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ND Women’s Basketball: N’awlins bound

By Sami Zuba | Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The regional final between No. 1 seed Notre Dame and No. 2 seed Duke promised to be a showdown. The Irish and Blue Devils delivered in an 87-76 win for Notre Dame, the school’s 30th-straight victory.

Notre Dame (34-1, 16-0 Big East) and Duke (33-3, 17-1 ACC) were quick in transition. Defenders on both sides looked for steals and rebounds to convert into fast break opportunities. The Irish led for the first 10 minutes of the first half but could not widen a four-point lead. Notre Dame committed four turnovers to Duke’s seven during that time span.

But the Blue Devils came charging back in the second half of the first frame. After forcing a turnover from Irish senior guard Skylar Diggins, Duke built a five-point lead with just under than eight minutes remaining in the half. With 5:16 remaining in the half, the Blue Devils lead by nine points. The Irish cut the lead to one point with just more than one minute left until halftime, but a last-second three-pointer by Duke guard Chloe Wells gave the Blue Devils a 37-31 lead heading into the locker room.

Diggins sat out for several minutes in the half after racking up two fouls. She said Duke’s quick play frustrated her initially.
“I had two fouls early, and I had to go out,” Diggins said during the postgame press conference. “They did a good job of drawing the fouls on me I guess.”

Notre Dame struggled to regain control early in the second half. The Irish traded points with Duke but failed to string together an extended scoring run.

But then Diggins found her scoring touch.

She hit a long three-pointer from a few steps beyond the arc that cut Notre Dame’s deficit to one with 17:42 left in the game. Notre Dame regained the lead six minutes into the half on a free throw by freshman guard Jewell Loyd.

McGraw said she saw a rise in her team’s energy during the second half.

“I thought we really came out of the locker room with a lot more energy and intensity,” McGraw said. “We came out and made some shots. We got back in the offensive rhythm, moved the ball better and got some looks.”

A Loyd layup in transition pushed Notre Dame’s lead to double digits at 57-47. The Irish converted 11 Duke turnovers into 11 second-half points to gain control of the game.

Diggins credited McGraw for inspiring Notre Dame’s resurgence.

“Coach definitely lit a fire underneath us,” she said.

Diggins scored 24 points and dished out nine assists to lead the Irish. She also won her individual matchup with Duke freshman guard Alexis Jones, who fouled out after scoring only nine points. Junior forward Haley Peters led the Blue Devils with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Irish junior forward Natalie Achonwa lauded Diggins’s contributions to the victory.

“Skylar’s the best point guard in the country,” Achonwa said. “She changes the game, everything she does … She’s that much of an impact player.”

With its victory in the Elite Eight, Notre Dame moves on to the Final Four in New Orleans on Sunday. The Irish will face Big East foe Connecticut for the fourth time this year and third-straight time in the Final Four. The game tips off at 9 p.m.

Contact Sami Zuba at szuba@nd.edu