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ND Women’s Basketball: Bring on UConn

Chris Masoud | Monday, March 5, 2012

Triggered by a 10-2 run in the contest’s opening minutes, No. 3 Notre Dame walloped No. 25 West Virginia 73-45 in the semifinals of the Big East tournament Monday night to advance to its second straight tournament title game. After falling to the Mountaineers in their only home loss of the season Feb. 12, the Irish have now beaten every team in the conference at least once.

“We’re really happy to be able to avenge our loss,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We played well right from the start. We got out of the gate offensively and shot the ball extremely well. Defensively, we did a much better job on their guards … We had good balance today, which we didn’t have last time, so overall [I’m] just really pleased with the win.”

Notre Dame (30-2, 15-1 Big East) never trailed the Mountaineers (23-9, 11-5) and led by as many as 30 points with less than five minutes remaining in the second half. Senior guard Natalie Novosel paced the Irish with 18 points, including a perfect 4-for-4 from behind the arc, as the team shot 42.6 percent for the game.

In its sixth appearance in program history, Notre Dame will contend for the conference tournament title in a familiar tilt with Connecticut (28-4, 13-3), who dismantled St. John’s 74-43 on Monday. The Huskies have defeated the Irish in each of their six tournament final berths, but Notre Dame has beaten Connecticut in three straight matchups, including the last two during the regular season.

“I think it’s great for our school, particularly in the season we’ve been having,” junior guard Skylar Diggins said. “This is great for us being able to advance. We’re excited for the opportunity to compete for a Big East championship.”

Diggins, who finished with nine points, six assists and three steals Monday, was named the Big East Player of the Year on March 2. While much of this season’s success can be attributed to her outstanding play, Diggins was quick to defer praise, particularly towards sophomore guard Kayla McBride.

McBride, who appeared in just 19 games last season due to an off-court issue, has emerged as one of Notre Dame’s leading scorers. McBride chipped in 15 points Monday, one of four Irish players to finish in double-digits in scoring.

“I think Kayla is a player who can score, who can rebound, who can guard a big, guard a guard — she can do it all,” Diggins said. “She’s really taking advantage of her opportunities when she gets the ball. She said we’re getting it to her where she’s comfortable, [but] she knows where to go.

“I think she’s playing her role to a tee.”

With just one game remaining before the NCAA tournament, Notre Dame is also playing its role to perfection. A Big East tournament title win Tuesday would all but secure the Irish a coveted No. 1 seed in the national tournament.

“We are right in position where we want to be,” Novosel said. “Going into tomorrow night’s game, there is no doubt that we want to go in and win that [championship] for coach.”

Contact Chris Masoud at cmasoud@nd.edu