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ND Women’s Basketball: Back in the groove

Kelsey Manning | Monday, February 20, 2012

With a commanding 68-52 win over No. 19 Louisville, the No. 3 Irish appear to be back on track in pursuit of their first Big East title since sharing the crown with Connecticut in 2001.

After West Virginia snapped Notre Dame’s 21-game win streak in a 65-63 loss Feb. 12, the Irish (26-2, 13-1 Big East) have their swagger back, according to junior guard Skylar Diggins.

“I think we’re finally getting back to playing with our swag, playing our style of basketball. And it feels good. We’re having fun out there again,” Diggins said. “We’re smiling, we’re laughing … With that tough schedule, we took it too serious, kind of lost the fun in it.”

The attitude shift was apparent as the junior guard paced the Irish with 21 points, seven assists, three steals and three rebounds in the win over the Cardinals (19-8, 8-6).

Continuing her breakout season, sophomore guard Kayla McBride contributed 15 points to the effort, while graduate student guard Brittany Mallory added 13 and graduate student forward Devereaux Peters chipped in 10.

The Cardinals have now lost four of their last six games, as the Irish defense suffocated their leading scorer, sophomore point guard Shoni Schimmel. Schimmel admitted she was shaken up by the Irish defense, going 3-for-16 from the field and 1-for-8 from three-point range, while missing all seven shots in the first half.

“It’s never easy going against the [third]-best team in the nation,” Schimmel said. “Just shots weren’t falling that usually fall. I just tried to get my other teammates involved.”

Though Notre Dame held Schimmel to just two points in the

first half, Louisville sophomore guard Antonita Slaughter came off the bench with six points, three boards and a steal in the first half to help the Cardinals keep it close going into halftime.

Notre Dame junior guard Kaila Turner shifted the momentum at the end of a closely-contested first half with a three-pointer that gave Notre Dame a 28-25 edge at the break.

But the Irish broke the game open early in the second with a 12-4 run to take their first double-digit lead of the contest, one they never gave up for the remainder of the game.

“I was really pleased with the second half,” McGraw said. “I thought we looked like our old selves again. We scored easily, we had 40 points and I’m just really happy with the way we moved the ball, shot the ball, drove the ball in the second half.”

The one area in which the Irish continue to struggle is on the boards. Even in a game in which the opposition did not lead once, the Cardinals still outrebounded Notre Dame, 32-28, and offensively, 15-7.

“[Rebounding is] a problem area,” McGraw said. “We need more from the guards, McBride and Novosel, and [sophomore Natalie] Achonwa. Those three need to do a much better job on the boards.”

Despite the slow start and lackluster rebounding, McGraw said she feels her squad is back in a good mental state going into its last two games of the regular season.

“I think the whole team feels happier,” she said. “I think we all feel like we played better. We look better; it just was better. We’re really, really feeling good.”

The Irish are primed for a Big East regular-season championship, with just two foes standing in their way — South Florida on Saturday at home and No. 4 Connecticut at the formidable XL Center in Hartford two days later.

“I would say Notre Dame [will win the conference], just because they’re older and they’re wiser,” Schimmel said. “[Connecticut] is pretty young, so I’d say Notre Dame.”

Contact Kelsey Manning at kmannin3@nd.edu