in this year's NCAA Championship (they face Minnesota-Duluth in an NCAA Frozen Four national semifinal April 7 in St. Paul, Minn.), Notre Dame is the only school to have all three major winter sports qualify for NCAA postseason play.
Notre Dame's 33-Hour Tour ... #Winning
In a 33-hour span on March 27-28, Notre Dame athletics went through a "good-things-happen-in-threes" moment. It all started on the afternoon of March 27 when the Fighting Irish fencing teams clinched the NCAA combined championship (their eighth, trailing only football's 11 national titles) in Columbus, Ohio.
That evening, the Notre Dame hockey team secured its second NCAA Frozen Four berth in four seasons with a 2-1 victory at New Hampshire in the NCAA Northeast Regional final.
The next night, the Notre Dame women's basketball team punctuated the run by earning its third NCAA Women's Final Four berth with a 73-59 win over top-seeded Tennessee in the NCAA Dayton Regional final in Dayton, Ohio.
Currently, Notre Dame is one of three schools in the country to have won multiple NCAA Division I championships this year (women's soccer and fencing), joining Penn State (women's volleyball and wrestling) and California (men's and women's swimming & diving) in that elite group.
The Rare Air Up There
Beginning on Jan. 31 (and the first time since Dec. 9, 2002), both Notre Dame basketball teams have been ranked in the top 10 of their respective Associated Press polls. In the final 2010-11 polls released on March 14, the Fighting Irish women were ranked ninth, while Mike Brey's men checked in at No. 5.
Notre Dame is one of only three schools in the country with two top-10 basketball programs, along with Connecticut (No. 1 women/No. 9 men) and Duke (No. 6 women/No. 3 men).
If you want to go one further, this marks the first time in Notre Dame athletics history that both Fighting Irish basketball teams AND the Notre Dame hockey team are ranked in the top 10 at the same time (the Fighting Irish icers currently stand fourth in the nation).
A BIG EAST Bonanza
Notre Dame is one of a record-setting nine BIG EAST Conference schools that earned invitations to the 2011 NCAA Championship, joining a club that also includes seven-time national champion Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Rutgers, St. John's and West Virginia.
This year's nine selections are one better than the previous conference (and NCAA Championship) record for the highest number of teams from one league invited to a single NCAA tournament. The BIG EAST (2004, 2008) and SEC (1999, 2002) hit that mark twice, while the Big 12 reached that total for the first time in 2008.
With Notre Dame and Connecticut both advancing to this weekend's NCAA Women's Final Four, it marks the fourth time in conference history (and second in three years) that two BIG EAST schools have advanced to the national semifinals -- the others coming in 2000 (Connecticut and Rutgers), 2001 (Notre Dame and Connecticut) and 2009 (Connecticut and Louisville).
Notre Dame also is the fourth different BIG EAST school to reach the NCAA Women's Final Four since 2007, joining Rutgers (2007), Connecticut (2008-11) and Louisville (2009).
Don't Mess With Tradition
The Notre Dame women's basketball program has developed some traditions that should be quite evident during this week's NCAA Women's Final Four in Indianapolis.
And Don't Forget The Lime Green Shirts
The ever-present lime green t-shirts you might see many Notre Dame fans wearing around Indianapolis this weekend are given out annually to Fighting Irish women's basketball season ticket holders, a group affectionately known as the "Spirit Patrol". Created by coordinator of basketball operations Stephanie Menio, the shirts are based on one of head coach Muffet McGraw's favorite colors, which she sported on the sidelines during the 2001 national championship game win over Purdue.
Monday's 73-59 win over Tennessee in the NCAA Dayton Regional final was Notre Dame's 30th victory of the season, marking the third time in program history the Fighting Irish have reached the 30-win mark. Coincidentally, the other two 30-win seasons also resulted in NCAA Women's Final Four appearances for Notre Dame -- 1997 (31-7) and 2001 (34-2).
Monday's victory also gave the BIG EAST Conference two 30-win squads in the same season for the fourth time, and three of those have involved Connecticut and Notre Dame -- 1996-97 (UConn 33-1, ND 31-7), 2000-01 (ND 34-2, UConn 32-3), 2008-09 (UConn 39-0, Louisville 34-5) and 2010-11 (UConn 36-1, ND 30-7).
Pieces of Silver
With its 63-53 win over Louisville in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals on March 6 in Hartford, Conn., Notre Dame registered its 25th victory of the season, marking the second consecutive year (and third time in four years) the Fighting Irish have reached that level.
Notre Dame has recorded eight 25-win seasons in its 34 varsity campaigns, but only once before had the Fighting Irish done so in back-to-back years. From 1998-99 through 2000-01, Notre Dame topped that mark each season (26-5, 27-5 and 34-2), including a school-record 34 wins in the final year of that run, which culminated with the program's first national championship.
What's more, this year's seniors have become the fourth group in program history to contribute to three 25-win seasons during their careers, joining the senior classes of 1999-00 (Danielle Green and Julie Henderson), 2000-01 (Imani Dunbar, Meaghan Leahy, Niele Ivey, Ruth Riley and Kelley Siemon) and 2001-02 (Ericka Haney).
Notre Dame reached the 20-win mark for the 17th time in the past 18 seasons with its 76-68 victory at South Florida on Feb. 5. The Fighting Irish now have registered 20-or-more wins 21 times in the 24-year Muffet McGraw era and 25 times in the program's 34-year history.
McGraw herself has coached 23 20-win seasons (adding in two during her five-year tenure at Lehigh from 1982-87), tying her for ninth all-time among NCAA Division I coaches.
The current Notre Dame senior class (Becca Bruszewski, Mary Forr, Brittany Mallory, Devereaux Peters) reached a collective career milestone with a 66-48 Senior Day win over Cincinnati on Feb. 26 at Purcell Pavilion. With that victory, the group has led the Fighting Irish to a 106-31 (.774) record since they arrived on campus in 2007-08.
Only five other senior classes in program history have registered 100 wins in their four-year tenures, led by the 2000-01 national championship seniors (Imani Dunbar, Meaghan Leahy, Niele Ivey, Ruth Riley and Kelley Siemon), who amassed 109 victories from 1997-2001 (Ivey was a fifth-year senior in '00-01, following a knee injury five games into her rookie season of '96-97).
This year's seniors also are the fifth group to help Notre Dame reach the NCAA Sweet 16 three times, joining the senior classes of 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2002-03 and 2003-04.
It should be noted that Forr joined the Fighting Irish roster as a walk-on prior to this season, while both Mallory and Peters have the option to return for a fifth year of eligibility next season after both suffered knee injuries early in the 2008-09 campaign.
The Best Things In Life Are Free
One of the keys to Notre Dame's success this season has been its ability to get to the free throw line. The Fighting Irish have set school records for foul shots made (633) and attempted (882) this season, going to the gift line nearly 24 times per game (and converting better than 17 of those charity tosses). In fact, Notre Dame is easily making more free throws (633) than its opponents are attempting (610) this season.
Junior guard Natalie Novosel has been the most notable individual purveyor of this strategy. She ranks second in school history for single-season free throws made (174) and attempted (221), trailing only the marks set by All-America center Ruth Riley (182-of-237) in 2000-01.
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into Sunday's game ranked fourth in the nation in steals with 12.9 thefts per game (as of March 30). The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 26 games this season, including four contests with 20-plus steals.
Highlighting this year's takeaway brigade for Notre Dame was a school-record 36-steal performance in the season-opening victory against New Hampshire on Nov. 12 at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish followed that up three days later with 26 thefts in a win over Morehead State, and also logged 24 steals at Valparaiso (Dec. 2) and 23 steals against IUPUI (Nov. 26).
Prior to this season, Notre Dame had posted 23 steals in a game just seven times in the first 33 years of the Fighting Irish women's basketball program (and only three games with 25-plus steals in that time, none since a then-record tying 29 steals at Saint Louis on Jan. 31, 1991).
Individually, Notre Dame has 11 different players with double-digit steals this season, including a school-record four with at least 65 thefts. The Fighting Irish are led by senior guard Brittany Mallory, who has collected a career-high 2.1 steals per game (ninth in the BIG EAST).
Notre Dame also enters Sunday's game ranked ninth in the country in assists (17.5 apg.), having dished out at least 20 assists in 15 games this season.
Further illustrating the Fighting Irish giving spirit, Notre Dame has assisted on 61.9 percent of its baskets this season, with 649 assists on 1,048 field goals.
At the head of the Fighting Irish assist company is sophomore Skylar Diggins, who has adapted well to her role as Notre Dame's primary point guard, ranking fifth in the BIG EAST Conference at 4.8 assists per game, and just outside the top 15 in the league with a 1.24 assist/turnover ratio. She also has handed out at least five assists in 21 games this season (including a career-high 12 against Oklahoma on March 26, the most by a Fighting Irish player since Jan. 2, 2000 - Niele Ivey vs. Marquette), after tallying seven five-assist games during her entire freshman campaign.
Notre Dame also ranks fourth in the nation with a .479 field goal percentage, shooting 50 percent or better from the floor in 17 games this season, and at least 45 percent in 27 outings.
Notre Dame also has seen a rise in its three-point shooting numbers following a slow start this season. During the past 27 games, the Fighting Irish are connecting at a 40.2 percent clip (104-of-259) from beyond the arc. Compare that with the first nine contests of the season, when Notre Dame had a .269 (29-of-108) three-point percentage.
Notre Dame ranks among the top 20 in the nation in eight categories according to the March 30 NCAA statistics report -- fourth in steals (12.9 spg.) and field goal percentage (.479); sixth in scoring margin (+21.9 ppg.); ninth in three-point percentage defense (.267), assists (17.5 apg.) and rebounding margin (+8.4 rpg.); 11th in scoring offense (77.4 ppg.); and 16th in turnover margin (+4.78).
Yet for all of these high team statistical marks, only one Fighting Irish individual is ranked higher than No. 55 in any single category -- senior forward Devereaux Peters 55th in the nation in blocked shots (1.8 bpg).
High Octane Offense
Behind one of the nation's top 15 scoring offenses (77.4 ppg., 11th as of March 30), Notre Dame is moving into uncharted territory in the school's record books.
The Fighting Irish have scored 90 points in a game in eight contests this season, setting a new school record for 90-point games in a season (the previous mark was seven on three occasions - 1996-97, 1998-99 and 2007-08).
Notre Dame also has set a new school record with nine wins by at least 35 points, more than doubling the previous program record of four 35-point wins set in 2008-09.
What's more, the Fighting Irish have won 12 games by at least 30 points, topping the school record of 10 30-point victories, which was set during the program's 2000-01 national championship season.
Last year, Notre Dame averaged 77.2 points per game, the fifth-highest single-season scoring average in school history, and best since the Fighting Irish logged a school-record 81.0 ppg. mark in 1998-99.
Two Of A Kind
Junior guard Natalie Novosel (552 points) and sophomore guard Skylar Diggins (534 points) both have topped the 500-point mark this season. It's just the third time in school history -- and the first in 15 years -- that Notre Dame has had two 500-point scorers in the same season.
In both 1995-96 and 1996-97, All-Americans Beth Morgan and Katryna Gaither pulled off this feat -- Morgan had 626 points and Gaither had 613 in 1995-96. A year later, Gaither took the lead with a school-record 776 points, followed by Morgan with 696 points.
One of Notre Dame's greatest areas of improvement this season has been in the rebounding column, where the Fighting Irish are averaging 40.9 caroms per game, up more than two rebounds from last year's final total (38.6 rpg.) and good enough for third in the BIG EAST.
Notre Dame also is giving up just 32.5 rebounds per game, more than three caroms better than last year's final total (35.8 rpg.), also placing third in the conference.
With a +8.4 rpg. margin this season, the Fighting Irish rank third in the BIG EAST and ninth in the country as of March 29. Notre Dame has won or tied the battle on the boards in 31 of 37 games this year (including 24 of its last 27), and has not has a negative rebounding margin of more than 12 all season (vs. Tennessee on Monday).
What's more, Notre Dame has outrebounded its opponent by double digits in 16 games this season, including nine games in which the Fighting Irish posted rebound margins of +15 or better, topped by a season-high +42 mark (66-24) on Jan. 2 against Southeast Missouri State at Purcell Pavilion.
Everyone Gets Into The Act
The Fighting Irish have spread the wealth so far this season, with seven different players leading the team in scoring in at least one game thus far, with five different 20-point scorers along the way.
Notre Dame also has seen no fewer than eight different players claim team-high rebounding and assist honors at some point this year.
Missed It By That Much
Notre Dame may hold a 30-7 record coming into Sunday's game, but the Fighting Irish are oh-so-close to owning a much better mark, with all seven losses coming to top-15 opponents by an average margin of just 7.6 points per game -- five by single digits (four by five points or fewer), and a sixth by 11 points.
What's more, Notre Dame led inside the final 30 seconds of regulation in three of those losses (No. 15 UCLA, also at the end of the first overtime; No. 2 Connecticut; No. 12/11 DePaul), and the Fighting Irish also had a possession to tie the game in the final 30 seconds at No. 9/10 Kentucky.
The 76-65 loss at No. 2/3 Baylor on Dec. 1 saw Notre Dame battle to within six points (65-59) with five minutes remaining and have a look at a three-pointer to halve the margin further on their next possession, but the shot rattled out and the Lady Bears managed to put the game away with nine free throws (despite making only one field goal during the final 8:23).
Despite making the tricky move to point guard this season, sophomore Skylar Diggins hasn't missed a beat, averaging career highs in scoring (14.4 ppg.), rebounding (4.0 rpg.) and assists (4.8 apg.).
The South Bend native also is second on the team lead with 30 double-figure scoring games this season, including eight 20-point outings, and she has stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of a team-best nine "5-5-5" outings (at least "5" in three of the five major statistical categories, or a mini triple-double).
A third-team AP All-American, Diggins has been tapped as a prime candidate for all of the major national player-of-the-year awards, including a spot on the final ballot for this year's John R. Wooden Award, as well as a semifinalist berth for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the nation's top point guard.
In addition, Diggins was a unanimous first-team all-BIG EAST selection, one of three Fighting Irish players (along with Novosel and senior forward Devereaux Peters) to make the WBCA/State Farm All-Region I Team AND be chosen as WBCA/State Farm All-America Team finalists, and she made her second consecutive appearance on the BIG EAST Championship All-Tournament Team, just the fourth Notre Dame player to make that squad twice (along with multi-time All-Americans Beth Morgan, Katryna Gaither and Ruth Riley).
Diggins also has recorded an extremely rare career accomplishment, going over the 1,000-point mark with her game-high 24 points against Tennessee on Monday. With 1,018 career points (26th all-time), she is just the second Fighting Irish player ever to reach the 1,000-point mark in her first two seasons at Notre Dame -- Morgan (the program's all-time leading scorer) had exactly 1,000 points from 1993-95.
Bruszewski Joins 1,000-Point Club
With 12 points vs. Syracuse on Feb. 1, senior forward/co-captain Becca Bruszewski became the 27th Notre Dame women's basketball player to score 1,000 points in her career. She currently ranked 22nd on the program's all-time scoring list with 1,140 points.
Bruszewski also became the fifth player from Notre Dame's 2007-08 NCAA Sweet 16 team to hit the 1,000-point mark, joining Charel Allen (1,566 from 2004-08), Ashley Barlow (1,492 from 2006-10), Lindsay Schrader (1,429 from 2005-10) and Melissa Lechlitner (1,005 from 2006-10) in that group.
Five other teams in Fighting Irish women's basketball history have featured at least five current or future 1,000-point scorers on the same roster -- from 1995-96 through 1999-2000, every Notre Dame squad had five or more players who had reached or would reach the 1,000-point plateau during their careers (including a school-record six on the 1996-97 and 1997-98 squads).
Aside from head coach Muffet McGraw and current associate coach Carol Owens, the one common link between those teams was guard Danielle Green, who scored 1,106 points from 1995-2000, missing the 1996-97 Final Four season with a preseason Achilles injury and coming back for a fifth year of eligibility in 1999-2000.
Right Said Fred
Junior guard Fraderica Miller often has been termed the "defensive spark" off the bench for Notre Dame, and the numbers bear it out. The Atlanta native is uber-efficient with her playing time (9.8 min/game), ranking fifth on the team this season with a career-high 47 steals.
Were she to play a full 40 minutes, she would easily lead the nation in steals with 6.19/game, nearly a full steal ahead of her next closest competitor.
Novosel Is Just Plain Nasty
Nicknamed "Nasty" for her playmaking abilities, junior guard Natalie Novosel emerged as easily the most improved player in the BIG EAST Conference, if not the entire country.
The Lexington, Ky., native currently leads the Fighting Irish (and ranks eighth in the league) in scoring at a team-high 14.9 points per game, nearly tripling her offensive output from a season ago. She also has scored at least 20 points in a game six times this year (after coming into the campaign with a career single-game high of 19 points) and has scored in double figures a team-high 31 times after doing so a total of 14 times in her first two seasons combined at Notre Dame.
In addition to collecting the BIG EAST Most Improved Player award (the third by a Notre Dame player and first since Megan Duffy in 2005), Novosel added other hardware to her personal trophy case, taking home first-team all-BIG EAST and WBCA/State Farm All-Region I Team honors (being named an All-America Team finalist for the latter), as well as Most Valuable Player plaudits at the WBCA Classic. She also earned a spot on the BIG EAST Championship and State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic all-tournament teams, and garnered three mentions on the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll (Nov. 29, Feb. 7, March 1).
Thus, it's no surprise that ESPN.com's Graham Hays tweeted the following comment after Novosel's career-high 27 points (8-11 FG, 2-2 3FG, 9-9 FT) vs. Gonzaga in a 70-61 Fighting Irish win on Dec. 29 in Seattle:
"Is Natalie Novosel the most improved player in the nation? Gotta be on the short list."
Peters Showing Her Own Dev-elopment
If Novosel is among the nation's most improved players, senior forward Devereaux Peters can't be far behind. The veteran frontliner is playing some of the best basketball of her career this season, putting a pair of knee injuries and three surgeries well in the rearview mirror.
Peters currently is averaging career highs of 11.8 points per game (24th in the BIG EAST) and 7.4 rebounds per game (sixth), along with a .592 field goal percentage (second), 1.8 blocks per game (third) and 1.8 steals per game.
Peters' numbers in BIG EAST play were even more eye-popping, as she ranked among the top five in the league in field goal percentage (first - .621), rebounding (second - 7.9 rpg.) and blocks (third - 1.9 bpg.), while ranking 15th in scoring (12.9 ppg.). She also placed second in the BIG EAST with five double-doubles during conference action.
Like Novosel, Peters regularly has been pulling in accolades this season, most notably being named the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year (the first Fighting Irish cager to earn that award since Ruth Riley's three-year run from 1999-2001). Peters also was a first-team all-BIG EAST and WBCA All-Region I selection, while earning a spot on the WBCA Classic All-Tournament Team and garnering MVP honors at the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic in Seattle. During the latter tournament on Dec. 29-30, she averaged 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.5 blocks per game with a .684 field goal percentage (13-of-19) in wins over Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount.
That tournament effort has been the cornerstone of Peters' post-Christmas surge. In the past 25 games, the Chicago native is averaging 13.0 points and 8.6 rebounds with nine double-doubles and a .612 field goal percentage (139-of-227).
Peters Adds Griner To SWAT Team
Senior forward Devereaux Peters has made a living as a shot blocking presence in the paint for Notre Dame throughout her career, with her 6-foot-2 frame and 77-inch wingspan. However, on Dec. 1 at No. 2/3 Baylor, she added another notch to her belt in historic fashion.
At the 10:22 mark of the second half, the Lady Bears threw an entry pass in to their 6-foot-8 sophomore All-America center Brittney Griner, but as she turned to shoot, Peters rotated perfectly from the weak side and rejected Griner's shot out of bounds. It was one of the highlights in a 17-2 Fighting Irish run that pulled Notre Dame within six points of Baylor with five minutes left.
It's believed to be the first time in Griner's two-year college career that she has had a shot blocked. A video clip of Peters' block has been posted on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball YouTube channel (search for "notredameirishhoops" or click the link through the sidebar on the women's basketball page at www.UND.com).
Notre Dame was ranked No. 9 in the final 2010-11 Associated Press poll, its eighth consecutive week in the top 10. That marked the 77th consecutive AP poll appearance for the Fighting Irish, extending the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001).
With its final poll position, Notre Dame has appeared in the top 10 of the AP poll in each of the past four seasons and 11 of the past 15 seasons (1996-97 to present), as well as 103 weeks overall since the Fighting Irish earned their initial AP top-10 ranking (No. 9 on Nov. 24, 1996).
This year's No. 9 year-end ranking also represents the fifth time (and the second consecutive year) that Notre Dame has appeared in the top 10 of the final AP poll. The Fighting Irish were second in 2000-01, fifth in 1999-2000, seventh in 2009-10 and eighth in 1998-99).
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 216 weeks during the program's 34-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 13th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also is 22nd all-time in that category.
In addition, the Fighting Irish are ranked No. 7 in the March 14 ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, matching their season-best position for the third time in four weeks. Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 77 of the past 78 weeks, falling just outside the Top 25 in the final poll of the 2008-09 season. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish have appeared in the coaches' poll for a total of 208 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the third consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as nine of the past 13 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 30 people in NCAA Division I women's basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Besides her 216 AP poll appearances while coaching at Notre Dame, McGraw was the starting point guard at Saint Joseph's (Pa.) as a senior in 1977, helping the Hawks to No. 3 in the nation.
Of the 30 people on this list, 16 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart on this page), with nine of the 16 leading their teams to this year's NCAA Championship. McGraw and Baylor's Kim Mulkey are the only active skippers to play for and coach a team in the AP poll, and coach that team to a national title (McGraw in 2001, Mulkey in 2005).
Half And Half
During the past decade, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 216-17 (.927) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 144 of their last 155 such contests, and 53 in a row since a 58-47 loss to Villanova on March 8, 2009, in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at Hartford's XL Center (Notre Dame led 25-21 at intermission).
The Fighting Irish have been up at the break in 28 games this year, including their March 28 win over Tennessee in their NCAA Dayton Regional title game, when they led 29-24 through the first 20 minutes.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 16 seasons, Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season (Notre Dame's first in the BIG EAST Conference), the Fighting Irish have an amazing 231-15 (.939) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including victories in 23 contests this season (New Hampshire, Morehead State, IUPUI, Butler, Purdue, Providence, Creighton, Valparaiso, Loyola Marymount, Southeast Missouri State, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova, Syracuse, Seton Hall, Rutgers, Cincinnati, Louisville, Utah, Oklahoma, Tennessee).
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 16 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 153-5 (.968) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are three overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995 and UCLA (86-83 in double OT) in 2010, as well as a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, and an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008.
Notre Dame has topped the 80-point mark in 14 games this year (13-1 record) after going 17-0 last season when it scored at least 80 points.
Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
The 2009-10 season saw an unprecedented surge in fan support for Notre Dame women's basketball, as the Fighting Irish set new program records for the highest year-end NCAA attendance ranking (fourth), highest average attendance (8,377 fans per game) and most sellouts (six) in a single season. And, as the old saying goes -- "you ain't seen nothin' yet."
For the second consecutive preseason, Notre Dame fans all but exhausted the program's season ticket packages (close to 7,500) and snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish make short work of their freshly-minted single-season average attendance record in 2010-11.
For the second consecutive year, Notre Dame set a new single-season attendance record, averaging 8,553 fans for its 17 home games this season (fifth in the country according to this week's NCAA attendance report), including sellout crowds of 9,149 for its games against Purdue (Dec. 5), Connecticut (Jan. 8), St. John's (Jan. 23), Rutgers (Feb. 12) and Cincinnati (Feb. 26).
Part of the appeal of Notre Dame women's basketball can be traced to the renovated Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, which has yet another new feature this season with the addition of a four-sided LED video scoreboard high above center court, as well as LED auxiliary scoreboards above all four court-level entrance ramps and at the scorer's table.
McGraw Is Simply Legendary
The announcement on July 10, 2010, may have made it official, but it really only confirmed what Notre Dame fans have known for a very long time -- head coach Muffet McGraw is a Hall of Famer.
McGraw, the 2001 consensus national coach of the year and winner of more than 600 games in her illustrious career, was one of six people -- and the lone coach -- named to the 2011 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Class, as announced in Uncasville, Conn., during the "WNBA vs. USA Basketball: The Stars at the Sun Game" that was televised live nationally on ESPN from Mohegan Sun Arena.
The others in McGraw's Hall of Fame class include former Olympic gold medalists Ruthie Bolton (Auburn) and Vicky Bullett (Maryland), as well as Val Ackerman, the first WNBA president (1996-2005) and first female president of USA Basketball (2005-08), and a pair of three-time All-America players from the pre-NCAA era, Pearl Moore (Frances Marion) and Lometa Odom (Wayland Baptist).
The '11 class offically was introduced at the 2010 State Farm Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 16 at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., before the Connecticut-Baylor game. The group will be enshrined June 10-12, 2011, during the 13th annual Induction Weekend at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.
McGraw becomes the first Notre Dame selection for the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. The Fighting Irish skipper also is the third BIG EAST Conference coach chosen for the honor, joining Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer (2001) and Connecticut's Geno Auriemma (2006) in that elite company. First-year Seton Hall head coach Anne Donovan also was a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inaugural class in 1999, going in primarily for her accomplishments as a player at Old Dominion.
McGraw also will be the eighth active college head coach to enter the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Besides Stringer and Auriemma, the others on this list are: Pat Summitt (1999 - Tennessee), Van Chancellor (2001 - LSU), Tara VanDerveer (2002 - Stanford), Sylvia Hatchell (2004 - North Carolina) and Andy Landers (2007 - Georgia).
Oh Captain, My Captain
Senior forward Becca Bruszewski and senior guard Brittany Mallory are serving as Notre Dame's team captains for the 2010-11 season. Both players received the captain's honor for the first time in their respective careers following a preseason vote by their teammates.
Notre Dame Sets Pace For Pink Zone
Following last year's wildly-successful fundraising efforts for the WBCA's Pink Zone breast cancer initiative, Notre Dame reached even higher this season, as the Fighting Irish have raised a program-record $116,405 for the initiative, among the most by any Division I school in the country this year. That also lifts Notre Dame's combined Pink Zone fundraising total in the last three years to more than a quarter of a million dollars (nearly $260,000).
Notre Dame's local Pink Zone drive is led by primary sponsor Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, with donations divided between the Foundation for Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center's Women's Task Force and the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.
For more information, or to make a donation, please visit the Notre Dame Pink Zone web page at www.UND.com/pinkzone.
Next Game: NCAA Championship Game
Should Notre Dame defeat Connecticut in Sunday's NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinal, the Fighting Irish would advance to the NCAA national championship game at 8:30 p.m. (ET) Tuesday against the winner of Sunday's other national semifinal between No. 2 Stanford and No. 7/8 Texas A&M.
Notre Dame is 0-2 all-time against Stanford, having dropped a home-and-away series to the Cardinal in 1990 and 1991.
The Fighting Irish are 0-1 all-time against Texas A&M, falling 88-84 in overtime to the Aggies in their lone meeting on Dec. 3, 1995, at the Kona Women's Basketball Classic in Kona, Hawaii.