Dec. 16, 2011
#3/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-1 / 1-0 BIG EAST) vs. #8/7 Kentucky Wildcats (10-0 / 0-0 SEC)
DATE: December 18, 2011
No. 3 Fighting Irish Play Host To No. 8/7 Kentucky In Sunday Matinee
Notre Dame (9-1) ran its winning streak to six games and went into the exam break on a high note with a clinical 66-38 victory at No. 12/14 Purdue on Dec. 10. The Fighting Irish raced out to a 25-5 lead and never looked back en route to their largest win and fewest points ever allowed on the road against an AP Top 25 opponent.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At Kentucky
The Wildcats lead the nation in turnover margin (+17.0) and steals (16.5 spg.), with both categories on full display in their last outing on Dec. 11, a 101-43 home rout of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. UK forced a school-record 49 turnovers (21 on steals) and had five players in double figures (three of them being reserves), while hitting 11-of-31 three-pointers in the win.
Freshman guard Bria Goss led the balanced Kentucky attack with 19 points and six steals, while graduate student guard Keyla Snowden also scored 19 points. Sophomore forward Samantha Drake added 13 points for the Wildcats, who were efficient from the foul line as well, making 32-of-44 from the stripe.
Junior guard A'dia Mathies leads UK in scoring (16.8 ppg.) and three-point percentage (.370), and she is among the national leaders in steals (4.1 spg.). Goss is second on the team in scoring (12.3 ppg.), while Snowden is third (10.3 ppg.), with both players also connecting at better than 35 percent from the three-point line (Snowden - .361, Goss - .359).
Head coach Matthew Mitchell is in his fifth season at Kentucky with a 96-49 (.662) record in Lexington. Adding in his previous stop at Morehead State, Mitchell is 126-78 (.618) in seven years as a collegiate head coach, including a win in his only prior matchup against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Kentucky Series
The Last Time Notre Dame And Kentucky Met
But Kentucky guard Keyla Snowden got hot, Bernisha Pinkett did, too, and Victoria Dunlap did the rest, as Kentucky held off the 12th-ranked Fighting Irish, 81-76 on Nov. 21, 2010, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky.
For a couple of spectacular minutes, Snowden was everywhere, knocking down a series of deep jumpers in the second half to blunt a Notre Dame comeback. She finished with 17 points as Kentucky won its 20th consecutive game at Memorial Coliseum.
The Wildcats needed it after Notre Dame cut a 12-point deficit to 59-58 on a tip-in by Natalie Novosel. Snowden drilled a three-pointer from several feet behind the line to push the lead back to four.
The Fighting Irish pulled within 66-65 a minute later on a conventional three-point play by Becca Bruszewski when Pinkett one-upped her teammate, banking in a three-pointer from the corner to put Kentucky up 69-65 with 5:16 left, and Notre Dame would get no closer the rest of the way.
Dunlap made sure it was enough. The defending Southeastern Conference Player of the Year had 24 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals in 38 grueling minutes.
Novosel led Notre Dame with 21 points and Skylar Diggins had 18 points, but the Fighting Irish came undone in the first half after forward Devereaux Peters went to the bench with foul trouble. The Wildcats ripped off a 19-2 run to take a lead they would never surrender.
Notre Dame gave it away 17 times and made just 2 of 15 three-pointers, allowing the undersized Wildcats to overcome a distinct size disadvantage. The Fighting Irish dominated the glass, outrebounding Kentucky, 51-35 and scoring 52 points in the paint.
Yet Kentucky's aggressiveness attacking Notre Dame's zone allowed the Wildcats to get to the free throw line with regularity. The Wildcats outscored the Fighting Irish, 21-10 at the line despite an uncharacteristically sloppy day from A'dia Mathies, who had just six points and four rebounds, including 2-for-8 at the line.
Still, Mathies made a couple of huge defensive plays, none bigger than a strip of Diggins with 15 seconds remaining and the Wildcats nursing a four-point lead. She then made one of two free throws to preserve the win.
Other Notre Dame-Kentucky Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. the Southeastern Conference
Last season, Notre Dame split its two matchups with SEC schools, falling at No. 9/10 Kentucky, 81-76 on Nov. 21, 2010. The Fighting Irish then rebounded to defeat No. 4 Tennessee, 73-59, in the NCAA Dayton Regional final on March 28, 2011, in Dayton, Ohio, earning their first win in 21 tries against the Lady Vols.
Notre Dame is 3-11 (.214) all-time against SEC teams at Purcell Pavilion, with its most recent win coming two years ago, a 74-69 victory over No. 18/16 Vanderbilt on Dec. 31, 2009.
No More Teachers, No More Books
Recent examples of the nailbiters came in 1999 (a 68-62 win at Florida International, closing the game on an 11-5 run in the final 2:43) and 2004 (a 50-47 win at Marquette on Jacqueline Batteast's three-pointer at the horn).
Conversely, the Fighting Irish have looked remarkably fresh in their last three post-exam games, winning by an average of 51.3 points per game in victories over Loyola-Chicago (89-45), Charlotte (90-31) and Valparaiso (94-43).
The last time Notre Dame lost a game when coming out of its final exam break was Dec. 21, 1985, when Mary DiStanislao's Fighting Irish squad dropped a 73-67 decision to UCLA at Purcell Pavilion.
Start Me Up
Twice in their history, the Fighting Irish opened with at least 10 consecutive wins, doing so in their 2000-01 national championship season (school-record 23-game winning streak) and again in 2009-10 (15-0).
'Tis The Season Of Taking
The Fighting Irish wasted little time in setting the tone for their opponents this season, forcing a combined 112 turnovers in their first three games, an average of 37.3 per night, and converting those into 142 points (47.3 ppg.). That run was highlighted by an opponent season-high 46 turnovers against Akron on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion, the third-most takeaways in school history, and second-most in the program's Division I era (49 vs. New Hampshire on Nov. 12, 2010).
Notre Dame has had a similar run of takeaways in the past four games, forcing a combined 109 turnovers (27.3 per game) in wins over Penn, Creighton, Marquette and No. 12/14 Purdue, parlaying those turnovers into 138 points (34.5 ppg.).
The Fighting Irish have been especially hard on opponents in their five home games this season, forcing 34.4 turnovers per game and collecting at least 23 in each Purcell Pavilion contest thus far.
The Five-Finger Discount
Highlighting this year's takeaway brigade for Notre Dame was a season-high 29-steal performance in the opening night victory against Akron on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish followed that up two days later with 25 thefts in a win over Indiana State.
Prior to last season, Notre Dame had posted 23 steals in a game just seven times in the first 33 years (and 991 games) of the Fighting Irish women's basketball program, and only three games with 25-plus steals in that time, none since a then-record tying 29 steals at Saint Louis on Jan. 31, 1991. What's more, Notre Dame had not earned a conference steals title since 1989-90, when it led the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) with 10.9 spg.
Yet, in the past two years (49 games), the Fighting Irish have had seven 23-steal games, with four outings of at least 25 thefts, and they claimed last year's BIG EAST steals crown with 11.8 steals per game during regular-season league play.
Individually, Notre Dame has six different players with double-digit steals this season (and two others with nine), led by junior guard Skylar Diggins, who has collected a BIG EAST-leading 3.3 steals per game, and fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, who is fourth in the conference at 3.0 steals per game.
Points At Premium For Fighting Irish Foes
Expanding the lens even further, in Notre Dame's last nine halves of basketball (starting with the second half against No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26 in Freeport, Bahamas, when it held the Blue Devils to 18 points), the Fighting Irish have held their opponents to 23 points or fewer in a half eight times. The lone exception came on Dec. 4 at Creighton, when the Bluejays tallied 37 points in the second half after Notre Dame opened up a 41-11 lead at halftime.
The Fighting Irish are second in the BIG EAST at 18.0 assists per game, including a season-high 29 assists against Marquette on Dec. 7 (their fifth 20-assist contest this year).
What's more, Notre Dame has assisted on 62.1 percent of its field goals this season (180 of 290), compared to last year when the Fighting Irish registered assists on 60.9 percent of their baskets (669 of 1,099), with 16 games of at least 20 assists.
Individually, junior guard Skylar Diggins has dished out at least seven assists in the past three games. The last Fighting Irish player to post three consecutive seven-assist outings was current Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey, who had at least eight assists from March 6-19, 2001, at Connecticut (BIG EAST final) and at home against Alcorn State and Michigan in the first two rounds of the NCAA Championship.
Spread The Wealth
During the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 38-4 (.905) when it has at least four players score in double figures, with two of those losses coming in overtime (March 28, 2010 - 77-72 vs. Oklahoma in NCAA Sweet 16 at Kansas City; Nov. 18, 2010 - 86-83 in double overtime vs. UCLA at Purcell Pavilion) and a third by a single point (Feb. 28, 2011 - 70-69 at DePaul).
The Fighting Irish also have had five different players lead them in scoring through the first 10 games (including five different top scorers in the past five games). Three of the five leading scorers this season also have registered at least one 20-point game to date.
A Rally To Remember
Nearly three years earlier on Dec. 30, 2008, the Fighting Irish trailed 46-28 at No. 20/19 Vanderbilt with 15:56 remaining and came back to win, 59-57 at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn.
This year's comeback victory over Duke marked the fourth time in program history Notre Dame has ralled from a deficit of 15 points or more to post a victory, with all four of these comebacks occurring in the past 11 seasons.
Beat The Clock
Novosel's buzzer-beater was the first winning shot at the horn by a Notre Dame player since Jan. 10, 2006, when Megan Duffy scored the last of her career-high 32 points with an off-handed layup at the overtime siren to earn a 67-65 win over Marquette at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame also has had several players nail winning shots in the final minute of games during recent seasons. Prior to Novosel, Ashley Barlow was the last Fighting Irish player to pull off such late-game heroics, canning a three-pointer with 34.2 seconds remaining to help Notre Dame take a 74-73 win at Syracuse on Jan. 30, 2010.
Another notable recent "beat-the-clock" moment for Notre Dame occurred on Dec. 5, 2007, when Charel Allen sank a foul-line jumper with 0.8 seconds remaining in overtime, lifting the Fighting Irish to an 86-84 win at Bowling Green.
Novosel Reaches Career 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. Twice (in both 2000-01 and 2009-10), Notre Dame has 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).
What's more, Novosel becomes the sixth player from Notre Dame's 2009-10 NCAA Sweet 16 team to reach the 1,000-point plateau during her career, along with Diggins, Lechlitner, Ashley Barlow (ninth at 1,492), Lindsay Schrader (13th at 1,429) and Becca Bruszewski (23rd at 1,148) -- and that doesn't even include Peters or Mallory, who also were part of that 13-player roster.
Game #10 Recap: Purdue
Natalie Novosel scored 17 points and Devereaux Peters added 16 points and 11 rebounds for Notre Dame, which forced 24 turnovers. Skylar Diggins added nine points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Fighting Irish (9-1), who have won six in a row since losing at No. 1 Baylor 94-81 on Nov. 20.
Courtney Moses scored 14 points and Antionette Howard added 13 for Purdue (7-2), which was coming off a 60-51 win over then-No. 4 Texas A&M, the defending national champion, on Dec. 4.
Brittany Rayburn, Purdue's leading scorer for the season, was held to four points on 1-for-7 shooting.
Notre Dame shot 44 percent against Purdue, which had been holding opponents to 31 percent shooting.
Notre Dame went on an early 17-0 run to take a 25-5 lead, and it could have been even larger had the Fighting Irish not missed several layups on passes by Diggins. Purdue went scoreless for more than seven minutes and missed 13 of its first 15 shots, and trailed 36-17 at halftime.
The Fighting Irish extended their lead in the second half, as Novosel scored 11 points in the first 10 minutes of the period to help put the game out of reach. A breakaway layup by Diggins pushed the lead to 30 points with more than eight minutes left and the Boilermakers never got closer than 26 the rest of the way.
Beyond The Box Score -- Purdue
Notre Dame received six first-place votes in the 2011-12 AP preseason poll (and four the following week), the first time it 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 week's No. 3 ranking marks the 83rd 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 (45) of those appearances in the AP Top 10.
This year's No. 2 preseason ranking also represents the 12th time in the past 13 years (starting with the 1999-2000 campaign) that Notre Dame has appeared in the initial 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 222 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, for the fourth consecutive week, the Fighting Irish are ranked No. 3 in the current ESPN/USA Today/WBCA coaches' poll (one spot below their season-high No. 2 ranking the first two weeks of the year), and like the AP poll, Notre Dame earned its 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 (and two a week later), 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 84 of the past 85 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 215 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 222 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), 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
What's more, in the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 61-1 (.984) when leading at the half, with the only loss 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).
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense...
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
In the past three years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 35-2 (.946) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level in six games this season and winning five times.
Now That's A Home Court Advantage
The Fighting Irish have been particularly strong when it comes to non-conference games at home, winning 97 of their last 105 non-BIG EAST contests (.924) 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 359-88 (.803) 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, capped by an 84-66 triumph over Vermont in the second round of the NCAA Championship.
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 three games (Sunday vs. Kentucky, Jan. 7 vs. Connecticut, Jan. 23 vs. Tennessee), and put five others (Tuesday vs. UCF, Jan. 21 vs. Villanova, Feb. 5 vs. DePaul, Feb. 12 vs. West Virginia and Feb. 25 vs. USF) within striking distance of a sellout.
What's more, through its first five home games this season, Notre Dame is averaging 8,376 fans per game, including a season-high 8,516 vs. Akron for the Nov. 11 season opener.
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 2011-12 regular season.
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), is now in the fourth season of 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 the Dec. 10 game at Purdue (televised live on the Big Ten Network), Notre Dame has played in 208 televised games, including 153 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 took place on Dec. 2, when Notre Dame played host to Penn at Purcell Pavilion. During that game, the Fighting Irish held their seventh 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 came at halftime, when fans were invited to toss their stuffed animals onto the court, where they were then collected by volunteers.
Notre Dame's second outreach event, called Food For Friends, was held in conjunction with the Fighting Irish BIG EAST Conference opener against Marquette on Dec. 7 at Purcell Pavilion. Fans were invited to bring to the game a variety of non-perishable food items that were collected and subsequently delivered as part of the Food Drive for the St. Joseph County chapter of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.
Notre Dame's third 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 29 times, most recently in Wednesday's win over Marquette.
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 "the media relations director has way too much time on his hands"), 17 different players have converted the "burger ball", including six current members of the Fighting Irish roster.
What's more, of the 29 Big Mac games to date, 14 have been reached on two-point baskets, 10 on free throws, and five on three-pointers.
Next Game: UCF
The Knights are 4-5 this season following a 62-48 win at home over Savannah State on Dec. 11. UCF closes out a season-long nine-game homestand Sunday against Virginia Tech before making the trip north to take on the Fighting Irish.