June 13, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - For the third consecutive season, the two most successful women's basketball programs in BIG EAST Conference history will match up at least twice, as Notre Dame and Connecticut square off in a home-and-home series that highlights the 2011-12 conference schedule matrix that was released Monday. In addition to the Huskies, the Fighting Irish also will welcome NCAA Championship Sweet 16 qualifier DePaul and second-round participants Marquette and West Virginia to Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center as part of their 16-game conference slate, which features eight home and eight road contests, with schools playing every other institution once and one team twice.
A charter member of the BIG EAST, Connecticut currently owns the top all-time regular-season winning percentage in conference history at .819 (379-84). Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96, building up the second-best regular-season winning percentage in the league's record books at .761 (201-63).
Connecticut leads the all-time series with Notre Dame, 28-5, winning three of four meetings with the Fighting Irish last season, athough Notre Dame took the one that mattered most, a 72-63 decision over the Huskies in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals on April 3 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Last season's four-game set between Notre Dame and Connecticut -- the first time the teams played one another four times in the same season -- featured three games decided by single digits, including a nationally-televised last-second 79-76 Huskies' win on Jan. 8 at a sold-out Purcell Pavilion, a game in which the Fighting Irish led by five points with less than four minutes to play before Connecticut converted a layup with under 15 seconds left and Notre Dame missed two potential game-winning or tying shots in the closing seconds.
All told, Notre Dame will play six of its eight conference road games next year at schools that advanced to the postseason in `10-11, led by Connecticut, Georgetown (NCAA Sweet 16), Louisville (NCAA Sweet 16), Rutgers (NCAA second round), St. John's (NCAA second round) and Syracuse (WNIT quarterfinals). Notre Dame also will travel to Cincinnati and Seton Hall during the coming year.
Conversely, four of Notre Dame's eight home contests in BIG EAST play next season will come against `10-11 postseason qualifiers. Besides Connecticut, the featured BIG EAST visitor to Purcell Pavilion for the Fighting Irish next season will be DePaul, with the Blue Demons having advanced to the Philadelphia Regional semifinals of last year's NCAA Championship before falling to Duke, 70-63. Along with Marquette and West Virginia, Notre Dame also welcomes Pittsburgh, Providence, South Florida and Villanova to Purcell Pavilion next season.
"As last season proved, the Notre Dame-Connecticut series is in the conversation when you talk about the nation's best current college basketball rivalries," Fighting Irish head coach and recent 2011 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Muffet McGraw said. "These kinds of games play a big role in preparing a team for the hard road ahead in the postseason, and I believe it was an important factor in getting us ready for the run we made to last year's national championship game. Connecticut will have another strong team in 2011-12 and it should be another entertaining home-and-home series.
"Overall, this is going to be an extremely challenging conference schedule for us, with the two games against UConn and road games against five of the other teams that are expected to be near the top of the BIG EAST next season," McGraw continued. "We're going to have our work cut out for us."
The rationale in determining the repeat opponents for the upcoming season was as follows: providing additional television inventory, competitive issues/RPI implications and geographic rivalries/minimizing travel costs. For Notre Dame, the sites for all of next year's conference matchups simply were reversed from the 2010-11 season.
The full 2011-12 schedule for the Fighting Irish will be announced at a later date, following approval from the University's Faculty Board on Athletics. A complete list of dates and tip times for all of Notre Dame's games next season also will be released at that point.
Notre Dame is coming off a memorable '10-11 season that culminated with a 31-8 record (matching the second-highest win total in program history) and a second trip to the NCAA national championship game, not to mention the school's third NCAA Women's Final Four appearance. The Fighting Irish also were ranked in the top 10 in both major national polls at season's end, finishing No. 9 in the final Associated Press poll (taken before the NCAA Championship) and No. 2 in the final ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll (taken after the Women's Final Four), registering the program's highest finish in those surveys since its 2000-01 national championship season, when it was No. 2 in the AP poll and No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Today poll.
In addition, the Fighting Irish recorded their ninth NCAA Sweet 16 appearance, third 30-win campaign and eighth 25-win season, all in the past 15 years, and their 17th 20-win season in the past 18 years, not to mention their 19th consecutive winning season, 23rd in the 24-year McGraw era and 30th in the 34-year history of Notre Dame women's basketball. The Fighting Irish also ranked among the top 11 teams in the nation in seven NCAA statistical categories -- field goal percentage (4th - .480), scoring margin (7th - +20.8 ppg.), steals (7th - 12.7 spg.), assists (9th - 17.2 apg.), three-point field goal percentage defense (10th - .269), rebounding margin (10th - +8.2 rpg.) and scoring offense (11th - 77.0 ppg.).
What's more, the Fighting Irish set no fewer than 10 single-season school records -- games played (39), total points (3,004), total rebounds (1,582), free throws made (667), free throws attempted (930), steals (495), opponent turnovers (864), 90-point games (8), 35-point victories (9) and 30-point wins (12). Those marks don't even include yet another single-season attendance record, as Notre Dame finished fifth in the country in attendance this season with an average of 8,553 fans per game (surpassing the freshly-minted record of 8,377 set just last season). That represents Notre Dame's 11th consecutive NCAA top-20 attendance ranking, and the Fighting Irish had five more sellout crowds this year (plus five others within approximately 500 fans of a sellout), giving Notre Dame 11 capacity crowds in the past two seasons alone, after having attracted a total of six sellouts in its first 32 seasons of competition.
As if that weren't enough, the Fighting Irish stretched their active streak of consecutive appearances in the AP poll to a school-record 77 weeks, and defeated eight ranked opponents, including No. 1 Connecticut (72-63 in the NCAA national semifinals), the third win over a top-ranked opponent in program history, and No. 4 Tennessee (73-59 in the NCAA Dayton Regional final on March 28 in Dayton, Ohio), becoming the first school ever to defeat those two programs in consecutive games, as well as the first to do so at any point in the same NCAA Championship.
The Fighting Irish are expected to return four starters and 10 monogram winners from last year's NCAA national runner-up squad, led by a trio of All-Americans and 2011 USA Basketball World University Games Team finalists in junior guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington), senior guard Natalie Novosel (Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic) and fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick). Notre Dame also will be welcoming to campus the nation's No. 8 incoming class (according to Blue Star Basketball), including Parade All-America guard Madison Cable (Mount Lebanon, Pa./Mount Lebanon), one of the nation's top 30 players in point guard Whitney Holloway (Plainfield, Ill./Montini Catholic), and power forward Markisha Wright (Des Moines, Iowa/Des Moines East), the most valuable player of the 2011 Iowa Class 4A state tournament -- it's the 15th consecutive year Notre Dame has signed a top-20 rookie group.
The Fighting Irish already have received some early notice from the national media for the upcoming season, with ESPN.com's Charlie Creme ranking Notre Dame third in his article entitled "64 Teams To Watch In 2011-12".
Notre Dame Women's Basketball -- 2011-12 BIG EAST Conference Schedule
Road Opponents (Overall, BIG EAST Record) ... 2010-11 ND Results