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ND Women’s Basketball: Life, death by 3

Chris Masoud | Monday, March 29, 2010

The three-point line can be a beautiful thing — depending on which side of the court you’re standing on.

Down 66-63 with 48 seconds to play, freshman guard Skylar Diggins knocked down a clutch three to send the game into overtime. But on a night when Oklahoma shot 50 percent from behind the arc, Nyeshia Stevenson hit a dagger with less than five seconds left in overtime to seal Oklahoma’s 77-72 victory and advance to the Elite Eight.

“They beat us from the three-point line,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “[Stevenson] was someone we were really, really trying to guard and just lost her for a second on a number of occasions, and that was the difference in the game.”

Senior guards Melissa Lechlitner and Lindsay Schrader refused to go down quietly. Lechlitner finished with a game-high 22 points and Schrader added 19, as the two carried Notre Dame down the stretch.

“The screens that Lindsay and our post players were setting were really opening up a lot for me,” Lechlitner said. “My first one fell, and so I just kept attacking and using their really good screens after that. Such a great four years we had here … I wish we could have went a little further.”

While the Irish never found a rhythm as a team offensively, the Sooner guards showed athleticism throughout the 45 minutes. That athleticism was the missing factor in Notre Dame’s 81-71 victory over Oklahoma in November.

Yet McGraw said the biggest difference between the teams’ first matchup was the emergence of Oklahoma center Abi Olajuwon, daughter of NBA Hall-of-Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, on both ends of the court. The 6-4 Olajuwon dominated the Irish under the glass with her 20 points and 14 rebounds.

“We were trying to double-team her, and she got some offensive rebound put-backs,” McGraw said. “We didn’t do a good job on the boards, and our bench, which has been our strength all year long, just gave us nothing tonight.”

Despite only four points off the bench, Notre Dame had a final chance to send the game into double overtime with 4.4 seconds remaining. Senior forward Erica Williamson launched a three-quarter-court pass on the inbound, but Oklahoma intercepted it.

“It was a play we’ve worked on quite a bit,” McGraw said. “Schrader was going to throw it to Skylar for three, but probably in hindsight should have just given it to Skylar at half court and let her dribble it down. She probably would have made it because she’s that kind of player.”

Diggins finished with 10 points, four assists and six steals, and ended an outstanding freshman campaign as Notre Dame’s leading scorer.

Sunday’s loss cannot help but feel bittersweet for a group of seniors that has now fallen in the Sweet 16 for a second time in three years. But as they hang up their jerseys a little earlier than wanted, they leave the court for the final time on their own terms.

“I didn’t want to lose, and it just kind of took over me,” Schrader said. “But I left it all out there. People look around and see I’m not upset, but there’s nothing else I could have done. That’s just the way you’ve got to do it.”