NCAA Women's Final Four -- National Semifinal
#2/2 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (36-0 / 16-0 ACC) vs. #11/9 [#4 seed] Maryland Terrapins (28-6 / 12-4 ACC)
DATE: April 6, 2014 TIME: 5:30 p.m. CT/6:30 p.m. ET AT: Nashville, Tenn. - Bridgestone Arena (17,681) SERIES: MD leads 4-3 1ST MTG: MD 84-62 (1/8/83) LAST MTG: ND 87-83 (1/27/14) TV: ESPN/WatchESPN(live) (Dave O'Brien, p-b-p / Doris Burke, color / Holly Rowe, sideline) RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p); Westwood One/NCAA Radio Network(check local listings - live) (Dave Ryan, p-b-p / Debbie Antonelli, color / Krista Blunk, sideline) TOURNAMENT CENTRAL:UND.com LIVE STATS:UND.com TWITTER:@ndwbbsid
Notre Dame is the fifth school in NCAA Championship history to advance to the Women's Final Four six times.
The Fighting Irish will play a conference opponent in the national semifinals for the fifth time in six Women's Final Four appearances.
No. 2 Fighting Irish To Face No. 11/9 Maryland Sunday At NCAA Women's Final Four
After a season full of unprecedented success and unique challenges, No. 2 Notre Dame has reached its final destination in Music City USA and a spot in the NCAA Women's Final Four for the fourth consecutive season, as the Fighting Irish prepare to face a fellow ACC member, No. 11/9 Maryland in a national semifinal at 5:30 p.m. CT (6:30 p.m ET) Sunday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The game will be televised live on ESPN, ESPN3 and on the WatchESPN platform, with Michiana's Pulse FM providing local radio coverage and the Westwood One/NCAA Radio Network supplying the national perspective.
Notre Dame (36-0) secured its fourth consecutive NCAA regional title on March 31 with an emotional 88-69 win over No. 5/6 Baylor at Purcell Pavilion, avenging losses to the Bears in the 2012 NCAA title game and early last season.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd was named the Notre Dame Regional Most Outstanding Player after scoring a team-high 30 points in Monday's regional final against Baylor.
Notre Dame is No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll and is No. 2 in the latest WBCA/USA Today poll.
Maryland is No. 11 in the final Associated Press poll and is No. 9 in the latest WBCA/USA Today poll.
Notre Dame is the fifth program in NCAA history to make six NCAA Women's Final Four appearances (Connecticut, Louisiana Tech, Stanford and Tennessee).
The Fighting Irish are the sixth team to reach the NCAA Women's Final Four in four consecutive seasons (Connecticut, LSU, Louisiana Tech, Stanford and Tennessee).
Notre Dame won both the ACC regular season and tournament titles, becoming the first conference school to claim both crowns in the same year since Duke in 2002-03 (and the first ACC member ever to do so in its inaugural season).
Notre Dame went a combined 19-0 in ACC regular season and tournament play, becoming the first league school outside the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.) to run the table, and the first to go 19-0 against the ACC since Duke in 2002-03.
For the first time in the program's 37-year history, the Fighting Irish have won three consecutive outright regular season conference titles (following BIG EAST crowns in 2011-12 and 2012-13), and it's just the second time they have ever won three consecutive regular season conference titles of any kind (they shared the 1988-89 Midwestern Collegiate/Horizon League championship before claiming the top spot outright the following two seasons).
Notre Dame is the fourth ACC school to win the conference regular season title by at least four games, and the first since Duke in 2001-02.
Notre Dame is the first school to win the ACC regular season women's basketball title in its first year in the conference since the ACC began sponsoring the sport in 1977-78.
Notre Dame and Middle Tennessee (Conference USA) are the first NCAA Division I programs to win consecutive conference titles in different leagues since 2000-01, when both TCU and Louisiana Tech did so.
Notre Dame has recorded a school-best 36 wins this season, exceeding the totals by the past two Fighting Irish squads (35-4 in 2011-12; 35-2 in 2012-13).
The current Fighting Irish school-record 36-game winning streak already has topped last year's 30-game run, and it's also the longest winning streak by any Notre Dame team (regardless of sport) since World War II, passing the performance of the 2001 Fighting Irish softball team (33) and putting this year's women's basketball team nearly on par with Frank Leahy's legendary Notre Dame football teams from 1946-50 (39-game unbeaten streak - 37-0-2 record that included three national championships).
Notre Dame has won 28 consecutive home games, dating back to Dec. 5, 2012 (a 73-61 loss to No. 3 Baylor). The 28-game home winning streak is the second-longest in school history, as well as the second-longest active run in NCAA Division I.
The Fighting Irish have won a school-record 26 consecutive road games (and 42 of their last 47), tying the fourth-longest streak in NCAA Division I history and dating back to a 94-81 loss at No. 1 Baylor on Nov. 20, 2011, in the Preseason WNIT title game.
Since the start of the 2011-12 season, Notre Dame is 40-5 (.889) against ranked opponents (26-4 away from home - road/neutral sites combined).
Notre Dame stands at No. 2 in the AP and WBCA/USA Today polls, the third consecutive season that the Fighting Irish have earned the second position in both surveys.
Notre Dame leads the nation in field goal percentage (.510) and three-point percentage (.408), part of seven NCAA statistical categories that the Fighting Irish are among the top 10 (not including won-loss percentage, for which they are one of two remaining teams in the nation without a loss).
Notre Dame has appeared in the AP poll for 136 consecutive weeks (including the past 66 weeks in the AP Top 10), extending a program record that dates back to the 2007-08 preseason poll, and ranking sixth in the nation among active AP poll appearances. What's more, every current Fighting Irish player has competed for a ranked Notre Dame squad during her career, with the vast majority of that time (86 of 97 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
Of the 14 losses suffered by the current Fighting Irish senior class, eight were decided by single digits (and three others by 10-13 points).
Notre Dame ranks fourth in the latest NCAA attendance rankings (8,694 fans per game; 95 percent capacity), and is one of only two schools in the country (along with Gonzaga) to fill its arena to better than 90 percent capacity, something the Fighting Irish have done each season since 2009-10.
With 662 victories in her 27 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).
With 750 career wins, McGraw has moved into 10th place on the NCAA Division I career list. She is one of two ACC coaches in the top 10 along with current North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell (second with 935).
Other Notre Dame Notables
Notre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past five seasons (2009-10 to present), ranking fourth with 166 victories.
Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in average attendance annually since 2000-01 (including top-five rankings the past four years), most recently placing fifth in the nation last season with a school-record 8,979 fans per game, topping the previous year's mark (8,571) and setting a new school record for the fourth year in a row. The Fighting Irish also have drawn at least 5,000 fans to 207 of their last 209 home games (including an active streak of 50 consecutive contests with 8,000 fans), logging 41 Purcell Pavilion sellouts, including 35 since the start of the 2009-10 campaign (five of their last six this season) and a school-record 11 sellouts last year.
The Fighting Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as 10 Notre Dame players have been selected in the past 13 seasons. Skylar Diggins was the most recent Fighting Irish player to be chosen, going to the Tulsa Shock in the first round (third overall pick) of the 2013 WNBA Draft. It marked the second consecutive year Notre Dame had a player selected No. 3 overall (Devereaux Peters went third to Minnesota in 2012), making the Fighting Irish just the second program to field lottery choices in consecutive seasons.
Peters went on to earn her first WNBA Championship in 2013 with the Lynx (and fifth by a Notre Dame alum), who defeated the Atlanta Dream (and former Fighting Irish All-American Ruth Riley) in the WNBA Finals. Riley previously had won a pair of crowns with the Detroit Shock (2003 Finals MVP, 2006), while Coquese Washington toiled for the 2000 Houston Comets and Jacqueline Batteast was Riley's teammate on the 2006 title-winning squad in Detroit.
For the seventh 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, Notre Dame was one of only four schools in the previous six years to record a 100-percent GSR and play for a national championship in the same season (and the only program to do it twice, pulling off that feat in 2011 and 2012).
The Notre Dame-Maryland Series
Notre Dame and Maryland will play for the eighth time in series history, with the Terrapins holding a slim 4-3 edge over the Fighting Irish. However, Notre Dame has won the past two meetings in the series, including this year's ACC regular-season matchup (87-83 on Jan. 27 in College Park, Md.), as well as the only postseason encounter (80-49 on March 27, 2012, in the NCAA Raleigh Regional final).
The Last Time Notre Dame And Maryland Met Jewell Loyd scored a career-high 31 points and Kayla McBride had 20 for No. 2 Notre Dame, which lost a 22-point lead and had to scramble to salvage an 87-83 win over No. 8/6 Maryland on Jan. 27 at the Comcast Center in College Park, Md.
Notre Dame appeared on its way to another easy victory after building a 41-19 lead late in the first half. But Maryland stormed back behind senior star Alyssa Thomas to go up 64-63 with 10 minutes left.
Notre Dame answered with a 10-2 run and the Terrapins never got even after that.
McBride hit a long jumper as the shot clock dwindled to make it 87-83 with 11 seconds to go, the last in a series of clutch shots by the Fighting Irish in their closest game of the season.
Loyd, a 5-foot-10 sophomore guard, missed Notre Dame's previous game (vs. Miami) with a sprained knee. She returned to score 20 points in the first half and finished 12 for 20 from the floor and 7 for 8 at the foul line.
Thomas had 29 points and 12 rebounds, scoring 19 points after halftime, but it wasn't enough to prevent Maryland from absorbing its second straight defeat.
Other Notre Dame-Maryland Series Tidbits
Notre Dame is 5-4 all-time against teams from the state of Maryland. In addition to their series against the Terrapins, the Fighting Irish are 2-0 against Loyola, defeating the Greyhounds in 1991 (84-49 at the Purcell Pavilion) and 1992 (55-48 in Baltimore).
Notre Dame freshman guard Lindsay Allen is a native of Mitchellville, Md. (located approximately 10 miles southeast of the Maryland campus) and matriculated from St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C. (located 10 miles southwest of Maryland's home arena, the Comcast Center).
Allen is the fifth Maryland native to suit up for the Fighting Irish and the second in recent seasons, following in the footsteps of sharpshooting guard and Baltimore native Brittany Mallory (2007-12), who helped lead Notre Dame to Final Four appearances in 2011 and 2012 and ranks sixth in school history with 153 three-point field goals.
Allen and fellow Notre Dame freshman forward Taya Reimer were teammates with Maryland rookie guard Lexie Brown on the East Team at the 2013 McDonald's High School All-America Game in Chicago.
Notre Dame sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey was a teammate with Maryland sophomore forward Malina Howard on the East Team at the 2012 McDonald's High School All-America Game in Chicago, defeating a West Team that included current Fighting Irish sophomore guard Jewell Loyd.
Mabrey and Brown were teammates on the 2012 USA Basketball Under-18 National Team that won the gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. In addition, Notre Dame athletic trainer Anne Marquez served as the USA athletic trainer at that tournament.
Notre Dame senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride was a teammate with Maryland senior forward Alicia DeVaughn and redshirt junior guard Laurin Mincy on the East Team at the 2010 McDonald's High School All-America Game in Columbus, Ohio.
Two of the potential future stars of the United States Women's National Team will be in uniform Sunday night. McBride and Maryland senior forward Alyssa Thomas were two of six collegians named to the 2014-16 USA Basketball Women's National Team player pool from which the rosters for the 2014 USA World Championship Team and the 2016 USA Olympic Team will be selected (both squads will be led by another of this year's Final Four coaches, Connecticut's Geno Auriemma). In an interesting twist, both also are Pennsylvania natives, with McBride from Erie and Thomas from Harrisburg.
Other NCAA Women's Final Four Tidbits
For the fifth time in its six NCAA Women's Final Four appearances, Notre Dame is playing a conference opponent in the national semifinals (the Fighting Irish played former BIG EAST rival Connecticut in 2001, 2011, 2012 and 2013, going 3-1 in those games). The lone exception came in Notre Dame's first Final Four appearance in 1997, when the Fighting Irish coincidentally faced the flagship school for the state they visit this weekend, Tennessee (falling 80-66 in Cincinnati).
Notre Dame returns to the state of Tennessee for the second time this season, having visited Knoxville on Jan. 20 and earning an 86-70 victory over the Lady Vols.
The Fighting Irish last played in Nashville on Dec. 30, 2008, tying a school record by rallying from 18 points down in the second half to defeat No. 20/19 Vanderbilt, 59-57 at historic Memorial Gymnasium.
Former Notre Dame hockey center Mark Van Guilder, a member of the 2008 Fighting Irish team that reached the NCAA national championship game (lost 4-1 to Boston College in Denver) has played in the farm system of the NHL's Nashville Predators since 2008-09 and after a six-year wait (covering more than 400 games in the minors), he made his NHL debut with the parent club on March 30, logging 8:27 of ice time in a 4-3 shootout win over the Washington Capitals at Bridgestone Arena. Van Guilder, who is the oldest callup in the NHL this year at age 30, subsequently was reassigned to the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville's top farm club) earlier this week.
Former Notre Dame football wideout and 1994 University graduate Lake Dawson (who played for the Fighting Irish from 1990-93 under legendary coach Lou Holtz), now serves as vice president of player personnel for the NFL's Tennessee Titans.
Second-year Stanford athletics director Bernard Muir served on the Notre Dame athletics administration staff from 2000-05, first as an associate and senior associate athletics director for student welfare & development, and later as deputy athletics director for administration and facilities.
Stanford assistant director for athletic communications Alan George served in a similar role with the Notre Dame athletic media relations staff from 2007-12, working with the Fighting Irish volleyball and softball teams, while also spending time as a secondary contact with the women's basketball program.
First-year Connecticut football coach Bob Diaco spent the previous four seasons (2010-13) as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, earning the Frank Broyles Award in 2012 as the nation's top assistant coach (the first Notre Dame aide to be so honored) while helping the Fighting Irish to a 12-1 record and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.
Connecticut associate athletics director for communications Mike Enright spent eight years (1992-2000) as associate sports information director at Notre Dame, working mainly with the Fighting Irish football and men's basketball programs.
Notre Dame is 13-0 against ranked opponents (7-0 against top-10 teams) and has won 12 of those 13 games by double figures, the lone exception being an 87-83 victory at No. 8/6 Maryland on Jan. 27 (a game in which the Fighting Irish led by 22 points late in the first half).
What's more, Notre Dame had several notable program achievements involving ranked teams this season:
With its 88-67 win at third-ranked Duke on Feb. 2 on ESPN's Sunday women's basketball package, Notre Dame earned its third road win over a top-10 opponent this season, something the Fighting Irish had never done in a single regular season campaign during the program's 37-year history (Notre Dame has numerous postseason road wins over top-10 foes).
What made the Duke win even more remarkable is that it was the third consecutive road game against a top-10 opponent for the Fighting Irish, following ESPN2 Big Monday visits to No. 11/10 Tennessee (86-70 win) and No. 8/6 Maryland (87-83 win) on Jan. 20 and 27, respectively.
In its final three games of the regular season, Notre Dame defeated three consecutive top-15 opponents by a combined 60 points, dispatching No. 7 Duke (81-70) and No. 14/11 North Carolina (100-75) at home before winning at No. 13/17 North Carolina State (84-60). It was the first time in program history the Fighting Irish defeated three consecutive ranked teams (according to the AP poll) in the regular season, let alone three that appeared in the top 15 of the media balloting.
Notre Dame then defeated two more top-15 opponents (No. 14/17 N.C. State and No. 10 Duke) in the semifinals and finals of the ACC Championship, giving the Fighting Irish five wins over top-15 teams in a six-game span, all by double figures, including three by at least 20 points and an average margin of victory in those five games of 22.2 ppg.
Irish In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is winding down its 21st appearance in the NCAA Championship (and 19th in a row) this weekend. The Fighting Irish have a .703 winning percentage (45-19) in NCAA Championship play, ranking eighth all-time in that category (minimum of 20 games played).
In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 19 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances ranks sixth in the record books (and eighth-longest at any time in tournament history).
Here are some other facts about the Fighting Irish in the "Big Dance" (see pp. 162-184 in this year's regular season media guide for box scores, results and records):
Notre Dame is one of six schools in tournament history to make consecutive appearances in the NCAA national championship game. The Fighting Irish are 1-2 all-time in the NCAA final, defeating Purdue (68-66) in 2001 in St. Louis, and falling to Texas A&M (76-70) in 2011 in Indianapolis and Baylor (80-61) in 2012 in Denver.
Notre Dame is one of five schools to advance to the NCAA Women's Final Four six times.
Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw is the fifth Division I coach to lead her team to six NCAA Women's Final Four berths.
Notre Dame is the sixth school to reach the NCAA Women's Final Four in four consecutive seasons (2011-14), joining Connecticut, LSU, Louisiana Tech, Stanford and Tennessee in that company.
Notre Dame is one of five schools to make six trips to the NCAA Women's Final Four and come away with at least one national championship, going to the semifinals in 1997, 2013 and 2014, the title game in 2011 and 2012, and winning it all in 2001.
The Fighting Irish have a 4-4 (.500) record at the NCAA Women's Final Four, owning the seventh-best winning percentage (minimum of three games played).
Notre Dame is one of two schools in the country (along with Connecticut) to reach the NCAA Elite Eight the past four seasons.
Notre Dame is one of five schools in the land to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 12 times in the past 18 years (1997-2014), as well as each of the past five years.
Following its 93-42 win over Robert Morris on March 22 in Toledo, Ohio, the Fighting Irish now have won their NCAA tournament opener in 17 of the past 19 seasons (1996-2014).
Each of Notre Dame's 21 NCAA tournament appearances have come during McGraw's 27-year tenure (1987-88 to present).
Sowing The Seeds
For the third consecutive season (and fourth time in program history), Notre Dame has earned a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Championship.
The Fighting Irish are 19-2 (.905) all-time as a top seed in the tournament, winning six in a row to claim the 2001 national championship, then going 5-1 in 2012 on the way to an NCAA national runner-up finish before posting a 4-1 record en route to the Final Four last year, and piling up a 4-0 record to date this season.
Notre Dame has been awarded a top-eight seed for the 15th time in its 21 NCAA Championship visits (and a top-four seed for the eighth time). The Fighting Irish are 31-5 (.861) all-time as the higher seed in NCAA tournament play.
It Hinges On Defense
Notre Dame's success in the NCAA Championship can be directly traced to its performance at the defensive end of the floor. In its 21 NCAA tournament trips (64 games), the Fighting Irish are 23-2 (.920) when holding their opponent to 60 points or fewer, including a current nine-game winning streak since the 2010 tournament.
Notre Dame's two losses to teams scoring 60 points or fewer both came at the hands of top-seeded clubs -- Penn State (55-49) in the 2004 East Regional semifinals, and North Carolina (60-51) in the second round of the 2007 Dallas Region.
Stoking The Offensive Fires
Notre Dame has reached the 80-point mark 20 times in NCAA Championship play, going 20-0 in those games. What's more, the Fighting Irish have scored at least 70 points in 24 of their last 28 NCAA tournament games, going 21-3 (.875) in those contests.
This year marks the first time Notre Dame has scored at least 80 points in four NCAA Championship games -- the Fighting Irish had three 80-point games in 1997, 2001 and 2013.
What's more, last year's 97-64 first-round win over UT-Martin represented the second-highest point total posted by the Fighting Irish in an NCAA tournament game, topped only by a 98-49 win over Alcorn State on March 17, 2001 (NCAA Midwest Region first-round game at Purcell Pavilion).
That Alcorn State contest also had set the bar for the largest margin of victory by a Notre Dame squad in the NCAA Championship before this year's tournament opener, when the Fighting Irish downed Robert Morris, 93-42 in Toledo.
Notre Dame is 3-1 all-time when going to overtime in the NCAA tournament, most recently going to OT to win its 2012 Women's Final Four national semifinal over Connecticut (83-75 in Denver). The Fighting Irish had previously split two OT games with Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament (79-75 in a 2008 second-round game at West Lafayette, Ind.; 77-72 loss in 2010 regional semifinal in Kansas City), and also defeated Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), 69-65, in extra time in their 2004 NCAA opener.
Notre Dame is 20-17 (.541) all-time when going to overtime, including an 8-4 record in its last 12 contests. The Fighting Irish last went to OT on March 4, 2013, pulling out a 96-87 triple-overtime victory against No. 3 Connecticut at Purcell Pavilion (the longest game in program history).
Don't Mess With Tradition
The Notre Dame women's basketball program has developed some traditions that should be quite evident during this weekend's NCAA Women's Final Four games in Nashville.
Green 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 (whose roster at the time included current associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham and assistant coach Niele Ivey) 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 Women's 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 one of their pinkies green as well.
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. The Fighting Irish most recently wore the alternate green road threads in the NCAA Championship for their 2012 national championship game against Baylor (an 80-61 loss in Denver) -- Notre Dame is 8-9 (.471) 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 (either lime or kelly green or both) in recent seasons, posting a 16-2 (.889) record in those uniforms (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 "Rakes of Mallow", 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 town this week in Nashville are given out annually to Fighting Irish women's basketball season ticket holders, a group affectionately known as the "Spirit Patrol". Created by former coordinator of basketball operations Stephanie Menio (now the assistant AD/senior woman administrator at Army) the shirts are based on one of head coach Muffet McGraw's favorite colors, which she sported on the sidelines during the 2001 national championship game win over Purdue.
With its 88-69 win over No. 5/6 Baylor in the NCAA Notre Dame Regional final on March 31, Notre Dame set a program record with its 36th win of the season, topping its output from the previous two seasons.
In addition, the 83-57 win over Florida State in the ACC Championship quarterfinals on March 7 in Greensboro, N.C., was Notre Dame's 30th victory of the season, marking the sixth time in program history the Fighting Irish have reached the 30-win mark, and the fourth consecutive season. Notre Dame also logged that milestone in 1996-97 (31-7), 2000-01 (34-2), 2010-11 (31-8), 2011-12 (35-4) and 2012-13 (35-2).
Not only does this represent the first time the Fighting Irish have posted four consecutive 30-win seasons (not to mention three 35-win seasons in a row), but it also is the third year in a row they registered their 30th win prior to the start of the NCAA Championship (this season's 32 victories were the most for Notre Dame heading into NCAA postseason play, topping last year's 31 wins and 30 the year before).
Getting The Jump
At 36-0, Notre Dame is off to the best start in the program's 37-year history. This year's start surpasses the debut of the 2000-01 Fighting Irish squad, which reeled off a (then) school-record 23 consecutive wins en route to a 34-2 final record and the program's first national championship.
Notre Dame's current 36-game winning streak is the longest success string in program history, and it's the third consecutive season the Fighting Irish have posted a winning streak of 20 games or longer, including last year's 30-game run (the previous school record before this season's string).
What's more, the Fighting Irish now own the longest winning streak by any team in the modern era (post-World War II) of Notre Dame athletics. In fact, the women's basketball program holds three of the seven longest winning streaks in Fighting Irish athletics history during the past seven decades.
Notre Dame also has strung together 14 double-digit winning streaks in the program's 37-year history, with 12 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
Dating back to the start of last season, the Fighting Irish are 71-2 (.973) and have won 52 consecutive regular season games. In that span, their lone losses have come against a pair of third-ranked teams -- Baylor (73-61 on Dec. 5, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion) and Connecticut (83-65 on April 7, 2013, in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, La.).
In addition, Notre Dame currently own the nation's second-longest winning streak against unranked opponents (in the Associated Press poll), having earned 51 consecutive victories since a last-second 65-63 home loss to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012 (research for this note provided by STATS via the AP).
With its 81-70 victory over No. 7 Duke on Feb. 23 at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame secured its third consecutive outright conference regular season title, and first as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Notre Dame also has won three consecutive outright conference regular season championships for the first time in its 37-year history, and won three in a row of any kind for just the second time. In their first three seasons (1988-89 through 1990-91) in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League), the Fighting Irish won the regular season title each time, although they shared the MCC crown in their inaugural season in that league with Loyola-Chicago.
Some other notables about Notre Dame's first ACC title:
The Fighting Irish are the first program to earn the ACC title in their first year in the conference since the ACC began sponsoring the sport in 1977-78.
Notre Dame is the ninth ACC school to go undefeated in conference play and first since North Carolina in 2007-08, as well as the first to go 16-0 in an ACC regular season slate since Duke in 2002-03.
Notre Dame is the fourth ACC school to win the conference regular season title by at least four games, and the first since Duke won by five in 2001-02. Virginia is the only other school to pull off this feat, doing so in 1990-91 (five games) and 1994-95 (four).
Notre Dame averaged 86.5 points per game in ACC games, the sixth-highest scoring average by a conference team in league play in ACC history, and highest since 1990-91, when both Virginia (94.5 ppg.) and North Carolina State (89.1 ppg.) topped that mark.
Notre Dame outscored its 16 ACC opponents by 23.1 points per game, the sixth-largest scoring margin in conference history and largest in ACC play since 2006-07, when both North Carolina (+28.7 ppg.) and Duke (+24.1 ppg.) had greater margins.
According to STATS, Notre Dame is the first NCAA Division I school to win consecutive regular season championships in different conferences since 2000-01, when TCU (WAC to Conference USA) and Louisiana Tech (Sun Belt to WAC) pulled off the feat. Middle Tennessee followed Notre Dame's path this year, as it won the C-USA title in its first season there after winning last year's Sun Belt crown.
A Clean (ACC) Sweep
Notre Dame completed a sweep of the ACC crowns in its inaugural conference season by winning the ACC Championship on March 9 with a 69-53 victory over No. 10 Duke in the title game in Greensboro, N.C.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, while senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride joined Loyd on the ACC Championship All-Tournament First Team, and senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa earned a spot on the ACC Championship All-Tournament Second Team.
A few added tidbits on Notre Dame's first ACC postseason crown:
The Fighting Irish won their seventh conference tournament title, adding this year's crown with last year's BIG EAST championship and five prior titles in the MCC/Horizon League (1989-92, 1994). The 1989-92 MCC run was the last time Notre Dame won back-to-back postseason tournaments.
Notre Dame is the first ACC school outside the "Triangle" (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill (N.C.) area) to run the table in conference regular season and tournament play since the ACC began sponsoring women's basketball in 1977-78 (Duke was the last team to go a combined 19-0 against ACC opponents in 2002-03).
In 19 games against ACC opponents this season, Notre Dame never trailed at halftime, and never by more than six points at any time during the game, winning all 19 contests by an average of 23.5 points per game.
Loyd became just the second Notre Dame sophomore to be named a conference tournament MVP, and the first since 1989, when Krissi Davis took home top honors at the MCC Championship (she repeated the feat in 1991).
That's Some Sharp Shooting
Notre Dame currently leads the nation with a .510 field goal percentage, highlighted by 22 games this season in which the Fighting Irish have shot better than 50 percent, including seven games where they topped 60 percent from the field.
In addition, Notre Dame had a remarkable three-game stretch from Dec. 7-22 when it connected at better than a 55-percent clip in each contest. It was the first time the Fighting Irish had three consecutive 55-percent outings since Nov. 20-29, 1997, when they did so in victories over North Carolina State (.565), Bowling Green (.558) and Ohio University (.567).
Notre Dame's sharpshooting brigade has been led by senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa, who is second in the ACC (third in the nation) with a .611 field goal percentage (seventh on the school's single-season list), along with a .634 mark in league play (second in the ACC).
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (.524) has moved into ninth in the ACC in field goal percentage (sixth in conference play at .536), thanks in part to a late-season hot streak that has seen Loyd shoot .546 (155-of-284) during her last 18 outings, notably going 9-of-11 for a game-high 23 points in the Feb. 9 win over Syracuse.
Seven other Notre Dame players are shooting better than 50 percent from the field this season, led by junior forward Markisha Wright (.565), freshman forward Kristina Nelson (.560) and senior forward/tri-captain Ariel Braker (.532), but none has made the minimum number of shots (three per game) to qualify for ACC ranking.
Life In The 60s
Not only has Notre Dame shot better than 60 percent from the field in seven games this season, but the Fighting Irish have put up similar sizzling shooting numbers in single halves this year.
In fact, Notre Dame has posted a field goal percentage of .600 or better in 20 of its 72 halves, equating to a 60-percent performance more than one out of every four periods of basketball it plays, with the distribution almost even (nine times in the first half, 11 times in the second half).
The Fighting Irish also have shot better than 60 percent in both halves of a game twice this season (UNC Wilmington and Pittsburgh), along with a season-high single-half percentage of .710 in the second period against Central Michigan, a rate that just missed the top 10 on the school's all-time chart.
A trio of marks that did make it into one of the program's top 10 lists were Notre Dame's first-half shooting percentages at Michigan (.688) and Maryland (.667), and in the ACC quarterfinals against Florida State (.654), which now rank as the sixth-, eighth- and 10th-best figures during the opening 20 minutes in school history.
Dialing Long Distance
Although not usually a primary part of the Notre Dame arsenal, the Fighting Irish have found the three-point shot much to their liking this season. Notre Dame leads the nation with a .408 three-point percentage, with two different players connecting at 40 percent or better from beyond the arc (and three more at .373 or better).
Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey leads the way for the Fighting Irish with a .427 three-point percentage that ranks third in the ACC, while senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (.373) stands 10th in the conference.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (.390) would rank sixth on the ACC overall chart, but she is three made three-pointers shy of meeting the minimum qualification standard (1.0 3FG/game).
During ACC play, Loyd (.474) finished second in the conference, while Mabrey was not far behind her in the sixth position (.423).
In addition, Mabrey is 10th in the ACC with 1.9 three-pointers per game (tied for 10th in ACC play at 2.1 per game), a mark she bolstered on Feb. 9 against Syracuse with a career-high (and Purcell Pavilion record-tying) six triples. It's one of 21 times this season Mabrey has canned multiple treys in a game (including seven contests with at least four triples), and the third time this year a Notre Dame player has made five three-pointers in a contest (Mabrey went 5-for-6 against Boston College on Jan. 9, while junior guard Madison Cable posted a 5-for-6 effort against UCLA on Dec. 7).
In fact, Cable (.471) and freshman guard Lindsay Allen (.385) would rank among the top 10 in the ACC as well, but like Loyd, they don't quite meet the minimum standard for the overall ACC rankings despite their efficiency from distance.
As a team, the Fighting Irish have connected on 10 three-pointers in a game four times this season (UCLA, Tennessee, Syracuse and Robert Morris), their highest production outside the arc in nearly four years, dating back to a similar 10-triple performance on Jan. 30, 2010, at Syracuse.
What's more, Notre Dame's .750 three-point mark (9-of-12) on Jan. 16 at Pittsburgh was its best performance from long range (with a minimum of five attempts) in more than five years, stretching back to Nov. 23, 2008, against Boston College at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass., when the Fighting Irish made 7-of-8 three-pointers (.875) in a 102-54 win.
A Helping Hand
As of April 2, the Fighting Irish rank second in the nation in assists at 20.4 per game, having delivered a school-record 735 assists this year.
Notre Dame also has dished out at least 20 helpers in 19 games thus far, plus 19 assists in seven other outings (along with a season-high 31 dimes against UCLA on Dec. 7), with the Fighting Irish piling up assists on 62.7 percent of their made field goals this year (735 of 1,173).
Notre Dame also ranks fifth in the nation (and tops in the ACC) in assist/turnover ratio (1.41), led by two players who rank among the top three in the ACC in that category -- freshman guard Lindsay Allen (1st - 2.12) and senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (3rd - 1.89); both are on pace to finish with two of the top six single-season assist/turnover ratios in school history.
What's more, McBride (142 assists) and Allen (140) are the fourth set of Notre Dame teammates in the past decade to register 100 assists in the same season, and the first since 2010-11, when Skylar Diggins (186) and Brittany Mallory (101) pulled off the feat.
Visiting Century City
Notre Dame has scored at least 100 points in a school-record five games this season (with three other games of 95-99 points), topping last year's mark of three triple-digit outings.
The Fighting Irish have piled up 10 100-point games in the past three seasons (and eight other games of 95-99 points), a remarkable offensive explosion considering Notre Dame had 13 triple-digit games in the first 34 years of the program's existence (and just four in the 12 seasons prior to its current run).
In addition, Notre Dame's 100-75 win over No. 14/11 North Carolina on Feb. 27 was just the second time in program history (and first in more than 15 years) the Fighting Irish reached the century mark against a ranked opponent, following a 101-93 win over No. 25/23 Illinois on Nov. 24, 1998, at Purcell Pavilion.
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 24 games this year, going 24-0 in those contests. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 99-5 (.952) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including wins in 69 of their last 70 such outings (the lone loss coming in last year's NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinal against Connecticut).
In A Class By Themselves
For the third consecutive season, a Notre Dame senior class has re-set the bar in terms of career wins by one group. The current class of tri-captains Natalie Achonwa, Ariel Braker and Kayla McBride now stands first all-time with 137 wins (137-14, .907), surpassing the seniors from 2012-13.
Prior to the 2011-12 season, the highest four-year win total by a senior class was 109, set by the Class of 2001 that included (among others) consensus national player of the year and 13-year WNBA veteran Ruth Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Niele Ivey.
Notre Dame's 1,000-Point Scorers
Senior tri-captains Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa have spent their final season at Notre Dame steadily climbing the program's all-time scoring list, after both entered the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club last year.
McBride currently is sixth in program history with 1,827 career points, passing Alicia Ratay (1,763 from 1999-2003) with her 25 points against No. 10 Duke in the ACC title game on March 9. McBride also is one of just seven players ever to score 1,600 points under the Golden Dome.
Meanwhile, Achonwa is 12th in Notre Dame history with 1,546 points, reaching the 1,500-point milestone and passing Ashley Barlow (1,492 from 2006-10) with her game-high 25 points against Arizona State in the second round of the NCAA Championship on March 24.
Another current Fighting Irish player joined the program's 1,000-Point Club earlier this month at the ACC Championship. Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd earned her membership card in that ACC title contest vs. No. 10 Duke on March 9 with the first basket in her game-high 26-point performance. Loyd, who currently ranks 28th in school history with 1,108 points, reached the milestone in just 67 career games, making her the third-fastest player to reach 1,000 points at Notre Dame, and just the third to do so before the end of her sophomore season (the others being Beth Morgan in 1994-95 and Skylar Diggins in 2010-11).
Loyd also has eclipsed Diggins' mark for the most points by a Fighting Irish player in her first two seasons -- Diggins had 1,069 points at the end of her sophomore year in 2010-11.
McBride Is Money
Following her team's 81-70 win over No. 7 Duke on Feb. 23, sophomore guard Jewell Loyd described her senior backcourt mate and tri-captain Kayla McBride quite simply:
"She's money. Kayla McBride is money. That's cash. Every time she shoots that thing, it's going in."
McBride's career-high 31 points against the Blue Devils (followed by a 28-point effort four nights later against No. 14/11 North Carolina) are just some of the latest in what has been a series of peak performances for the Erie, Pa., native in her final season at Notre Dame.
As not only the ACC Player of the Year and a unanimous first-team all-ACC choice, but also an AP, Wooden Award and espnW first-team All-America pick and a prime candidate for numerous National Player of the Year and additional All-America honors, McBride's play already was receiving notice on several levels, but she's taken that effort up more than a notch this season.
McBride is averaging career highs in scoring (17.2 ppg.), rebounding (5.2 rpg.), assists (3.9 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (1.89), ranking among the top 15 in the ACC in scoring (12th), free throw percentage (2nd - .881; also 12th in nation), assist/turnover ratio (3rd), assists (7th) and three-point percentage (10th - .373).
In addition, McBride has compiled 12 20-point games, has a double-double to her credit (23 points/11 rebounds at No. 3 Duke on Feb. 2) and a team-best 10 "5-5-5" games (at least "5" in three of the five statistical categories - points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals).
Yet, what puts McBride a cut above virtually every other player in the land in her uncanny ability to raise her game on the biggest stages. In Notre Dame's 13 games against Top 25 opponents this season, she is averaging 18.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. She's even better against top-10 teams, averaging 20.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game with a .482 field goal percentage (53-of-110) in those seven outings.
In fact, dating back to last season, McBride is averaging 18.3 points per game in her last 27 games against ranked opponents, including 10 20-point games.
Coming Up Aces
Prior to her season-ending knee injury on March 31 vs. Baylor, senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa (nicknamed "Ace") was making her way up Notre Dame's career charts in both rebounds and double-doubles. She is fourth on the rebounding list (970) and tied for fifth on the double-doubles chart (28), moving up one spot on both rundowns with her 19 points and game-high 15 rebounds in the aforementioned game against Baylor in the NCAA Notre Dame Regional final.
Achonwa also stands among the top 10 in school history with a .521 career field goal percentage (sixth in program annals) and 145 games played (third all-time at Notre Dame, and tied for third among active NCAA players).
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd has continued her development as one of the top young talents in the country this season, already collecting Associated Press and espnW second-team All-America, and NCAA regional and ACC Tournament MVP honors, plus first-team all-ACC and All-ACC Defensive Team accolades, in addition to being a central figure on virtually every major national player of the year watch list.
The Lincolnwood, Ill., product currently ranks fifth in the ACC in scoring (18.8 ppg.), sixth in free throw percentage (.824), ninth in field goal percentage (.524, 12th in steals (1.6 spg.) and 18th in rebounding (6.4 rpg.), while sporting career-high marks in scoring, rebounding, assists (2.2 apg.), steals, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. She also has a team-high 13 20-point games thus far (including a career-high 31 points at No. 8/6 Maryland on Jan. 27) after scoring 20 points twice during her rookie campaign.
What's more, Loyd has a school record-tying three 30-point games to her credit this season, having also dropped in an even 30 against Central Michigan on Dec. 22 and against No. 5/6 Baylor on March 31, both at Purcell Pavilion. Loyd is the first Fighting Irish player to have two 30-point games in the same season since 1999-2000, when Ruth Riley did so against Liberty (32) and Miami (36), and the first with three 30-point games since current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham in 1995-96.
Perhaps giving a preview of things to come, Loyd stormed out of the gates this season, piling up 63 points in Notre Dame's first three games, wins over UNC Wilmington (19 points), No. 19/18 Michigan State (22 points) and Valparaiso (22 points).
Loyd's opening-week point production was the highest for a Fighting Irish player in the first three contests of a season since 1998-99, when Danielle Green had 66 combined points in wins against No. 6 UCLA at home (23 points), at Butler (23) and No. 6/4 Duke at home (20).
The Model Of Consistency
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd has scored in double figures in 41 consecutive games, dating back to March 11, 2013, when she had eight points in Notre Dame's 83-59 BIG EAST Championship semifinal win over No. 16/15 Louisville at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Loyd's 41-game double-digit scoring streak is the second-longest in school history, surpassing Natalie Novosel's 27-game run from March 8, 2011-Jan. 21, 2012. In fact, Loyd has scored in double figures in 59 of her 71 career games (and 10 of those 12 single-digit games saw her within one basket of double figures).
Loyd's teammate, senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride, put together the fifth-longest run of double-digit scoring games in school history (23 in a row, from Dec. 22 vs. Central Michigan until it ended with a nine-point outing against Robert Morris on March 22).
Katryna Gaither has staked a seemingly ironclad claim to the school record with a remarkable 76-game double-figure scoring streak from 1994-97.
Jewell Of Denial
Three times this year, Notre Dame has recorded key wins over top-10 opponents thanks to strong defense from a player better known for her offense.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd, who in her spare time leads the Fighting Irish in scoring this season, was given the assignment of marking Penn State's Maggie Lucas (Dec. 4) and Duke's Tricia Liston (Feb. 23 and March 9) and embraced each challenge with aplomb.
In Notre Dame's 77-67 win at No. 10/11 Penn State, Loyd led a Fighting Irish defense that held Lucas (averaging 22.2 ppg. at tipoff) to just seven points (1-8 FG, 4-4 FT), and held the sharpshooting All-American and Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year scoreless until 5:18 remained in the game, when she converted a pair of 1+1 free throws in the bonus situation.
In the final two meetings with Duke (an 81-70 Fighting Irish win on Feb. 23 and a 69-53 win in the ACC final on March 9), Loyd was again equal to the task of guarding the opponent's top scorer. In both cases, she shadowed Liston across virtually every inch of the court, helping to hold the Blue Devil guard (who came into both games averaging better than 17 ppg., and scored 23 in the teams' first matchup on Feb. 2) to a combined 13 points (6.5 ppg.) on 5-of-19 shooting (.263).
Freshman Lindsay Allen got the call from head coach Muffet McGraw to start at point guard in Notre Dame's season opener against UNC Wilmington on Nov. 9 at Purcell Pavilion. Allen finished with 11 points in her debut game, including the team's first five points of the season.
It was the first time a Fighting Irish rookie point guard started the season opener since Nov. 26, 1994, when Mollie Peirick cracked the lineup and played 38 minutes (two points, five rebounds, three assists) in a 65-60 overtime loss at No. 25 Seton Hall.
One of two freshmen among 22 candidates for the 2014 Nancy Lieberman Award (given to the nation's top point guard), Allen has not disappointed in her debut campaign, averaging 6.2 points and 3.9 assists per game (the latter ranking ninth in the ACC). She also leads the ACC with a 2.12 assist/turnover ratio, and is third on the team with 1.28 steals per game.
Allen (137 assists) already has topped the 29-year old program record for assists by a freshman (116 by Mary Gavin in 1984-85), and she also is only the fifth Notre Dame freshman to dish out 100 assists in her rookie season, as well as the second in the past 20 years (Skylar Diggins had 112 assists in 2009-10).
What's more, Allen's 3.91 apg. average is the best for a Notre Dame freshman since 1994-95 (Peirick - 3.93 apg.) and makes Allen a candidate to be just the second Notre Dame freshman ever to average 4.0 apg. as a rookie (Gavin logged 4.5 apg. in that 1984-85 season).
In addition, Allen has set a school record by starting 36 games as a freshman, surpassing current teammate (and sophomore guard) Jewell Loyd, who started 35 times last season.
Leading a winning lineup is not an unfamiliar feeling for Allen, who is a combined 63-1 in her last 64 games as a starting point guard. Last year as a senior at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C., she guided her squad to a 27-1 record and the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) title -- the highest level of play in the District of Columbia, which does not have a state tournament.
The Second Platoon
Another reason for Notre Dame's success this season has been the performance of its reserves, who are averaging close to 26 points per game and have outscored the opponent's bench by nearly a double-digit margin (25.7 ppg. to 16.1 ppg.).
The Fighting Irish second unit has outscored its opposite number in 24 games this season, including a season-high 55 points on Jan. 9 against Boston College, outscoring the entire BC roster by two points (not to mention the Notre Dame starters by 15).
Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey (8.8 ppg.), freshman forward Taya Reimer (7.4 ppg.) and junior guard Madison Cable (5.6 ppg.) head up the strong Fighting Irish bench contingent, which has seen at least one reserve score in double figures in 23 games this season (total of 28 double-figure outings).
Call Her Mabrey
Certainly a leading candidate as one of the nation's most improved players would have to be Notre Dame sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey. The Belmar, N.J., resident has emerged as a key reserve for the Fighting Irish, averaging 8.8 points and 2.3 assists per game along with a very solid 1.65 assist/turnover ratio, after logging 3.0 ppg. and 1.3 apg. with a 1.06 A/TO mark last year.
Mabrey also has proven to be a dynamic three-point threat for Notre Dame, ranking third in the ACC with a .427 three-point percentage (sixth in the league with a .423 mark in ACC play) and 10th in the conference with 1.9 three-pointers made per game (tied for 10th at 2.1 per game in league play), thanks in part to making multiple treys in 21 games (and at least four triples in seven games this year), including a career-high 6-of-14 vs. Syracuse on Feb. 9.
In fact, Mabrey's 70 three-pointers this season are the most by a Notre Dame player since 2000-01 (Alicia Ratay - 81) and rank fifth on the Fighting Irish single-season chart.
What's more, Mabrey already has scored in double figures 16 times this year (including a career-high 19 points in the season opener against UNC Wilmington) after doing so three times in 30 games last season.
Notre Dame is ranked a season-high No. 2 in the final 2013-14 Associated Press poll, its 66th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 136 consecutive weeks in the AP poll.
The Fighting Irish reached a milestone on Nov. 26, 2012, with their 100th consecutive AP poll appearance. It extended the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001), and it made the Fighting Irish are one of six teams in the nation with an active streak of 100 consecutive AP poll appearances.
What's more, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career (97 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (86) of those appearances in the AP Top 10 (and never lower than 18th).
Notre Dame's year-end No. 2 ranking matches the highest final AP poll appearance in program history, first set by the 2000-01 national championship squad, and duplicated last year.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 275 weeks during the program's 37-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw is eighth among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and 16th all-time in that category.
In addition, the Fighting Irish are ranked a season-best No. 2 in the latest WBCA/USA Today coaches' poll (like the AP poll, their 13th consecutive week at that spot), and are earning one first-place vote for the fourth consecutive week, after nabbing at least one such vote for 11 weeks last year.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 137 of the past 138 weeks (and 101 in a row), falling just outside the Top 25 in the final poll of the 2008-09 season. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish have appeared in the coaches' poll for a total of 269 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the sixth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the WBCA/USA Today poll, as well as 12 of the past 16 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 32 people in NCAA Division I women's basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Besides her 275 AP poll appearances while coaching at Notre Dame, McGraw was the starting point guard at Saint Joseph's (Pa.) as a senior in 1977, helping the Hawks to No. 3 in the nation.
Of the 32 people on this list, 17 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (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 and 2012).
Half And Half
During the past 14 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 311-19 (.942) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 239 of their last 252 such contests (.948).
What's more, in the past five seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 148-2 (.987) when leading at the half, with the only losses coming on April 5, 2011, in the NCAA national championship game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (Notre Dame led Texas A&M, 35-33 at intermission before falling 76-70), and Feb. 12, 2012, against West Virginia (Fighting Irish led 33-30 at the break before the visiting Mountaineers rallied to win in the closing seconds, 65-63).
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 19 seasons, Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season, the Fighting Irish have an amazing 292-15 (.951) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including a 14-0 record this season.
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 19 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 213-6 (.973) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are three overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995 and UCLA (86-83 in double OT) in 2010, as well as a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008, and a 94-81 setback at Baylor in 2011.
In the past five years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 90-2 (.978) when topping the 80-point mark, including a 28-0 record this season.
Next Game: NCAA National Championship
With a victory over Maryland, Notre Dame would advance to the NCAA national championship game, where it would play either Lincoln Regional champion Connecticut or Stanford Regional champion Stanford at 7:30 p.m. CT (8:30 p.m. ET) April 8 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. The NCAA national championship game will be televised on ESPN, as well as ESPN3 and WatchESPN.
Connecticut is the most frequent opponent in Notre Dame history (41 games), with the Huskies holding a 30-11 series edge, although the Fighting Irish have won seven of the past nine contests. The schools also have met four times at the NCAA Women's Final Four (all in semifinal games), with Notre Dame winning the first three of those games (2001, 2011, 2012).
The Fighting Irish have played Stanford just twice before, with the Cardinal winning both ends of a home-and-home series during the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director
#2 Irish To Face #11/9 Maryland Sunday At NCAA Women's Final FourNotre Dame takes on a conference opponent in national semifinals for the fifth time in six Final Four appearances (6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN/WatchESPN; listen locally on Pulse FM in South Bend or nationally on Westwood One/NCAA Radio Network).