April 4, 2013
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NCAA Women's Final Four -- National Semifinal
#2/2 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (35-1 / 16-0 BIG EAST) vs. #3/3 [#1 seed] Connecticut Huskies (33-4 / 14-2 BIG EAST)
DATE: April 7, 2013
TIME: 8:00 p.m. CT/9:00 p.m. ET
AT: New Orleans, La. - New Orleans Arena (18,000)
SERIES: UCONN leads 29-11
1ST MTG: UCONN 87-64 (1/18/96)
LAST MTG: ND 61-59 (3/12/13)
TV: ESPN/ESPNHD/WatchESPN (live) (Dave O'Brien, p-b-p / Doris Burke, color / Rebecca Lobo and Holly Rowe, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1 in South Bend) (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p) / Dial Global/NCAA Radio Network (national syndication) (live) (Dave Ryan, p-b-p / Debbie Antonelli, color / Krista Blunk, sideline)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
No. 2 Fighting Irish Meet No. 3 Connecticut Sunday At NCAA Women's Final Four
For the first time in NCAA Women's Final Four history, the same two schools will face off in the national semifinals for the third consecutive year when No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Connecticut meet for the fourth time this year at approximately 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. CT) Sunday at New Orleans Arena. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience on ESPN and ESPNHD, with additional worldwide coverage on the WatchESPN platform.
The Fighting Irish (35-1) earned their third consecutive NCAA regional title and Women's Final Four berth with an 87-76 win over No. 5 Duke on Tuesday in Norfolk, Va. Notre Dame trailed by nine points in the first half, but used a 17-5 run after the break to oust the Blue Devils.
Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins had game highs of 24 points and nine assists to collect regional Most Outstanding Player honors for the third year in a row. Junior guard Kayla McBride (18 points) and junior forward Natalie Achonwa (17 points/13 rebounds) joined her on the Norfolk Regional All-Tournament Team.
Other Notre Dame Notables
The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
The Notre Dame-Connecticut rivalry is the most frequent in Fighting Irish women's basketball history, with the teams set to square off for the 41st time on Sunday night. Connecticut leads the all-time series, 29-11, although Notre Dame has won the past four meetings and seven of eight dating back to the 2011 NCAA Women's Final Four.
The Fighting Irish are 3-2 all-time against the Huskies at neutral sites, with the three wins coming in the teams' three previous NCAA national semifinal clashes (2001, 2011, 2012).
The Last Time Notre Dame And Connecticut Met
Natalie Achonwa's layup with 1.8 seconds left lifted No. 2 Notre Dame to a 61-59 victory at third-ranked Connecticut on March 12 in the BIG EAST Conference Championship final at the XL Center in Hartford.
Skylar Diggins stole an errant pass from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with eight seconds left, and after dribbling through a few defenders, found Achonwa for the uncontested lay-in.
Kelly Faris then heaved a desperation attempt from 65 feet that fell harmlessly off the backboard, setting off a wild celebration for the Fighting Irish, who won their first BIG EAST tournament title in their final season as a conference member.
Stefanie Dolson had 18 points and 14 rebounds, while Breanna Stewart had 16 points for Connecticut, which had won the previous five BIG EAST tournament titles but fell to Notre Dame for the third time this season.
The Huskies never led after scoring the game's first four points and trailed by as many as 13 late in the first half before rallying to tie the score at 59-59 and set up the frantic finish.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Connecticut Met In The Final Four
Natalie Novosel scored a game-high 20 points, Skylar Diggins added 19 points, and Brittany Mallory hit two big three-pointers in overtime as Notre Dame beat Connecticut 83-75 in an NCAA national semifinal matchup on April 1, 2012, at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Diggins and Mallory hooked up for the game-turning play with 1:30 left in overtime when Diggins stood her ground on a fast break and blocked Bria Hartley's shot to prevent the Huskies from retaking the lead, then fed Mallory at the other end for her second important trey.
The game was tied at 67 after regulation following an 8-0 run by Connecticut that was fueled by a series of hustle plays from Kelly Faris, who had a steal and a basket and four free throws in the final 90 seconds, the last two with 11.8 ticks left giving her team a 67-65 lead.
However, Novosel sent the game to overtime with her own clutch play, grabbing a rebound of a Diggins miss and putting in a reverse layup with 4.6 seconds remaining.
The Huskies, who were led by Stefanie Dolson's 20 points, stretched their run to 11-3 when Hartley, who added 18 points, opened the extra period with a three-pointer.
Connecticut had the ball again after a missed free throw but Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis fired up an off-target three-pointer early in the shot clock and the Huskies never recovered.
Mallory's back-to-back threes and a free throw pushed Notre Dame to a 77-72 lead. Out of sync, Connecticut kept firing up misses and the Fighting Irish grabbed the boards, then hit all six of their free throws in the final 32 seconds.
Devereaux Peters added 17 points and 12 rebounds for Notre Dame.
Other Notre Dame-Connecticut Series Tidbits
The Brains Of The Operation
Sunday's two head coaches -- Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw and Connecticut's Geno Auriemma -- have more than a few connections. Both are from the Philadephia metro area (McGraw from West Chester, Auriemma from Norristown), both cut their coaching teeth at Saint Joseph's under former Hawks' head coach Jim Foster (McGraw replaced Auriemma on Foster's staff in 1980 when Auriemma left to take an assistant position at Virginia), and both are members of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, with McGraw having been enshrined in June 2011.
McGraw also is the only coach in the nation with 11 wins against Auriemma since the start of the 2000-01 season. What's more, McGraw is one of just two coaches all-time to have 11 or more victories against Auriemma on his/her resume, joining Villanova's Harry Perretta (14 wins) in that elite company.
Other NCAA Women's Final Four Tidbits
Irish In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is in the midst of its 20th appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 18th in a row. The Fighting Irish have a .695 winning percentage (41-18) in NCAA Championship play, ranking seventh all-time in that category (minimum of 20 games played).
In addition, Notre Dame's current streak of 18 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances ranks sixth in the record books (and eighth-longest at any time in tournament history).
Here are some other facts about the Fighting Irish in the "Big Dance" (see pp. 166-186 in this year's regular season media guide for box scores, results and records):
Sowing The Seeds
For the second consecutive season (and third time in program history), Notre Dame has earned a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Championship.
The Fighting Irish are 15-1 (.938) all-time as a top seed in the tournament, winning six in a row to claim the 2001 national championship, then going 5-1 last year on the way to an NCAA national runner-up finish before opening this year's tournament with victories over UT Martin, Iowa, Kansas and Duke.
Notre Dame has been awarded a top-eight seed for the 14th time in its 20 NCAA Championship visits (and a top-four seed for the seventh time). Including this year's wins, the Fighting Irish are 27-5 (.844) 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 20 NCAA tournament trips (59 games), the Fighting Irish are 22-2 (.917) when holding their opponent to 60 points or fewer, including a current eight-game winning streak dating back to 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 70-point mark in 20 of its last 23 NCAA tournament games, going 17-3 (.850) in those contests.
This year marks the third time the Fighting Irish have scored at least 80 points in three NCAA Championship games (97 vs. UT-Martin in the first round; 93 vs. Kansas in the regional semifinals; 87 vs. Duke in the regional final). Notre Dame also pulled off that feat in 1997 and 2001, with the latter season marking the only other time the Fighting Irish had multiple 90-point outings in the same NCAA Championship run.
What's more, the 97-64 opening-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).
Notre Dame is 3-1 all-time when going to overtime in the NCAA tournament, following last year's national semifinal win over Connecticut (83-75 in Denver). The Fighting Irish had previously split two OT games with Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament (79-75 in a 2008 second-round game at West Lafayette, Ind.; 77-72 loss in 2010 regional semifinal in Kansas City), and also defeated Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), 69-65, in extra time in their 2004 NCAA opener.
Notre Dame is 20-17 (.541) all-time when going to overtime, including an 8-4 record in its last 12 contests. This season, the Fighting Irish are 2-0 in added time, most recently pulling out a 96-87 triple-overtime victory against No. 3 Connecticut on March 4 at Purcell Pavilion (in what was the longest game in program history).
Don't Mess With Tradition
The Notre Dame women's basketball program has developed some traditions that should be quite evident during this week's NCAA Women's Final Four games in New Orleans.
And Don't Forget The Lime Green Shirts
The ever-present lime green t-shirts you might see many Notre Dame fans wearing around New Orleans 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 former coordinator of basketball operations Stephanie Menio (now the assistant athletics director for marketing 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.
Raising The Bar
For the second consecutive season, Notre Dame has posted a school-record 35 wins, while the April 2 victory over No. 5 Duke in the NCAA Norfolk Regional final assured the Fighting Irish of logging the best single-season winning percentage in school history (the prior mark was .944 in 2000-01, when that club went 34-2).
The 83-59 win over No. 16/15 Louisville in the BIG EAST Championship semifinal on March 11 was Notre Dame's 30th victory of the season, marking the fifth time in program history the Fighting Irish have reached the 30-win mark, and the third consecutive season. Notre Dame also logged that milestone in 1996-97 (31-7), 2000-01 (34-2), 2010-11 (31-8) and 2011-12 (35-4).
Not only does this represent the first time the Fighting Irish have posted three consecutive 30-win seasons, but it also was the second year in a row they registered their 30th win prior to the start of the NCAA Championship.
Notre Dame's current 30-game winning streak has set the program record for consecutive victories, surpassing the mark of the 2000-01 club that opened the season with 23 consecutive wins.
What's more, the Fighting Irish have cobbled together the second-longest winning streak by any team in the modern era (since 1950) of Notre Dame athletics. Only the 2001 softball team (33) has posted a longer winning streak among Fighting Irish squads (aside from a pair of lengthy success strings by the Notre Dame men's and women's fencing programs, which compete in a sport currently offered by less than 50 schools across all three NCAA divisions, with some of the wins in those fencing streaks coming against Division II or III opponents).
Notre Dame has strung together 13 double-digit winning streaks in the women's basketball program's 36-year history, with 11 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
Notre Dame has won a school-record 22 consecutive regular season road games and 29 of its last 34 overall. The Fighting Irish last tasted defeat on the road on March 6, 2012 (a 63-54 loss at Connecticut in the BIG EAST title game), and haven't lost a regular season road game since Nov. 20, 2011, a 94-81 setback at No. 1 Baylor in the Preseason WNIT championship game.
Notre Dame went 13-0 on the road this year, the first time a Fighting Irish club has gone an entire season without losing a road game. It also matched the program record for road victories in a season, first set by the 1996-97 squad that went 13-4 on enemy turf en route to the first of the program's five NCAA Women's Final Four appearances.
The highlight of this current run came on Jan. 5, 2013, when Notre Dame edged No. 1 Connecticut, 73-72, in Storrs, Conn., earning its fourth all-time win over a top-ranked opponent and first-ever victory on the road.
Prior to the past two years, the school record for consecutive regular season road wins was held by Notre Dame's 2000-01 national championship team that won its first 10 road outings before a 54-53 loss at No. 11/14 Rutgers on Feb. 17, 2001.
The Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 16 consecutive conference regular season road games, with their last loss coming on Feb. 28, 2011 (a 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul).
The previous school record for consecutive regular season conference road wins was seven, set numerous times, most recently crossing between the 2001-02 and 2002-03 campaigns.
The previous Notre Dame record for consecutive regular season road victories in any conference was 15, which the Fighting Irish set from Feb. 25, 1989-Feb. 14, 1991 during their time in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (Horizon League).
A Class By Themselves
Led by its two-player senior class of guards/co-captains Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, Notre Dame has posted the best four-year record (130-19, .872) in school history, topping the win total (117) compiled by last year's seniors.
Prior to the 2011-12 season, the highest four-year win total by a senior class was 109, set by the Class of 2001 that included (among others) consensus national player of the year and 12-year WNBA veteran Ruth Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey.
The Rare Air Up There
With its 77-67 win at No. 9 Tennessee on Jan. 28, Notre Dame made NCAA Division I history in two ways. The Fighting Irish not only became the first school ever to defeat both Connecticut and Tennessee in three consecutive seasons, but they also were the first program in the NCAA era (since 1981-82) to defeat both the Huskies and Lady Vols on the road in the same season (the latter victory was Notre Dame's first in nine games against UT in Knoxville).
Starting with its 2011 NCAA Elite Eight win over Tennessee in Dayton, Ohio, Notre Dame has gone a combined 10-1 against Connecticut and Tennessee, with no other senior class at any school having compiled that many wins against those two traditional powers since 1988-89 (when Connecticut made its first NCAA postseason appearance).
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 23 games this year, going 23-0 in those contests. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 75-4 (.949) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 45-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul).
Everyone Pitches In
With the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-Americans (and 2012 WNBA first-round draft picks) Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame entered this season searching to find a way to make up for the talented duo's 27.0 points and 13.4 rebounds per game.
Thus far in 2012-13, it would appear the Fighting Irish are making this mission truly a team effort. On the scoring side, 10 of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including junior forward Ariel Braker (eight times, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined), sophomore guards Madison Cable (three times) and Whitney Holloway (once - the first double-digit games of Cable and Holloway's careers) and freshman guards Jewell Loyd (23 times) and Michaela Mabrey (three times).
On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.6 rebounds per game and has piled up 19 of her 21 career double-digit rebounding games this year, including a 20-point/20-rebound effort against South Florida in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals on March 10 (the program's first 20/20 outing since Jan. 20, 1988, when Heidi Bunek had 25 points and 20 rebounds in a loss at DePaul).
A native of Guelph, Ontario, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member, Achonwa has a BIG EAST-leading (and school-record) 19 double-doubles (including eight in 13 games against ranked opponents) after logging one double-double in her career prior to this season.
The Best Things In Life Are Free
Throughout the 2012-13 season, Notre Dame has displayed a penchant for making opponents pay at the free throw line.
Through 36 games, the Fighting Irish rank third in the nation in free throw percentage (as of April 3), shooting a remarkable .797 (644-of-808) from the charity stripe, including a season-high .950 (19-of-20) on March 24 in its NCAA Championship first-round win over UT-Martin (not including a 6-for-6 effort in the BIG EAST Championship final at Connecticut on March 12).
On average, Notre Dame is getting to the line better than 22 times per game, converting nearly 18 free throws a night. At the same time, the Fighting Irish have made more than 31 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (644 made, 490 opponent attempts).
Last year, Notre Dame set a school record by connecting at a .763 clip from the foul line, leading the BIG EAST with a stellar .807 percentage during conference play.
Junior guard Kayla McBride has had the most success cashing in on this strategy during the past two seasons, making 87 of 96 free throws (.906) to lead the BIG EAST (and ranking second during conference play with an .891 percentage). She also would rank ninth in the nation (as of April 3), but she is three made free throws short of the minimum necessary for qualification (2.5 FTM/game).
McBride is one of four Notre Dame players who appear among the top 10 in the current BIG EAST free throw rankings, with freshman guard Jewell Loyd ranking third (.820), senior guard Skylar Diggins placing fourth (.810) and junior forward Natalie Achonwa ranking ninth (.793).
For her career, McBride has logged an .886 free throw percentage, putting her ahead of Alicia Ratay's school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.
McGraw's Milestone Moment
With a 59-52 victory at Villanova on Feb. 5, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw became the 13th NCAA Division I coach to register 700 career victories. McGraw currently has a 31-year record of 714-257 (.735), including a 626-216 (.742) record in 26 seasons with the Fighting Irish, ranking 12th in NCAA history, and seventh among active coaches for career wins.
McGraw also became the eighth-fastest Division I coach to reach the 700-win milestone, hitting the mark in 957 games and quicker than several other notable coaches such as North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell (966 games), former Ohio State coach Jim Foster (973), former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan (998) and two now-deceased Hall of Fame coaches -- Sue Gunter (1,004, most notably at LSU) and Kay Yow (1,021, primarily at North Carolina State).
Diggins Challenging School Records
Throughout the 2012-13 season, senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins will continue to close the gap that separates her from the highest eschelon of Notre Dame women's basketball players in a number of the program's top career categories. Here's a look at just a few of the notable milestones Diggins has reached (or will attempt to reach) this season:
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 130-19 (.872) record in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), a mark that can be traced in no small part to the arrival of guard Skylar Diggins. The South Bend native has helped lead the Fighting Irish to a spot in the 2011 and 2012 NCAA national championship games and berths in the 2013 NCAA Women's Final Four and 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 31-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (16-10 vs. the AP Top 10) and a 91-1 record against unranked opponents (not appearing in the AP poll), including a 63-game winning streak from the start of the 2009-10 season before falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012.
Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 19 losses in Diggins' career primarily have been ones that could have gone either way, with 11 decided by single digits (six were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.
With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted three of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 78.9 ppg. last year, after logging 77.0 ppg. in 2010-11, and 77.2 ppg. in her freshman season of 2009-10. Notre Dame is on pace to mirror those figures this season, currently averaging 81.6 ppg. (which ranked second nationally as of April 3).
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.53 spg. career mark that is third-best in school history), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top three single-season steal marks in program history with 502 thefts last year, 495 steals in 2010-11, and 450 thefts in 2009-10. Notre Dame isn't far off those marks this season, currently averaging 10.7 spg. (which has given the Fighting Irish 385 steals entering Sunday's national semifinal against Connecticut).
The past two years also have seen Notre Dame post two of the four best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing a school-record 52.9 ppg., last season (well ahead of the previous mark of 55.1 ppg., in 1981-82) and giving up just 56.2 ppg., in 2010-11. The Fighting Irish are in position to challenge those totals again this year, presently allowing 58.6 points per game.
According to the time-honored adage, "there's no substitute for experience." In the case of Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa, that experience was second to none and it's paid off exceptionally well for the veteran Fighting Irish frontliner this season.
During the summer of 2012, Achonwa was a key contributor on Canada's Senior National Team, helping leading her country to its first Olympic appearance in 12 years. Not content to merely qualify, Canada then earned two hard-fought wins in the group stage to reach the Olympic quarterfinals (medal round) for the first time since 1984.
As the second-youngest player in the London Olympic Basketball Tournament at the tender age of 19, Achonwa averaged 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, highlighted by a 14-point, eight-rebound effort against eventual Olympic silver medalist France during the preliminary round.
Parlaying her Olympic experience, Achonwa has moved seamlessly into Notre Dame's starting lineup this season after spending her first two years as an important reserve. The Guelph, Ontario, native was expected to take on a larger role this year with the graduation of two-time All-American Devereaux Peters, but Achonwa has taken that growth to a whole new level, nearly doubling her averages in scoring (7.6 to 13.9 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.6 rpg.), while scoring in double figures 30 times and grabbing double-digit rebounds on 19 occasions (including a career-best 20 rebounds on March 10 against South Florida, part of the first 20-point/20-rebound game by a Notre Dame player since Jan. 20, 1988, when Heidi Bunek did it against DePaul).
What's more, Achonwa came into this season with one career double-double and a career scoring high of 20 points. This year, she leads the BIG EAST in double-doubles (19, including eight against ranked teams) and has six 20-point games to her credit (career-high 23 vs. Utah State on Dec. 8).
Achonwa's 19 double-doubles this season are a school record, erasing the previous mark set by Katryna Gaither (16 in 1996-97). It should also be noted it took Gaither all 38 games that season to achieve that total, something Achonwa surpassed in her 34th game this year.
Achonwa ranks among the top 20 in the BIG EAST in scoring (16th - 13.9 ppg.), rebounding (2nd - 9.6 rpg.), field goal percentage (8th - .523; also 22nd nationally) and free throw percentage (9th - .793).
Although she was passed over for selection as the BIG EAST's Most Improved Player, Achonwa's development has not gone entirely unnoticed, as she was a first-team all-conference choice, a WBCA All-Region I Team pick and an Associated Press honorable mention All-America selection this season.
The Erie Warrior
Along with her classmate Natalie Achonwa, junior guard (and Erie, Pa., native) Kayla McBride has been a major reason for Notre Dame's success this season, capably stepping into a larger role within the Fighting Irish system following the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-America wing Natalie Novosel.
McBride currently ranks seventh in the BIG EAST in scoring (15.9 ppg.) and leads the conference in free throw percentage (.906). In both areas, she is posting career-high marks, including an improvement of better than 37 percent in her scoring average from last year (11.6 ppg.).
McBride also is among the team leaders this season with 31 double-figure scoring games, including at least at least 20 points in six of Notre Dame's last 10 games (she is averaging 20.6 points per game during that stretch).
McBride also has risen to the occasion against the toughest competition, scoring at least 15 points in 12 of Notre Dame's 13 games against ranked opponents this season (18.7 ppg.). Among her highlights against Top 25 teams are a 23.3-ppg. average in three matchups vs. Connecticut, led by a (then) career-high 26 points in a triple-overtime win on March 4 and a game-high 23 points in the BIG EAST title game on the road on March 12.
In fact, in her last 28 games against Top 25 opponents, McBride is averaging 15.7 points per game, scoring in double figures 25 times and posting her first two career double-doubles (10 points, career-high 12 rebounds vs. No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 7, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion; 13 points, 10 rebounds at No. 13/14 Rutgers on Jan. 31, 2012).
McBride added her third career double-double (and first this season) on March 24 with 22 points and a game-high 10 rebounds in the NCAA Championship first-round win over Tennessee-Martin.
Freshman guard Jewell Loyd has made her presence felt as one of the top rookies, not only in the BIG EAST Conference, but around the country.
The Lincolnwood, Ill., native was chosen as the BIG EAST Freshman of the Year and was an honorable mention all-conference choice (as well as a unanimous BIG EAST All-Freshman Team pick) after appearing in 35 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 34 times), scoring in double figures 23 times, earning her first career double-double (18 points/13 rebounds at South Florida on Jan. 8) and posting three "5-5-5" games.
Loyd currently ranks among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (25th - 12.5 ppg.), free throw percentage (3rd - .820) and field goal percentage (15th - .454), and would be second in the conference in three-point percentage (.417), but she is five treys short of the minimum needed for qualification (1.0 3FGM/game).
Loyd first opened eyes on the national scene with a (then) season- (and game-) high 24 points and team-best seven rebounds in the 73-61 loss to Baylor on Dec. 5 at Purcell Pavilion. The 5-foot-10 guard connected on her first four three-point attempts of the evening (finishing 4-of-5 from beyond the arc) on the way to notching the most points by a Fighting Irish rookie against a ranked opponent since Jan. 26, 2002, when Jacqueline Batteast scored 26 points in Notre Dame's 64-57 win over No. 16/17 Virginia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.
What's more, Loyd also scored the most points by a Notre Dame freshman against an opponent ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll since Feb. 19, 2000, when Alicia Ratay netted 26 points (including a school-record 7-for-7 three-pointers) in a 78-74 overtime win at No. 8/11 Rutgers.
Loyd turned heads once more in her NCAA Championship debut on March 24 against UT Martin, scoring a career-high 27 points (on 10-of-15 shooting), the most points by a Fighting Irish freshman in her NCAA postseason debut since 2006 (Lindsay Schrader scored 29 points in a first-round loss to Boston College).
In her first four career NCAA tournament games, Loyd is averaging 18.3 points per game while shooting .551 from the field (27-of-49) and .625 from the three-point line (5-of-8).
The Fifth Beatle
While she sometimes doesn't get the attention of her fellow starters, every Notre Dame player and coach (as well as many observers around the country) would agree that junior forward Ariel Braker has been a major contributor to Fighting Irish fortunes this season.
Braker spent her first two years at Notre Dame as a reserve post, playing limited minutes (6.5 per game) due to various knee ailments and other assorted injuries. However, when her number was called on Nov. 20 to make her first career start for Notre Dame's win over Mercer at Purcell Pavilion, Braker was more than ready.
Since that night, Braker has been a virtual mainstay in the Fighting Irish starting lineup, earning the nod a total of 32 times (the only exceptions coming on Feb. 17 at Marquette, while she recovered from a minor knee procedure, and Feb. 22 vs. Syracuse, when she came off the bench on Senior Night, relinquishing her spot to veteran guard/co-captain Kaila Turner).
Braker is posting career-high averages across the board, logging 5.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, the latter being second-best on the team. She also has scored in double figures eight times (after having two in her first two seasons combined), including a career-high 15 points on two occasions, and she is shooting a personal-best (and team-high) .596 from the field this year.
In addition, she leads the Fighting Irish and ranks 10th in the BIG EAST Conference with 1.2 blocks per game, having registered multiple rejections in 13 games.
Braker has been especially solid for Notre Dame in this year's NCAA Championship, improving on her season averages with 6.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game with a team-high .667 field goal percentage.
Notre Dame was ranked a season-best No. 2 for the 11th consecutive Associated Press poll when the final survey came out March 18, its 46th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 116 consecutive weeks in the AP poll.
The Fighting Irish reached a milestone on Nov. 26 with their No. 5 ranking, which was their 100th consecutive AP poll appearance. It not only extended the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001), but it made the Fighting Irish are one of six teams in the nation with an active streak of 100 consecutive AP poll appearances.
What's more, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career (77 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (66) of those appearances in the AP Top 10 (and never lower than 18th).
Notre Dame's year-end No. 2 ranking matches the highest final AP poll appearance in program history. The 2000-01 national championship squad was second in the last media survey that season, taken just after a last-second 78-76 loss at Connecticut in the BIG EAST title game (when the Fighting Irish had been ranked No. 1).
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 255 weeks during the program's 36-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks ninth among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and 20th all-time in that category.
In addition, the Fighting Irish held steady at a season-best No. 2 for the fifth consecutive week in the last pre-NCAA Championship ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll (released March 18), after spending the previous six weeks in the No. 3 spot. Notre Dame also has earned at least one first-place vote in the coaches' poll for the past 11 surveys, including four on Jan. 8 and two on March 5.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 116 of the past 117 weeks (and 80 in a row), falling just outside the Top 25 in the final poll of the 2008-09 season. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish have appeared in the coaches' poll for a total of 249 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the fifth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 11 of the past 15 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 31 people in NCAA Division I women's basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Besides her 255 AP poll appearances while coaching at Notre Dame, McGraw was the starting point guard at Saint Joseph's (Pa.) as a senior in 1977, helping the Hawks to No. 3 in the nation.
Of the 31 people on this list, 16 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart in PDF version of this notes package), with McGraw and Baylor's Kim Mulkey are the only active skippers to play for and coach a team in the AP poll, and coach that team to a national title (McGraw in 2001, Mulkey in 2005 and 2012).
Notre Dame made a bit of women's basketball history on Nov. 9, joining with Ohio State to play the first women's game ever on the deck of an aircraft carrier, as the teams squared off outdoors in the second annual Carrier Classic aboard the decommissioned USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C. (Charleston Harbor).
The game was played to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project, which aids returning veterans who have been injured while in the service of our country, and the Fighting Irish were exceptionally proud and honored to have former Notre Dame guard, U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green ('00) join the team on the bench for their historic game against Ohio State. Green, who lost her left (shooting) hand in May 2004 during a rocket-propelled grenade attack while on patrol on the roof of a police station in Baghdad, Iraq, delivered an inspiring pre-game speech to the current Fighting Irish squad before they came out to face Ohio State.
Notre Dame won this year's Carrier Classic game, 57-51, behind the second career double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) from junior forward Natalie Achonwa and 16 points from junior guard Kayla McBride. After the game, head coach Muffet McGraw said the victory was dedicated to Green.
An added postscript -- Green recently accepted a job with the South Bend Veterans Administration Clinic and has relocated from her hometown of Chicago.
The Benefits Of Leadership
Notre Dame is in the unique position of essentially having three head coaches on its bench, with current Fighting Irish skipper Muffet McGraw enjoying the expertise of two former head coaches on her staff -- associate head coach Carol Owens (who guided her alma mater Northern Illinois from 2005-10) and associate coach Beth Cunningham (who piloted VCU from 2003-12).
Collectively, the Notre Dame staff has 45 seasons of head coaching experience, which ranks fifth among Division I schools behind only Stanford (52), Villanova (50), Ohio State (48) and Rutgers (46).
What We're Put On This Earth To Do
According to veteran women's basketball broadcaster Debbie Antonelli, we were put on this Earth to score, and Notre Dame has certainly done that this season, averaging 81.6 points per game (slightly above the program record of 81.0 set in 1998-99).
Of course, it should come as absolutely no surprise that the Fighting Irish have the nation's second-highest scoring offense heading into this week's NCAA Women's Final Four -- they've got a high-octane coaching staff to show them the ropes.
According to research compiled by the Purdue Sports Information Office, the Notre Dame coaches have the highest combined point total from their playing careers of any staff in the country, scoring an aggregate 6,415 points while in uniform. The next closest coaching quartet that could challenge the Fighting Irish staff would be Delaware's foursome (led by head coach Tina Martin) that chalked up 6,119 points.
And, you could make a case that Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw herself would have added more to that total had she played in a different era other than her days at Saint Joseph's (Pa.) from 1973-77. While on Hawk Hill, McGraw was a true "pass-first" point guard who not only played before the introduction of the three-point line, but also at a time when colleges often played only 20-25 games per season instead of the current 30-40 game slates.
In addition, Notre Dame's coaching staff point total doesn't even include the output of its associate director of operations & technology Angie Potthoff, who blistered the nets for 1,725 points as a three-time All-America forward at Penn State from 1993-97.
Half And Half
During the past 12 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 278-19 (.936) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 206 of their last 219 such contests (.941).
What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 115-2 (.983) when leading at the half, with the only losses coming on April 5, 2011, in the NCAA national championship game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (Notre Dame led Texas A&M, 35-33 at intermission before falling 76-70), and Feb. 12, 2012, against West Virginia (Fighting Irish led 33-30 at the break before the visiting Mountaineers rallied to win in the closing seconds, 65-63).
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
During the past 18 seasons, Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season (Notre Dame's first in the BIG EAST Conference), the Fighting Irish have an amazing 278-15 (.949) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including a 20-0 record in such outings this season.
But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 18 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 185-6 (.969) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are three overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995 and UCLA (86-83 in double OT) in 2010, as well as a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008, and a 94-81 setback at Baylor in 2011.
In the past four years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 62-2 (.969) when topping the 80-point mark, including a 17-0 record in such games this season.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame's success has been its stellar play at home. In fact, the Fighting Irish have been virtually untouchable at home in recent years, winning 234 of their last 263 games (.890) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51, 25 and 20 games in that span (the latter ending on Feb. 12, 2012, vs. West Virginia).
Since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 61-5 (.924) -- including wins in 37 of its last 39 home games -- and three of the five Fighting Irish losses in their refurbished facility have come by three points or fewer (two in overtime).
Notre Dame also has a 128-20 (.865) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the former Joyce Center, sporting a program-record 31-game league winning streak at home before it ended with a 48-45 loss to Villanova in the '02 home finale.
The Fighting Irish have been especially strong when it comes to non-conference home games, winning 108 of their last 117 non-BIG EAST contests (.923) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the nine losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents (four by 12 points or less) -- Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT), Indiana in 2006 (54-51) and Minnesota in 2009 (79-71) -- with the other defeats coming to Tennessee in 2005 (62-51) and 2008 (87-63), UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT) and Baylor in 2012 (73-61). The Purdue loss snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak that began after the UW setback.
Since its inaugural season in 1977-78, Notre Dame has played all of its games at the former Joyce Center, posting a 384-90 (.810) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Fighting Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, which was the school record for home victories in a season prior to the 2009-10 campaign, when Notre Dame went 16-1, a mark that lasted only two seasons before the Fighting Irish posted a 17-1 record at Purcell Pavilion last year.
Coming Soon: Irish in the ACC
On Sept. 12, 2012, the University of Notre Dame announced that it had accepted an offer of admission into the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for all sports except football (the league does not offer championships in ice hockey or fencing). Subsequently on March 12, 2013, Notre Dame announced it will join the ACC in time for the 2013-14 season.
The change in conference affiliation will be the first for Notre Dame since 1995, when the Fighting Irish moved from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) to the BIG EAST Conference.
In its 18 seasons in the BIG EAST, Notre Dame was the one of the conference's best, winning three regular season titles (2001, 2012 and 2013) and one tournament crown (2013) and compiling a 232-64 (.784) record in league play that stands as the second-best regular season winning percentage in BIG EAST women's basketball history.
Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
Winding up its sixth season, Notre Dame's wildly-successful "Big Mac" promotion once again looked to send fans home with full bellies, offering a coupon for a free Big Mac from South Bend-area McDonald's restaurants if the Fighting Irish scored at least 88 points in a home game.
In the six-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 42 times, most recently in this year's home finale on March 4 against Connecticut.
Junior forward Ariel Braker, senior guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner and sophomore forward Markisha Wright are the leaders among current Fighting Irish players, with all four players having registered three "Big Mac baskets" during their respective careers.
And for those tracking such things (or perhaps falling under the heading of "the media relations director has way too much time on his hands"), 22 different players have converted the "burger ball", including nine current members of the Fighting Irish roster.
What's more, of the 42 Big Mac games, 19 have been reached on two-point baskets, 14 on free throws, and nine on three-pointers.
Next Game: NCAA National Championship
With a victory over Connecticut, Notre Dame would move on to the NCAA national championship game at 8:30 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. CT) Tuesday at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, La., against the winner of Sunday's other national semifinal game between Louisville and California. The NCAA national championship game will be televised live on ESPN, ESPNHD and WatchESPN.
Notre Dame is 10-4 all-time against Louisville, including an active seven-game winning streak in the series with its fellow BIG EAST Conference member. The Fighting Irish won both matchups with the Cardinals this season, taking the regular season encounter (93-64 on Feb. 11 at Purcell Pavilion) as well as a meeting in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals (83-59 on March 11 at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.).
Notre Dame is 2-0 all-time against California, with both prior games also occurring in the NCAA Championship. The Fighting Irish earned a 62-59 victory in a 2007 first-round game (at Pittsburgh, Pa.), as well as a 73-62 win in a second-round contest last year at Purcell Pavilion.