Road to the Final Four
Matthew Robison | Friday, April 5, 2013
Coming off its second straight appearance in the national championship game, Notre Dame was picked to finish second in the Big East behind Connecticut, who received 12 first-place votes. Notre Dame received the remaining three. The league’s 15 coaches also named senior guard Skylar Diggins the preseason conference Player of the Year.
In the program’s first ever outdoor contest, Notre Dame beat Ohio State aboard the USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C., by a score of 57-51. Junior forward Natalie Achonwa scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds aboard the aircraft carrier. The game was played as part of the Carrier Classic, a series honoring America’s armed forces.
In a rematch of the 2012 national championship game, Notre Dame fell to 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner and Baylor at home, 73-61. Freshman guard Jewell Loyd led the offensive effort with 24 points. But it was not enough to avenge the title game loss. Griner finished with 24 and 14. Notre Dame would not lose another game during the rest of the regular season.
Junior guard Kayla McBride scored a then career-high 21 points as Notre Dame shocked No. 1 Connecticut in Storrs, Conn., 73-72. Diggins hit two free throws with 49 seconds remaining to put the Irish up one and Notre Dame never relinquished the lead. It was the first Big East win to start at 16-0 regular season conference campaign.
In front of a crowd of over 13,000 people at Thompson-Boling Arena to honor legendary Tennessee head coach Pat Summit, Diggins and the Irish stole the show. Notre Dame beat No. 9 Tennessee 77-67. Diggins scored a career-high 33 points in the effort.
Irish coach Muffet McGraw became just the 13th coach in Division I history to hit the 700-win mark. McGraw did it in her hometown of Philadelphia by beating Villanova 59-52. Natalie Achonwa scored 19 points and grabbed 11 boards to secure the milestone for McGraw.
To cap off a perfect 16-0 Big East regular season, Notre Dame beat Connecticut 96-87 in spectacular, triple-overtime fashion to clinch the outright conference regular season crown. Notre Dame found itself on the brink of defeat in the first overtime period. But after missing all her previous attempts from long range, McBride stepped up and drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game with eight seconds left.
After earning the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament and a double-bye through the first two rounds, Notre Dame beat South Florida 75-66 in the quarterfinals. Achonwa scored 20 points and grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds in the effort. It was the first time a Notre Dame player had reached those numbers in a single game since 1988.
In the tournament semifinals, Notre Dame breezed past Louisville, 83-59, to earn its third-straight appearance in the conference championship and seventh showing overall. McBride scored 17 points and Diggins added another 14. But the Irish had work left, as they had lost in their previous six appearance in the title game.
In their final Big East game, Notre Dame captured its first ever Big East tournament championship with a 61-59 win over Connecticut. With just a few seconds left, Diggins stole the ball and found Achonwa near the basket for the game-winning layup, securing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Playing a rare true road game as a No. 1 seed, Notre Dame beat Iowa 74-57 in Iowa City to advance to the Sweet 16. McBride stepped up once again, scoring a career-high 28 points. Diggins scored 16 points to give Notre Dame a perfect 13-0 road record.
Diggins became the program’s all-time leading scorer in the second half of a 96-69 win over Kansas, passing current assistant coach Beth Cunningham. Diggins had tallied 2,323 points in her remarkable career at that point. Notre Dame advanced to the Elite Eight for the third consecutive year.
Diggins was named a unanimous first-team AP All-American. It was the fourth time Diggins had earned All-America honors. As a junior, she was also a first-teamer. In 2011, she claimed third-team honors and as a freshman, she garnered an honorable mention. McBride was named third-team All-America and Achonwa was an honorable mention.
After Diggins sat much of the first half with two fouls, Notre Dame rallied from behind to beat Duke 87-76 in Norfolk, Va., to advance to its third straight Final Four. Diggins had 24 points and nine assists to earn the regional Most Outstanding Player award.