Nov. 19, 2012
#5/6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-0 / 0-0 BIG EAST) vs. Mercer Bears (3-0 / 0-0 Atlantic Sun)
DATE: November 20, 2012
No. 5/6 Irish Back Home Tuesday To Take On Mercer
Playing in front of the first sellout crowd for a home opener in school history, Notre Dame (2-0) rolled to its second win in as many outings on the young 2012-13 season, downing Massachusetts, 94-50 on Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish used a 17-0 run midway through the first half to take control, shooting 55.4 percent from the floor and forcing 34 UMass turnovers on the day.
Other Notre Dame Notables
In its most recent victory last Saturday over Jacksonville State, Mercer rode a frenzied defense that forced 24 turnovers and converted those takeaways into 21 points. The Bears also were sharp at the foul line (24-of-31) and got some strong bench play to secure the win.
A pair of sophomore guards did the most damage for Mercer against JSU, with Precious Bridges scoring a game-high 18 points and Tabitha Bradshaw coming on as the Bears' super-sub to add 16 points (6-11 FG, 3-5 3FG).
Bridges comes into Tuesday's contest at Notre Dame averaging a team-high 17.3 points per game, while Bradshaw is second on the squad in scoring (13.0 ppg.). Redshirt junior guard Kendra Grant is well on the road to recovery after being sidelined last year by injury, averaging 12.0 ppg., while 6-foot-5 sophomore center Teanna Robinson is collecting 6.3 points and a team-high 10.0 rebounds per game.
Head coach Susie Gardner is in her third season at Mercer with an 11-50 (.180) record at the Macon, Ga., school. Adding in her prior stops at Austin Peay (1996-2003) and Arkansas (2003-07), Gardner has a 14-year career coaching record of 187-197 (.487), including an 0-1 mark against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Mercer Series
The Last Time Notre Dame And Mercer Met
"Let's keep doing it."
The No. 3 Fighting Irish kept piling up the points -- and the school records, including for most points in a game -- and overwhelmed Mercer, 128-42 on Dec. 30, 2011, at University Center (now Hawkins Arena) in Macon, Ga.
"I thought we executed really well," McGraw said.
The rout was painful, said Mercer's Ry'van Buchanan.
"We've got to go get some ice, put it on our behinds and just keep learning," Buchanan said.
Mercer coach Susie Gardner, who played on two Final Four teams at Georgia, called Notre Dame "just a great team."
"They're not huge, they're not overly `wow' athletic, but they play so hard," Gardner said. "They just know the game. They're just basketball players."
The Fighting Irish needed only the first 10 minutes of the second half to reach 100 points.
Mercer couldn't run its offense effectively against the pressure of Notre Dame's man-to-man defense. The Bears had 28 turnovers, leading to 55 points for the Fighting Irish.
Briana Williams led Mercer with 10 points but made only 2 of 12 shots from the field.
Notre Dame led 72-30 at halftime to easily set a team record for the most points in a half, topping the 62 points it scored in the second half against West Virginia on Jan. 9, 1997.
The Fighting Irish made 24 of 30 shots (80 percent) from the field in the dominant half.
Notre Dame came within one point of matching the team record for the biggest halftime lead -- 43 points at 58-15 against Indiana State on Nov. 13, 2011.
Buchanan opened the game with a basket for Mercer. Notre Dame scored the next 17 points, as its defense caused an immediate rash of turnovers for the Bears.
Mercer managed to attempt only two shots from the field before Sharmesia Smith scored with 15:13 remaining in the half to end Notre Dame's 17-0 run.
McGraw said she scheduled the game to give Atlanta native Fraderica Miller a chance to play in her home state. Miller, a senior guard, made her first career start and had eight points, 11 rebounds and three steals.
Other Notre Dame-Mercer Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Atlantic Sun Conference
The Atlantic Sun is based in Macon, Ga., was established in 1978 as the Trans America Athletic Conference (TAAC) before changing to its current name in 2001. Mercer (which also is located in Macon, Ga.) is the lone remaining charter member of the conference, which currently includes 10 teams.
When faced with such a tight turnaround, the Fighting Irish have risen to the occasion in recent seasons, going 28-9 (.757) on the back half of these two-game (or more) blitzes during the past four years (12-2 last season).
The only Notre Dame losses last season when playing on short rest came at No. 4 Connecticut (March 6 in BIG EAST Championship final when Notre Dame was playing for third consecutive day) and against No. 1 Baylor (April 3 in the NCAA national championship game at the Pepsi Center in Denver).
Game #2 Recap: Massachusetts
"I thought we did a lot of good things on the offensive side, but I thought we could have rebounded a little bit better," said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw. "We've got a lot of things to work on. It's early in the year, we're still finding our way."
The Fighting Irish (2-0) only led by four early on before using a 17-0 run to blow the game open. Notre Dame used its defense to take control, forcing 20 turnovers in the first half that led to 30 points.
"We've really been working hard at double-teaming, running at the ball, and trying to have our defense get their offense to feel really uncomfortable," McGraw said. "I was disappointed we didn't take more charges but overall I thought we had a good awareness today of where their shooters were."
Offensively the Fighting Irish had four players in double figures and had 26 assists.
"I think we're a good passing team. It's like last year's team," said Diggins, who had seven assists. "We have a lot of weapons. We have a lot of people who can score. It's just a matter of finding the open player. I think sometimes we overpass a little bit and try to think too much for each other. But that's something that we're learning. I like that we're sharing the ball."
UMass coach Sharon Dawley scheduled the game for her senior center, Jasmine Watson, a South Bend native. Watson and Diggins led South Bend Washington High School to the state title game their senior year (2008-09).
Watson was one of four Minutewomen to lead the team in scoring with eight points. She led both teams with eight rebounds, but fouled out with 7:25 left in the game.
Dawley, noting she has three other players from Michigan and one from Ohio, said her team might have been caught up in the moment.
"We wanted to bring Jas home and I think everyone just got too caught up in the emotional side, where we're playing, who we're playing, how good they are," Dawley said. "Sometimes you can try too hard and look awful, and I think that's what happened. I think we played better in the second half because we just decided to play basketball."
Beyond The Box Score: Massachusetts
Diggins Challenging School Records
The Best Things In Life Are Free
Through their first two games, the Fighting Irish are shooting a remarkable .889 (40-of-45) from the charity stripe, including a season-high .905 (19-of-21) in Sunday's home-opening win over Massachusetts.
Last year, Notre Dame set a school record by connecting at a .763 clip from the foul line, leading the BIG EAST with a stellar .807 percentage during conference play.
Junior guard Kayla McBride has had the most success cashing in on this strategy during the past two seasons, shooting .872 from the stripe last year (a league-leading .919 in BIG EAST games) and making all four of her free throws so far this season.
For her career, McBride has logged an .874 free throw percentage, moving slightly ahead of Alicia Ratay's .872 school-record mark from 1999-2003.
The game was played to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project, which aids returning veterans who have been injured while in the service of our country, and the Fighting Irish were exceptionally proud and honored to have former Notre Dame guard, U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (`00) join the team on the bench for their historic game against Ohio State. Green, who lost her left (shooting) hand in May 2004 during a rocket-propelled grenade attack while on patrol on the roof of a police station in Baghdad, Iraq, delivered an inspiring pre-game speech to the current Fighting Irish squad before they came out to face Ohio State.
Notre Dame won this year's Carrier Classic game, 57-51, behind the second career double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) from junior forward Natalie Achonwa and 16 points from junior guard Kayla McBride. After the game, head coach Muffet McGraw said the victory was dedicated to Green.
Notre Dame Picked Second In 2012-13 BIG EAST Coaches' Preseason Poll
Connecticut was the preseason BIG EAST favorite by the conference coaches, earning 194 total points, including 12 of a possible 15 first-place votes. Notre Dame was second, collecting 182 points along with the remaining three first-place votes. Louisville (167 points), St. John's (144 points) and Rutgers (143 points) rounded out the top five in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches Poll, with league skippers not allowed to vote for their own teams or players.
Diggins AP Preseason All-American/BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year
Most notably, she was a unanimous choice for the Associated Press Preseason All-America Team, appearing on that squad for the second consecutive year. She is the first Fighting Irish player to garner AP Preseason All-America honors twice in her career.
In addition, Diggins was chosen as the BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, becoming the first Fighting Irish player to receive that accolade more than once. A year ago, Diggins followed up her preseason selection by earning BIG EAST Player of the Year honors at the end of the 2011-12 campaign.
Diggins also was a unanimous choice for the preseason all-conference team for the third consecutive year. What's more, she already has been named to the State Farm Wade Trophy Watch List, and is a prime candidate for all other major national honors in 2012-13.
Last season, Diggins was a consensus first-team All-America selection (including her spot on the State Farm Coaches All-America Team, as selected by the WBCA), and she was a finalist for every major national player-of-the-year award, taking home the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation's top point guard. She also was chosen as the BIG EAST Player of the Year (the third Notre Dame player to be so honored and the first since 2005) and is a two-time unanimous first-team all-conference selection.
The Diggins Factor
Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 18 losses in Diggins' career primarily have been ones that could have gone either way, with 11 decided by single digits (six were in doubt inside the final minute), and two that went to overtime.
With Diggins in uniform, the Fighting Irish have posted three of the top 10 most prolific offensive seasons in school history, averaging 78.9 ppg. last year, after logging 77.0 ppg. in 2010-11, and 77.2 ppg. in her freshman season of 2009-10.
In addition, thanks to Diggins' penchant for steals (she has a 2.37 spg. career mark that is fourth-best in school history), the Fighting Irish have recorded the top three single-season steal marks in program history with 502 thefts last year, 495 steals in 2010-11, and 450 thefts in 2009-10.
The past two years also have seen Notre Dame post two of the four best defensive scoring average in school history, allowing a school-record 52.9 ppg., last season (well ahead of the previous mark of 55.1 ppg., in 1981-82) and giving up just 56.2 ppg., in 2010-11.
The No. 5 ranking also marks the 99th 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 nearly all (49) of those appearances in the AP Top 10 (and never lower than 18th).
This year's No. 7 preseason ranking also represented the 13th time in the past 14 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the preseason AP poll, something only seven schools in the nation have done -- Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee have shown up in all 14 during that span, while Georgia, Oklahoma and Stanford join the Fighting Irish with 13 preseason AP poll berths.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the AP poll for 238 weeks during the program's 36-year history, with every one of those appearances coming in the Muffet McGraw era (since 1987-88). McGraw ranks ninth among all active NCAA Division I head coaches for weeks in the AP poll, and 20th all-time in that category.
In addition, the Fighting Irish was No. 6 in last week's ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, the same place they held in the preseason balloting. The new coaches' poll will come out on Tuesday, prior to the matchup with Mercer.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 98 of the past 99 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 231 weeks during their history (all coming during McGraw's tenure).
This marks the fifth consecutive season Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today/WBCA poll, as well as 11 of the past 15 campaigns (1998-99 to present).
More Polling Data
Besides her 238 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 32 people on this list, 15 currently are NCAA Division I head coaches (see accompanying chart), 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 and 2012).
Half And Half
What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 86-2 (.977) when leading at the half, with the only losses coming on April 5, 2011, in the NCAA national championship game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (Notre Dame led Texas A&M, 35-33 at intermission before falling 76-70), and Feb. 12, 2012, against West Virginia (Fighting Irish led 33-30 at the break before the visiting Mountaineers rallied to win in the closing seconds, 65-63).
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
In the past four years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 46-2 (.958) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level for the first time this season in Sunday's win over Massachusetts.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
The Fighting Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 104 of their last 112 non-BIG EAST contests (.929) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the eight losses in that span came at the hands of Big Ten Conference opponents (four by 12 points or less) -- Wisconsin in 1996 (81-69), Purdue in 2003 (71-54), Michigan State in 2004 (82-73 OT), Indiana in 2006 (54-51) and Minnesota in 2009 (79-71) -- with the other defeats coming to Tennessee in 2005 (62-51) and 2008 (87-63), and to UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT). The Purdue loss also snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak which began after the UW setback.
Since its inaugural season in 1977-78, Notre Dame has played all of its games at the former Joyce Center, posting a 372-89 (.807) record at the venerable facility. Three times (1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04), the Fighting Irish went a perfect 15-0 at home, which was the school record for home victories in a season prior to the 2009-10 campaign, when Notre Dame went 16-1, a mark that lasted only two seasons before the Fighting Irish posted a 17-1 record at Purcell Pavilion last year.
Irish Are The Hottest Ticket In Town
For the fourth consecutive preseason, Notre Dame fans all but exhausted the program's season ticket packages (approximately 7,500) and have snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish already sell out the Dec. 5 game with Baylor and March 4 Connecticut game.
Notre Dame got its home slate off to a fine start at the box office on Nov. 18, welcoming the first home-opening sellout in school history for its victory over Massachusetts. That capacity crowd also was the 26th in the program's 36-year tenure, including the 20th in the past four years alone.
While some individual tickets may be made available on the day or week of the game for selected contests this season (depending on returned inventory by visiting teams and other constituencies), it's entirely possible that, for the second consecutive season, Notre Dame will flirt with a sell out for every one of its home games.
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-Mishawaka-Elkhart), covering a 21-county area in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan that contains approximately 1.5 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 (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 fifth 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 seventh consecutive season, all Fighting Irish home games not selected for commercial TV coverage will be streamed live and free of charge on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com.
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 Sunday's home opener against Massachusetts (streamed live on UND.com), Notre Dame has played in 236 televised games, including 180 that were broadcast nationally.
Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
In the six-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 36 times, most recently on Sunday against Massachusetts.
Junior forward Ariel Braker and sophomore forward Markisha Wright are the leaders among current Fighting Irish players, with both players have registered three "Big Mac baskets" during their respective careers.
And for those tracking such things (or perhaps falling under the heading of "the media relations director has way too much time on his hands"), 20 different players have converted the "burger ball", including seven current members of the Fighting Irish roster.
What's more, of the 36 Big Mac games, 17 have been reached on two-point baskets, 13 on free throws, and six on three-pointers.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Coming Soon: Irish in the ACC
The change in conference affiliation (for which a timetable has not yet been established) will be the first for Notre Dame since 1995, when the Fighting Irish moved from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) to the BIG EAST Conference.
In its 18 seasons in the BIG EAST, the Notre Dame women's basketball program has been the one of the conference's best, winning two BIG EAST regular-season titles (2001 and 2012) and compiling a 216-64 (.771) record in league play that remains the second-best regular-season winning percentage in BIG EAST women's basketball history.
Next Game: UCLA
The Bruins (2-0) should come into Friday's game well-rested, having last played on Nov. 14, when they went on the road to knock off No. 11/10 Oklahoma, 86-80. Senior forward Alyssia Brewer (a transfer from Tennessee) led UCLA with a double-double (15 points, 16 rebounds), while junior guard Thea Lemberger scored a team-high 18 points.
Notre Dame and UCLA will be playing for the 14th time in series history, with the Bruins holding a 9-4 lead (5-1 at Pauley Pavilion where the two sides haven't met since 1997). The teams last squared off on Nov. 18, 2010, with UCLA edging the Fighting Irish, 86-83 in double overtime at Purcell Pavilion.