June 18, 2010
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - For the second 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 2010-11 conference schedule matrix that was released Friday.
In addition to the two-time defending NCAA national champion Huskies, the Fighting Irish also will welcome NCAA Championship second-round participants Georgetown and St. John's, as well as first-round qualifier Rutgers 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 .812 (363-84). 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 .758 (188-60). However, last season marked the first time since the conference expanded to 16 schools five years ago (and introduced its current scheduling format) that the Fighting Irish and Huskies faced off twice in the regular season.
Connecticut leads the all-time series with Notre Dame, 25-4, and has won nine in a row against the Fighting Irish, including all three meetings last year. However, Notre Dame got progressively closer to the Huskies in each of their three matchups, with the third act in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals (a 59-44 Connecticut win in Hartford) proving to be arguably the Huskies' stiffest test prior to its NCAA title game win over Stanford, which capped Connecticut's second consecutive 39-0 campaign.
"The Notre Dame-Connecticut series is one of the great rivalries in women's basketball and last season proved to be no exception," Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. "These games are beneficial in so many ways, particularly when it comes to preparing for the postseason and we're looking forward to next year's matchups with UConn."
All told, Notre Dame will play six of its eight conference home games next year against teams that advanced to the postseason in `09-10, led by Connecticut, Georgetown, St. John's and Rutgers. The other visitors to Purcell Pavilion next season will be: Cincinnati, Louisville (Women's Basketball Invitational first round), Seton Hall and Syracuse (WNIT quarterfinals).
Likewise, seven of Notre Dame's eight road contests in BIG EAST play next season will come against `09-10 postseason qualifiers. The featured BIG EAST road trip for the Fighting Irish next season will be West Virginia, with the Mountaineers having advanced to the second round of last year's NCAA Championship before falling to San Diego State. Notre Dame also will travel to DePaul (NCAA first round), Marquette (WNIT second round), Pittsburgh (WNIT first round), Providence (WNIT quarterfinals), South Florida (WNIT first round) and Villanova during the coming year.
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. The sites for all of next year's conference matchups simply are reversed from the 2009-10 season.
The full 2010-11 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.
The Fighting Irish celebrated a magnificent `09-`10 season that culminated with a 29-6 record (the third-highest win total in program history) and Notre Dame's eighth NCAA Sweet 16 appearance in the past 14 years, as well as a top-11 ranking in the final Associated Press (7th) and ESPN/USA Today (11th) polls.
In addition, the Fighting Irish recorded their seventh 25-win season in the past 14 years and 16th 20-win season in the past 17 years, not to mention its 18th consecutive winning season, 22nd in the 23-year McGraw era and 29th in the 33-year history of Notre Dame women's basketball. The Fighting Irish also ranked among the top 16 teams in the nation in eight NCAA statistical categories -- steals (4th - 12.9 spg.), assists (6th - 18.1 apg.), turnover margin (9th - 6.29), assist/turnover ratio (10th - 1.11), scoring offense (11th - 77.2 ppg.), scoring margin (13th - 14.9 ppg.), won-loss percentage (14th - .829) and field goal percentage (16th - .454).
As if that weren't enough, Notre Dame won the 2009 Paradise Jam Island Division title, opened with a 15-game winning streak (the second-best start in program history), appeared in the top five of the AP poll for 15 consecutive weeks, and set school records for steals (450) and turnovers forced (791), while also collecting six wins over ranked opponents (four coming away from home). Furthermore, the Fighting Irish finished a program-best fourth in the country in attendance this season with an average of 8,377 fans per game (easily the best in school history, surpassing the old mark of 7,825 in 2001-02), its 10th consecutive top-20 attendance ranking, and Notre Dame had six sellout crowds (and three others within 350 fans of a sellout) this year after having attracted a total of six sellouts in its first 32 seasons of competition.
The Fighting Irish will have two starters (including rising sophomore honorable mention All-America guard Skylar Diggins) and eight monogram winners back in uniform next season, while also welcoming to campus the nation's No. 8 incoming class (according to ESPN Hoopgurlz), led by McDonald's All-America guard/USA U18 National Team member Kayla McBride (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy) and Canadian National Team forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ont./St. Mary's Catholic Secondary School) -- it's the 14th 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 ninth in his article entitled "64 teams to watch in 2010-11".