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28 and Counting

Mar 2, 2012, 4:43 PM EDT

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With 28 wins and a regular season BIG EAST title, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team has had its share of great moments this season. But don’t be fooled. For head coach Muffet McGraw, her staff and her players, it’s championship or bust. After making it to the 2011 championship game in Indianapolis, anything short of a celebration in Denver at this year’s Final Four will be considered a disappointment.

This weekend, they will head back to Hartford in search of a BIG EAST Tournament title and an automatic bid for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

There is hopefully a lot of basketball left to be played, but here’s a look at some of the top moments from this season so far:

November 26, 2011 vs. Duke: One of the most exciting games of the season, and certainly the most memorable of Notre Dame’s trip to the Bahamas, the Irish rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit against #7 Duke for a 56-54 win in the Junkanoo Jam final. Though she struggled offensively for much of the game, senior Natalie Novosel dribbled up courtfloor and banked a shot in from the foul line at the buzzer to seal the incredible comeback victory.

December 18, 2011 vs. Kentucky: Notre Dame hosted #8 Kentucky in a nationally-televised game on the Sunday before Christmas. Using an 11-0 run late in the second half, the Irish won 92-83 to hand the Wildcats their first loss of the season. Five players scored in double figures, led by Novosel’s 23 points. Skylar Diggins (16 points, 11 assists) and Devereaux Peters (13 points, 13 rebounds) each registered double-doubles for the third-ranked Fighting Irish.

January 7, 2012 vs. Connecticut: On a big night for Notre Dame basketball, #3 Irish defeated #2 UConn, 74-67 in overtime at the Purcell Pavilion. Led by Diggins’ 22 points, the win snapped the Huskies 57-game BIG EAST winning streak and marked the second straight time Notre Dame defeated Connecticut. At the same time the Irish were playing at home, the men’s team edged 11th-ranked Louisville, 67-65 in double overtime.

January 17, 2012 vs. Pittsburgh: With eight players in double figures, Notre Dame turned in its most dominant performance of the season, crushing the Panthers, 120-44. Peters led all scorers with 20 points, while Natalie Achonwa added 19 off the bench. Kayla McBride (11), Brittany Mallory (11), Kaila Turner (14), Markisha Wright (11), Diggins (11) and Novosel (13) also sparked the impressive Irish offense.

January 23, 2012 vs. Tennessee: In a rare midseason non-league game, Notre Dame’s strong defense held the #7 Lady Vols to just 44 points, their lowest total in head coach Pat Summitt’s legendary career. Diggins scored 27 points, while Peters added 16, as well as a career-high, 16 rebounds.

February 25, 2012 vs. South Florida: The Bulls fought hard on Senior Night at the Purcell Pavilion, but Notre Dame refused to lose and closed out its home schedule with a 80-68 win. After the game, Natalie Novosel, Devereaux Peters, Fraderica Miller and Brittany Mallory were honored on the court. Novosel set a career-high with 32 points, as did Peters with 18 rebounds.

February 27, 2012 at Connecticut: Notre Dame defeated the #4 Huskies for the third-straight time, spoiling Senior Night at the XL Center with a 72-59 win. The Irish clinched their first outright BIG EAST title and handed Connecticut its second consecutive home loss. Before falling to St. John’s earlier in the month, UConn had previously won 99 straight home games. Novosel scored 21 and Diggins added 20 as Notre Dame improved to 28-2 this season.

Notre Dame is the top seed for the BIG EAST tournament and secured a double bye to Sunday’s quarterfinal round. The Irish will play at 2 pm ET on ESPNU against DePaul or South Florida, depending on who wins in tomorrow’s second round tournament action.

Stay tuned to and Irish UNDerground for more coverage of the Irish as they continue the quest to add a second national championship banner to the Purcell Pavilion rafters.

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