Dec. 19, 2011
#3/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-1 / 1-0 BIG EAST) vs. UCF Knights (5-5 / 0-0 C-USA)
DATE: December 20, 2011
No. 3 Fighting Irish Back In Action Tuesday Night Against UCF
The Fighting Irish (10-1) stretched their winning streak to seven games with a pulsating 92-83 win over No. 8/7 Kentucky on Sunday afternoon. In a game that saw four ties and eight lead changes, Notre Dame had the final say with a decisive 11-0 run inside the final five minutes.
Senior guard Natalie Novosel scored a game-high 23 points, while junior guard Skylar Diggins (16 points/11 assists) and fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters (13 points/13 rebounds) had double-doubles for the Irish.
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At UCF
The Knights come into Tuesday's game having won their last two contests, most recently a 41-32 defensive slugfest with Virginia Tech on Sunday in Orlando. UCF held the Hokies to a paltry .228 field goal percentage and found their own offensive rhythm in the second half to distance themselves from their ACC counterpart down the stretch. Senior guard Aisha Patrick posted a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds, while junior guard Gevenia Carter added 11 points and three steals for the Knights.
Patrick leads UCF in scoring (15.3 ppg.) and steals (2.6 spg.), and ranks second in rebounding (8.6 rpg.) and assists (2.1 apg.). Carter is second in scoring (10.2 ppg.) and tops in assists (3.6 apg.), while sophomore forward/center Erika Jones is grabbing a team-high 10.6 rebounds per game with a team-best .533 field goal percentage.
Head coach Joi Williams is 65-69 (.485) in her fifth season at UCF, with an eight-year career coaching mark of 119-130 (.478), including an 0-1 record against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-UCF Series
Notre Dame won the first encounter, 81-61, on Nov. 25, 1989, in the championship game of the UCF Rotary Classic, before taking the series renewal, 85-52, on Dec. 29, 2009.
Barlow's layup as time expired in the first half highlighted a 13-0 run by the Fighting Irish that turned a tight game into a blowout, smothering the Knights with a full-court press that forced 36 turnovers.
Marshay White had 12 points, and D'Nay Daniels added 10 points for the Knights (3-6), who were going for one of the biggest wins in school history. Instead, they lost for the third time to a ranked opponent in 2009-10.
The sparse black and gold crowd were treated to a fast start by the Knights, with the home team trading baskets for most of the first half. White's three-pointer cut Notre Dame's lead to 31-29, but the celebration was short-lived.
The relentless full-court pressure by the Fighting Irish overwhelmed the Knights. Notre Dame's backcourt caused errant passes, quick shots and turnovers.
Skylar Diggins had five points as the Fighting Irish scored 13 straight before intermission, including Barlow's layup that came at the buzzer.
Her team scored the next two baskets of the second half, going ahead 48-29 as some of the fans who traveled with Notre Dame for the holiday break cheered "Let's Go Irish."
Notre Dame also got a boost with the return of forward Devereaux Peters, who hadn't played since tearing a ligament in her left knee on Nov. 23, 2008. She scored two points in 10 minutes.
Other Notre Dame-UCF Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. Conference USA
Notre Dame last played host to a Conference USA school on Dec. 31, 2000, doubling up Rice, 80-40 at Purcell Pavilion. That game marked the only prior time in the past 30 years a current C-USA team has come to South Bend, with both SMU and East Carolina making their lone visits back in 1982.
Going Out On A High Note
The last time the Fighting Irish lost their final game before Christmas was Dec. 21, 1995 (their first season in the BIG EAST Conference), when Michigan State pulled out an 87-83 overtime win in East Lansing, Mich.
Novosel Named BIG EAST Player Of The Week
In addition, it marks the 71st time a Fighting Irish women's basketball player has earned a BIG EAST weekly award (41 Players of the Week, 30 Freshmen of the Week), the second-most selections in conference history despite the fact Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96, a full 14 seasons after the league began sponsoring women's basketball (1982-83). Junior guard Skylar Diggins was named BIG EAST Player of the Week back on Nov. 21, collecting the second citation of her career, and the first by a Fighting Irish player this year.
A preseason all-BIG EAST selection, as well as a candidate for the State Farm Wade Trophy, John R. Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy (each of which go to the nation's top women's college basketball player), Novosel led Notre Dame to a 92-83 victory over No. 8/7 Kentucky in their only action of the week this past Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion. The Lexington native helped defeat her hometown school by scoring a game-high 23 points (on 7-of-13 shooting and a perfect 8-of-8 showing at the free throw line) and adding seven rebounds, as the Fighting Irish picked up their third win over a Top 25 opponent (all ranked 12th or higher) this season.
Novosel ranks sixth in the BIG EAST in scoring at a team-high 16.8 points per game and stands ninth in the conference with a .781 free throw percentage. She has scored in double figures in all 11 games this season (extending her current streak of double-digit games to 18 in a row, dating back to last year), including three 20-point games.
Start Me Up
Twice in their history, the Fighting Irish opened with at least 11 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 For 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).
The Fighting Irish have been especially hard on opponents in their six home games this season, forcing 31.8 turnovers per game and collecting at least 19 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 (50 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 seven different players with double-digit steals this season (and another with nine), led by junior guard Skylar Diggins, who is third in the BIG EAST with 3.0 steals per game, and fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, who is fourth in the conference at 2.9 steals per game.
The Fighting Irish are second in the BIG EAST at 18.4 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 62.7 percent of its field goals this season (202 of 322), 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.
Diggins' Daily Dish
The last Fighting Irish player to post four consecutive seven-assist outings was current Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey, who pulled off that feat from Jan. 13-24, 2001, against Virginia Tech (8), Connecticut (10), Seton Hall (7) and West Virginia (9).
Ivey is the last Notre Dame player to have five-or-more consecutive games with seven assists, putting together a six-game streak from Dec. 29, 1999-Jan. 15, 2000 -- Valparaiso (8), Marquette (12), West Virginia (7), Georgetown (9), Seton Hall (10) and Syracuse (8).
Spread The Wealth
During the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 39-4 (.907) 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 11 games (including five different top scorers in the past six 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 #11 Recap: Kentucky
Diggins made her only three-pointer of the game and then forced a turnover as Notre Dame used an 11-0 run to finish off No. 8/7 Kentucky on Sunday, winning 92-83 at Purcell Pavilion and handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season.
Not only did the Fighting Irish snap Kentucky's 10-game winning streak, which was tied for second-best in the country, they avenged a loss last season in Lexington, Ky., in the first meeting between the teams.
Natalie Novosel, a Lexington native, led five Irish players in double figures with 23 points, while Diggins (16 points, 11 assists) and Devereaux Peters (13 points, 13 rebounds) each had double-doubles. Notre Dame (10-1) has now won seven straight since losing to top-ranked Baylor.
Samantha Drake had 21 points for the Wildcats (10-1), who were playing their third ranked team in four games. A'dia Mathies had 17 before fouling out with 7:25 to play, and Samarie Walker, playing in her first game since transferring from Connecticut, had seven points and seven rebounds.
The Wildcats had won 10 straight behind one of the country's nastiest defenses. They came in leading the country in turnover margin (plus 17) and steals (16.5), and were holding opponents to below 52 points a game.
Kentucky did force the Fighting Irish into 22 turnovers, scoring 27 points off the miscues. But the Fighting Irish, runners-up in last year's national championship game, simply have too many options.
The Fighting Irish led by as much as 10 early in the second half, only to have Kentucky keep finding ways to come back. Drake's layup gave the Wildcats a 75-74 lead with 5:07 to play.
But the Fighting Irish showed a little nasty D of their own, holding the Wildcats to just two field goals the rest of the game while their offense kicked it up a notch with the 11-0 run.
Novosel made a pair of free throws and Peters scored on a layup to put the Irish up 78-75 with 4:09 to play. Kentucky's Bernisha Pinkett attempted a three-pointer but it sailed over the rim and the Wildcats couldn't corral the rebound, watching helplessly as it rolled out of bounds. After a timeout, Diggins coolly drilled a three, drawing a roar from the sellout crowd of 9,149.
Diggins then stripped Amber Smith on Kentucky's next possession.
Drake fouled Novosel, who made both free throws. After a Kentucky miss, Peters scored on an easy layup and, just like that, the Fighting Irish were back up 85-75 with 2:40 to play. Kentucky never threatened again.
Beyond The Box Score -- Kentucky
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 84th 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 (46) 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 223 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 last week's 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 223 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 62-1 (.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 36-2 (.947) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level in seven games this season and winning six 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 98 of their last 106 non-BIG EAST contests (.925) 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 360-88 (.804) 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 (Dec. 18 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 six home games this season, Notre Dame is averaging 8,504 fans per game, including its first sellout of the season (9,149) vs. Kentucky on Dec. 18. It also was the 12th Fighting Irish women's basketball sellout in the past three years and 18th in program history.
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 Sunday's game against Kentucky (televised live on ESPNU), Notre Dame has played in 209 televised games, including 154 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. 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 30 times, most recently in Sunday's win over Kentucky.
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"), 18 different players have converted the "burger ball", including seven current members of the Fighting Irish roster.
What's more, of the 30 Big Mac games to date, 14 have been reached on two-point baskets, 11 on free throws, and five on three-pointers.
Next Game: Longwood
Longwood (2-8) is in the midst of a seven-game road swing through the Midwest, most recently falling at Wright State, 77-44 on Sunday in its first game at the WSU Invitational. The Lancers played Central Michigan Monday night, face Southeast Missouri State Tuesday, and visit Cincinnati Thursday before going on their Christmas break.