Dec. 17, 2012
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
No. 5 Fighting Irish Head To Las Vegas This Week For World Vision Classic
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.
Other Notre Dame Notables
Scouting Alabama A&M
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
Other Notre Dame-Alabama A&M Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Southwestern Athletic Conference
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.
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
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.
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 State
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
Mix And Match
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
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
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 Records
The Diggins Factor
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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...
...But Sometimes You Have To Score If You Want To Win
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
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
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
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
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)
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.