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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish dominate in final tune-up before UConn

Samantha Zuba | Monday, March 4, 2013

Although Notre Dame senior guard Skylar Diggins has had an impressive college career, she might now be playing her best basketball yet.

Diggins led the No. 2 Irish to a 92-57 victory over Providence on Saturday at Mullaney Gymnasium in Providence, R.I. During the game, she tallied 28 points, four rebounds, six assists and two steals.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said Diggins has been giving an extra effort as her collegiate career comes to a close, and her numbers have benefited the Irish (27-1, 15-0 Big East).

“Knowing that you’re a senior and knowing your career is coming to an end is motivation,” McGraw said. “[Diggins] is playing with a heightened sense of urgency, and she’s playing some of her best basketball.”

Diggins didn’t do it all on her own, however, as the entire Irish lineup contributed big numbers Saturday. Junior guard Kayla McBride put up 24 points, and junior forward Natalie Achonwa added 14 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore guard Whitney Holloway provided eight points off the bench. The added production across the board helped make up for the absence of freshman guard Jewell Loyd, who has experienced concussion-like symptoms since a collision in last Tuesday’s game against No. 22 Syracuse and sat out Saturday’s game.

“We need the bench,” McGraw said. “We need them to be ready. Their defense was outstanding. Everyone came in ready in the absence of Jewell Loyd.”

Notre Dame’s defense held Providence (7-21, 2-13 Big East) to only 57 points. Senior guard Symone Roberts scored 22 points to lead the Friars, while sophomore guard Tori Rule added 13 and senior forward Brianna Edwards put up 10.

The Providence bench only accounted for a single point, while Notre Dame’s bench combined to total 19 points.

Despite the production off the bench, McGraw said she would still like to see Loyd back soon, especially with a game against No. 3 Connecticut tonight.

“We don’t think it was an actual concussion, just some symptoms,” McGraw said. “She’s day to day. We’ll have to wait and see if we’ll have her on Monday.”

Notre Dame defeated Connecticut (27-2, 14-1) 73-72 earlier this season. The Irish were underdogs in that game against the then-No. 1 Huskies. Since then, Notre Dame has continued to surprise its doubters, McGraw said.

“I think it’s great to know we overachieved this year,” McGraw said. “No one expected us to be undefeated, and no one expected us to be No. 1 [in the Big East].”

With a win in the rematch against Connecticut, the Irish will win the Big East regular-season title outright. A loss means the team will share the title with the Huskies.

McGraw said she is looking for great performances and thinks anyone on her team can make that happen.

 “Going into the last game [against Connecticut], we were the underdog, and we battled,” McGraw said. “It wasn’t any one person. Diggins had her big moments, McBride shot well and [freshman guard Michaela] Mabrey came off the bench.”

Diggins drained consecutive 3-pointers to keep Notre Dame in the game down the stretch, and the Irish secured the victory when Connecticut sophomore forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis missed a wide-open 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Mosqueda-Lewis will once again pose a serious threat to the Irish defense, McGraw said.

“She’s the best shooter in the country,” McGraw said. “She’s phenomenal, having a great year. Stopping her is key to stopping therm. She’s their go-to player and coming off a career-high [in points] against South Florida.”

Notre Dame and Connecticut will tipoff for their rematch at 7 p.m. tonight in Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu