Fighting Irish Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw is beginning her 27th season at Notre Dame with a 626-217 (.743) record under the Golden Dome. She also starts her 32nd season on the sidelines with a career mark of 714-258 (.735), making her the second-winningest active coach in the ACC entering the 2013-14 season.
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Take a look at the 2013-14 University of Notre Dame women's basketball schedule, and one thought comes to mind -- you can go home again.
As the complete 29-game Fighting Irish regular season schedule was released Wednesday afternoon, following approval by the University's Faculty Board on Athletics and in conjunction with the release of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) regular-season slate, it is clear that while the ACC might be Notre Dame's new conference residence, home will have numerous definitions for the Fighting Irish this year.
When Notre Dame takes the floor in November, it will have four starters and nine monogram recipients back from last season's 35-2 squad that advanced to the NCAA Women's Final Four for the third consecutive season (fifth overall) and was ranked No. 2 in the final Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls. The Fighting Irish, who also welcome in a four-player freshman class ranked as high as third in the nation by multiple outlets, also are coming off a sweep of the BIG EAST Conference regular-season and tournament titles in their final season in that league (and its last at its former configuration), winning their second consecutive BIG EAST regular-season crown (third overall) and earning their first-ever BIG EAST Championship trophy.
Through the years, Notre Dame has felt right at home when squaring off with some of the nation's top programs, and that will be no different in 2013-14, as the Fighting Irish will play more than half their games (15) against 14 teams that advanced to last year's NCAA Championship, and 10 against squads that were ranked or receiving votes in the final AP and/or ESPN-USA Today polls last year (including seven games against teams ranked 13th or better in the year-end AP poll).
Highlighting that group of top-flight opponents is 2013 NCAA Elite Eight participant and reigning ACC champion Duke, which Notre Dame will face in a home-and-home series (Feb. 2 in Durham, N.C.; Feb. 23 at Purcell Pavilion), with both games televised live on ESPN as part of that network's new Sunday afternoon women's basketball package. Last year, the Fighting Irish eliminated Duke from the NCAA Championship, earning an 87-76 victory over the Blue Devils in the NCAA Norfolk Regional final.
"Our schedule is an extremely challenging one and it's set up in such a way that is going to prepare us for the conference season and then the postseason," Notre Dame's Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "Between the various styles of play and some unfamiliar environments, especially in a brand-new conference, and not to mention experiencing some quick turnarounds, we're going to be tested both physically and mentally, and that should be very beneficial to us at the season moves on."
Notre Dame also has been at home on television, whether through commercial means or through the growing Internet live-streaming market. That will continue to be the case in 2013-14, as the Fighting Irish make a minimum of 18 TV appearances (both commercial and on the WatchND multimedia platform at UND.com), including the aforementioned two ESPN games against Duke and two more contests on the ESPN2 "Big Monday" package, with road games in consecutive weeks at non-conference foe and Elite Eight qualifier Tennessee (Jan. 20) and Sweet 16 participant Maryland (Jan. 27). The Fighting Irish have won all six "Big Monday" games they have played in the past two seasons, winning twice each over Tennessee, Connecticut and Louisville. Overall, Notre Dame has played in 257 televised games in the past 14 seasons (1999-2000 to present), including 175 national TV contests, an average of 18 TV games and 12 national broadcasts during that span.
"It never gets old to play on TV and it's especially big that we're among the elite programs when it comes to the number of games we have televised each year," senior All-America guard Kayla McBride said. "Anyone who says they don't get excited or have the adrenaline flowing even more when they're on TV is lying. As a competitor, you want to play on the biggest stages and under the brightest lights. That's one of the reasons I came to Notre Dame and it's part of why we've been able to have so much success as a team for such a long period of time."
When it comes to Notre Dame women's basketball, home is all about Purcell Pavilion, with the Fighting Irish slated to play 15 regular-season games in its legendary home facility, adding the visit from Duke with appearances by NCAA second-round qualifiers North Carolina, UCLA and Michigan State. Purcell Pavilion also will add another page in its ever-growing history book on Jan. 5, when the Fighting Irish play host to Clemson in the program's first-ever ACC regular-season game (as well as their first matchup with the Tigers, one of five new opponents on this year's Notre Dame's schedule).
Throughout its 36-year history of hosting women's basketball games, Purcell Pavilion has built a reputation as one of the nation's toughest venues, with the Fighting Irish posting a 384-90 (.810) all-time record at home, including a 64-4 (.941) mark since 2009-10. What's more, Notre Dame has arguably the country's fastest-growing fan base, with the Fighting Irish average attendance growing more than 35 percent in the past eight seasons, and the program setting new records for average attendance and ranking in the top five nationally the past three years (as well as the top 20 for the past 13 years). Last year, the Fighting Irish drew a school-record 8,979 fans per game and recorded a program-best 11 sellouts (part of 36 all-time sellouts, including 30 in the past four years alone).
"Our fans are the best in the country and we want to do all we can to give them the best basketball at Purcell Pavilion," McGraw said. "This year, we have several strong teams coming to town, plus some familiar faces like DePaul and Valparaiso, and a couple of new visitors both inside and outside the conference such as South Dakota State and Georgia Tech. There's something for everyone to enjoy on our home schedule this year."
No matter where Notre Dame plays in 2013-14, home will have a very special meaning, as no fewer than 24 members of the Fighting Irish program (from players and coaches to administrators and support staff) will see Notre Dame play at least once within approximately a two-hour drive of their hometown. The highlight of the Fighting Irish "coming home" tour will be on Dec. 1, when senior All-America forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary's Catholic) leads Notre Dame to her home country of Canada and a very special neutral-site game against Duquesne, to be played in Toronto (one hour east of Achonwa's hometown of Guelph) at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, formerly known as Maple Leaf Gardens (the legendary home of the National Hockey League's Toronto Maple Leafs from 1931-99, and now a multi-purpose venue for Ryerson University).
"I'm really excited to have the opportunity to play in front of my family and friends," Achonwa said. "I haven't played at home (in Ontario) in years and to get the chance to do it with my Notre Dame teammates is truly special for me. It will be fun for my community (of Guelph) to see how much my game has developed over the years and for them to see an elite NCAA Division I college basketball game up close."
A handful of tip times for Notre Dame's 2013-14 schedule have yet to be announced, due to either pending non-conference television considerations or because the host school has not yet determined the start time. In addition to their expansive TV coverage, the Fighting Irish also begin their 18th season of full-time commercial radio coverage this fall, as the LeSEA Broadcasting Network and Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) will air every Notre Dame women's basketball game live to more than 1.5 million listeners in the Michiana area and worldwide on UND.com, with veteran broadcaster Bob Nagle calling the play-by-play.
The 2013-14 Notre Dame women's basketball season ticket package renewals have been sent out to last year's season ticket holders, with that deadline fast approaching (lower arena packages are already sold out). Depending upon the renewal rate for current season ticket packages, a limited number of season tickets will be freed up and go on sale at 8:30 a.m. (ET) Sept. 12 -- they will be available by contacting Notre Dame's Murnane Family Ticket Office at (574) 631-7356 or visiting the ticket windows inside Gate 9 (Rosenthal Atrium) at Purcell Pavilion. Tickets also can be ordered on-line 24 hours a day with a major credit card at UND.com/tickets.
Packages start as low as $65 per person for individuals and $52 per person for full-time Notre Dame faculty/staff, while four-ticket "Fan Packs" are as low as $186 ($152 for faculty/staff). Notre Dame, Saint Mary's and Holy Cross students are admitted free for all home games (while supplies last), with advanced pickup recommended due to limited seating availability.
Any remaining single-game tickets for the 2013-14 Notre Dame women's basketball home schedule will go on sale in early October for as little as $8 for adults and $5 for youths 21 and under and seniors 55 and older. In addition, a limited number of tickets for each home game may become available during the week prior to, or the day of, that contest due to visiting team returns and other considerations.
With all Fighting Irish ticket purchases, standard processing fees and service charges do apply.
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 @ndwbb), like the program on Facebook (facebook.com/ndwbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
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2013-14 FIGHTING IRISH SCHEDULE NOTES: The Feb. 9 game against Syracuse has been designated as Notre Dame's Pink Zone (Play4Kay) game, part of the national initiative to raise awareness and funds for cancer research -- in the past five years, the Fighting Irish have raised more than $600,000 in donations through their Pink Zone game for local charities and the Kay Yow Cancer Fund ... in addition to the rigorous ACC schedule (rated No. 5 in the last year's final Sagarin ratings), Notre Dame could meet teams from as many as 10 other conferences, including four of the other top six and eight of the other top 14 nationally, during non-league play: #2 Big Ten, #3 SEC, #4 BIG EAST (new configuration in 2013-14), #6 Pac-12, #9 Atlantic 10, #11 Colonial, #13 MAC and #14 Horizon League ... according to the final 2012-13 RPI ratings released by the NCAA, Notre Dame will play 15 games against teams that were in the RPI top 60, including eight against RPI Top 25 squads ... all told, 15 regular-season opponents on Notre Dame's schedule had 20-win seasons, with eight registering 25-win campaigns (plus Duquesne and Syracuse had 24 wins) and one topping the 30-win mark (Duke, although UNC had 29 wins) ... five opponents won either regular-season or postseason conference titles last year (Central Michigan - MAC tournament; Duke - ACC regular-season/tournament; Penn State - Big Ten regular season; South Dakota State - Summit League regular-season/tournament; Tennessee - SEC regular-season) ... there are five first-time opponents on this year's Notre Dame schedule: UNC Wilmington, Oregon State, South Dakota State, Clemson and Florida State (with the middle three coming consecutively, and the last two being ACC opponents) ... Notre Dame also will revive some dormant rivalries, including several with former conference foes such as old BIG EAST rivals Miami and Virginia Tech (last met both in 2003-04) and former Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League sisters Duquesne (last played in 1992-93) ... the Fighting Irish will visit seven campuses either for the first time ever or the first time in more than 15 years -- Penn (last visited the legendary Palestra in McGraw's hometown of Philadelphia in 1981-82), Oregon State (never), Virginia (last visited in 1987-88, McGraw's first season), Duke (last visited in 1997-98), Florida State (never), Wake Forest (never) and North Carolina State (never) ... the trip to Oregon State will be particularly unique as the first game Notre Dame has played against both a school from Oregon and in the state itself -- the Fighting Irish last played in the Pacific Northwest on Dec. 29-30, 2010, winning the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic at Seattle's KeyArena (home of the WNBA's Seattle Storm) with wins over Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount ... conversely, Notre Dame will play five games against teams from the state of North Carolina this season (two in the state, plus the ACC Tournament will be held in Greensboro), and another four games against teams from the state of Pennsylvania (three in the Keystone State) ... of the 24 members of the Notre Dame women's basketball travel party that will see the Fighting Irish play within approximately two hours of their hometown, they include 11 players, four coaches/operations staff, one administrator and eight support staff (athletic trainer, strength & conditioning coach, student managers, administrative assistant and radio broadcaster) ... the combined overall record last year for Notre Dame's 2013-14 regular-season opponents was 517-356 (.592).
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director