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ND Women’s Basketball: Notre Dame returns home to play UMass

Joseph Monardo | Friday, November 16, 2012

After capturing a 57-51 victory against Ohio State in the Carrier Classic, the No. 6/7 Irish will return to Purcell Pavilion to host their home opener against Massachusetts on Sunday.

The last time out Notre Dame (1-0) received strong performances from junior forward Natalie Achonwa and junior guard Kayla McBride to defeat the Buckeyes aboard the USS Yorktown. Now the young Irish squad has used a week of practice to improve, especially on the defensive end, Irish senior guard Skylar Diggins said.

“I think in this early stage we need to improve on everything,” she said. “Everything is so new to us right now. I think that we bring a different skill set than last year’s team. I think we are a fast team, and I think that could work to our advantage maybe in the press and things like that. We do a great job of scrambling, but right now we are trying to find a defense that is going to be our defense for the rest of the year.”

The Minutewomen (1-1) enter the game coming off a loss to Central Connecticut in their first road contest of the season. Sophomore guard Emily Mital registered a career-high 22 points in the loss and senior center Jasmine Watson notched her 14th straight double-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. Watson, a native of South Bend and alumna of Washington High School, is a former high-school teammate of Diggins.

“I do know that they have a former teammate of mine, Jasmine Watson, and she had 22 points in [Massachusetts’ season-opening win over Kent State],” Diggins said. “I know that she is a good player for them underneath, a big [6-foot-3] post.”

Last season UMass went 8-21 and won three of 11 games within the Atlantic-10 conference.

With more than a week between Notre Dame’s opener and Sunday’s upcoming contest, the Irish have had plenty of time to prepare for their opponent, Diggins said.

“It’s good for this young team to get those extra practice days in, so much time in between for teaching moments,” the Wade Trophy watch-listed guard said. “I think that we are prepared. I think the coaching staff is going to do a good job of making sure that we know these teams inside and out and prepare a great scouting report for us to be ready.”

One of the young players on this year’s Irish team, freshman guard Jewell Loyd said Notre Dame has been working especially hard to improve its communication on the court.

“Knowing we are young, talking is really going to help us grow,” she said. “So we have great seniors and great coaches that help us out so we are really not too confused on the court. We are just lucky to have great leadership on the floor.”

Sunday’s contest will mark the first of three games in a five-day stretch for the Irish, who have reached the national championship game in each of the past two seasons. After hosting the Minutewomen, Notre Dame will welcome in Mercer on Tuesday before heading to UCLA on Friday.

“[We need to] just go one game at a time, really,” Loyd said. “You don’t want to overlook any team and you got to just stay humbled, stay within our offense and our defense and just play how we know we can play. And that’s how we stay focused.”

As the Irish try to stay focused on Massachusetts in their home-opening outing, it is the senior leader who finds herself thinking ahead.

“This is going to be great for us and our fans,” Diggins said. “Excited to get back and play. It’s kind of bittersweet for me, it’s like the beginning of the end. But I love playing in front of my hometown and seeing all these familiar faces. We have one of the most loyal fan bases in the country.”

Notre Dame and Massachusetts will tip off at 2 p.m. in Purcell Pavilion on Sunday.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu