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    Fighting Irish
    #5 Irish Welcome Utah State To Town For Saturday Matinee

    FIGHTING IRISH Junior forward Natalie Achonwa is off to the best start of her Notre Dame career, averaging a near double-double (13.2 ppg., 9.2 rpg.) while shooting .566 from the field.
    FIGHTING IRISH
    Junior forward Natalie Achonwa is off to the best start of her Notre Dame career, averaging a near double-double (13.2 ppg., 9.2 rpg.) while shooting .566 from the field.
    FIGHTING IRISH

    Dec. 7, 2012

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    2012-13 ND Women's Basketball: Game 7
    #5/5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-1 / 0-0 BIG EAST) vs. Utah State Aggies (2-6 / 0-0 WAC)

    DATE: December 8, 2012
    TIME: Noon ET
    AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
    SERIES: First meeting
    VIDEO: UND.com (live)
    RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
    LIVE STATS: UND.com
    TWITTER: @ndwbbsid
    TICKETS: (574) 631-7356 / UND.com/tickets

    Storylines

  • Notre Dame meets the first of two first-time opponents this season, with the Fighting Irish owning a 32-3 (.914) record against new opposition since the 2000-01 season.
  • Since joining the BIG EAST 18 years ago, Notre Dame is 60-14 (.811) in its first game after a double-digit loss, including a current eight-game winning streak.
  • No. 5 Fighting Irish Welcome Utah State To Town For Saturday Matinee
    With the challenges of the final exam period on the horizon, No. 5 Notre Dame has a chance to close the textbooks for a few hours as it plays host to Utah State at noon (ET) at Purcell Pavilion. The game, which will be the last for the Fighting Irish before an 11-day break for exams, will be streamed live on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com.

    The Fighting Irish (5-1) will be seeking to bounce back from their first loss of the 2012-13 season, a 73-61 setback against No. 3 Baylor on Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion. In a rematch of last year's NCAA national championship game, Notre Dame pushed the Bears nearly to the breaking point before BU used a 10-0 run in the final seven minutes to pull clear.

    Freshman guard Jewell Loyd had a stellar night with a game-high 24 points (making 4-of-5 from three-point range) and team-best seven rebounds. Junior guard Kayla McBride added 18 points and junior forward Natalie Achonwa contributed 11 points for the Fighting Irish.

    Rankings

  • Notre Dame is No. 5 in this week's Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.
  • Utah State is not ranked.
  • Quick Hitters

  • With its No. 5 ranking in this week's Associated Press poll, Notre Dame has appeared in the media poll for 101 consecutive weeks, extending a program record that dates back to the 2007-08 preseason poll. In fact, every current Fighting Irish player has competed for a ranked Notre Dame squad throughout her career, with the vast majority of that time (51 of 62 weeks) spent in the AP Top 10.
  • The Fighting Irish also held down the No. 7 spot in the preseason AP poll, making the first media poll in 13 of the past 14 years (since 1999-2000), something only six other schools in the country can match.
  • Senior guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner have helped Notre Dame win 100 games to date, matching the most victories by a Fighting Irish class in its first 119 games, first set by the one-player 2001-02 senior class of Ericka Haney, who was a part of 100 wins in the same number of career games, which came midway through her senior year (a run that was highlighted the 2001 national championship).
  • With 596 victories in her 26 seasons at Notre Dame, head coach Muffet McGraw ranks second on the Fighting Irish athletics all-time coaching wins list (across all sports), trailing only men's/women's fencing coach Michael DeCicco (774-80 from 1962-95).
  • McGraw also is 16 wins away from becoming the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and should she do so within the next 58 games, she would be the 11th to compile 700 victories in less than 1,000 games coached). What's more, when McGraw reaches the 700-win milestone, she will be the third BIG EAST Conference skipper to hit that landmark, along with C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers) and Geno Auriemma (Connecticut), both of whom are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
  • Other Notre Dame Notables

  • Notre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past 17 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking fourth with 414 victories.
  • Notre Dame has ranked among the top 20 in the nation in average attendance annually since 2000-01 (including top-five rankings the past three years), and is off to another hot start at the box office this year, averaging 8,863 fans per game. Last season, the Fighting Irish ranked fifth in the nation (8,571), setting a school record for average attendance for the third consecutive season. The Fighting Irish also have drawn at least 5,000 fans to 179 of their last 181 home games (including an active streak of 22 consecutive contests with 8,000 fans), logging 27 Purcell Pavilion sellouts, including 21 in the past four seasons (a school-record eight in 2011-12). Notre Dame already has two home sellouts this season, most recently for Wednesday's matchup with Baylor.
  • The Fighting Irish have become a regular fixture in the WNBA Draft in recent years, as nine Notre Dame players have been selected in the past 12 seasons. Devereaux Peters and Natalie Novosel were the most recent Fighting Irish players to be chosen, with both going in the first round (Peters third overall to Minnesota; Novosel eighth overall to Washington) of the 2012 WNBA Draft. Last year's draft marked the first time Notre Dame has had two first-round picks in the same year, while Peters was the highest-drafted player (and first lottery selection) in program history. Ruth Riley (Chicago) was active in the league during the '12 season, helping the Sky contend for a playoff berth into the final weeks of the season. Three of Notre Dame's 10 all-time WNBA alums have won a total of four league championships -- Riley won a pair of crowns with the Detroit Shock (2003 Finals MVP, 2006), Coquese Washington toiled for the 2000 Houston Comets, while Jacqueline Batteast was Riley's teammate on the 2006 title-winning squad in Detroit. Peters nearly joined that list in 2012, helping Minnesota return to the WNBA Finals, but the Lynx could not defend their title, falling to Indiana in four games.
  • For the sixth year in a row, the Fighting Irish posted a perfect 100-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR), according to figures released by the NCAA in October. What's more, Notre Dame was one of only four schools in the previous five years to record a 100-percent GSR and play for a national championship in the same season (and the only program to do it twice, pulling off that feat in 2011 and 2012).
  • Scouting Utah State
    Utah State returns seven letterwinners, including three starters from last year's squad that posted a 21-10 record and reached the first round of the WNIT, while also finishing second in the Western Athletic Conference with a school-record 11-3 mark.

    This year's Aggies (2-6) have been living out of their duffel bags for the first month of the season, with Saturday's game at Notre Dame marking their eighth contest away from home. That extensive road swing not only includes the visit to South Bend (3,000 miles round trip from USU's campus in Logan, Utah), but a 6,000-mile round-trip journey north to Anchorage, Alaska, for the Great Alaska Shootout during the Thanksgiving weekend.

    Utah State last played on Tuesday night, dropping a slim 81-77 decision at in-state rival BYU. The Aggies led by as many as six points early, then trailed by double digits in the second half before a late rally came up short. Senior guard Jenna Johnson led four USU players in double figures with 18 points (7-10 FG).

    Sharpshooting senior guard Devyn Christiansen leads the Aggies' attack, averaging 22.3 points per game while attempting better than 10 three-pointers a night (she's shooting .346 from the arc). Johnson is second in scoring (13.5 ppg.) and tops in rebounding (6.5 rpg.), while sophomore center Franny Vaaulu added 10.0 points per game and a team-high .559 field goal percentage.

    Head coach Jerry Finkbeiner is in his first season at Utah State after a 15-year run at Oral Roberts (1996-2012) and six prior seasons at NAIA power Southern Nazarene, which he led to three national titles (1994-96). Finkbeiner has a 456-238 (.657) career record, including a 275-214 (.562) NCAA Division I mark, with Saturday's game being his first against Notre Dame.

    The Notre Dame-Utah State Series
    Notre Dame and Utah State will be playing for the first time on Saturday afternoon. This year's game came about through the friendship that developed in recent years between the Fighting Irish coaching staff and former Aggies head coach Raegan Pebley, who left USU this past summer to take the top spot at Fresno State (after the Notre Dame-Utah State matchup already had been arranged).

    Other Notre Dame-Utah State Series Tidbits

  • Utah State will be the first of two first-time opponents on this year's Notre Dame schedule (coincidentally, the next Fighting Irish opponent -- Alabama A&M -- also is a new foe). Notre Dame has won its last eight games against first-time opponents, including all six last season, a run that was capped by a 79-35 victory over No. 21/25 St. Bonaventure in the NCAA Raleigh Regional semifinals (Sweet Sixteen) on March 25, 2012, at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.
  • Notre Dame is 52-7 (.881) against first-time opponents since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, including a 32-3 (.914) mark vs. new teams since the start of the 2000-01 season.
  • The Fighting Irish have won 27 consecutive home games against first-time opponents, dating back to Jan. 18, 1996, when Connecticut posted an 87-64 win at Purcell Pavilion.
  • Utah State will be the 194th different opponent in the 36-year history of Notre Dame women's basketball.
  • Notre Dame has never had a Utah native on its roster, one of only 13 states in the Union that have yet to produce a Fighting Irish women's basketball player since the program achieved varsity status in 1977-78. The others on this short list are: Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota and Vermont.
  • Notre Dame and Utah State have played twice in men's basketball, with the Fighting Irish winning both times. The teams first met on Dec. 21, 1967, in Logan, Utah, with Notre Dame earning a narrow 73-72 victory. Late in the following season (Feb. 15, 1969), the two sides squared off again, this time at Purcell Pavilion, where the Fighting Irish posted a 108-82 win.
  • The only other team Notre Dame and Utah State met in athletic competition was on March 15, 2001, when the Fighting Irish softball team defeated the Aggies, 6-0 at the Kia Klassic in Fullerton, Calif.
  • Utah State football assistant head coach (running backs/tight ends) Mike Sanford spent two seasons (1997-98) as the quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame during head coach Bob Davie's first two seasons in South Bend.
  • Notre Dame vs. The Western Athletic Conference
    Notre Dame is 2-3 (.400) all-time against the current Western Athletic Conference membership, with an 0-1 record at home (although it should be noted Utah State is in its final season in the WAC before joining the Mountain West Conference in 2013-14).

    The Fighting Irish will be playing a current WAC school for the first time since Dec. 28, 1990, when they defeated then-No. 11 Louisiana Tech, 71-66 in the opening round of the Texaco-Hawk Classic, hosted by head coach Muffet McGraw's alma mater, Saint Joseph's (Pa.), in Philadelphia. That remains the only time a McGraw-coached Fighting Irish team has faced a WAC opponent.

    Louisiana Tech also was the opponent the only prior time a current WAC member visited Purcell Pavilion on Feb. 11, 1983, with the then-defending national champion Lady Techsters taking an 81-39 victory.

    Notre Dame's other victory against the present WAC alignment came on Jan. 4, 1986, when the Fighting Irish ousted Texas State, 68-43 in the consolation game of Miami's Burger King Classic in Coral Gables, Fla.

    Earlier this week, the WAC announced Chicago State would be joining the conference for the 2013-14 season. Notre Dame faced the Cougars twice before, winning both meetings in 1979 (78-55) and 1980 (68-61), which occurred at the Northern Illinois Huskie Invitational in DeKalb, Ill.

    One final side note -- the Fighting Irish indirectly crossed paths with current WAC member Seattle University just two years ago (Dec. 29-30, 2010), when they visited the Pacific Northwest to take part in SU's State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic at Key Arena (also the home of the WNBA's Seattle Storm). Notre Dame defeated Gonzaga (70-61) and Loyola Marymount (91-47) to claim the tournament title, with current Fighting Irish junior guard Kayla McBride scoring a career-high 20 points in the win over LMU, while two-time Notre Dame All-America forward (and future WNBA first-round/lottery draft pick) Devereaux Peters was named the tournament's most valuable player.

    It All Started With The WAC
    As noted, the Fighting Irish will be squaring off against a current member of the Western Athletic Conference for the first time in nearly 22 years, dating back to a 71-66 victory over 11th-ranked Louisiana Tech on Dec. 28, 1990, in Philadelphia in the first round of the Texaco-Hawk Classic, hosted by head coach Muffet McGraw's alma mater, Saint Joseph's (Pa.).

    That result stood as the highest-ranked opponent Notre Dame defeated in its first 18 seasons of existence (from 1977-78 to 1995-96), along with being the third of what is now a total of 89 wins over Top 25 opponents by the Fighting Irish during McGraw's legendary Hall of Fame coaching career.

    When Notre Dame followed up its historic victory over Louisiana Tech with a 72-53 win over Saint Joseph's the following night in the tournament title game, it led Mel Greenberg, the longtime Philadelphia Inquirer Hall of Fame sportswriter (and founder of the Associated Press poll) to opine that "they were the kinds of wins that get a team noticed on the national level."

    Sure enough, two days later on New Year's Eve 1990, Notre Dame entered the AP poll for the first time in program history at No. 25, remaining there for the next nine weeks. It remains one of the small (and sometimes forgotten) first steps for the Fighting Irish on the road to where they now reside as one of college basketball's elite powers.

    Oh, Beehive!
    Notre Dame is 4-0 all-time against teams from the state of Utah. Three of those wins came against the Beehive State's flagship institution, including two against the Utes in NCAA Championship play (69-54 on March 24, 2001, in Denver at NCAA Midwest Regional semifinals; 68-55 on Dec. 18, 2005, in Las Vegas at Duel in the Desert championship game; 67-54 on March 19, 2011, in Salt Lake City in NCAA Championship Dayton Region first-round game).

    Notre Dame's only other game against a Utah school came early in head coach Muffet McGraw's first season under the Golden Dome (Dec. 5, 1987), when the Fighting Irish defeated BYU, 81-69, in the consolation game of the UWGB Phoenix Classic in Green Bay, Wis.

    Saturday's game against Utah State will mark the first time a women's basketball team from the Beehive State has played at Purcell Pavilion.

    Caution -- Falling Bears!
    Saturday's game has been designated for the eighth annual Notre Dame Women's Basketball Teddy Bear Toss, in which fans bring teddy bears and other stuffed animals to donate to several South Bend-area children's charities.

    Following the game, on the public address announcer's cue, fans are invited to toss their teddy bears onto the court at Purcell Pavilion, creating the memorable sight of stuffed animals raining down on the floor (and occasionally pelting an unsuspecting media member or game official sitting courtside).

    Last year, the Notre Dame women's basketball program collected more than 2,000 stuffed animals through its Teddy Bear Toss, with those donations later presented to patients at Riley Children's Hospital in South Bend.

    Game #6 Recap: Baylor
    Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw took solace in her team's effort in another loss to No. 3 Baylor.

    Even though her young, yet fifth-ranked Fighting Irish were beaten by the Bears -- just as they were in the national title game last season -- McGraw thinks her squad offered more of a challenge this time.

    The game was tied with seven minutes to go when Baylor (7-1) used a 10-0 run to pull away en route to a 73-61 victory Wednesday night over Notre Dame, which has only two starters back from last year's team.

    "We were much better than we were last year, with a much younger team -- and they have the same team. So I was pleased. I think we've gotten better," she said. "I think when we watch the tape, we're going to see so many growing mistakes."

    Brittney Griner had 24 points and 14 rebounds, three other Baylor players scored in double figures and the Bears won the battle inside. They outscored the Fighting Irish, 36-26 in the paint and outrebounded them, 44-35.

    The bright spot for Notre Dame was freshman guard Jewell Loyd scoring a season-high 24 points. Loyd said she felt comfortable playing in her first big game.

    "I just came to the game thinking it was just another home game, and I got into a rhythm early," she said.

    Odyssey Sims returned after missing four games with a hamstring injury and added 16 points for Baylor. Brooklyn Pope added 14 points for the Bears, and Jordan Madden scored 12 points.

    Kayla McBride had 18 points for Notre Dame and Natalie Achonwa scored 11 points while chipping in seven rebounds. No one else scored for the Fighting Irish.

    BU head coach Kim Mulkey said she was impressed by Loyd.

    "She's a tremendous jump shooter. Not many can take it off the dribble and shoot a jump shot. She's a special talent," she said.

    However, despite the sellout crowd of 9,149, the Fighting Irish couldn't knock off the defending national champions as the men did six days earlier against Kentucky on the same floor.

    Beyond The Box Score: Baylor

  • Notre Dame suffers its first loss of the season, while dropping to 2-1 against Top 25 opponents this year.
  • Loyd narrowly missed a spot in the school record books with her 4-for-5 performance from three-point range, with the lone miss coming on a desperation shot with 14 seconds left. The last Notre Dame player to go 4-for-4 from long distance was Natalie Novosel (March 5, 2012, vs. West Virginia in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals at Hartford, Conn.), while the last to do so at Purcell Pavilion was Brittany Mallory (Nov. 17, 2011, vs. Hartford in the Preseason WNIT semifinals).
  • Wednesday's 12-point margin of defeat was the largest against Notre Dame at Purcell Pavilion since March 1, 2010, when Connecticut posted a 76-51 victory.
  • Baylor's .492 field goal percentage, .933 free throw percentage and 24 assists were Fighting Irish opponent season highs, while BU's .125 three-point percentage was an opponent season low.
  • The Bears' .933 free throw percentage also was third-best by a visiting team in Purcell Pavilion history, and best since Jan. 8, 2011, when Connecticut made 26-of-27 foul shots (.963) in a 79-76 victory.
  • Sims tied the second-best individual free throw percentage for a visiting player in arena history, and best since Connecticut's Kelly Faris also went 10-for-10 from the line in the aforementioned January 2011 game at Purcell Pavilion.
  • Notre Dame broke out its fourth different uniform combination of the season, sporting white jerseys and shorts with lime green accents (in support of the promotional "Lime Out" in the arena, highlighting the unofficial color of Notre Dame women's basketball and the favorite shade of head coach Muffet McGraw).
  • Notre Dame registered its second sellout in three home games this season, as well as its 27th sellout all-time and 21st in the past four years.
  • Crown Jewell
    Freshman guard Jewell Loyd is rapidly making her presence felt as one of the top rookies, not only in the BIG EAST Conference, but around the country.

    The Lincolnwood, Ill., native has appeared in all six games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting five times), scoring in double figures four times and posting two "5-5-5" games (at least "5" in three of the five main statistical categories - points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals).

    For the season, Loyd ranks among the top 20 in the BIG EAST in scoring (12th - 14.5 ppg.), rebounding (16th - 6.2 rpg.), three-point percentage (tie-3rd - .500) and assist/turnover ratio (12th - 1.80). She also was the BIG EAST Rookie of the Week on Nov. 26 after averaging 19.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists with a .727 field goal percentage in wins over Mercer (19 points/six rebounds/five assists) and at No. 19/22 UCLA (19 points/seven rebounds/five assists).

    Loyd opened eyes on the national scene with a game-high 24 points and team-best seven rebounds in Wednesday's 73-61 loss to third-ranked Baylor. The 5-foot-10 guard connected on her first four three-point attempts of the evening (finishing 4-of-5 from beyond the arc) on the way to notching the most points by a Fighting Irish rookie against a ranked opponent since Jan. 26, 2002, when Jacqueline Batteast scored 26 points in Notre Dame's 64-57 win over No. 16/17 Virginia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.

    What's more, Loyd also scored the most points by a Notre Dame freshman against an opponent ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll since Feb. 19, 2000, when Alicia Ratay netted 26 points (including a school-record 7-for-7 three-pointers) in a 78-74 overtime win at No. 8/11 Rutgers.

    Spreading The Wealth
    Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in four of its six games this year. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 56-4 (.933) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 26-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul).

    Mix And Match
    Notre Dame is off to a 5-1 start in a very unique way this season, with the Fighting Irish rolling out five different starting lineups in their first five games. It was the first time in Notre Dame's 36-year women's basketball history that the Fighting Irish had a different starting five in each of their first five games, with one having to go back to 1991-92 to find the last time Notre Dame had even four unique lineups in five games.

    The Fighting Irish finally repeated a starting lineup in their sixth game this season (Dec. 5 against Baylor), with the combination of junior forwards Natalie Achonwa and Ariel Braker, plus senior guard Skylar Diggins, freshman guard Jewell Loyd and junior guard Kayla McBride earning their second nod together (they also opened Notre Dame's 76-64 win at No. 19/22 UCLA on Nov. 23).

    Everyone Pitches In
    With the graduation of two-time honorable mention All-Americans (and 2012 WNBA first-round draft picks) Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame entered this season searching to find a way to make up for the talented duo's 27.0 points and 13.4 rebounds per game.

    Thus far in 2012-13, it would appear the Fighting Irish are making this mission truly a team effort. On the scoring side, seven of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including freshman guards Jewell Loyd (four times) and Michaela Mabrey (once), and junior forward Ariel Braker (twice, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined).

    On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa ranks fourth in the BIG EAST at 9.2 rebounds per game and has piled up four of her six career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading four double-doubles (including three of the past four contests) after logging one double-double in her career prior to this season.

    The Best Things In Life Are Free
    Though it's early in the 2012-13 season, Notre Dame already is displaying an early penchant for making opponents pay at the free throw line.

    Through their first six games, the Fighting Irish lead the BIG EAST and rank fifth in the nation, shooting a remarkable .790 (98-of-124) from the charity stripe, including a season-high .905 (19-of-21) in their Nov. 18 home-opening win over Massachusetts. On average, Notre Dame is getting to the line nearly 21 times per game, converting better than 16 free throws a night.

    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 11 of 12 free throws (.917) so far this season.

    For her career, McBride has logged an .874 free throw percentage, putting her slightly ahead of Alicia Ratay's school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.

    Diggins Challenging School Records
    Throughout the 2012-13 season, senior guard Skylar Diggins will continue to close the gap that separates her from the highest eschelon of Notre Dame women's basketball players in a number of the program's top career categories. Here's a look at just a few of the notable milestones Diggins will have a shot to reach this season:

  • Diggins (448 rebounds) is 52 rebounds away to become the first women's basketball player in school history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in her career. Only one Notre Dame men's basketball player has ever compiled that impressive combination of statistics (Chris Thomas from 2001-05).
  • Diggins (1,804 points) is 196 points away from becoming the fourth 2,000-point scorer in school history, and she needs 543 points to catch current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham as the program's all-time leading scorer. On Nov. 23 at No. 19/22 UCLA, Diggins moved into the top five on the Notre Dame career scoring list, passing sharpshooting All-America guard Alicia Ratay (1999-2003).
  • In addition, Diggins (288 steals) is 60 steals away from assistant coach Niele Ivey's school record for career thefts. On Nov. 29 at Central Michigan, Diggins moved into third place on the Fighting Irish all-time steals list, passing the prior co-holders of the No. 3 spot -- Mary Gavin (1984-88) and Ashley Barlow (2006-10).
  • Diggins (551 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Gavin, needing 227 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 176 ahead of Diggins). Diggins also is nearing the top five in this category, currently ranking sixth, but just three behind Coquese Washington (1989-93).
  • The Diggins Factor
    Notre Dame has posted a 100-19 (.840) record in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), a mark that can be traced in no small part to the arrival of guard Skylar Diggins. The South Bend native has helped lead the Fighting Irish to a spot in the 2011 and 2012 NCAA national championship games and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16, as well as a 21-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (10-10 vs. the AP Top 10) and a 71-1 record against unranked opponents (not appearing in the AP poll), including a 63-game winning streak from the start of the 2009-10 season before falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012.

    Upon closer examination, Notre Dame's 19 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 2.42 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.

    Celebrity Sightings
    Southern California is known for its frequent celebrity sightings. So it came as no surprise on Nov. 23 when a luminary was spotted in the post-Thanksgiving crowd at Pauley Pavilion watching Notre Dame defeated No. 19/22 UCLA.

    Renowned rapper, actor, author, poet, model and activist (and Chicago native) Common was on hand to witness the 76-64 Fighting Irish victory, and then stopped by the Notre Dame locker room after the game to greet and take photos with the Fighting Irish players and coaches.

    Notre Dame also had a celebrity take in one of its home games, as Grammy Award-winning rapper Lil Wayne had a courtside seat on Dec. 5 to watch the Fighting Irish play host to Baylor at Purcell Pavilion.

    Anchors Aweigh
    Notre Dame made a bit of women's basketball history on Nov. 9, joining with Ohio State to play the first women's game ever on the deck of an aircraft carrier, as the teams squared off outdoors in the second annual Carrier Classic aboard the decommissioned USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C. (on the shores of Charleston Harbor).

    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.

    Polling Station
    Notre Dame is ranked No. 5 in the latest Associated Press poll, its 31st consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and its 101st consecutive week in the AP poll.

    The Fighting Irish reached a milestone on Nov. 26 with their No. 5 ranking, which was their 100th consecutive AP poll appearance. It not only extended the program record that started with the AP preseason poll in 2007-08 (the old record was 59 consecutive weeks from 1998-2001), but it made the Fighting Irish are one of six teams in the nation with an active streak of 100 consecutive AP poll appearances.

    What's more, every current Notre Dame player has competed for a ranked Fighting Irish squad throughout her career (62 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (51) of those appearances in the AP Top 10 (and never lower than 18th).

    Notre Dame started the year at No. 7 in the preseason AP poll, representing the 13th time in the past 14 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the initial 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 240 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 are holding steady at No. 5 for the third consecutive week in the latest ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll, after starting the season at No. 6 for the first two weeks.

    Notre Dame has been ranked in the coaches' poll for 101 of the past 102 weeks (and 65 in a row), 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 234 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
    Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 32 people in NCAA Division I women's basketball history who have both played for and coached a team that has appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

    Besides her 240 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
    During the past 12 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 252-19 (.930) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 180 of their last 193 such contests (.933).

    What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 89-2 (.978) 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...
    During the past 18 seasons, Notre Dame has discovered that a solid defensive effort can almost certainly guarantee a victory. In fact, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season (Notre Dame's first in the BIG EAST Conference), the Fighting Irish have an amazing 261-15 (.946) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including three outings so far this season.

    ...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
    Not resting solely on its defensive laurels, Notre Dame also seemingly has found the magic mark when it comes to outscoring its opponents. During the past 18 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 170-6 (.966) when they score at least 80 points in a game. The only blemishes on that record are three overtime losses to Texas A&M (88-84) and Michigan State (87-83) in 1995 and UCLA (86-83 in double OT) in 2010, as well as a 106-81 loss to Connecticut in 1998, an 81-80 loss to DePaul in 2008, and a 94-81 setback at Baylor in 2011.

    In the past four years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 47-2 (.959) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level twice this season.

    Now That's A Home Court Advantage
    One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame's success has been its stellar play at home. In fact, the Fighting Irish have been virtually untouchable at home in recent years, winning 223 of their last 252 games (.885) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51, 25 and 20 games in that span (the latter from 2011-12, ending on Feb. 12, 2012, vs. West Virginia).

    Since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 50-5 (.909) -- including wins in 26 of their last 28 home games -- and three of the five Fighting Irish losses in their refurbished facility have come by three points or fewer (two in overtime).

    Notre Dame also has a 120-20 (.857) record in BIG EAST Conference play at the former Joyce Center, sporting a program-record 31-game league winning streak at home before it ended with a 48-45 loss to Villanova in the `02 home finale.

    The Fighting Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 105 of their last 114 non-BIG EAST contests (.921) at Purcell Pavilion, dating back to the 1994-95 season. Five of the nine 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), UCLA in 2010 (86-83 in 2OT) and Baylor in 2012 (73-61). 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 373-90 (.806) 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
    The past three seasons have seen an unprecedented surge in fan support for Notre Dame women's basketball, as the Fighting Irish set new program records for the highest year-end NCAA attendance ranking (fourth in 2009-10), highest average attendance (8,571 fans per game in 2011-12) and most sellouts in a single season (eight in 2011-12). And, as the old saying goes -- "you ain't seen nothin' yet."

    For the fourth consecutive preseason, Notre Dame fans all but exhausted the program's season ticket packages (approximately 7,500) and snapped up single-game ducats at a rate that helped the Fighting Irish produce two advanced sellouts (Dec. 5 vs. Baylor; March 4 vs. Connecticut).

    Notre Dame has gotten its home slate off to a fine start at the box office with two sellouts in three home games, with the Nov. 18 game against Massachusetts marking the first home-opening sellout in school history. All told, the Fighting Irish have welcomed 27 sellout crowds in the program's 36-year tenure, including 21 in the past four years alone (2009-10 to present).

    The Fighting Irish currently are averaging 8,863 fans through their first three home games of 2012-13.

    Coming Soon: Irish in the ACC
    On Sept. 12, 2012, the University of Notre Dame announced that it had accepted an offer of admission into the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for all sports except football (the league does not offer championships in ice hockey or fencing).

    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.

    Irish Fans Crave Another Big Mac Attack
    Now in its sixth season, Notre Dame's wildly-successful "Big Mac" promotion will once again look to send fans home with full bellies, offering a coupon for a free Big Mac from South Bend-area McDonald's restaurants if the Fighting Irish score at least 88 points in a home game.

    In the six-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 37 times, most recently on Nov. 20 against Mercer.

    Junior forward Ariel Braker, senior guard Kaila Turner and sophomore forward Markisha Wright are the leaders among current Fighting Irish players, with all three players having 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 37 Big Mac games, 17 have been reached on two-point baskets, 13 on free throws, and seven on three-pointers.

    Next Game: Alabama A&M (World Vision Classic)
    Notre Dame goes on an 11-day hiatus for final exams before returning to the hardwood at 6 p.m. ET (3 p.m. PT) Dec. 19 to face first-time opponent Alabama A&M in the opening round of the World Vision Classic, hosted by UNLV at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas.

    A member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Alabama A&M is 1-3 this season, and is in the midst of an unusual three-week break in its schedule, having last played on Nov. 23, when it dropped a 76-59 decision at Kansas. The Bulldogs are slated to play a pair of games prior to arriving in Las Vegas, venturing to future BIG EAST Conference member Memphis (Dec. 14) and Murray State (Dec. 16) before turning their attention to Notre Dame.

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