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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish deny Cardinals’ upset attempt

Vicky Jacobsen | Tuesday, February 12, 2013

For much of the first half of Notre Dame’s 93-64 win over Louisville on Monday night, the Cardinals were the pesky opponents who wouldn’t go away.

They trailed 18-7 after six minutes, were behind by 15 with four minutes left in the first period and entered halftime with a 10-point deficit. But each time the No. 10 Cardinals (20-5, 8-3 Big East) cut the lead to single digits.

The Irish might not have been thinking about the Louisville men, who showed what can happen when a team fails to put an opponent away in regulation in Purcell Pavilion on Saturday night, but two minutes into the second half the No. 2 Irish (23-1, 11-0) suddenly looked like a team that didn’t want to risk overtime.

“[Senior guard] Skylar [Diggins] and I were talking yesterday; imagine a game where everybody played well on the same night, how good we could be,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think that’s just what we saw in the second half.”

Junior forward Natalie Achonwa scored seven points during the 13-2 Notre Dame run that stretched the lead to 20 and permanently extinguished the Cardinals’ hopes of extending their winning streak to seven games. Achonwa finished the night with 22 points and 12 rebounds, her 13th double-double of the season.

Achonwa showed no mercy in the paint – with five minutes to go in the first half, she collided with Louisville sophomore guard Bria Smith, who was Louisville’s top scorer with 18 points. The impact sent both players crashing to the floor, and Achonwa attended the postgame press conference with at least three separate bags of ice.

“We don’t call fouls in practice,” Achonwa said when asked about her willingness to play such a physical style. “It’s similar to the game today. Even in the foul shots – I think we quadrupled them in how many we took. I think it’s just from being aggressive.”

Diggins scored 21 points on the evening and added seven assists in the 93-point outburst.

“I think it’s easy for her because she has such great vision,” McGraw said. “She can see people who are open. At the beginning of the game she wants to get us going and was able to do that, and then in the second half she’s looking for other people.”

The win was the 118th since Diggins and fellow senior guard Kaila Turner joined the team, making them the winningest senior class in program history.

“I didn’t think we’d lose any,” McGraw joked when asked if she expected these results when she recruited Diggins. “I’ve been a little disappointed – she’s got to make it up to me this year.”

Once she was done joking, McGraw said this year’s junior class was largely responsible for many of those wins.

“I think Skylar came into the season as the veteran player with [junior guard] Kayla McBride, but [this is Achonwa’s] first year in the starting lineup, [junior forward] Ariel Braker came out of nowhere to take the starting job,” McGraw said. “I think the whole class has really been phenomenal this year. … They have no weakness right now, and it’s great for Skylar, it takes a lot of pressure off her.”

While Diggins might be feeling the weight of expectations for a national title, she certainly isn’t too concerned by statistics and records.

“I didn’t know,” she replied when asked about breaking the record for most wins as a class. “It’s good, let’s keep it going.”

The Irish next face Marquette in Milwaukee on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu