ND Women’s Basketball: Diggins leads Irish past Connecticut in overtime thriller
Megan Doyle | Saturday, January 7, 2012
No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Connecticut had met 32 times before Saturday’s contest, including a thrilling 72-63 Irish victory in last year’s national semifinals. Never before, however, had an Irish-Huskies contest gone to overtime until Notre Dame (15-1, 3-0 Big East) defeated Connecticut (12-2, 2-1 Big East) 74-67 Saturday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion.
“Coming out and being able to beat a team that has such a great reputation nationally, ranked second in the country, tremendous program, well coached, they do so many things well, to be able to beat a really good team feels really good,” Irish coach Muffett McGraw said.
The Irish shot 35.8 percent from the floor throughout the game, and the team only made three of its 11attempts from behind the arc, while the Huskies hit seven of 18 from three-point range.
Junior guard Skylar Diggins led the Irish with 22 points. McGraw said Diggins “ignited” the team throughout the game.
After a slow start, Diggins said the team fought hard for its win during the second half and overtime.
“We sensed that it was time to wake up,” she said.
After going more than five minutes without a basket, Notre Dame went on an 11-0 scoring surge late in the first half.
McGraw said the team proved its resolve during dry offensive stretches.
“I think they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get down, to dig down deep when things aren’t going well,” McGraw said. “It’s easy to fall apart, it’s easy to not want the ball or not even want to play together, and that’s when we play together the most … we stayed with it defensively.”
The Huskies did not score a single field goal during the last 3:50 of regulation time and all of overtime. The two teams juggled the lead throughout the second half until a 12-2 Irish scoring run late in the second half.
While a knee injury kept senior guard Natalie Novosel from practice this week, she added 20 points to the Irish score before limping off the court with one second left in overtime.
“She is a warrior,” McGraw said. “She didn’t shoot it well in the beginning of the game, but she just stuck with it and kept shooting the ball, which is what her job is.”
In addition to her 20 points, Novosel added five rebounds and three assists.
“It’s a great win, especially here at home,” Novosel said. “I don’t think any of us on the team have had a win here at home against UConn, so that’s an amazing win.”
Huskies sophomore guard Bria Hartley fired 25 points during the game on 10 of 19 shooting.
When senior forward Devereaux Peters and Novosel earned two fouls each in the first half, McGraw said the younger Irish players stepped up on the court. Sophomore forward Natalie Achonwa earned her first career start, and sophomore guard Kayla McBride earned her first career double-double.
“It was a learning experience for me, such a big game and such a huge rival of ours personally at Notre Dame,” McBride said of her performance. “I think I learned a lot about how I need to play in these types of games … and if shots aren’t falling other things I can do to get into the game.”
Fans packed the stands to watch the two top-five teams play in Purcell Pavilion.
“It was electric in there,” McGraw said.
Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said giving up 27 turnovers, like his players did Saturday afternoon, is “not something we do very often.”
“It’s hard to lose a game that we put ourselves in a position to win the game and then gave it back to them,” Auriemma said.
Notre Dame’s 23-29 scoring from the free throw line helped the team earn an edge over Connecticut, but Auriemma was still disappointed with his team’s performance on the court.
“There’s no way we should lose this game,” he said.
Notre Dame will meet Connecticut again Feb. 27 in Hartford, Conn. at 9 p.m.