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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish claim victory on Saint John’s court

Joseph Monardo | Sunday, January 29, 2012

Saturday’s game was unlike so many of No. 2 Notre Dame’s recent games. It involved ugly play, stretches of futility and a final score margin of under 20 points, but it was just like all the others in the only way that really matters. The Irish recovered from a sloppy start and held off Saint John’s late to capture a 71-56 victory in New York.

Notre Dame (21-1, 8-0 Big East) fell behind 6-1 in the game’s early minutes before picking up the pace and embarking on a 19-2 run to take a commanding lead.

“I thought that the game started off a little slow for us and we weren’t playing at our pace; I thought we were playing their pace,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “When we started rebounding and running, I thought we looked more like ourselves.”

The scoring run that gave the Irish a 12-point lead in the first half was orchestrated largely by junior guard Skylar Diggins and graduate student forward Devereaux Peters, who combined for 14 of Notre Dame’s 19 points during the stretch. Saint John’s (13-8, 5-3) battled back, though, scoring eight quick points to pull within four of the visiting team. Notre Dame, however, answered back once again with an authoritative 14-0 scoring streak.

The Irish carried a 43-23 lead into halftime, but the Red Storm scored 13 of the second half’s first 17 points to trim the deficit to 11.

“In the second half, we came out and just couldn’t get in our groove,” McGraw said. “It was a little disappointing. Our shot selection was poor and we weren’t able to make the shots that they gave us.”

The Irish did find their groove eventually, though, and regained control of the game, this time for good.

Diggins led the Irish with 24 points and six assists in the victory, and Peters helped to fill out the stat sheet as well. The veteran forward scored 18 points, brought down 15 rebounds and added five blocks and four steals.

Peters led what was an impressive performance on the boards for Notre Dame, as the team pulled in 49 rebounds to Saint John’s 29. Saturday’s win was the just the most recent example of Peter’s current stretch of dominance, as she grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds against then-No. 7 Tennessee on Jan. 23.

“I think the biggest difference is that I’ve been in the game and not fouling as much,” Peters said. “When you’re in the game, you have more opportunities to score and rebound and do everything that the coaches ask me to do.”

For all of the Irish players, capturing a win at Saint John’s Carnesecca Arena represents uncharted territory. Notre Dame’s last victory in the building came on Feb. 17, 2004. The Red Storm captured all three of the most recent meetings in their building, including an upset of then-No. 4 Notre Dame in 2010, prior to Saturday’s win.

“For three-straight trips we haven’t been able to come up with a win,” McGraw said. “No one on our team has won in Carnesecca Arena before, so this was an important game for us to come out and take care of business that we haven’t been able to do in the past.”

And although it wasn’t a picture perfect victory for the Irish, much of the credit for that goes to Saint John’s, McGraw said.

“I think Saint John’s is a great and really talented team,” she said. “They made us play ugly today.”

The win over the Red Storm was Notre Dame’s 18th straight victory, but snapped a stretch of five consecutive wins of 20 points or more. The minor setback gives the Irish a chance to evaluate their progress thus far into the season.

“I think we’re on track on where we thought we’d be,” Diggins said. “There are a lot of things we can get better on and we work on that in practice. This is a team [that] has a mindset of getting better everyday, and we challenge each other in practice to do so. We have a lot of work to do. This team isn’t complacent. Coach [McGraw] keeps us on our toes. I think we’re on track; I still don’t think we’ve played our best basketball yet.”

The Irish will return to action when they travel back to the tri-state area to face off with No. 11 Rutgers on Tuesday for another Big East matchup.

 

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu