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ND Women’s Basketball: Conference crush

Chris Masoud | Thursday, December 9, 2010

Notre Dame’s bench contributed 37 points as the Irish cruised by Providence, 79-43, in Rhode Island Wednesday to kick off the Big East season.

Junior forward Erica Solomon finished with a double-double, recording 11 points, 10 rebounds and five steals off the bench, as the Irish improved to 19-0 all-time against the Friars.

“Erica Solomon was just the best player on the floor,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “She had a career high in steals. She was a force — a presence.”

Notre Dame (7-3, 1-0 Big East) held the Friars (5-6, 0-1) to just 16 points in the second half after rattling off a 16-0 run that kept Providence scoreless for 9:11. The team recorded 16 steals and six blocks to go along with 38 points off turnovers.

The Irish lead all Big East teams with an average of 16.1 steals per game and 250 forced turnovers.

“We outscored them in the second half 44-16,” McGraw said. “We tightened it up. We played man-to man. We really created a lot of havoc.”

Freshman forward Natalie Achonwa paced the squad with 13 points in just nine minutes of action. McGraw said Achonwa was battling the effects of the flu, which limited her playing time.

“She was a little weak, not able to play too many minutes,” McGraw said.

Achonwa’s consistent productivity off the bench has allowed McGraw to give junior forward Devereaux Peters additional rest without losing a presence under the boards. Achonwa is averaging 7.8 points in just 19.2 minutes per game.

While the Irish ran away with the contest after the break, the first half gave no indication of the ensuing rout. Providence limited Notre Dame’s ability to drive to the basket, and both teams headed into the half with the score at 35-27 in favor of the Irish.

“They really came out and attacked,” McGraw said. “It was a very close game in the first half — then we got in a little bit of foul trouble towards the end.”

McGraw said her team turned up the aggression to start the second half, as sophomore guard Skylar Diggins captained the Irish on both ends of the floor. Diggins finished with 10 points and five rebounds, while playing a team-high 29 minutes.

“Skylar was patient,” McGraw said. “She ran the team and ran the offense for us tonight.”

Despite a blowout win, McGraw said her team still has much to improve before conference play resumes in January, including picking up the intensity from the opening tip.

“I think we need to learn that we need to play better in the first half,” McGraw said. “I thought we could have played a lot better. We just really were not quite as focused as we needed to be.”