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Irish take down Temple 77-63

Laura Myers | Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY — For a while, it looked too easy.

Notre Dame’s defense clicked, its shots fell and it built a comfortable lead over a scrappy but overmatched Temple.

But then for a short while, it looked too difficult.

The Owl defense suffocated the Irish, the calls went Temple’s way and the No. 10-seed cut the Notre Dame lead to five with 13 minutes left to play.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw called a timeout, and her team responded to the Temple threat with a 10-0 run and a commanding lead it would not lose on its way to a 77-64 victory Monday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

“We didn’t panic, that was the biggest key,” junior guard Natalie Novosel said. “We just executed on offense and shut them down.”

Notre Dame shot 16-of-27 (59.3 percent) in the first half, but started the second 4-of-12 (33.3 percent). Meanwhile, The Owls did the exact opposite — 33.3 percent in the first half, 60 percent in the first eight minutes of the second. But the Irish righted their offense and pulled away from the Owls.

“When we got within five I felt like all the momentum was in our favor,” Temple point guard Shey Peddy said. “Right there, that’s where we let it slip away.”

Freshman forward Natalie Achonwa entered the game at the 14-minute mark in the first half and provided an offensive spark for Notre Dame, scoring four quick points to make the score 10-5. Achonwa scored eight of her 10 points in the first half, and also grabbed eight rebounds on the night.

“I was really happy with her game,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “For a freshman coming in a game to go the Sweet 16, she didn’t look nervous at all.”

Achonwa was one of five Irish players to score in double figures. Novosel and senior forward Devereaux Peters each scored 17 points, sophomore guard Skylar Diggins scored 15 and senior forward Becca Bruszewski added 12.

Peters also finished the game with 12 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals.

Novosel and Diggins each shot two 3-pointers in the first half, but the Irish relied heavily on the post in the second half and finished with 44 points in the paint.

“That was our game plan to not let them score in the paint,” Owls coach Tonya Cardoza said. “I don’t know what happened.”

The Owls went 12-for-25 from the free throw line, its 13 missed shots the same as the final score difference.

“That’s something we haven’t been good at all year,” Cardoza said.

Peddy led the Owls with 21 points, including a 3-pointer at the end of the half that made the halftime score 41-29.

“She was killing us as the game went on,” McGraw said. “That 3 she hit at the end of the half was a real dagger for us. It was a five-point swing, a missed lay-up and she makes a 3.

“We could have put them away in the first half.”

With the win, Notre Dame advances to the Sweet Sixteen in Dayton, Ohio Saturday and will play the winner of Tuesday’s game between No. 3-seed Miami and No. 6-seed Oklahoma.

Temple, which has played in each of the last eight NCAA tournaments, has never advanced past the second round.

It will be Notre Dame’s second straight Sweet Sixteen appearance. However, the Irish have not advanced to the Elite Eight since 2001, the year Notre Dame won a national championship.

Asked if the Irish have the look of a Final Four team, Cardoza didn’t hesitate.

“Most definitely,” she said.

The Irish were more reserved about their favored position at this point.

“Any win in the tournament is a relief,” Novosel said.