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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish continue dominant streak

Matthew Robison | Friday, November 30, 2012

The Irish do not like pleasant mountains.

Twice No. 5 Notre Dame has played road games in cities named Mount Pleasant, and twice the Irish (5-0, 0-0 Big East) have narrowly escaped with a victory. Notre Dame started sluggishly against Central Michigan on Thursday, but hung on for a 72-63 win in Mount Pleasant, Mich. Their first trip to Mount Pleasant resulted in a tight 57-51 win over Ohio State in the Carrier Classic in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

“[Central Michigan is] a really good team,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “They play well at home. They get up for big games. They had a great crowd, it was a great atmosphere.”
Senior guard Skylar Diggins led all scorers with 25 points and added four rebounds and four assists. She was the offensive and defensive catalyst for the Irish all night.

“She was just amazing,” McGraw said. “She knew exactly what to do in late-game situations. She attacked the rim, she got to the foul line. Everything you would want your point guard to do, she did it.”

Diggins shot 12-14 from the free throw line.

Junior forward Natalie Achonwa recorded another double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Perhaps most surprising was the play of junior forward Ariel Braker, who had a breakout performance with 10 points and eight rebounds.

“I thought Ariel really played well,” McGraw said. “There just were so many times when I wanted her in the game and needed her during the game for her defense, for her rebounding. I think that was, without question, her best game of the season.”

Notre Dame faces Baylor on Dec. 5 in Purcell Pavilion in a rematch of the 2012 national championship game in which the Irish fell 80-61. With the UCLA game and the much-anticipated grudge match bookending Thursday’s game, the Irish could easily have overlooked the Chippewas (2-3, 0-0 Mid-American Conference).

But McGraw did not think her team did so. Instead, she said her relatively young squad faced its first true road test, and its inexperience showed. Because of the football team’s game against USC the day after the UCLA game, Notre Dame had a huge fan presence in Pauley Pavilion. So Notre Dame didn’t quite get the road game atmosphere.

“It was a road game, but with all the people out there for the football game we had a pretty good crowd,” McGraw said. “This was the first really true crowd getting into the game. I think it threw us a little bit.”

While Diggins, Achonwa and Braker handled the hostile road environment, the younger members of the team did not fare so well. Freshman guard Jewell Loyd was averaging 14 points per game coming into Thursday’s contest, but she managed only seven points on 3-for-9 shooting. Sophomore guard Madison Cable did not score during her 16 minutes on the court, missing all five of her shots.

“We looked a little young at times,” McGraw said. “We had some people in that sort of situation for the first time. Skylar stepped up and made big plays when she had to. We could have been a little better, but it’s a good win on the road.”

Late in the second half, Notre Dame went on a run to stretch the lead and it held on. The man-to-man defense was not effective, so the Irish switched to a zone.

“We went into a ‘2-3′ in the second half,” McGraw said. “I thought the zone was good. We played it a little bit and we found the shooters. We were about to contain the shooters

Baylor is up next for the Irish, and if they’re going to beat the No. 2 Lady Bears, they’ll need to shore up their defense.

“We need to work on our man-man-defense,” McGraw said.
The Irish face Baylor on Dec. 5 in Purcell Pavilion at 7 p.m.

Contact Matthew Robison at mrobison@nd.edu