It is a rivalry defined by amazingly close margins.
It is a rivalry that, again, will offer critical rewards for the winner.
No. 2 Notre Dame (24-1 overall, 12-0 Big East) and DePaul (18-8, 7-5) renew their women's basketball rivalry on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. EST at DePaul's McGrath-Phillips Arena. The contest is a sellout, one of four sellouts that the Irish have played in on the road. ESPNU has the telecast, and Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) has the broadcast.
In 37 games in the rivalry, only two points cumulatively separate the Fighting Irish and the Blue Demons. Notre Dame has scored 2,525 points in 37 games, and DePaul has scored 2,523 points.
DePaul leads the series by a narrower margin, 19-18, but the Irish have won seven of the past eight meetings between the two clubs. The lone DePaul victory in that stretch stands out. The Blue Demons, who were ranked No. 12 at the time, beat a No. 7-ranked Notre Dame club, 70-69, in the regular-season finale in 2011.
DePaul owns an 11-6 edge on Notre Dame in Chicago.
Notre Dame needs a victory to maintain its one-game edge in its pursuit for what would be the school's second Big East regular-season title. The Irish won their first Big East regular-season crown last season.
A victory by the Blue Demons would turn into a huge factor in getting DePaul an NCAA Tournament berth.
"DePaul is a tough place for us to play," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "We've historically struggled there every year.
"It's going to be a huge challenge for us. They've got a really good inside game. Katherine Harry is playing well. Jasmine Penny is playing well, and their guards are shooting it well. You have to guard the 3-point line; you have to guard inside. You can't double off of anybody. They shoot it well at home. They're 14-1 at home. It's really going to be a tough game for us."
Anna Martin, a 5-foot-9 senior guard, leads DePaul in scoring at 16.2 points a game. Martin has missed the last eight games with a knee injury, and her status for Sunday's game is unknown. DePaul is 5-3 without Martin.
Perry averages 13.7 points a game and Harry averages 9.5 points and 10.8 rebounds a game. Brittany Hrynko, a sophomore guard, averages 15.3 points a game.
McGraw knows that DePaul would love to erase any question about reaching the NCAA Tournament.
"If they win this game, it would solidify their standing with the NCAA Tournament," McGraw said about DePaul. "I think they're a team that's in. With Anna Martin out, they lost a couple of games that they would have (otherwise) won. I think the selection committee will take that into consideration. I think they're in, but they're dangerous, because if they beat us, that definitely puts them in."
Point guard Skylar Diggins leads the Irish attack. Diggins averages 16.2 points and 5.8 assists a game. Diggins is continuing her march through the Irish record books. She is the first Notre Dame women's basketball player to score at least 2,000 points and have 500 assists and 500 rebounds in her career.
Diggins needs 192 points to pass current Irish assistant coach Beth Morgan Cunningham as Notre Dame's all-time leading scorer. Diggins has 2,131 points, and Cunningham scored 2,322 points in her Irish career. Diggins has 339 steals in her career, nine shy of the school record held by current Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey.
Diggins could also challenge Mary Gavin's career assist record at Notre Dame. Diggins has 664 assists in her Irish career, which leaves her 114 behind Gavin.
Natalie Achonwa is averaging 13.9 points and 9.2 rebounds a game for the Irish. The 6-3 post player leads the Big East with 14 double-doubles. Kayla McBride averages 14.1 points for the Irish and Jewell Loyd averages 11.8 points a game.
Sunday's game is a homecoming of sorts for three Irish players. Kaila Turner is from Joliet, Ill., Whitney Holloway is from Plainfield, Ill., and Loyd is from Lincolnwood, Ill.
Notre Dame, like DePaul, may be missing a starter from its lineup. Forward Ariel Braker averages 5.8 points and 4.4 rebounds a game, and missed the Marquette game last Sunday after having fluid drained from her knee.
McGraw said she was impressed the way the Irish bench stepped up in the 87-49 over Marquette. McBride, sat out most of the first half in foul trouble.
"I feel like we're really playing well offensively," McGraw said. "We're getting more comfortable with each other. The bench is playing well. We're shooting the ball well.
"I'm really pleased with how we're executing. I think our IQ is going up. We're going from the bench to the floor a little bit better. We're executing what we talk about in the huddles. I think there's a lot of improvement that you don't see in the stat sheet.
"I think Markisha Wright has been playing really well. She's shooting really well. She's doing everything she needs to do defensively. I think Whitney Holloway is playing great defensively, which she's done pretty much all year. We need that spark from her off the bench.
"Michaela (Mabrey) is dangerous. You know she's going to come in and hit a 3 at some point. I'm happy with everybody off the bench. I thought Hannah Huffman had her best game against Marquette last Sunday."
Staff writer Curt Rallo: