Dec. 17, 2012
Game Notes | World Vision Classic Bracket
2012-13 ND Women's Basketball: Game 8
World Vision Classic -- First Round
#5/5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-1 / 0-0 BIG EAST) vs. Alabama A&M Bulldogs (1-5 / 0-0 SWAC)
DATE: December 19, 2012
TIME: 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT
AT: Las Vegas, Nev. - Cox Pavilion (2,500)
SERIES: First meeting
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
StorylinesNotre Dame will be playing in a tournament in Las Vegas for the second time, and first since winning the 2005 Duel in the Desert (also hosted by UNLV).
In the past 17 years, the Fighting Irish are 31-4 (.886) in regular-season tournament play (multi-game events), including four tournament titles since 2009-10.
No. 5 Fighting Irish Head To Las Vegas This Week For World Vision Classic
Following a season-long 11-day break for final exams, No. 5 Notre Dame gets back on the hardwood in a hurry with three games in three days at the World Vision Classic in Las Vegas. The Fighting Irish will tip off the tournament at 6 p.m. ET (3 p.m. PT) Wednesday with a first-round matchup against Alabama A&M at Cox Pavilion -- there is no live streaming for the tournament, although the Notre Dame Radio Network broadcast can be heard live and free of charge at UND.com.
Notre Dame (6-1) went into its exam break on a high note with a 109-70 victory over Utah State on Dec. 8 at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish erupted for an arena-record 66 first-half points and never looked back en route to its highest point total of the season.
Natalie Achonwa led three Fighting Irish players with double-doubles (23 points, 12 rebounds), along with Markisha Wright (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Skylar Diggins (12 points, 10 assists).
RankingsNotre Dame was No. 5 in last week's Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls (new rankings released after press time).
Alabama A&M not ranked.
Quick HittersWith its No. 5 ranking in last week's Associated Press poll, Notre Dame has appeared in the media poll for 102 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 (52 of 63 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 101 games to date, matching the most victories by a Fighting Irish class in its first 120 games, first set by the one-player 2001-02 senior class of Ericka Haney, who was a part of 101 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 597 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 15 wins away from becoming the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to amass 700 victories (and should she do so within the next 57 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 NotablesNotre Dame is among the nation's winningest programs during the past 17 seasons (1996-97 to present), ranking fourth with 415 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 8,748 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 180 of their last 182 home games (including an active streak of 23 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 the Dec. 5 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 Alabama A&M
Alabama A&M returns 11 letterwinners, including three starters, from last year's squad that posted a 17-12 record and finished fifth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) with a 12-6 mark.
The Bulldogs (1-5) have lost five in a row since a season-opening win at home over Miles College (62-51 on Nov. 9). Most recently, AAMU tumbled on both ends of a two-game road swing through the Tennessee Valley, dropping an 80-57 decision at Memphis on Dec. 14, followed by a 69-54 setback at Murray State two days later.
Junior forward Jasmine Sanders led the Bulldogs in scoring in both games last weekend, coming off the bench to tally 15 points at Memphis, then earning a spot in the lineup at MSU and collecting 18 points (7-11 FG).
Sanders currently leads AAMU in scoring (9.8 ppg.) and field goal percentage (.514), and is second in rebounding (4.4 rpg.). Junior guard Alyssa Strickland is second in scoring (8.2 ppg.) and tops in three-point percentage (.367), while senior center NaDra Robertson adds a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game.
Head coach Altherias Warmley is in her 13th season at Alabama A&M with a 142-151 (.485) record at the school, heading into her first career matchup against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Alabama A&M Series
Wednesday will mark the first meeting between Notre Dame and Alabama A&M.
Other Notre Dame-Alabama A&M Series TidbitsAlabama A&M will be the second of two first-time opponents on this year's Notre Dame schedule (although it is possible the Fighting Irish could face a third new foe if they meet UNLV during this week's World Vision Classic). Notre Dame has won its last nine games against first-time opponents, most recently dispatching Utah State, 109-70 on Dec. 8 at Purcell Pavilion.
During their current nine-game winning streak against new opposition, the Fighting Irish have won by an average score of 95-37.
Notre Dame is 53-7 (.883) against first-time opponents since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, including a 33-3 (.917) mark vs. new teams since the start of the 2000-01 season.
Alabama A&M will be the 195th different opponent in the 36-year history of Notre Dame women's basketball.
Notre Dame and Alabama A&M not only will be playing for the first time in women's basketball, but it will be the first time the two schools have met in intercollegiate competition in any sport.
The Fighting Irish have had one player in their history come from the state of Alabama. Decatur native Susan Neville earned a monogram at Notre Dame during the 1981-82 season, appearing in 21 games as a reserve guard while averaging 3.2 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game.
The Fighting Irish are 2-3 (.400) all-time against schools from the state of Alabama, going 1-3 against the state's flagship institution (most recently downing the No. 8/7 Crimson Tide, 87-71 in the 1997 NCAA East Regional semifinals at Columbia, S.C., courtesy of a regional-record 36 points by current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham), and 1-0 against Auburn (defeating the No. 22/25 Tigers, 77-64 on Nov. 14, 2003, in the first round of the WBCA Classic at Boulder, Colo.).
Notre Dame vs. The Southwestern Athletic Conference
Notre Dame is 3-0 all-time against current members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, with Wednesday being the first time the Fighting Irish will play a SWAC opponent away from Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame last played a current SWAC school on Nov. 15, 2009, defeating Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 102-57 at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish set a school record (since tied) in that game with eight players scoring in double figures, including 14 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals off the bench from current senior guard Skylar Diggins in her college debut.
Notre Dame has felt right at home in tournament situations during the past 17 years. Starting with the 1996-97 season, the Fighting Irish have won 31 of their last 35 regular-season tournament games (multi-game events only), including runs to the title in four tournaments since 2009-10 -- 2009 Paradise Jam (Island Division), 2010 WBCA Classic, 2010 State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic and 2011 Junkanoo Jam (Freeport Division).
The only Notre Dame losses during this current stretch were three defeats to teams ranked in the top three nationally during the Preseason WNIT semifinals (72-59 vs. No. 3/2 Tennessee at Ruston, La., in 1996; 75-59 at No. 3 Maryland in 2007) or championship (94-81 at No. 1 Baylor in 2011), 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 only regular-season tournament of the 2012-13 campaign, while this marks the third time in four years the Fighting Irish have participated in an event sponsored by Seattle-based Basketball Travelers, Inc. (having previously won the 2009 Paradise Jam and 2011 Junkanoo Jam).
No More Teachers, No More Books
Notre Dame has won 24 consecutive games coming off the final exam break (in 1994 and 1997, no games were played between the end of exams and Christmas). However, because of the extended layoff due to finals and associated sluggishness, the results of these post-exam break games have varied wildly, from exceptionally close to blowouts.
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), 2004 (a 50-47 win at Marquette on Jacqueline Batteast's three-pointer at the horn) and 2011 (a 92-83 home win over No. 8/7 Kentucky, taking the lead for good on an 11-0 run after UK led 75-74 with less than five minutes to play).
Prior to last year's thriller against Kentucky, the Fighting Irish looked remarkably fresh in their previous 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.
Game #7 Recap: Utah State
Natalie Achonwa and Markisha Wright dominated inside, and Skylar Diggins got everyone involved. It was that kind of day for Notre Dame.
Achonwa scored a career-high 23 points and also had 12 rebounds to help the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish rout Utah State 109-70 on Dec. 8 at Purcell Pavilion.
Wright added 14 points and a career high-tying 11 rebounds, and Diggins finished with 12 points along with a season-best 10 assists. It was the first time in seven years that three Fighting Irish women recorded double-doubles in the same game.
Notre Dame (6-1) controlled the paint, with Achonwa and her teammates getting easy layups in the low post off feeds from the perimeter, both on the break and in half-court sets.
In an attempt to stop those easy baskets, Utah State (2-7) tried collapsing on the low post, but often was whistled for fouls. Aggies guard Jenna Johnson fouled out just three minutes into the second half.
Achonwa was 10 for 13 from the field and made each of her three foul shots. Notre Dame shot 69.4 percent (25 for 36) while building a 66-49 halftime lead, and finished at 52 percent for the game.
Playing with many of its reserves, Notre Dame outscored Utah State 28-8 over the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Utah State started the game aggressively, pursuing a fast tempo and forcing early turnovers with its press. The Aggies were 7 for 14 from three-point range in the first half, but only 1 for 12 in the second half. Devyn Christiansen scored a team-high 21 for Utah State.
Notre Dame, coming off its first loss of the season three days earlier to No. 3 Baylor, outrebounded Utah State, 56-27 and outscored the Aggies in the paint, 64-24.
Beyond The Box Score: Utah StateNotre Dame matches the fifth-highest single-game point total in school history, and ties its third-largest output ever at Purcell Pavilion, with the most recent higher-scoring game coming on Jan. 17, 2012 (a 120-44 win over Pittsburgh -- the arena record for points and second-most overall behind a 128-42 win at Mercer on Dec. 30, 2011).
The Fighting Irish equaled the second-most points in a single half in school history, and tied the arena record, having scored 66 in the second half of last year's win over Pittsburgh (and 72 in the first half of the December 2011 win at Mercer).
The first-half production against USU was the highest-scoring opening 20 minutes for Notre Dame in Purcell Pavilion history (previous was 61 against Cleveland State on Nov. 26, 2002).
The January 2012 win over Pittsburgh represented the last time Notre Dame reached triple digits in a game.
The 179 combined points were the most in a Fighting Irish game since Jan. 19, 2008, when Notre Dame earned a 104-86 win at Georgetown.
The Fighting Irish had three players register double-doubles in the same game for the first time since Jan. 26, 2005 (a 72-65 win over St. John's at Purcell Pavilion), when Crystal Erwin (14p/10r), Megan Duffy (14p/10a) and Jacqueline Batteast (10p/10r) pulled off that feat.
Achonwa not only posted her BIG EAST-leading fifth double-double of the season (sixth career), but also scored a career-high 23 points (one more than her previous best against Mercer on Nov. 20); Achonwa also set new personal bests with 10 field goals made and 13 attempts (she went 8-for-11 in last month's win over Mercer).
Diggins collected her seventh career double-double (first this season), and seventh career double-digit assist game, having last hit both marks on March 27, 2012, when she had a triple-double (22 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) against Maryland in the NCAA Raleigh Regional final at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.
Wright posted her second career double-double (first this season) with a season-best 14 points and a career high-tying 11 rebounds (she had the exact same stat line on Nov. 13, 2011, vs. Indiana State at Purcell Pavilion in her first career double-double).
Junior forward Ariel Braker scored a career-high 15 points, three more than she had against Mercer on Nov. 20, and added a career-high five steals (previous best was four on two occasions, the last on Dec. 20, 2011, vs. Central Florida) and career high-tying three blocks (done twice before, the last on Dec. 28, 2011, vs. Longwood); Braker has scored in double figures three times this season (all in the past five games, since she moved into the starting lineup) after reaching double digits twice in her first two years at Notre Dame.
In addition to points and double-digit scorers, Notre Dame also set season highs for rebounds (most since it had 58 vs. Longwood on Dec. 28, 2011), rebound margin (largest since a similar +29 margin at Mercer on Dec. 30, 2011), free throws made (previous was 24 at Central Michigan on Nov. 29) and blocked shots (most since March 20, 2012, also eight vs. California in NCAA Championship second-round game at Purcell Pavilion).
Utah State's 26 three-point attempts were second-most by a visiting team in Purcell Pavilion history and most since Army tried an opponent-record 28 treys (and made 10) on Nov. 26, 2001.
The Fighting Irish are 3-3 all-time against current Western Athletic Conference teams (1-1 at Purcell Pavilion), having played a current WAC member for the first time since Dec. 28, 1990 (71-66 win over Louisiana Tech).
Notre Dame is 5-0 all-time against teams from the state of Utah, with this marking the first time a women's basketball program from the Beehive State visited Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame continues to show remarkable resilience after a double-digit loss, improving to 61-14 (.813) in such games dating back to 1995-96, including an active nine-game winning streak.
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 seven games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting six times), scoring in double figures five 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 (tied-12th - 14.6 ppg.), rebounding (20th - 5.9 rpg.), three-point percentage (6th - .444) and free throw percentage (tied-11th - .783).
Loyd also is a two-time BIG EAST Rookie of the Week selection, first earning that honor 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).
She then became the first repeat honoree of the BIG EAST Rookie of the Week award this season when she was tapped for the designation on Dec. 10 after averaging 19.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals with a .481 field goal percentage (.556 three-point percentage) against No. 3 Baylor and Utah State.
Loyd opened eyes on the national scene with a season- (and game-) high 24 points and team-best seven rebounds in the 73-61 loss to Baylor on Dec. 5 at Purcell Pavilion. 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 five of its seven games this year. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 57-4 (.934) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 27-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul).
Mix And Match
Notre Dame is off to a 6-1 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 past two games (Dec. 5 against Baylor and Dec. 8 vs. Utah State), 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 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 (five times) and Michaela Mabrey (once), and junior forward Ariel Braker (three times, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined).
On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is tied for second in the BIG EAST at 9.6 rebounds per game and has piled up five of her seven career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading five double-doubles (including four of the past five 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 seven games, the Fighting Irish lead the BIG EAST and rank sixth in the nation (as of Dec. 10), shooting a remarkable .800 (124-of-155) 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 more than 22 times per game, converting close to 18 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 13 of 14 free throws (.929) so far this season -- in fact, she would be leading the conference in free throw percentage, but she is one made foul shot shy of the minimum required for ranking (2.0 per game).
For her career, McBride has logged an .876 free throw percentage, putting her ahead of Alicia Ratay's school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.
Diggins Challenging School RecordsDiggins (451 rebounds) is 49 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).
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 (1,816 points) is 184 points away from becoming the fourth 2,000-point scorer in school history, and she needs 531 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 (290 steals) is 58 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 (561 assists) has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Gavin, needing 217 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, currently 166 ahead of Diggins). Diggins also is has moved into the top five in this category, with her 10 assists against Utah State on Dec. 8 vaulting her past Coquese Washington (1989-93) into the No. 5 spot on Notre Dame's career chart.
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 101-19 (.842) 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 72-1 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. Notre Dame is on pace to mirror those figures this season, currently averaging 80.3 ppg. (which ranks eighth nationally as of Dec. 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. And again, Notre Dame is in position to challenge those totals this season, currently averaging 13.4 spg. (which would put the Fighting Irish close to 400 steals by the end of the regular season).
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 Fighting Irish aren't far off those marks so far this year, presently allowing 58.1 points per game.
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.
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.
Notre Dame was ranked No. 5 in last week's Associated Press poll, its 32nd consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 102 consecutive weeks 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 (63 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (52) 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 241 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 held steady at No. 5 for the fourth consecutive week in last week's 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 102 of the past 103 weeks (and 66 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 235 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 241 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 253-19 (.930) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 181 of their last 194 such contests (.933).
What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 90-2 (.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 171-6 (.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 48-2 (.960) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level three times 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 224 of their last 253 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 51-5 (.911) -- including wins in 27 of their last 29 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 106 of their last 115 non-BIG EAST contests (.922) 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 374-90 (.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 four home games, and 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 8,748 fans through their first four 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 38 times, most recently on Dec. 8 against Utah State.
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 38 Big Mac games, 17 have been reached on two-point baskets, 13 on free throws, and eight on three-pointers.
Next Game: TBA/Second Round (World Vision Classic)
Notre Dame continues play at the World Vision Classic with a second-round game on Thursday at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, with the time and opponent dependent upon results from Wednesday's first-round game.
With a victory over Alabama A&M, the Fighting Irish would face the loser of the Kansas State-Texas A&M game in a second-round contest at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT Thursday. Notre Dame is 1-0 all-time against KSU (59-53 road win in 2003 NCAA Championship second-round game) and 0-2 all-time against TAMU (most recently dropping a 76-70 decision in the 2011 NCAA national championship game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis).
With a loss to Alabama A&M, Notre Dame would play the loser of the Old Dominion-UNLV game in the second round at 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT Thursday. The Fighting Irish are 1-5 all-time against ODU (most recently falling 76-67 on Jan. 2, 1994, in Norfolk, Va.) and would face UNLV for the first time.
-- ND --