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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish pull away with second-half run

Samantha Zuba | Monday, February 18, 2013

No. 2 Notre Dame led by 19 at the half and never looked back Sunday afternoon as senior guard Skylar Diggins led the Irish to a dominant second half and an 87-49 victory over Marquette at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee.

Diggins played a historic game as she scored 23 points to push her career total to 2,131 and take over second place on Notre Dame’s all-time scoring list. With three rebounds in the game, Diggins also became the first woman at Notre Dame to record 2,000 points, 500 assists and 500 rebounds in her career.

Diggins’s talent and leadership have played a major role in Notre Dame’s success over the past four years, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

“I think that’s the sign of a good player: when someone makes those around her better,” McGraw said. “[Diggins] has a hand in every aspect of the game: scoring, assists, rebounds. It’s a remarkable accomplishment for her, and it says a lot that she is the only player to have ever done that.”

Diggins also showed her skill on defense, where she frustrated Golden Eagles freshman guard Brooklyn Pumroy by forcing turnovers and converting several breakaway layups.

The Irish have typically had a stable lineup, but McGraw broke up her starting five when she gave sophomore guard Madison Cable a start in place of junior forward Ariel Braker

Cable has averaged 18.4 minutes per game off the bench. Against Marquette (12-13, 4-8), she played most of the game, grabbing seven rebounds in 27 minutes. Notre Dame has developed a much deeper bench than many expected, McGraw said, which provides the team with a great deal of security.

“That’ll be really important for us next week with four games in eight or nine days,” she said. “[Sophomore guard] Whitney Holloway and [freshman guard] Hannah Huffman gave us good minutes off the bench. It was a good game for us to get the bench some work, and they played really well.”

Junior forward Natalie Achonwa added 17 points and 10 rebounds to bolster the Irish down low. Achonwa’s post presence helped take pressure off Diggins and Notre Dame’s other guards.

Marquette did not have the offensive tools to answer the Irish’s fast-paced play. Marquette senior forward Sarina Simmons scored 12 points, and sophomore guard Arlesia Morse put up 11, but their efforts were not enough to keep the Golden Eagles from being blown out. Notre Dame did not let up in the second half, as the Irish continued to score in transition and never let their lead shrink to less than 19 points. 

Notre Dame has been lights-out when leading after the first half, and this game proved to be no different. The Irish know how to close out games, a skill McGraw attributes to her team’s basketball intelligence.

“We’re a smart team,” McGraw said. “We have a really smart point guard. They know shot selection is important, and they know how to play with a lead. We continue to play hard for the entire game. I think that’s important to have. We definitely got a lift off the bench. Sometimes when it’s late in the game, and you’re up 20, you want to relax, but they kept up the intensity.”

Notre Dame’s next takes the floor against DePaul on Sunday at the McGrath-Phillips Arena in Chicago.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu