For the fourth consecutive season, the two most successful women’s basketball programs in BIG EAST Conference history will match up at least twice, as Notre Dame and Connecticut square off in a home-and-home series that highlights the 2012-13 conference schedule matrix that was released Wednesday. In addition to the Huskies, the Fighting Irish also will face Providence twice during the upcoming season, and welcome NCAA Championship Sweet 16 qualifier St. John’s and second-round participants Georgetown and Louisville to Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, as part of their 16-game conference slate. The current BIG EAST scheduling format features eight home and eight road contests, with schools playing every other institution once and two teams twice — a slight departure from past seasons when schools had only one repeat opponent, with the change necessitated by West Virginia’s exodus from the conference.
A charter member of the BIG EAST, Connecticut currently owns the top all-time regular-season winning percentage in conference history at .818 (392-87). Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96, building up the second-best regular-season winning percentage in the league’s record books at .771 (216-64), and the Fighting Irish are the reigning BIG EAST regular-season champion, having earned their first outright league title in 2011-12 by two full games over Connecticut and St. John’s.
Connecticut leads the all-time series with Notre Dame, 29-8, but the Fighting Irish took three of four meetings with the Huskies last season, including an 83-75 overtime decision in the NCAA Women’s Final Four national semifinals on April 1 at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Last season’s four-game set between Notre Dame and Connecticut — the second consecutive season time the teams played one another four times — featured two overtime games and a third decided by single digits, with the Fighting Irish becoming the first team to defeat the Huskies three times in one season since 1992-93 (Miami-Fla.).
During the past two years, Notre Dame and Connecticut have squared off eight times, with each side winning on four occasions. The teams also have met in the past two NCAA national semifinals (both won by the Fighting Irish) and the past two BIG EAST Championship finals (both won by the Huskies).
All told, Notre Dame will play seven of its eight conference home games next year against schools that advanced to the postseason in ‘11-12, led by Connecticut, St. John’s (NCAA Sweet 16), Georgetown (NCAA second round), Louisville (NCAA second round), Rutgers (NCAA first round), Syracuse (WNIT semifinals) and Cincinnati (WNIT second round). Notre Dame also will play host to a Providence side led by first-year head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl, who joins the conference after enjoying a great deal of success at Saint Francis (Pa.).
Conversely, four of Notre Dame’s eight road contests in BIG EAST play next season will come against ‘11-12 postseason qualifiers. Besides Connecticut, the featured BIG EAST road trip will be to Midwest rival DePaul, with the Blue Demons having advanced to the second round of last year’s NCAA Championship before falling to Tennessee, 63-48. The Fighting Irish also will pay visits to WNIT third-round participants South Florida and Villanova, along with road contests at Marquette, Pittsburgh and Seton Hall next season.
“I think it would be difficult to find another rivalry in the country that has had more games played a high level in such a short span of time than our recent series with Connecticut,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGrawsaid. “We’ve played eight times in the past two years and just about every one of those games has come right down to the wire. That’s not only a credit to both programs, but also to the BIG EAST as a whole, which continues to show that it’s right up there among the very best conferences in the nation.
“Our fans will have a lot to look forward to next season, with several strong teams coming to Purcell Pavilion,” McGraw continued. “In fact, every one of the BIG EAST schools are showing improvement and we’re going to be tested on a nightly basis. These conference games should be excellent preparation for us looking ahead to the postseason.”
The rationale in determining the repeat opponents for the upcoming season was as follows: providing additional television inventory, competitive issues/RPI implications and geographic rivalries/minimizing travel costs. For Notre Dame, the sites for all of next year’s conference matchups simply were reversed from the 2011-12 season, with the exception of a return trip to Seton Hall (the Fighting Irish downed the Pirates, 74-36 in South Orange, N.J.) and the addition of the second game against Providence (the Friars visited Purcell Pavilion last season, with Notre Dame posting a 66-47 win).
The full 2012-13 schedule for the Fighting Irish will be announced at a later date, following approval from the University’s Faculty Board on Athletics. A complete list of dates and tip times for all of Notre Dame’s games next season also will be released at that point.