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ND Women’s Basketball: Notre Dame to compete in semis

Joseph Monardo | Sunday, November 13, 2011

“BIG … MAC,” the crowd chanted with nearly seven minutes left in Sunday’s game, willing the Irish to reach 88 points and secure a free sandwich for every fan in attendance. The fans went home happy, and the offensive outpouring helped the Irish secure a 99-34 victory over Indiana State in the second round of the Preseason WNIT after recording a 81-61 win over Akron in their season opener Friday.

Friday’s contest marked the 17th consecutive victory in a season opener for the No. 2 Irish (2-0), who took the court for the first time since March 5, when they fell to Texas A&M in the national championship game. Notre Dame struggled in the game’s opening minutes, as sloppy play and missed shots resulted in the Irish falling behind early 9-8.

“I think we were a little overzealous at times and were rushing,” senior guard Skylar Diggins said. “We were so wound up, excited, and knew this was our first game after losing our last game. I think we were trying to win a championship in the first few minutes, but then we had to settle down.”

The Irish recovered quickly and embarked on a 21-4 run with 11 points from Diggins, who overall notched eight assists on the night and poured in 21 points. Even while the Irish offense struggled at times, the defense did not. Notre Dame recorded 29 steals, the second most in team history, and forced the Zips (0-1) into 46 turnovers. The defensive charge was led by senior guard Fraderica Miller, who snagged a career-high seven steals.

“You can try to simulate Notre Dame’s pressure and their height and their length in practice, but you can’t even come close to doing that,” Zips coach Jodi Kest said.

However, the Irish turned the ball over 27 times themselves, making it hard to convert steals into points, Irish coach Muffett McGraw said.

“I was really concerned,” McGraw said about her team’s first half performance that included 14 turnovers. “That’s what we talked about at halftime. We’re forcing the turnovers, but we aren’t capitalizing on their mistakes. I thought we could have done a much better job … We just seemed out of sync.”

McGraw was also concerned with her team’s inability to gather rebounds. Akron out-rebounded Notre Dame 44-38.

“I don’t think we boxed out,” she said. “I thought that was the biggest problem. We didn’t get a body on anybody. We didn’t box out inside or outside. That was something that we need to really work on.”

Sunday’s game began less than 48 hours after Friday’s win, but Notre Dame showed no signs of fatigue in a convincing defeat of the Sycamores (1-1). The Irish controlled the game throughout, jumping out to an 18-0 lead before securing a 43-point advantage by halftime.

“I was very happy with the game in all phases today,” McGraw said. “I thought we played hard, I thought we played great defensively. Offensively, I thought we did some pretty good things … I thought we were in a much better rhythm, executed much, much better, took care of the ball and I’m really pleased with the game.”

Six Irish players scored in double figures for the game, with sophomore guard Kayla McBride leading all scorers with 16. Freshman forward Markisha Wright netted 14 points and added 11 rebounds to earn her first career double-double in just her second collegiate game.

“She is doing just a fantastic job on the boards,” McGraw said of Wright. “That’s probably the thing I’m most pleased with because that’s what we really need. That and the scoring on the block — two pieces that we lost last year [with the graduation of forward Becca Bruzsewski] and now we’ve got them back.”

The Irish nearly replicated their defensive performance from Friday night, recording 25 steals and converting 51 points off of 36 Indiana State turnovers. Additionally, the Irish were able to out-rebound their opponent 34-23 and shot 8-14 from beyond the arc after going only 2-12 Friday.

A career achievement punctuated the action during the second half Sunday, when senior guard Natalie Novosel sunk a free throw to become the 29th player in school history to reach 1,000 points.

The Irish will return to action Thursday when they face Hartford in the tournament semifinals.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu