Dec. 30, 2012
#5/5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-1 / 0-0 BIG EAST) vs. Saint Francis Red Flash (5-5 / 0-0 Northeast)
DATE: December 31, 2012
TIME: 1 p.m. ET
AT: Notre Dame, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
SERIES: ND leads 1-0
LAST MTG: ND 82-39 (12/29/07)
VIDEO: UND.com (live)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com
TICKETS: (574) 631-7356 / UND.com/tickets
No. 5 Fighting Irish Welcome Saint Francis (Pa.) To Town Monday Afternoon
On the heels of its fourth win over a ranked opponent this year, No. 5 Notre Dame will close out the balance of its non-conference schedule, not to mention the 2012 calendar year, when it welcomes Saint Francis (Pa.) to town on New Year's Eve for a 1 p.m. (ET) matinee at Purcell Pavilion. The game will be streamed live and free of charge on the official Fighting Irish athletics web site, UND.com.
Notre Dame (10-1) is coming off an emphatic 74-47 win over No. 11 Purdue on Saturday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion. For the second consecutive year, the Fighting Irish led wire-to-wire in defeating the Boilermakers, jumping out to a 21-4 leadless than seven minutes into the game, and then keeping their in-state rival firmly at arm's length the rest of the day.
Kayla McBride scored a game-high 18 points (on 9-of-14 shooting), picking up the slack when Skylar Diggins (16 points) went out with foul trouble in the first half. Natalie Achonwa added 15 points and a career-high 17 rebounds for her BIG EAST Conference-leading seventh double-double of the year.
Other Notre Dame Notables
Scouting Saint Francis
Saint Francis had 13 letterwinners, including three starters back from last year's squad that finished fourth in the Northeast Conference and posted a 14-16 overall record.
The Red Flash (5-5) will be playing their first game since Christmas, having last taken the floor on Dec. 21 when they earned a 98-81 win at Wright State in the consolation game of WSU's tournament in Fairborn, Ohio. Junior forward Alli Williams rang up a double-double with 27 points (on 11-of-18 shooting) and 12 rebounds, and sophomore guard Alexa Hayward added 23 points (including 6-of-11 three-pointers) to help SFU snap a four-game losing streak.
Williams leads Saint Francis in scoring (18.3 ppg.), rebounding (10.6 rpg.) and steals (3.6 spg.), while senior guard Nickia Gibbs also is averaging double-figure points (10.9 ppg.).
Joe Haigh, a 1995 graduate of Notre Dame, is in his first season as the head coach at SFU, after spending the previous four years as the top assistant to Susan Robinson Fruchtl (now the head coach at Providence).
The Notre Dame-Saint Francis Series
Notre Dame and Saint Francis will be playing for just the second time, with the Fighting Irish having won the only prior meeting between the schools, 82-39 on Dec. 29, 2007, at Purcell Pavilion.
The Last Time Notre Dame And Saint Francis Met
A bad first half at IUPUI last week may have been just what Notre Dame's Erica Williamson needed to get going.
Williamson missed four layups in a minute and a half against IUPUI. She then came back in the second half and scored nine points in eight minutes. She continued to improve against Saint Francis (Pa.), scoring a (then) career-high 16 points in 20 minutes to lead the 16th-ranked Fighting Irish to an 82-39 victory over the Red Flash at Purcell Pavilion.
Williamson, who scored in double figures six times a year earlier as a freshman, accomplished the feat for the first time in the 2007-08 season, becoming the 10th Irish player to score in double figures during that campaign.
Williamson added eight rebounds and three blocks as the Fighting Irish dominated inside, outscoring the Red Flash 54-10 in the paint. Devereaux Peters added 10 points and eight rebounds.
Saint Francis used a 17-4 run midway through the first half to cut Notre Dame's lead to 21-19. But Notre Dame's inside game and defense were too much. The Fighting Irish blew the game open by ending the first half on a 21-6 spurt and starting the second half with a 29-6 run.
Saint Francis made just 3-of-24 shots from the field in the second half and shot 29 percent for the game.
Ashley Barlow added 12 points for the Fighting Irish. Britney Hodges led the Red Flash with 18 points.
Other Notre Dame-Saint Francis Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. the Northeast Conference
Notre Dame has played only one Northeast Conference school when it was a member of that league -- Monday's opponent, Saint Francis (Pa.), which the Fighting Irish defeated, 82-39 on Dec. 29, 2007.
Notre Dame also faced current NEC member Mount St. Mary's back on Dec. 19, 1981, falling the Mountaineers, 57-44 at the Penn Holidat Tournament in Philadelphia. However, MSM did not join the Northeast Conference until the 1989-90 season.
Going Out On A High Note
Notre Dame is 21-14 (.600) all-time in its last game of the calendar year, with an 8-3 (.727) record at home and an 18-7 (.720) record in the 26-year Muffet McGraw era.
The Fighting Irish have won their last five games when closing out the month of December, including a 128-42 victory at Mercer last Dec. 30 in Macon, Ga.
Notre Dame will be playing its final December game at home for the first time since the 2009-10 season, when the Fighting Irish defeated No. 18/16 Vanderbilt, 74-69 on Dec. 31.
Ringing In The New Year
Notre Dame will be playing on New Year's Eve for the ninth time in program history, having posted a 6-2 (.750) record on Dec. 31.
The Fighting Irish last played on New Year's Eve in 2009, toppling No. 18/16 Vanderbilt, 74-69 at Purcell Pavilion.
Since head coach Muffet McGraw took over the reins at Notre Dame prior to the 1987-88 season, the Fighting Irish have won six of their seven Dec. 31 games, losing only in 2005 (a 62-51 setback to top-ranked Tennessee at Purcell Pavilion).
Start Me Up
For the fifth time in six years, and the seventh time in school history (all in the past 15 seasons), Notre Dame has posted a 10-1 record or better through its first 11 games.
Twice in their history, the Fighting Irish opened with at least 10 consecutive wins, doing so in their 2000-01 national championship season (school-record 23-game winning streak) and again in 2009-10 (15-0).
Game #11 Recap: Purdue
With Skylar Diggins in foul trouble and Purdue making a run, Notre Dame kept its cool.
Diggins picked up her second foul midway through the first half and coach Muffet McGraw decided to see how her team would respond instead of rushing her star guard back in the game.
The move worked as the Fighting Irish went on a 10-2 run, including consecutive baskets by Kayla McBride that sparked the fifth-ranked team to a 74-47 victory over No. 11 Purdue on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.
"Really, really pleased with the way we never panicked," McGraw said. "That's huge for us, because it hadn't happened yet."
McBride finished with 18 points and Natalie Achonwa added 15 points and a career-high 17 rebounds. Diggins ended with 16 points and also recorded her 300th career steal 5:37 into the second half when she poked the ball away from Courtney Moses and drove in for a layup, which pushed Notre Dame's lead to 23. Diggins is the third player in Notre Dame history with at least 300 career steals.
Moses led the Boilermakers (11-2) with 13 points and Taylor Manuel added 12.
Notre Dame (10-1) won its fifth straight game overall, and seventh in a row over Purdue, the longest win streak by either side in the series. The Fighting Irish did it by dominating the boards with a 56-28 rebounding advantage. That total included 25 offensive rebounds, which was one less than Purdue's total.
"That was the only stat I put up on our board," said Purdue coach Sharon Versyp. "If you box out and finish, the game would have been totally different."
Purdue was one of the country's best three-point shooting teams coming into the game, but went 0-for-11 from behind the arc. It was the first time since March 1, 2009 at Michigan State that Purdue failed to hit a three-point field goal.
"We really guarded them on the three-point line, which was our main goal of the day," McGraw said. "They're shooting it well from there, and we held them scoreless. That was a phenomenal accomplishment for us."
Purdue opened the game hitting just 2-of-12 from the field as Notre Dame used runs of 8-0 and 11-0 to open up an early 17-point lead. But the Boilermakers crept back into it with a 7-0 run, then Diggins went to the bench with two fouls, and the Fighting Irish offense stagnated.
Drey Mingo's fast-break layup off a behind-the-back pass from Moses cut Notre Dame's lead to 25-20 with 6:38 left before the half, but Purdue's streaky shooting went off again, and the Boilers didn't score a field goal the final 4:43 of the half.
An early 9-0 run in the second half pushed the Notre Dame lead to 23. As the advantage ballooned toward 30, Notre Dame's starters rested on the bench for much of the second half.
Achonwa recorded her seventh double-double of the season, and nine of her 17 rebounds were on the offensive glass, several of them rebounds of her own missed shots.
"I think I cheated a little bit," Achonwa joked. "I was getting my own rebounds... It was just attacking and being aggressive."
Fans waved signs before the game honoring McGraw's 600th win at Notre Dame, which came in a Dec. 21 win over Texas A&M.
Beyond The Box Score: Purdue
Skylar Diggins Named BIG EAST Player Of The Week
For the fifth time in her All-America career, senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins was selected as the BIG EAST Conference Player of the Week, it was announced Dec. 23 by the conference office. Diggins is the first Fighting Irish women's basketball player to earn the award this season, with her five career honors tying for the second-most by a Notre Dame player in program history, topped only by Ruth Riley's eight citations from 1997-2001.
In addition, this marks the 79th time a Fighting Irish women's basketball player has earned a BIG EAST weekly award (45 Players of the Week, 34 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).
Diggins, who also earned a spot on the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll on Dec. 3, was named the Most Valuable Player of the World Vision Classic on Dec. 21 after leading Notre Dame to the tournament title. The All-America point guard averaged 20.3 points, 4.3 assists and 2.7 steals per game with a .511 field goal percentage, .375 three-point percentage, .857 free throw percentage and 1.4 assist/turnover ratio in wins over No. 22 Texas A&M (83-74), Kansas State (87-57) and Alabama A&M (100-39).
Diggins scored over 20 points twice in the tournament, notching a game-high 22 points (on 8-of-12 shooting) in the semifinal win over Kansas State, then tallying a team-high 24 points in the title contest against Texas A&M (a rematch of the 2011 NCAA national championship game). Diggins also chalked up a game-high eight assists (with just one turnover) in the semifinal win over K-State, and added a game-high five steals and four assists against Texas A&M, plus a game-clinching three-pointer with 4:02 left to cap a 7-1 run that locked up the championship. Diggins opened the tournament with 15 points (on 5-6 FG) in just 19 minutes against Alabama A&M, as Notre Dame scored 100 points in back-to-back games for the first time in school history.
Diggins' tournament MVP honor was the fourth of her career, and second in the regular season following the 2009 Paradise Jam (she also has been Most Outstanding Player of the last two NCAA regionals won by Notre Dame). What's more, Diggins' 24 points against Texas A&M moved her into fourth place on the Fighting Irish all-time scoring list (now 1,893 career points) and marked her 96th career double-figure scoring game (now 97; good for fifth in school history).
For the season, Diggins currently ranks 11th in the BIG EAST in scoring (15.2 ppg.), while leading the conference in assists (5.3 apg) and also placing in the top 10 in the conference in free throw percentage (2nd - .882), steals (4th - 3.0 spg.) and assist/turnover ratio (9th - 1.53).
According to the time-honored adage, "there's no substitute for experience." In the case of Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa, that experience was second to none and it's paid off exceptionally well for the veteran Fighting Irish frontliner this season.
During the summer of 2012, Achonwa was a key contributor on Canada's Senior National Team, helping leading her country to its first Olympic appearance in 12 years. Not content to merely qualify, Canada then earned two hard-fought wins in the group stage to reach the Olympic quarterfinals (medal round) for the first time since 1984.
As the second-youngest player in the London Olympic Basketball Tournament at the tender age of 19, Achonwa averaged 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, highlighted by a 14-point, eight-rebound effort against eventual Olympic silver medalist France during the preliminary round.
Parlaying her Olympic experience, Achonwa has moved seamlessly into Notre Dame's starting lineup this season after spending her first two years as an important reserve. The Guelph, Ontario, native was expected to take on a larger role this year with the graduation of two-time All-American Devereaux Peters, but Achonwa has taken that growth to a whole new level, doubling her averages in scoring (7.6 to 14.2 ppg.) and rebounding (4.4 to 9.9 rpg.), while scoring in double figures nine times and grabbing double-digit rebounds on seven occasions (including a career-best 17 rebounds on Dec. 29 against No. 11 Purdue).
What's more, Achonwa came into this season with one career double-double and a career scoring high of 20 points. This year, she leads the BIG EAST in double-doubles (7, including four in five games against ranked teams) and has three 20-point games to her credit (career-high 23 vs. Utah State on Dec. 8). She also ranks among the top 20 in the BIG EAST in scoring (16th - 14.2 ppg.), rebounding (2nd - 9.9 rpg.), field goal percentage (11th - .538) and free throw percentage (tied-7th - .800).
Achonwa's development has not gone unnoticed, as she was named to the World Vision Classic All-Tournament Team, helping to lead the Fighting Irish to the title with 22 points and a (then) career-high 14 rebounds in the championship game win over No. 22 Texas A&M. Achonwa also is one of three Notre Dame players to make the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll at least once this season, earning her spot on the Dec. 10 rundown.
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 11 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 10 times), scoring in double figures six 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).
As of Sunday, Loyd ranks among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (23rd - 12.8 ppg.), three-point percentage (4th - .440) and free throw percentage (tied-7th - .800).
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.
McGraw's Milestone Moment
In a career filled with landmark moments, Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw reached another milestone in her legendary 26-year tenure at Notre Dame, earning her 600th win under the Golden Dome by virtue of an 83-74 Fighting Irish victory over No. 22 Texas A&M on Dec. 21 in the championship game of the World Vision Classic in Las Vegas.
Since arriving in South Bend prior to the 1987-88 season, McGraw has compiled a 601-216 (.736) record, and already is the second-winningest coach (regardless of sport) in the 125-year athletics history at Notre Dame, surpassed only by former men's/women's fencing coach Michael DeCicco (774-80 from 1962-95).
Factoring in her five-year run at Lehigh from 1982-87 prior to arriving at Notre Dame, McGraw has a 689-257 (.728) record in 31 years as a collegiate head coach. That puts her just 11 wins shy of becoming the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to register 700 career wins -- and should she reach that milestone in the next 53 games, she would be the 11th skipper to compile 700 victories in less than 1,000 games coached.
What's more, McGraw is poised to become just the third BIG EAST Conference coach to reach the 700-win plateau, joining C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers) and Geno Auriemma (Connecticut), both of whom are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., along with joining McGraw in the pantheon of the sport at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in eight of its 11 games this year. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 60-4 (.938) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 30-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul).
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, 10 of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double figures at least once this season, including junior forward Ariel Braker (five times, after having two double-figure games in her first two seasons combined), sophomore guards Madison Cable and Whitney Holloway (once each - the first double-digit games of their respective careers) and freshman guards Jewell Loyd (six times) and Michaela Mabrey (once).
On the backboards, junior forward Natalie Achonwa is second in the BIG EAST at 9.9 rebounds per game and has piled up seven of her nine career double-digit rebounding games this year. The Guelph, Ontario, native, and 2012 Canadian Olympic Team member also has a BIG EAST-leading seven double-doubles 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 a penchant for making opponents pay at the free throw line.
Through their first 11 games, the Fighting Irish lead the BIG EAST and rank seventh in the nation (as of Dec. 17), shooting a remarkable .803 (200-of-249) 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 nearly 23 times per game, converting more than 18 free throws a night. At the same time, the Fighting Irish have made close to 40 percent more foul shots than their opponents have attempted (200 made, 147 opponent attempts).
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 16 of 17 free throws (.941) so far this season -- in fact, she would be leading the conference in free throw percentage, but she is shy of the minimum required for ranking (2.0 per game).
Still, three other Notre Dame players do qualify for the BIG EAST free throw rankings, and all appear among the top seven in the league (as of Sunday) with senior guard Skylar Diggins standing second (.882), and junior forward Natalie Achonwa and freshman guard Jewell Loyd tied for seventh (.800).
For her career, McBride has logged an .879 free throw percentage, putting her ahead of Alicia Ratay's school-record mark (.872) from 1999-2003.
Diggins Challenging School Records
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:
The Diggins Factor
Notre Dame has posted a 105-19 (.847) 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 23-12 record against AP Top 25 teams (10-10 vs. the AP Top 10) and a 74-1 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 82.4 ppg. (which ranks eighth nationally as of Dec. 17).
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 13.3 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 56.7 points per game.
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 34 of their last 38 regular-season tournament games (multi-game events only), including three in a row to claim this year's World Vision Classic, and similar runs to the title in four other 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.
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.
An added postscript -- Green recently accepted a job with the South Bend Veterans Administration Clinic and will be relocating from her hometown of Chicago.
Notre Dame is ranked No. 5 in this week's Associated Press poll, its 34th consecutive week in the top 10 of the media balloting, dating back to the middle of the 2010-11 season, and marking 104 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 (65 consecutive weeks for the current senior class), spending the vast majority (54) 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 243 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 sixth consecutive week in the current 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 104 of the past 105 weeks (and 68 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 237 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 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 243 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 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 257-19 (.931) since the start of the 2000-01 campaign when they go into the dressing room with the lead, including wins in 185 of their last 198 such contests (.934).
What's more, in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame is 94-2 (.979) 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 264-15 (.946) record when they hold their opponents below 60 points in a game, including six outings 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 174-6 (.967) 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 51-2 (.962) when topping the 80-point mark, having reached that level six 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 225 of their last 254 games (.886) 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 52-5 (.912) -- including wins in 28 of their last 30 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 107 of their last 116 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 375-90 (.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 three sellouts in five 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 28 sellout crowds in the program's 36-year tenure, including 22 in the past four years alone (2009-10 to present).
The Fighting Irish currently are averaging 8,828 fans through their first five 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: Connecticut
Notre Dame opens the 2013 calendar year and its 16-game BIG EAST Conference schedule at 4 p.m. (ET) Saturday when it travels to Storrs, Conn., to take on Connecticut at Gampel Pavilion. The game will be televised live to a national audience on CBS, marking the third consecutive season (and sixth time in program history) the Fighting Irish have appeared on the Tiffany Network since CBS began broadcasting women's basketball games in 1982 (including the inaugural NCAA Championship that year).
Saturday's game will be the 12th meeting between Notre Dame and Connecticut in the past four seasons, with the Fighting Irish having won four of the last five meetings, including the 2011 and 2012 NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals in Indianapolis and Denver, respectively.
Connecticut is expected to move atop the national rankings this week after going on the road to defeat then-No. 1 Stanford, 61-35 on Dec. 29. The Huskies will wrap up their West Coast swing Monday afternoon with a visit to Oregon before returning home to face Notre Dame next weekend.