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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish win at Paradise Jam

Jared Jedick | Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Notre Dame notched two more victories against ranked teams this weekend and three victories overall as it won the Island Division of the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

The No. 5 Irish (6-0) rolled passed No. 23 San Diego State, South Carolina and No. 20 Oklahoma at the tournament. 

“We are playing with great confidence right now,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “The whole team is playing well. It seems as though whoever comes off the bench is ready to go, they are doing good things when they enter the game.”

Freshman guard Skylar Diggins was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after scoring 49 points over the course of the weekend.

“Skylar had an outstanding tournament, and she shot the ball extremely well,” McGraw said. “For a freshman to step up for us like that, it is superb.”

Diggins was on the Big East weekly honor roll as well for her play this past week.

“Whether she was coming off the bench or starting, she came in and played extremely well, it made no difference,” McGraw said.

The Irish have defeated three ranked teams in their first six games. It is only the second time the Irish have achieved that feat, the first being in the 1998-99 season. The Irish hope this success bodes well for the rest of the season.

“I think it is a good confidence builder, but it is also too early in the season,” McGraw said. “We are exactly where we need to be at this time of the year, but we still have a lot to work on. I am especially concerned about our defense.”

First up was a No. 23 San Diego State squad that McGraw characterized before the game as the best team they have played to date. The Irish were able to come away with the 84-79 victory, behind the strong scoring performance of 21 points from Diggins and 15 points from junior guard Brittany Mallory.

The Irish got off to a quick start against the Aztecs, earning a 21-point advantage in the first half, only to see that lead reduced to two with 29 seconds left in the game.

“It is a game of runs,” McGraw said. “I was a little concerned with four minutes to go against San Diego State. They scored 17 points in the last four minutes. We need to play steadier. The good thing is that we answered all the runs.”

The Irish were able to pull out the win, however, as Mallory made three out of four free throws to seal the win.

Mallory has been an unsung hero for McGraw and the Irish this year, helping Diggins to make a difference offensively.

“Brittany Mallory played extremely well,” McGraw said. “She really had a great tournament. She added so much to our team. She is big reason, along with Skylar, why our team is doing very well.”

The Irish next took on South Carolina and dominated for most of the game en route to a 78-55 blowout.

Senior guard Melissa Lechlitner led the way for the Irish with 15 points, and senior guard Ashley Barlow (14), Diggins (12) and junior forward Becca Bruszewski (11) all scored in double digits.

“I loved the second half defense,” McGraw said. “I thought we did an outstanding job in the zone.”

The Irish finished off the tournament with a game against another ranked team, No. 20 Oklahoma, to see who would come home with the tournament hardware. The Irish used a 20-0 run in the second half to outlast Oklahoma and claim the 81-71 victory and overall tournament crown.

“Everybody wants to win, everyone is playing together and there is a great kind of chemistry when everything is going your way,” McGraw said.

Diggins chipped in 16 points to lead the Irish in scoring for the second time in the tournament.

The win against San Diego State marked the 500th career win for McGraw as the head coach at Notre Dame, an experience she says has been a blessing.

“It means I have been here for a long time,” McGraw said. “I am just so thankful for the opportunity to coach here at Notre Dame. This is such a magical place and it has been such a blessing.”

The Irish will next take the court Wednesday against Eastern Michigan at home in the Purcell Pavilion.