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ND Women’s Basketball: ND to face Tennessee for spot in Final Four

Chris Masoud and Laura Myers | Monday, March 28, 2011

DAYTON, Ohio — Revenge is regarded as a dish best served cold, but Brittany Mallory missed the memo.

The senior guard buried six 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 20 points, as Notre Dame rolled by Oklahoma 78-53 to advance to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament. The Irish fell to the Sooners in overtime in the 2010 regional finals.

“In the first two rounds, I hadn’t hit a three,” Mallory said. “Coming in, I just had to forget about that and just say I’m going to keep shooting. I knew they would eventually fall.”

Sophomore guard Skylar Diggins dished out a Notre Dame NCAA tournament record 12 assists, and senior forward Devereux Peters added 17 points and 13 rebounds. The Irish (28-7) outhustled the Sooners (23-11) on the glass, outrebounding Oklahoma 47 to 24.

“We got absolutely demoralized on the boards,” Sooners coach Sherri Coale said. “They were the better team. There’s no doubt about it.”

Mallory scored Notre Dame’s first nine points of the game, hitting consecutive 3-pointers to push the Irish out to an early lead. The Sooners remained within reach until a 21-2 Irish run gave the squad a 34-17 lead heading into the break.

Peters and junior guard Natalie Novosel combined for 11 points during the first-half run, as Notre Dame capitalized on 14 Oklahoma turnovers.

“I thought our defense was outstanding,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought we did a really great job of guarding the 3-point line, which was one of our primary concerns. We wanted to be able to rebound and run, and we certainly did that. [Junior guard] Fraderica Miller may be the unsung hero of the game.”

Notre Dame’s bench outscored Oklahoma’s 16-2, as Miller’s 18 minutes proved to be the biggest of her career. Tasked with guarding Oklahoma’s leading scorer, senior guard Danielle Robinson, Miller held Robinson to 16 points, two below her season average.

“She brings great energy to our team,” McGraw said. “I think everybody gets a little bit excited watching the matchup. [Miller] was able to get out and really put some pressure on the ball-handler, which really keyed the rest of our defense. I thought she was a huge key to the win.”

Diggins said the team played with an intensity that stemmed from last year’s loss to the Sooners in the same round.

“I’m not going to act like last year’s game wasn’t at the front of my mind the whole 40 minutes,” she said. “All I wanted to do was score and I wanted to set my teammates up in a position to do so.”

With the win, Notre Dame will play No. 1 seed Tennessee (33-2) Monday in the regional final.

It is the first time the Irish have played in the Elite Eight since 2001, Notre Dame’s first and only championship season.

The last time Notre Dame played Tennessee was in the 2008 NCAA tournament, when the Volunteers topped the Irish 74-64 in the regional semifinals on their way to the most recent of their eight national championships. Notre Dame is 0-20 against Tennessee all-time.

“We know the history between the two programs, with two hall of fame coaches,” Diggins said at a press conference in Dayton Sunday. “It’s going to be a great game. … We’re obviously looking to break that [losing streak].”

Senior forward Becca Bruszewski, who injured her left knee during the Irish win, was not cleared for practice Sunday and will be a game-time decision, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

“We hope we can use her a little bit tomorrow but her knee’s pretty sore,” McGraw said. “Obviously we need her in there with her toughness. I think she’s going to want to play.”

Notre Dame and Tennessee are scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.