Dec. 29, 2011
#3/3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-1 / 1-0 BIG EAST) vs. Mercer Bears (3-9 / 1-1 Atlantic Sun)
DATE: December 30, 2011
TIME: 7:00 p.m. ET
AT: Macon, Ga. - University Center (3,200)
SERIES: First meeting
WEBCAST: asun.tv (PPV-live)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: mercerbears.com
TICKETS: (478) 301-5470
No. 3 Fighting Irish Close Out December Friday Night At Mercer
As the calendar ticks off the final days of 2011, there's still one game to be played for No. 3 Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish wrap up the month of December on Friday with a 7 p.m. (ET) game against Mercer at the University Center in Macon, Ga. The game will be webcast live on a pay-per-view basis through the Atlantic Sun multimedia web site, www.asun.tv.
Notre Dame (12-1) posted its ninth consecutive win on Wednesday, rolling to a 92-26 victory over Longwood at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish opened the game on a 27-0 run and converted 33 Lancer turnovers into 42 points to secure the win.
Fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters registered her third double-double in the past four outings with game highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds, while junior guard Skylar Diggins added her own double-double (11 pts, 10 asst).
Other Notre Dame Notables
A Quick Look At Mercer
It's been a difficult rebuilding process for Mercer (3-9), but the youthful Bears (who feature no seniors and eight newcomers on their roster) have made significant progress this year, already surpassing last season's win total (2) and show the promise of making a rapid ascent up the Atlantic Sun Conference ladder.
Mercer is coming off its second consecutive loss, an 88-74 setback at home to Winthrop on Wednesday night. The Bears led by five points at halftime, but Winthrop rallied in the second half by making 19-of-26 shots (.731), finishing the game with a .627 field goal percentage.
Junior forward Ry'van Buchanan scorched the nets for 27 points, including a perfect 4-of-4 from three-point range, and sophomore guard Briana Williams added 23 points, including five treys, to spark Mercer's potent offensive attack.
Williams is her team's leading scorer this year (15.5 ppg.), while Buchanan is second (9.9 ppg.), as well as tops in field goal percentage (.463) and three-point percentage (.700), and third in rebounding (5.9 rpg.).
Head coach Susie Gardner is in her second season at Mercer with a 5-36 (.122) record at the school. Factoring in her previous stops at Austin Peay and Arkansas, Gardner has a 13-year career coaching mark of 181-183 (.497), with Friday's being her first-ever matchup against Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame-Mercer Series
Friday night's game will be the first between Notre Dame and Mercer in women's basketball.
Other Notre Dame-Mercer Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Atlantic Sun Conference
Notre Dame has never played a current (or former) member of the Atlantic Sun Conference prior to Friday's contest at Mercer.
The Atlantic Sun is based in Macon, Ga., was established in 1978 as the Trans America Athletic Conference (TAAC) before changing to its current name in 2001. Mercer is the lone remaining charter member of the conference, which currently includes 10 teams.
Start Me Up
For the fourth time in five years, and the sixth time in school history (all in the past 12 seasons), Notre Dame has opened with a 12-1 record or better.
Twice in their history, the Fighting Irish opened with at least 13 consecutive wins, doing so in their 2000-01 national championship season (school-record 23-game winning streak) and again in 2009-10 (15-0).
Fighting Irish Scoring Early TKOs
Part of Notre Dame's success this season can be traced to its penchant for jumping out to huge early leads and then keep its foot on the gas the rest of the way.
Eight times this year, the Fighting Irish have charged to a 20-point lead inside the opening 12:13 of the game, going on to win all eight of those contests by an average of 47.3 points per game.
Ringing In The New Year
Notre Dame is 20-14 (.588) all-time in its last game of the calendar year, with a 12-11 (.522) record away from South Bend and a 17-7 (.708) record in the 25-year Muffet McGraw era. The Fighting Irish also have won their last four games when closing out the month of December, including a 91-47 victory over Loyola Marymount last Dec. 30 at the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic in Seattle.
'Tis The Season For Taking
Fueled by its aggressive defense, Notre Dame has been in the taking mood this year, forcing its opponents into at least 20 turnovers in 10 games thus far, with Fighting Irish foes averaging 27.0 giveaways per game, and Notre Dame chalking up a +10.77 turnover margin that is third-best in the nation (as of Dec. 19).
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 eight home games this season, forcing 31.1 turnovers per game and collecting at least 19 in each Purcell Pavilion contest thus far.
The Five-Finger Discount
Notre Dame comes into Friday's game leading the BIG EAST (and ranking seventh in the nation as of Dec. 19) in steals with 16.2 thefts per game. The Fighting Irish also have recorded double-digit steals in 10 games this season, including three contests with 20-plus steals.
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, and nabbed 26 steals in a Dec. 28 win over Longwood.
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 (52 games), the Fighting Irish have had eight 23-steal games, with five 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 eight different players with double-digit steals this season (including four with at least 25 thefts), led by junior guard Skylar Diggins and fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, who are tied for third in the conference at 2.8 steals per game.
Continuing a trend from last season, Notre Dame has shared the basketball very well during the first 13 games of the year.
The Fighting Irish are second in the BIG EAST (and 11th in the nation as of Dec. 19) at 19.2 assists per game, including a season-high 29 assists against Marquette on Dec. 7 (one of seven 20-assist contests this year).
What's more, Notre Dame has assisted on 63.5 percent of its field goals this season (250 of 394), 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.
Spread The Wealth
Notre Dame has featured a balanced offense thus far, with at least three players scoring in double figures in 12 games, and at least four double-digit scorers in seven games.
During the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 41-4 (.911) 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 seven games). Three of the five leading scorers this season also have registered at least one 20-point game to date, while nine different Notre Dame players have scored in double figures at least once this year.
A Rally To Remember
Notre Dame tied a school record by digging out of an 18-point second-half hole to defeat No. 7/6 Duke, 56-54 on Nov. 26 in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division championship game at St. Georges High School in Freeport, Bahamas.
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
Senior guard Natalie Novosel hit a running bank shot at the foul line as the buzzer sounded to give Notre Dame a 56-54 win over No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26 in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division championship game at St. Georges High School in Freeport, Bahamas.
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.
The game-winning basket by senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel against No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26 was the fourth time in the past two seasons the Lexington, Ky., native had a hand in a go-ahead basket in the final 30 seconds of regulation or overtime. What makes this run by Novosel even more remarkable is the fact that all four of her late-game performances came against top-15 opponents, with the past two coming away from home.
A Grand Trio
Notre Dame has had two players score their 1,000th career point this season -- senior guard Natalie Novosel hit the milestone on a free throw with 14:20 remaining on Nov. 13 against Indiana State, while fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters reached the landmark on a layup 16:52 left on Dec. 28 vs. Longwood.
Novosel currently ranks 22nd in school history with 1,186 points, while Peters became the 30th member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club and presently stands in that spot with 1,003 points.
Together with junior guard Skylar Diggins (17th with 1,277 points), Notre Dame has three active players in that elite Fighting Irish club for the third time in school history. In both 2000-01 and 2009-10, Notre Dame also 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).
The Fighting Irish could have a fourth player reach the scoring millennium later this season -- fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory has 826 career points. Should Mallory 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.
What's more, Peters became the seventh player from Notre Dame's 2009-10 NCAA Sweet 16 team to reach the 1,000-point plateau during her career, along with Diggins, Novosel, 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 Mallory, who also was part of that season's 13-player roster.
Game #13 Recap: Longwood
Longwood coach Bill Reinson could see the benefits of hiring former Notre Dame All-American Lindsay Schrader as an assistant. The coach also believes losing in a laugher to her alma mater will provide his players a valuable lesson.
Devereaux Peters scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and the No. 3 Fighting Irish opened with a 27-0 run before going on to beat the Lancers 92-26 on Wednesday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion.
The Fighting Irish forced turnovers on eight of Longwood's first nine possessions and pushed the lead to 27-0 before Mieke Elkington scored the Lancers' first basket on a 15-footer with 11:37 to go in the opening half.
"For us, it was more of a chance for our kids to see how teams do it right, to see how teams recruit the right student athlete, how their coaches prepare them, and see how they compete," said Reinson, who has said hiring Schrader was the best decision he's made as a head coach. "It is nice to point to teams like Notre Dame and say that that is what we aspire to be."
Brittanni Billups scored eight points to lead the Lancers (2-12).
Peters eclipsed 1,000 points for her career on a layup three minutes into the second half -- and was innocently unaware of it.
"I didn't even know what was going on," said Peters, who joins teammates Skylar Diggins and Natalie Novosel, among others, in achieving the milestone. "I was confused when the crowd got all excited and Brittany (Mallory) yelled something to me as I went back upcourt, but I could not hear her. It is just an indication of how much support I get from my teammates."
Diggins added 11 points and 10 assists, Novosel also scored 11 points and Fraderica Miller had 10 for the Fighting Irish (12-1), who converted 33 Longwood turnovers into 42 points.
Notre Dame took 87 shots, the sixth-most in team history, and pulled down 58 rebounds. The Fighting Irish scored 58 points in the paint and got 40 points from the reserves. Every player on Notre Dame scored.
"I was really happy with the game," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I thought we played with a lot of intensity in the second half. We came out of the locker room and played a good half-court man-to-man. I was pleased with our execution although we did not shoot it particularly well, but I thought we did a good job rebounding."
The Fighting Irish, who led 45-14 at halftime, opened the second half with an 18-0 burst.
Beyond The Box Score -- Longwood
Notre Dame is ranked No. 3 in the latest Associated Press poll, its eighth consecutive week in the top five of the media balloting. The Fighting Irish also earned a preseason No. 2 ranking that was their highest since the final 2000-01 poll (taken before the the NCAA Championship), and also was the highest Notre Dame has ever been ranked in the AP preseason poll, topping its No. 4 debut in 2009-10.
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 85th 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 (47) 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 224 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 fifth 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 85 of the past 86 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 216 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
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is one of 31 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 224 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
During the past 11 seasons, Notre Dame has been nearly unbeatable when it has the lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish are 227-18 (.927) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 155 of their last 167 such contests.
What's more, in the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 64-1 (.985) 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...
During the past 17 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 241-15 (.941) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including 10 contests this year.
...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 17 seasons (since 1995-96), the Fighting Irish are 161-6 (.964) 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 three years (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 38-2 (.950) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level in nine games this season and winning eight times.
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 212 of their last 239 games (.887) at the 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion, including winning streaks of 51 and 25 games in that span (and an active run of 15 in a row). Notre Dame also has a 114-19 (.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 100 of their last 108 non-BIG EAST contests (.926) 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 362-88 (.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
The past two 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 (8,553 fans per game in 2010-11) and most sellouts in a single season (six in 2009-10). And, as the old saying goes -- "you ain't seen nothin' yet."
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 four games (Dec. 18 vs. Kentucky, Dec. 28 vs. Longwood, Jan. 7 vs. Connecticut, Jan. 23 vs. Tennessee), and put several others (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 eight home games this season, Notre Dame is averaging 8,618 fans per game, including sellouts (9,149) vs. Kentucky on Dec. 18 and Longwood on Dec. 28. The Fighting Irish now have posted 13 sellouts in the past three seasons and 19 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
Beginning with the 2008-09 athletics year, the Notre Dame athletics department announced it had partnered with the LeSEA Broadcasting Network, making Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) the new radio home of Notre Dame women's basketball in the South Bend market.
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
Notre Dame will have at least 23 regular season games televised during the 2011-12 season. Highlighting this year's broadcast schedule are 11 nationally- or regionally-televised Fighting Irish women's basketball contests, including the program's fifth-ever appearance on network television, and second in as many years (Jan. 7 vs. Connecticut on CBS) and six showings on the ESPN family of networks, including three appearances on that entity's famed "Big Monday" telecast.
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. 28 game against Longwood (webcast live on UND.com), Notre Dame has played in 211 televised games, including 156 that were broadcast nationally.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory, senior guard Natalie Novosel and fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters are serving as Notre Dame's team captains for the 2011-12 season. Mallory is in her second season as team captain, while Novosel and Peters received the captain's honor for the first time in their respective careers following a preseason vote by their teammates.
Notre Dame Breaks New Ground With "Heart of the Irish" Service Initiative
For the third consecutive year, the Notre Dame women's basketball team will be front and center in the South Bend and greater Michiana communities with its groundbreaking outreach program (renamed "Heart of the Irish"), which will involve numerous interactive events during the 2011-12 season. The goal of this year's "Heart of the Irish" program is to highlight community leaders who are making a difference, as well as encourage fans to give back to their community and make an impact through a variety of special initiatives.
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
It's year five of Notre Dame's wildly-successful "Big Mac" promotion, offering fans 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 five-year history of the promotion (and counting exhibition games), Notre Dame has hit the 88-point mark 32 times, most recently in the Dec. 28 win over Longwood.
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 32 Big Mac games to date, 14 have been reached on two-point baskets, 13 on free throws, and five on three-pointers.
Next Game: Seton Hall
Notre Dame opens the new year with a return to the bulk of its BIG EAST Conference schedule as it travels to South Orange, N.J., on Jan. 4 for a 7 p.m. (ET) matchup against Seton Hall at Walsh Gymnasium.
The Pirates (7-7, 0-1) opened the season with wins in five of their first seven games, but have seen a reversal of fortune lately, losing five of their last seven. SHU will visit Memphis Friday night in its non-conference finale before welcoming Notre Dame to town next week.