June 13, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - For the fourth 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 2012-13 conference schedule matrix that was released Wednesday.
In addition to the Huskies, the Fighting Irish also will face Providence twice during the upcoming season, and welcome NCAA Championship Sweet 16 qualifier St. John's and second-round participants Georgetown and Louisville to Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, as part of their 16-game conference slate. The current BIG EAST scheduling format features eight home and eight road contests, with schools playing every other institution once and two teams twice -- a slight departure from past seasons when schools had only one repeat opponent, with the change necessitated by West Virginia's exodus from the conference.
A charter member of the BIG EAST, Connecticut currently owns the top all-time regular-season winning percentage in conference history at .818 (392-87). 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 .771 (216-64), and the Fighting Irish are the reigning BIG EAST regular-season champion, having earned their first outright league title in 2011-12 by two full games over Connecticut and St. John's.
Connecticut leads the all-time series with Notre Dame, 29-8, but the Fighting Irish took three of four meetings with the Huskies last season, including an 83-75 overtime decision in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals on April 1 at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Last season's four-game set between Notre Dame and Connecticut -- the second consecutive season time the teams played one another four times -- featured two overtime games and a third decided by single digits, with the Fighting Irish becoming the first team to defeat the Huskies three times in one season since 1992-93 (Miami-Fla.).
During the past two years, Notre Dame and Connecticut have squared off eight times, with each side winning on four occasions. The teams also have met in the past two NCAA national semifinals (both won by the Fighting Irish) and the past two BIG EAST Championship finals (both won by the Huskies).
All told, Notre Dame will play seven of its eight conference home games next year against schools that advanced to the postseason in `11-12, led by Connecticut, St. John's (NCAA Sweet 16), Georgetown (NCAA second round), Louisville (NCAA second round), Rutgers (NCAA first round), Syracuse (WNIT semifinals) and Cincinnati (WNIT second round). Notre Dame also will play host to a Providence side led by first-year head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl, who joins the conference after enjoying a great deal of success at Saint Francis (Pa.).
Conversely, four of Notre Dame's eight road contests in BIG EAST play next season will come against `11-12 postseason qualifiers. Besides Connecticut, the featured BIG EAST road trip will be to Midwest rival DePaul, with the Blue Demons having advanced to the second round of last year's NCAA Championship before falling to Tennessee, 63-48. The Fighting Irish also will pay visits to WNIT third-round participants South Florida and Villanova, along with road contests at Marquette, Pittsburgh and Seton Hall next season.
"I think it would be difficult to find another rivalry in the country that has had more games played a high level in such a short span of time than our recent series with Connecticut," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "We've played eight times in the past two years and just about every one of those games has come right down to the wire. That's not only a credit to both programs, but also to the BIG EAST as a whole, which continues to show that it's right up there among the very best conferences in the nation.
"Our fans will have a lot to look forward to next season, with several strong teams coming to Purcell Pavilion," McGraw continued. "In fact, every one of the BIG EAST schools is showing improvement and we're going to be tested on a nightly basis. These conference games should be excellent preparation for us looking ahead to the postseason."
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 2011-12 season, with the exception of a return trip to Seton Hall (the Fighting Irish downed the Pirates, 74-36 in South Orange, N.J.) and the addition of the second game against Providence (the Friars visited Purcell Pavilion last season, with Notre Dame posting a 66-47 win).
The full 2012-13 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 enjoyed a historic and record-setting 2011-12 season that culminated with a 35-4 record (the highest win total in program history) and a second consecutive trip to the NCAA national championship game (third in program history), not to mention the school's fourth NCAA Women's Final Four appearance. The Fighting Irish also were ranked in the top five in both major national polls for all 19 weeks of the `11-12 campaign, setting a school record for the longest run of consecutive top-five poll appearances, finishing at No. 4 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 completion of the NCAA Women's Final Four).
Notre Dame posted a pair of rare team milestones last season, most notably becoming only the third school in the past decade (2001-02 to present) to have four players score at least 450 points in a single season (the others being Connecticut in 2001-02 and Maryland in 2007-08). The Fighting Irish also had three players with at least 75 steals for the second consecutive season, becoming the only team in the past decade to pull off that feat twice, while marking two of just 12 times it's been done since 2001-02 (Fresno State and Virginia were the other schools with three 75-steal players in 2011-12).
Last season, the Fighting Irish recorded their 10th NCAA Sweet 16 appearance (third in a row and fourth in five years), fourth 30-win campaign and ninth 25-win season, all in the past 16 years, and their 18th 20-win season in the past 19 years, not to mention their 20th consecutive winning season, 24th in the 25-year Muffet McGraw era and 31st in the 35-year history of Notre Dame women's basketball. The Fighting Irish also ranked among the top 15 teams in the nation in 10 NCAA statistical categories -- scoring offense (2nd - 78.9 ppg.), scoring margin (3rd - +26.0 ppg.), field goal percentage (4th - .468), assists (4th - 17.9 apg.), turnover margin (6th - +6.54), steals (7th - 12.9 spg.), assist/turnover ratio (9th - 1.13), scoring defense (13th - 52.9 ppg.), rebounding margin (13th - +8.5 rpg.) and free throw percentage (13th - .763).
What's more, the Fighting Irish set or tied no fewer than 22 single-season school records -- wins (35), games played (39), total points (3,076), scoring margin (+26.0 ppg.), field goals made (1,118), field goals attempted (2,388), total rebounds (1,589), free throws made (674), free throw percentage (.763), assists (698), steals (502), scoring defense (52.9 ppg.), lowest opponent rebounding average (32.2 rpg.), opponent turnovers (873), wins over Top 25 opponents (15), 100-point games (2), 90-point games (9), 30-point wins (14), 40-point wins (8), 50-point wins (7), games allowing 50 points or fewer (20) and games allowing 40 points or fewer (7).
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 8,571 fans per game (setting a school record in that category and placing in the top five nationally for the third consecutive year). That also represents Notre Dame's 12th consecutive NCAA top-20 attendance ranking, and the Fighting Irish had a school-record eight sellout crowds this year (plus four others within 700 fans of a sellout), giving Notre Dame 19 capacity crowds in the past three seasons alone, after having attracted a total of six sellouts in its first 32 seasons of competition.
The Fighting Irish are expected to have two starters and eight total players returning in 2012-13, along with a three-player freshman class that was ranked as high as third in the nation by All-Star Girls Report (and is a consensus top-10 class by all major recruiting services). It's the 16th consecutive year that the Fighting Irish have attracted a top-20 recruiting class, with Notre Dame being one of only three schools in the country to hold that distinction.
Notre Dame already has received some early notice from the national media for the upcoming season, with ESPN's Charlie Creme ranking Notre Dame No. 8 in his article entitled "64 Teams To Watch In 2012-13", while Sports Illustrated has projected the Fighting Irish at No. 9 in its early 2012-13 prognostication.
For more information on the Notre Dame women's basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women's basketball Twitter pages (@ndwbbsid or @notredamewbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
Notre Dame Women's Basketball -- 2012-13 BIG EAST Conference Schedule Home (Overall, BIG EAST Record) - 2011-12 ND Results ^Cincinnati (16-16, 6-10) - W, 76-50 @ UC *Connecticut (33-5, 13-3) - W, 74-67 (ot) @ ND/W, 72-59 @ UConn/L, 54-63 in BE Final @ UConn/W, 83-75 (ot) in Final Four @ Denver *Georgetown (23-9, 11-5) - W, 80-60 @ GU *Louisville (23-10, 10-6) - W, 68-52 @ LOU Providence (13-17, 5-11) - W, 66-47 @ ND *Rutgers (22-10, 10-6) - W, 71-41 @ RU *St. John's (24-10, 13-3) - W, 71-56 @ STJ ^Syracuse (22-15, 6-10) - W, 74-55 @ SU