April 2, 2012
NCAA Tournament Central | Get Your Tournament Gear!
ND Game Notes | Monday Press Conference Gallery | 2011-12: A Season in Photos | 2011-12 Season Timeline
LIVE GAME COVERAGE: ESPN | GameTracker Live Stats | Live Audio
ND-BAYLOR REGULAR-SEASON MEETING: Recap | Box Score | Photo Gallery
AP STORIES: Preview | Diggins/Sims | Eager for Rematch | Title Game Set
VIDEOS: Press Conference (McGraw) | Press Conference (Players) | Preview
NCAA Women's Final Four -- National Championship
#4/4 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (35-3 / 15-1 BIG EAST) vs. #1/1 [#1 seed] Baylor Lady Bears (39-0 / 18-0 Big 12)
DATE: April 3, 2012
TIME: 6:43 p.m. MT
AT: Denver, Colo. - Pepsi Center (19,155)
SERIES: BU leads 2-0
1ST MTG: BU 76-65 (12/1/10)
LAST MTG: BU 94-81 (11/20/11)
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
No. 4 Fighting Irish To Face No. 1 Baylor Tuesday In NCAA National Championship Game
Almost one year to the day after falling just short of achieving its goal of a national title, No. 4 Notre Dame has earned the rare opportunity to right that perceived wrong when it takes on No. 1 Baylor in the NCAA national championship game at 6:43 p.m. MT (8:43 p.m. ET) Tuesday at the Pepsi Center in Denver -- ESPN will televise the game live.
The Fighting Irish (35-3) reached the NCAA title game with a victory over BIG EAST rival Connecticut, battling past the Huskies, 83-75 in overtime in Sunday's national semifinals. Notre Dame tied the game late in regulation, then used a 14-2 run in the extra period to earn its third win over Connecticut this year.
Senior guard Natalie Novosel hit the game-tying shot with 4.6 ticks left in regulation, ending with a game-high 20 points, while fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory scored seven of her 11 points (including two big treys) in OT.
Other Notre Dame Notables
The Notre Dame-Baylor Series
Notre Dame and Baylor will play for the second time this season and third in series history when they step on the Pepsi Center hardwood Tuesday night in the NCAA national championship game. Both prior matchups between the teams took place in Waco, Texas, and were won by the Lady Bears, including a 94-81 victory back on Nov. 20 in the Preseason WNIT championship game.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Baylor Met
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw was already prepared that 6-foot-8 Baylor phenom Brittney Griner would probably have her way inside against the Fighting Irish.
Griner did just that, scoring 32 points with 14 rebounds and six blocked shots. The problem was she wasn't alone for the top-ranked Lady Bears.
Odyssey Sims had one of her best overall games and Destiny Williams also had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds for Baylor in a 94-81 win over Notre Dame in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the preseason WNIT championship game on Nov. 20 in Waco, Texas.
"The game was particularly disappointing because defensively we really played poorly," McGraw said. "We tried a couple of different looks on (Griner), but it didn't really matter. I was disappointed with the way we guarded the other players."
Notre Dame had a pair of 25-point scorers in the same game for the first time since 2000. Natalie Novosel scored a (then) career-high 28 points and Skylar Diggins, like Griner a preseason AP All-America pick, had 27.
Sims has 25 points, six assists, six steals and only two turnovers in 38 minutes after she wasn't in the starting lineup for a reason that coach Kim Mulkey wouldn't specify -- or allow Sims to address.
The Lady Bears put the game away with a 14-3 run that was capped when Sims had a steal that she turned into a breakaway layup for a 70-58 lead with 9 1/2 minutes left.
"Just motivated altogether," Sims said. "Playing against (Diggins), playing against the team, playing in front of the crowd, No. 1 versus No. 2. All of that put together."
There was then a feisty play with 1:40 left after Diggins lost her dribble. When she tried to recover the ball from the floor, she had her arm unintentionally around Sims' neck. Sims jumped up clearly angry, then went to the sideline where Mulkey gave her a quick hug to try to settle her down. But Sims was assessed a technical foul.
Diggins and Sims were teammates on USA Basketball World University Games gold medal-winning team in China last summer. Notre Dame's Novosel and Devereaux Peters were also on that team.
"Odyssey is a very competitive player just like I am, and she was a teammate of mine. I don't think it was anything personal," Diggins said. "I think it's just both of us playing hard. Just a loose ball, you try to get it."
Sims agreed, and said she wished Diggins "the best the rest of the season."
Kayla McBride, who had 11 points for the Fighting Irish, made two free throws with 15:48 left to cap a 15-6 run that cut the deficit to 53-51. Baylor's game-clinching spurt came a couple of minutes later.
Notre Dame had an early 10-6 lead after Brittany Mallory went around Griner for a reverse layup.
After Griner and Diggins traded baskets, Sims hit a three-pointer, and Griner had a defensive rebound and the Lady Bears got the first lead when Sims passed to Williams for a 13-12 lead with 12:53 left in the first half.
That was during a furious pace when the game's first stop in action didn't come until McGraw finally called a timeout with 11:33 left after a putback by Williams for a 17-14 Baylor lead.
Baylor led 47-36 at halftime, that close only after Novosel hit a three-pointer at the buzzer after the Fighting Irish had missed their first 11 shots from long range.
Other Notre Dame-Baylor Series Tidbits
Other NCAA Women's Final Four Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Big 12 Conference
Notre Dame is 8-9 (.471) all-time against current Big 12 Conference members, including wins in six of its last 11 games against that conference (most recently dispatching Oklahoma, 78-53 in the NCAA Dayton Regional semifinals on March 26). The five losses in that time all came by 13 points or less (three by five or fewer and two in OT):
Notre Dame also will be playing a current Big 12 opponent for the 13th time since that conference was founded in 1996-97. However, in an odd coincidence, 10 of the previous 12 games were played in a tournament format, including eight in NCAA Championship play:
Since the start of the 2008-09 season, Notre Dame has played 36 times when it has had a short one-day break (or less) between games, including games on consecutive days this year at the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas (Nov. 25-26 vs. USC and No. 7/6 Duke) and the BIG EAST Championship (March 4-6 vs. No. RV/23 DePaul, No. 25/RV West Virginia and at No. 4 Connecticut).
When faced with such a tight turnaround, the Fighting Irish have risen to the occasion in recent seasons, going 28-8 (.778) on the back half of these two-game (or more) blitzes during the past four years, including a 12-1 record this season (only loss came at No. 4 Connecticut on March 6 in BIG EAST Championship final, when Notre Dame was playing for third consecutive day).
Irish In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is wrapping up its 19th appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 17th in a row, as it takes the Pepsi Center court Tuesday night for the NCAA national championship game against Baylor. The Fighting Irish have a .685 winning percentage (37-17) 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):
Beyond The Box Score: Connecticut
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 11-0 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 (54 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 16 of its last 18 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 3-1 all-time when going to overtime in the NCAA tournament, following Sunday's 83-75 national semifinal win over Connecticut in Denver. The Fighting Irish also split a pair of OT games with Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament (won 79-75 in a 2008 second-round game at West Lafayette, Ind.; lost 77-72 in 2010 Kansas City Regional semifinal in Kansas City, Mo.), and defeated Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), 69-65, in extra time in their 2004 NCAA opener.
Notre Dame is 18-17 (.514) all-time when going to overtime, including a 6-4 record in its last 10 contests. This season, the Fighting Irish won both of their overtime games, adding a 74-67 thriller over No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 7 at Purcell Pavilion to Sunday's win over the Huskies at the NCAA Women's Final Four.
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 at the Pepsi Center:
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.
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 142 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 (117), 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 15 of its last 16 games against ranked opponents (including seven 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 16 Top 25 opponents to just 55.6 points per night, including 11 games when the opposition scored 60 points or fewer.
Notre Dame also has held its ranked foes to a .360 field goal percentage (.222 from the three-point line), and posted a +6.0 rebounding margin after being outrebounded by 15 at Baylor.
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 83-75 overtime win over No. 3 Connecticut in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinal on Sunday was Notre Dame's 35th victory of the year, topping the school record for single-season wins set in 2000-01 (when the Fighting Irish posted a 34-2 mark).
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 a wide margin (1,559-928), 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).
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 April 1 NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame ranks second in the nation in scoring offense (now 79.3 ppg.) and scoring margin (+27.1 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 .471), assists (fourth at 18.0 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 (as of April 1) -- steals (third, now at 13.1 spg.), scoring defense (fifth at 52.2 ppg.), turnover margin (fifth at +6.60), rebound margin (ninth at +9.2 rpg.) and three-point defense (20th at .262).
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 65 halves of basketball (dating back to the second half against No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26), the Fighting Irish have held their opponents to 25 points or fewer 52.3 percent of the time (34 halves), including 29.2 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 24 games thus far, with Fighting Irish foes averaging 22.7 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +6.60 turnover margin that is fifth-best in the nation (as of April 1).
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 Tuesday's game ranked third in the nation in steals with 13.1 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 29 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 (77 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. What's more, they have the three highest single-season steal totals in school history the past three years (496 this season, 495 in 2010-11, 450 in 2009-10).
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 100 steals), and fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Brittany Mallory, who is eighth at 2.1 spg.
Continuing a trend from last season, Notre Dame has shared the basketball very well this year.
In the April 1 NCAA statistics report, the Fighting Irish are fourth in the nation (second in the BIG EAST) at 18.0 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).
What's more, Notre Dame has assisted on 62.5 percent of its field goals this season (685 of 1,096), 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. This year's 685 assists also are a school record, passing the old standard of 682 set in 1996-97.
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 2.13 assist/turnover ratio (also tops in the conference).
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 38 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 384 games in their careers (Diggins-106, Novosel-81, Peters-80, Mallory-78, McBride-39). That total includes 52 NCAA Championship starts between the group (Diggins-14, Mallory-11, Novosel-11, Peters-11, McBride-5).
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has featured a balanced offense thus far, with at least three players scoring in double figures in 33 games, and at least four double-digit scorers in 18 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 52-4 (.929) 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 32 games, the Fighting Irish are averaging 41.8 rebounds a night, with an average +11.1 rpg. margin. Furthermore, Notre Dame has grabbed at least 40 rebounds 24 times in the past 32 games after not reaching that mark once in its first six contests.
This improvement on the glass has never been 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 April 1 NCAA statistics report, Notre Dame ranks ninth in the country in rebounding margin (now +9.2 rpg.) this year.
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 95-17 (.848) 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 and 2012 NCAA national championship games and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as an 19-10 record against AP Top 25 teams (10-8 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 79.3 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 2.37 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 496 thefts (to date) this year, 495 steals last 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 52.2 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 18 outings (beginning with the Jan. 23 win over No. 7/9 Tennessee), the Chicago native is averaging 12.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.0 steals per game with nine 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 1,564 points, while Peters became the 30th member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club and presently is tied for 17th with 1,312 points.
Together with junior guard Skylar Diggins (sixth with 1,706 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.
Many observers would contend that, even before her 11-point performance (and two key three-pointers in Sunday's national semifinal win over Connecticut), one of the key reasons for Notre Dame's return to the NCAA national championship game has been the presence of fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Brittany Mallory. Yet, it almost didn't happen ... twice.
The Baltimore native earned her fifth year after going down with a torn ACL in her left knee seven games into the 2008-09 season (Dec. 10 at Michigan). As it turned out, that was the last possible game Mallory could have played and still remained eligible for a medical redshirt (she saw action in less than 30 percent of the team's regular season games), and it was an injury that occurred 56 seconds into overtime of that 63-59 loss in Ann Arbor.
In an amazing set of circumstances, Notre Dame was in a position to secure a victory in regulation, leading by two with possession and 14 seconds to go. However, the Fighting Irish traveled on the sideline while attempting to inbound the ball, leading to Michigan tying the game and creating the overtime period when Mallory was injured.
Then, once last season ended, Mallory was undecided about whether or not to petition for her fifth season. After much contemplation, including discussions with her family and the Fighting Irish coaching staff, she elected to return to her final year, completing what head coach Muffet McGraw has called "one of the most successful recruiting efforts of my career."
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 150), 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 143 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."
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 168-6 (.966) 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 45-2 (.957) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level in 16 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.