April 7, 2014
NCAA Women's Final Four -- National Championship
#2/2 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (37-0 / 16-0 ACC) vs. #1/1 [#1 seed] Connecticut Huskies (39-0 / 18-0 AAC)
DATE: April 8, 2014
TIME: 7:30 p.m. CT/8:30 p.m. ET
AT: Nashville, Tenn. - Bridgestone Arena (17,681)
SERIES: UCONN leads 30-11
1ST MTG: UCONN 87-64 (1/18/96)
LAST MTG: UCONN 83-65 (4/7/13)
TV: ESPN/WatchESPN (live) (Dave O'Brien, p-b-p / Doris Burke, color / Holly Rowe, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (live - local) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p); Westwood One/NCAA Radio Network (live - national) (Dave Ryan - p-b-p / Debbie Antonelli - color / Krista Blunk - sideline)
TOURNAMENT CENTRAL: UND.com
LIVE STATS: UND.com
No. 2 Fighting Irish Set To Meet No. 1 Connecticut Tuesday In NCAA National Championship Game
One game remains in the 2013-14 college basketball season, and for the third time in four years, No. 2 Notre Dame is a participant in that final contest, as the Fighting Irish take on fellow unbeaten (and No. 1) Connecticut in the NCAA national championship game at 7:30 p.m. CT (8:30 p.m. ET) Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. (live on ESPN).
Notre Dame (37-0) moved on to the NCAA title game following a convincing 87-61 win over No. 11/9 Maryland in the national semifinals on Sunday night in Nashville. The Fighting Irish used a 10-0 run midway through the first half to take control and set a Final Four record with a +29 rebounding edge against the Terrapins.
Senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride led three Notre Dame players in double figures with a game-high 28 points (19 in the first half).
Other Notre Dame Notables
The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
Notre Dame and Connecticut will be meeting for the 42nd time on Tuesday, making the Huskies the most frequent opponent in Fighting Irish women's basketball history. Connecticut is 30-11 against Notre Dame, although the Fighting Irish have won seven of the past nine games in the series.
Other Notre Dame-Connecticut Series Tidbits
The Brains Of The Operation
Tuesday'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 (and current Chattanooga skipper) 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.
Notre Dame is 14-0 against ranked opponents (8-0 against top-10 teams) and has won 13 of those 14 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:
Irish In The NCAA Championship
Notre Dame is winding down its 21st appearance in the NCAA Championship (and 19th in a row) this week. The Fighting Irish have a .708 winning percentage (46-19) in NCAA Championship play, ranking eighth all-time in that category and tying for seventh in total wins (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):
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 20-2 (.909) 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 5-0 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 32-5 (.865) 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 (65 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 21 times in NCAA Championship play, going 21-0 in those games. What's more, the Fighting Irish have scored at least 70 points in 25 of their last 29 NCAA tournament games, going 22-3 (.880) in those contests.
This year marks the first time Notre Dame has scored at least 80 points in five 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.
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, topping its output from the past two years.
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 37-0, 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 37-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.
NOTE: It should be mentioned that the Fighting Irish fencing team has had a pair of longer streaks in this time, but less than 50 schools across all three NCAA divisions currently offer the sport (some for just one gender) and some of Notre Dame's wins in their respective streaks came against Division II and Division III teams.
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 72-2 (.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:
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:
That's Some Sharp Shooting
Notre Dame currently leads the nation with a .510 field goal percentage, highlighted by 23 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 (.525) 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 (161-of-295) during her last 19 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 (.577), freshman forward Kristina Nelson (.560) and senior forward/tri-captain Ariel Braker (.526), 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 74 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 .405 three-point percentage, with two different players connecting at 40 percent or better from beyond the arc (and three more at .368 or better).
Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey leads the way for the Fighting Irish with a .424 three-point percentage that ranks third in the ACC, while senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (.368) stands 10th in the conference.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (.393) 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 (.472) and freshman guard Lindsay Allen (.375) 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 (now at 20.3 per game), having delivered a school-record 750 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 62.2 percent of their made field goals this year (750 of 1,205).
Notre Dame also ranks fifth in the nation (and tops in the ACC) in assist/turnover ratio (1.39), led by two players who rank among the top three in the ACC in that category -- freshman guard Lindsay Allen (1st - 2.20) and senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (3rd - 1.85); both are on pace to finish with two of the top six single-season assist/turnover ratios in school history.
What's more, Allen (145 assists) and McBride (144) 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 138 wins (138-14, .908), surpassing the seniors from 2012-13.
Last year, led by its two-player senior class of Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, Notre Dame posted (at the time) the best four-year record (130-20, .867) in school history, topping the win total (117) compiled by the previous year's seniors (Brittany Mallory, Fraderica Miller, Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters).
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 1,855 career points, needing 19 points to catch Jacqueline Batteast (1,874 from 2001-05) for fifth place. 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 1,124 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.
"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 (and most recently her 28-point effort on Sunday against No. 11/9 Maryland in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinal) 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 (17.5 ppg.), rebounding (5.3 rpg.), assists (3.9 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (1.85), ranking among the top 15 in the ACC in scoring (12th), free throw percentage (2nd - .884; also 12th in nation), assist/turnover ratio (3rd), assists (7th) and three-point percentage (10th - .368).
In addition, McBride has compiled a team high-tying 13 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 14 games against Top 25 opponents this season, she is averaging 19.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. She's even better against top-10 teams, averaging 21.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game with a .496 field goal percentage (65-of-131) in those eight outings.
In fact, dating back to last season, McBride is averaging 18.6 points per game in her last 28 games against ranked opponents, including 11 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 (18.7 ppg.), sixth in free throw percentage (.810), ninth in field goal percentage (.525), 12th in steals (1.6 spg.) and 18th in rebounding (6.5 rpg.), while sporting career-high marks in scoring, rebounding, assists (2.1 apg.), steals, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. She also has a team high-tying 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 multiple 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 42 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 42-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 60 of her 72 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 6.3 points and 3.9 assists per game (the latter ranking ninth in the ACC). She also leads the ACC with a 2.20 assist/turnover ratio, and is third on the team with 1.27 steals per game.
Allen (145 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 3.92 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 37 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 64-1 in her last 65 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 (25.6 ppg. to 16.0 ppg.).
The Fighting Irish second unit has outscored its opposite number in 25 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 (8.5 ppg.), freshman forward Taya Reimer (7.5 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 24 games this season (total of 29 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 8.5 points and 2.2 assists per game along with a very solid 1.59 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 .424 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 312-19 (.943) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 240 of their last 253 such contests (.949).
What's more, in the past five seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 149-2 (.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 214-6 (.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 91-2 (.978) when topping the 80-point mark, including a 29-0 record this season.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director