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Women’s Basketball: Volunteers worked

Matthew Robison | Monday, January 23, 2012

In front of a sellout crowd at the Purcell Pavilion, the No. 2 Irish captured a 72-44 win over No. 9 Tennessee on Monday. A season-high 27 points from junior guard Skylar Diggins and a season-high 16 rebounds from graduate student forward Devereaux Peters led the Irish to victory. The Irish rest on a 17-game win streak.

“[Peters] had just an amazing game,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “[Diggins] was unbelievable. We got it going in transition and did a great job defensively.”

The Irish (20-1) are only the second team to beat both historical powerhouses Tennessee (14-5) and No. 3 Connecticut in consecutive years since North Carolina did it in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

Notre Dame’s stifling defense limited Tennessee to a 27.9 shooting percentage for the night and forced 19 turnovers. Tennessee’s previous low scoring mark this season was 60 points in a Jan. 12 loss to No. 6 Kentucky.

“That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment against a team of that caliber,” McGraw said. “We really dug in defensively and helped each other. That just says a lot about the pride we take in our defense.”

The Irish started cold from the field, but sophomore guard Kayla McBride sank three straight layups to put Notre Dame up 8-4 early in the game. McBride scored 11 first-half points on five for nine from the field. She played all 20 minutes and also recorded four rebounds in the half. McBride finished the game with 17 points.

“It’s just a learning experience for me, playing with these veterans,” McBride said. “It just gave me so much confidence.”

Senior guard Natalie Novosel, the second leading scorer for the Irish, picked up two quick fouls and had to sit most of the first half. She played only seven minutes in the period. Novosel’s seven points were a season low for the standout guard.

The Irish were sluggish out of the gates, but Diggins was able to get the Irish offense started.

“I trust her,” McGraw said. “I know she’s going to get going. I have total confidence in her ability. She can turn it around instantly. She did a really good job managing her own frustration. She hit some huge shots.”

The trio of McBride, Diggins and Peters scored all but one of Notre Dame’s 28 first-half points. The half was low-scoring for both teams, as the Irish held the Lady Vols to 18 points on seven for 35 shooting, 19 points below their season average for first-half scoring.

“In the second half, we were in attack mode,” Diggins said. “We got some inside post touches. We just kept on attacking.”

Peters sparked the Irish in the second half as she scored six straight points and drew a charge on the other end. Peters finished with 16 points against Tennessee.

At the 17:00 mark, Notre Dame opened up a 39-21 lead and never looked back. The Irish quickened the tempo in the second half, sprinting out in transition after made field goals by Tennessee.

With 5:01 left, a quick eight-point run by the Irish all but sealed it for Notre Dame, who went up 64-40 at that point.

For Notre Dame, a decisive victory over a team as talented as Tennessee shows that the Irish are ready to compete on even bigger stages.

“We’re definitely on a good trajectory right now,” McGraw said. “I don’t think we’ve painted our masterpiece yet. I think we are going to peak at exactly the right time.”

The Irish will return to action against St. John’s on Saturday in Jamaica, N.Y. Tip-off against the Red Storm is scheduled for 12 p.m.



Contact Matthew Robison at mrobison@nd.edu