Nov. 10, 2011
Preseason WNIT -- First Round
#2/2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (31-8 / 13-3 BIG EAST in 2010-11) vs. Akron Zips (14-16 / 6-10 MAC East in 2010-11)
DATE: November 11, 2011
No. 2 Irish Tip Off Season Friday Against Akron In Preseason WNIT
Last week, the Fighting Irish stepped on the hardwood for the first time since last year's run to the NCAA national title game, defeating the reigning Canadian national champion, Windsor (Ontario), 83-34 in an exhibition game on Nov. 2 at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame needed much of the first half to shake off the rust from a seven-month hiatus, but eventually slipped into high gear, shooting .515 for the night.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At Akron
UA turned in a balanced effort in its lone exhibition game, defeating Ohio Dominican, 97-43 on Nov. 5 in Akron. The Zips had six players score in double figures, led by sophomore guard Hanna Lubergh's game-high 20 points, while junior forward Rachel Tecca posted a double-double with 18 points and a game-best 10 rebounds. Akron shot an even 50 percent from the floor, and used a tenacious defense to force 39 ODC turnovers (22 coming on steals).
Tecca was a first-team all-Mid-American Conference choice last season (and a preseason pick this year) after averaging team highs of 15.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game with a .496 field goal percentage. Junior guard Taylor Ruper is the team's No. 2 returning scorer (9.4 ppg.), while sophomore guard Kacie Cassell is back to run the Zips' offense after tallying 3.4 assists per game as a rookie last year.
Head coach Jodi Kest is beginning her sixth season at Akron, holding a 60-92 (.395) record with the Zips. Kest also starts her 20th year as a collegiate head coach, including prior stops at the Division II and III levels, as well as her most recent post at the helm of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. She has a 286-245 (.539) all-time record, with Friday marking her first-ever matchup against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Akron Series
Other Notre Dame-Akron Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Mid-American Conference
What's more, Notre Dame has won its last 18 games against current MAC schools since an 87-64 loss to Northern Illinois on March 10, 1995, in the semifinals of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now Horizon League) Tournament.
The Fighting Irish last faced a MAC opponent on Dec. 2, 2009, defeating Eastern Michigan, 69-59 at Purcell Pavilion behind a team-high 15 points from current junior guard Skylar Diggins.
Notre Dame will be playing a MAC team at Purcell Pavilion in the first round of the Preseason WNIT for the third time in its four tournament appearances. In 1996, the Fighting Irish opened with a 66-41 win over Kent State, and in 2007, Notre Dame tipped off the Preseason WNIT with a 98-50 victory over Miami (Ohio).
That latter game featured current Fighting Irish fifth-year seniors Brittany Mallory and Devereaux Peters, with Mallory chalking up six points and seven rebounds, while Peters tallied six points, eight rebounds and five blocks.
Blowing The Lid Off
The Irish also are 26-8 (.765) all-time in home openers, with a 20-4 (.833) mark under McGraw, following last year's win over UNH.
Could It Happen?
The only Notre Dame losses during this current stretch were a pair of defeats to third-ranked teams in the Preseason WNIT semifinals (72-59 vs. Tennessee at Ruston, La., in 1996; 75-59 at Maryland in 2007) and a 67-63 overtime setback at No. 20 Colorado on Nov. 15, 2003 in the finals of the WBCA Classic -- a game that saw the Buffaloes sink a desperation 30-footer at the end of regulation to force the extra session.
Notre Dame is playing its first regular-season tournament of the 2011-12 campaign, with a trip to the Bahamas for the Junkanoo Jam on tap for the Fighting Irish over Thanksgiving weekend. It will mark the second consecutive year Notre Dame has competed in multiple tourneys.
The Fighting Irish are playing in the Preseason WNIT for the fourth time, winning the tournament title in 2004 and reaching the semifinals in 1996 and 2007. The Fighting Irish are 9-2 all-time (7-0 at home) in Preseason WNIT games, including a 64-53 victory over No. 8/12 North Carolina State in the now-discontinued third-place game on Nov. 20, 1996, in Ruston, La.
Novosel Closing In On Milestone
Should all four players hit the 1,000-point mark, it would be the first time in the 35-year history of Notre Dame women's basketball that a quartet of active 1,000-point scorers were on the roster at the same time. In both 2000-01 and 2009-10, Notre Dame had three 1,000-point players on the roster, with the third reaching that total in her final career game (Kelley Siemon in 2001 NCAA national championship game vs. Purdue, Melissa Lechlitner in 2010 NCAA Sweet 16 game vs. Oklahoma).
Exhibition Recap: Windsor
McBride added six rebounds and a game-high six steals, part of an aggressive Notre Dame defense that hounded the Lancers into 36 turnovers (with 25 coming on Fighting Irish steals) and a .268 field goal percentage, including 3-of-21 (.143) from the three-point line.
Senior guard Fraderica Miller and freshman forward Markisha Wright sparked a strong Notre Dame reserve unit, with each coming off the bench to score 12 points. Miller also collected four steals, while Wright had six rebounds and three blocks, in addition to going 4-of-4 from the field.
As a team, the Fighting Irish shot 51.5 percent for the game (34-of-66) and held a slim 36-34 rebounding edge over Windsor, which had four players standing 6-foot-3 or taller. The Lancers were led by Korissa Williams, who had team highs of 10 points and seven rebounds, while Bojana Kovacevic added eight points. Notre Dame did a solid job on Windsor forward Jessica Clemencon, the reigning Canadian national player of the year, limiting her to seven points and six rebounds.
Both teams got off to a sluggish offensive start, although the Fighting Irish defense was strong from the outset, holding the Lancers to two points during the opening 8:30. In that time, Notre Dame forced 10 turnovers and limited Windsor to 1-of-7 shooting while opening up a 13-2 lead.
The Lancers would pull back within seven points twice in the ensuing five minutes, the last on Kovacevic's layup with 6:15 left in the first half. The Fighting Irish then effectively put the game on ice, closing the period with 23-4 run, fueled by six points from McBride and four apiece from Diggins, Miller and Wright.
Notre Dame continued to keep up the pressure in the second half, opening with a 19-4 run that included eight points from Peters, the last hiking the Fighting Irish lead over the 40-point mark at 61-20 with 13:32 to play. A Kovacevic three-pointer briefly pulled Windsor inside of 40 points (63-24) at the 11:22 mark, but the Lancers would get no closer, as Notre Dame steadily pulled away in the closing minutes, opening up its game-high 49-point lead on two occasions, the second being the final score.
Notre Dame Claims Top Spot In 2011-12 BIG EAST Coaches' Preseason Poll
In the closest vote since Notre Dame shared top honors with Connecticut in the 2002-03 BIG EAST preseason poll, the Fighting Irish picked up 219 points and nine first-place votes in the balloting (coaches are not permitted to select their own teams), edging out Connecticut, which collected the remaining seven first-place votes and finished with 216 points. Louisville (191 points) was chosen third, while Rutgers (176 points) finished a close fourth ahead of Georgetown (175 points).
The complete 2011-12 BIG EAST preseason coaches' poll can be found in the sidebar on page 3 of the PDF version of this notes package.
Fighting Irish Trio Earns Numerous 2011-12 Preseason Honors
Diggins also joined a pair of her teammates -- senior guard Natalie Novosel and fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters -- on the Preseason All-BIG EAST Team, with Novosel and Peters making the preseason squad for the first time, while Diggins was a unanimous choice for the preseason all-conference team for the second consecutive year.
Notre Dame's three Preseason All-BIG EAST honorees (who also have been named preseason candidates for this year's Wade Trophy and Wooden Award, both of which go to the national player of the year) were more than any school, with three others having two selections (Connecticut had a third player earn honorable mention status).
Diggins -- who added Associated Press Preseason All-America honors to her trophy case on Tuesday (the second Fighting Irish player to collect that status and first since Batteast in 2004-05) -- put together one of the finest sophomore seasons in Notre Dame women's basketball history in 2010-11 while sparking the Fighting Irish to their second NCAA title game berth and third NCAA Women's Final Four appearance. The crafty southpaw made a nearly-seamless transition to the point guard position, ranking among the top 15 in the BIG EAST in scoring (15.0 ppg.), assists (team-high 4.8 apg.) and steals (1.9 spg.), posting career highs in all three areas. What's more, her 585 total points and 186 total assists were the second-most ever accrued by a Notre Dame sophomore -- Katryna Gaither scored 590 points in 1994-95, while Mary Gavin dished out 205 assists in 1985-86 -- and her 75 steals were fourth on the Fighting Irish sophomore charts (just eight off the school record), while her 1,226 total minutes were just one shy of Beth Morgan's school record set in 1996-97.
A State Farm Coaches' All-America and third-team AP All-America selection last year, Diggins also ranked second on the team with 32 double-digit scoring games, leading the squad in scoring 14 times and rolling up 10 20-point outings, including the last three NCAA Championship games against Tennessee (24), Connecticut (season-high 28) and Texas A&M (23). She added at least five assists in 22 different games (after having seven five-assist games her entire freshman season), capped by a career-high 12 assists against Oklahoma in the NCAA Dayton Regional semifinal, the most helpers ever for a Fighting Irish player in the NCAA tournament, and most in any game since 2000.
A unanimous first-team all-BIG EAST selection, the NCAA Dayton Regional Most Outstanding Player and a member of the NCAA Women's Final Four All-Tournament Team, as well as being a finalist for the three major national player-of-the-year awards (Wooden Award, Wade Trophy, Naismith Trophy) and the Nancy Lieberman Award (top point guard), Diggins also made history in that regional final win over Tennessee, becoming just the second Notre Dame player to score 1,000 career points in less than two seasons with the Fighting Irish (Morgan had exactly 1,000 points at the end of her sophomore season of 1994-95), and doing so in 72 games, tying for the fourth-fastest run to the scoring millennium in program history. Diggins currently ranks 24th on Notre Dame's all-time scoring list with 1,069 points.
Meanwhile, Novosel was easily one of the nation's most improved players in 2010-11, nabbing State Farm Coaches' honorable mention All-America and first-team all-BIG EAST laurels, as well as the BIG EAST's Most Improved Player award, after more than tripling her scoring average from a year ago from 5.0 points to a team-high 15.1 points per game. She also scored in double figures a team-best 33 times, the second-highest single-season total in school history (Gaither had 37 double-digit games in 1996-97) and nearly doubled her combined total of 17 from her first two years. What's more, Novosel had seven 20-point games (her career high entering the season was 19 points) and posted a team-best .413 three-point percentage, in addition to being second on the squad in steals (tied-1.9 spg.) and third in assists (1.9 apg.).
In 2010-11, Novosel set a new school record with 183 free throws made and 39 games started (tying with Peters and Becca Bruszewski), while her 232 free throw attempts were second-most in school history. In addition, she placed among the top 10 on the program's single-season charts for total points (7th - 588) and minutes played (9th - 1,102).
Peters (who garnered honorable mention preseason All-America status from the AP on Tuesday) also enjoyed her finest season at Notre Dame in 2010-11, having fully recovered from a pair of knee injuries earlier in her career. Peters set new career highs in virtually every category, ranking third on the team in scoring (11.9 ppg.) and tops in double-doubles (10), rebounding (7.5 rpg.), field goal percentage (.593), and blocked shots (1.7 bpg.), not to mention fourth in steals (1.7 spg.). Furthermore, she placed fifth in the country in field goal percentage, and ranked among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (22nd), rebounding (6th), field goal percentage (2nd), blocked shots (4th) and double-doubles (2nd). As if that weren't enough, she was one of just two players in the nation to record at least 60 blocks and 60 steals last season (she had 68 blocks and 66 steals), joining Illinois' Karisma Penn (78/62) in that select company.
Like Novosel, Peters was named a State Farm Coaches' honorable mention All-America and first-team all-BIG EAST selection in 2010-11, while also taking home BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year honors. She scored in double figures 25 times and tied the school record by starting all 39 games during Notre Dame's run to the NCAA national championship game. In that title clash against Texas A&M, Peters rang up a double-double with 21 points (on 8-of-10 shooting) and a game-high 11 rebounds, securing her place on the NCAA Women's Final Four All-Tournament Team.
Notre Dame also received six first-place votes in the 2011-12 AP preseason poll, the first time it has received consideration for the top spot since March 11, 2001, when the Fighting Irish earned five first-place votes (they were ranked No. 2 after falling at Connecticut, 79-76 in the BIG EAST tournament final). The previous week, Notre Dame had 33 first-place votes in its sixth week with the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll.
This latest preseason ranking marks the 78th consecutive AP poll appearance for the Fighting Irish, extending the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001). In fact, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career, spending more than half (40) of those appearances in the AP Top 10.
This year's No. 2 ranking also represents the 12th time in the past 13 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the preseason AP poll, something only nine schools in the nation have done -- Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee have shown up in all 13 during that span, while Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Stanford join the Fighting Irish with 12 preseason AP poll berths.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 217 weeks during the program's 35-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks 11th among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and also is 22nd all-time in that category.
In addition, the Fighting Irish are ranked No. 2 in the preseason ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, and like the AP poll, it's Notre Dame's best-ever preseason ranking, topping its No. 5 placement to begin the 2000-01 campaign. The Fighting Irish also collected five first-place votes in this year's preseason coaches' survey, their first nods for the top spot since the final '00-01 balloting, when they received all 40 first-place votes after winning the national championship.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 79 of the past 80 weeks, 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 210 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the fourth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 10 of the past 14 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Besides her 217 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 31 people on this list, 16 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart on previous page), 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).
Half And Half
Notre Dame had a two-year streak of 53 consecutive wins when leading at the half before falling to Texas A&M, 76-70, on April 5, 2011, in the NCAA national championship game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (Notre Dame led 35-33 at intermission).
Despite that season-ending loss, the Fighting Irish went 28-1 last year when they were up at the break.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
In the past two years, Notre Dame is 30-1 when topping the 80-point mark, including a 13-1 record last season (the exception being the aforementioned double-overtime loss to UCLA).
Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
For the third consecutive year, Notre Dame fans exhausted the program's season ticket packages (7,500) and have snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish already sell out the Jan. 23 game with Tennessee, push the Jan. 7 Connecticut game to a virtual sell-out, and put four other games (Dec. 20 vs. Central Florida, Feb. 5 vs. DePaul, Feb. 12 vs. West Virginia and Feb. 25 vs. South Florida) within striking distance of a sell out.
In fact, while some additional tickets may be available on the day or week of the game for individual contests this season (depending on returned inventory by visiting teams and other constituencies), it's entirely possible that Notre Dame will flirt with a sell out for every one of its home games during the 2010-11 regular season.
Hall of Fame Coach Muffet McGraw
McGraw was one of six people -- and the lone coach -- named to the 2011 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Class. The others in McGraw's Hall of Fame class included former Olympic gold medalists Ruthie Bolton (Auburn) and Vicky Bullett (Maryland), as well as Val Ackerman, the first WNBA president (1996-2005) and first female president of USA Basketball (2005-08), and a pair of three-time All-America players from the pre-NCAA era, Pearl Moore (Frances Marion) and Lometa Odom (Wayland Baptist).
In addition, the legendary All-American Red Heads, one of the nation's first women's basketball teams which barnstormed around the country from 1936-86, were honored for their contributions to the game with a display at the Hall entitled "Trailblazers of the Game," that was unveiled during the 2011 Induction Weekend.
McGraw is the first Notre Dame selection for the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. The Fighting Irish skipper also became the third BIG EAST Conference coach chosen for the honor, joining Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer (2001) and Connecticut's Geno Auriemma (2006) in that elite company. Seton Hall head coach Anne Donovan was a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inaugural class in 1999, going in for her efforts as a player at Old Dominion.
McGraw also was the seventh active college head coach to enter the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame on the basis of her success on the sidelines. Besides Stringer and Auriemma, the others on this notable list are: Pat Summitt (1999 - Tennessee), Tara VanDerveer (2002 - Stanford), Sylvia Hatchell (2004 - North Carolina) and Andy Landers (2007 - Georgia).
Fighting Irish On Your Radio Dial
LeSEA originates all Notre Dame women's basketball games, with those events carried on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), marking a return to the FM side of the dial for the first time since the 1998-99 season. Combined, these two stations blanket the nation's No. 91 media market (South Bend-Elkhart), covering a 21-county area in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan that contains more than 1.4 million listeners (better than 800,000 in the greater South Bend area alone). All told, Notre Dame's women's basketball network stretches from Kalamazoo, Mich., to the north, North Judson, Ind., to the west, Macy, Ind., (home of former Fighting Irish All-America center Ruth Riley) to the south, and LaGrange, Ind., to the east.
Women's basketball game broadcasts also continue to be streamed live and free of charge on Notre Dame's official athletics web site (www.UND.com) through the Fighting Irish Digital Media package.
Bob Nagle, the voice of Notre Dame women's basketball from 1996-97 through 1998-99 (including the program's first NCAA Final Four berth in 1997), returns for his fourth season in his second stint as the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame On The Small Screen
In addition, Notre Dame continues to expand its broadcast reach globally on the Internet. For the sixth consecutive season, all Fighting Irish regular-season home games not selected for commercial TV coverage (as well as the Nov. 2 exhibition vs. Windsor) will be webcast live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, www.UND.com, via the site's free Fighting Irish Video Channel.
This year's TV slate continues a trend that has seen the Fighting Irish become a regular fixture on television. Beginning with the NCAA championship season of 2000-01 and continuing through last Wednesday's exhibition game vs. Windsor (webcast live on UND.com), Notre Dame has played in 201 televised games, including 146 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Notre Dame Breaks New Ground With "Heart of the Irish" Service Initiative
The first of five cornerstone events for the 2011-12 "Heart of the Irish" drive will take place on Dec. 2, when Notre Dame plays host to Pennsylvania in a 7 p.m. (ET) game at Purcell Pavilion. During that game, the Fighting Irish will hold their annual Teddy Bear Toss, collecting new teddy bears and other stuffed animals for patients at Riley Children's Hospital, which serves many Michiana children, as well as local youth patients. The highlight of the event comes at halftime, when fans are invited to toss their stuffed animals onto the court, where they are then collected by volunteers.
Less than one week after the Teddy Bear Toss, Notre Dame will have a second outreach event called Food For Friends, to be held in conjunction with the Fighting Irish BIG EAST Conference opener against Marquette at 7 p.m. (ET) on Dec. 7 at Purcell Pavilion. Fans can bring to the game a variety of non-perishable food items that will be collected and delivered as part of the Food Drive for the St. Joseph Country chapter of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.
Notre Dame's next special "Heart of the Irish" event is entitled Reading One on One and it's scheduled for Jan. 17, when the Fighting Irish play host to Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. (ET) at Purcell Pavilion. The That evening, the team will collect children's books for the South Bend Community School Corporation in support of the Public Education Foundation.
The Fighting Irish will hold their annual fund-raising game in support of breast cancer awareness and research on Feb. 12 (3:30 p.m. ET vs. West Virginia) at Purcell Pavilion. Known locally as the Pink Zone game (and nationally renamed as Play4Kay), it will feature numerous informational booths and donation opportunities for fans to contribute to the fight against breast cancer, with the highlight being the always-memorable halftime ceremony to honor those who have been touched by (and in many cases, conquered) the disease. Last year, Notre Dame raised more than $130,000 through its Pink Zone game for the Foundation of Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center and the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, lifting its three-year donation total to more than a quarter of a million dollars.
The last event in the "Heart of the Irish" series comes on Valentine's Day (Feb. 14), when Notre Dame welcomes Providence to Purcell Pavilion for a 7 p.m. (ET) tipoff. This will be the inaugural Splish Splash, in which fans can bring towels, wash cloths or toiletries such as small bottles of shampoo, soap or toothpaste for the YWCA of St. Joseph County.
Throughout the season, the Fighting Irish also will recognize community leaders who have made exceptional contributions.
In addition to this five-event series, Notre Dame women's basketball will take part in a cooperative effort with the University's Office of Sustainability as the Fighting Irish encourage all fans to recycle in their daily lives, particularly when they attend Notre Dame basketball games at Purcell Pavilion.
Originally called the "Spirit of Giving" program, Notre Dame's community outreach efforts began in earnest during the summer of 2009. Since then, Fighting Irish players, coaches, staff and fans have taken part in hundreds of hours of service projects designed to give back to the South Bend and greater Michiana communities.
The Notre Dame women's basketball team was honored for its community outreach efforts in 2008-09, receiving the Trophy Award (symbolic of the Fighting Irish program with the most service hours in one academic year) from the Notre Dame athletics department.
Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
In the five-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 26 times, including wins last year over Michigan Tech (exhibition), New Hampshire, Morehead State, IUPUI, Wake Forest, Creighton and Southeast Missouri State and Seton Hall.
It should come as no surprise that in the short history of the promotion, the Notre Dame player with the most "Big Mac" baskets shares the same initials with the tasty burger -- fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, who has sent the crowd home happy (and presumably with full bellies) five times, including four during the promotion's inaugural run in 2007-08.
And for those tracking such things (or perhaps falling under the heading of "media relations director has too much time on his hands"), 15 different players have converted the "burger ball", including five current members of the Fighting Irish roster.
What's more, of the 26 Big Mac games to date, 13 have been reached on two-point baskets, nine on free throws, and four on three-pointers.
Next Game: Preseason WNIT Second Round
Notre Dame is 22-2 all-time against Detroit and has won 16 consecutive games in the series, having played the Titans at least once annually from 1983-95 when both teams were members of the North Star and Midwestern Collegiate conferences. The Fighting Irish have never played Indiana State on the hardwood.