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ND Women’s Basketball: ND stakes claim in Chicago

Cory Bernard | Monday, February 25, 2013

In a weekend matchup of regional rivals, No. 2 Notre Dame emphatically showed who had the upper hand in the neighborhood Sunday.

The Irish (25-1, 13-0 Big East) never trailed in their 84-56 rout of DePaul on Sunday in Chicago. Senior guard Skylar Diggins put the Irish on the board first after a quick steal and jumper and never looked back. Diggins filled the stat sheet with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to record her second career triple-double and the fourth in program history.

Diggins got plenty of help from her teammates as three other Irish starters scored in double figures, led by freshman guard Jewell Loyd’s 19 points. Just last year, Loyd was playing basketball at Niles West High School in nearby Lincolnwood, Ill., but Sunday night she possessed the composure of a much older player.

“It feels so great [for Loyd] because a lot of times players get a little nervous when they come home,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “They try a little too hard and they press things during the game, trying to make things happen. But she just relaxed and had fun and really had a fantastic game. For a freshman to have that in her home town that’s a little unusual, I think it shows just what a great player she is.”

DePaul (18-9, 7-6) announced Wednesday that tickets for the game had sold out as the Blue Demons prepared to put their 13-game home winning streak on the line against the Irish. However, Notre Dame snapped the winning streak as well as its own streak of poor play in McGrath-Phillips Arena. DePaul entered the contest holding an 11-6 series advantage at home against Notre Dame and beat the Irish in the 2011 season finale the last time the two teams met in Chicago.

“I’m really excited,” McGraw said. “I think that was a really important win for us. We had not played well there in the past so it was great to come away with such a convincing win. They’re an NCAA tournament team.

“They’re a really good team and for us to play as well as we did, I thought one of the best games of the season. It was great.”

McGraw said the win also demonstrated Notre Dame’s strong ties to the Chicago area and its commitment maintaining a strong regional presence.

“It’s a big rivalry for us,” she said. “We recruit Chicago quite a bit so I think there was a lot of people in the stands. We had a great crowd, a lot of alums in the Chicago area, a lot of players and their families so it’s great to come out with a win.”

The big win came on the heels of some extended rest for the Irish. Notre Dame most recently played Feb. 17 against Marquette, and McGraw said the break helped energize the streaking Irish, who have now rattled off 20 straight wins.

“We had a long break and it really was good for us,” she said. “We had time to rest and to recharge mentally and physically and I think it did us a world of good. I mean, we’ve just come out of that and played so well. Having had that break I think that was a big key for us. Our intensity has been really, really good. I thought we started the game with a lot of intensity.”

DePaul played its eighth straight game without senior guard Anna Martin, who leads the Blue Demons in scoring at 16.2 points per game and is currently out of commission with a knee injury.

“She is the key to their team, she’s their best player,” McGraw said of Martin. “They’re a completely different team without her in the lineup and I think that was definitely very helpful for us. The way that we played, I don’t know. But it’s a big loss for them not having Anna Martin.”

Notre Dame has one day off before playing No. 21 Syracuse on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Cory Bernard at cbernard@nd.edu