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ND Women’s Basketball: Pounding in Piscataway

Chris Masoud | Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Notre Dame capped its final game in January just as it opened the year — blowing out its opponent en route to a road victory. In fact, Notre Dame dispatched all of its opponents in January, cruising to a perfect 9-0 record for the month.

Four players scored in double figures for the No.2 Irish, as they defeated No. 13 Rutgers 71-41 Tuesday night.

“The January schedule was brutal,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “With so many ranked teams, to come through it the way we did, I’m so proud of my team. They’re working hard, they’re competitive and they can’t wait to get back in the gym.”

Graduate student forward Devereaux Peters continued her dominance in the paint, registering a career-high 17 rebounds to go along with 10 points and two blocks. Peters recorded her third consecutive double-double Tuesday night.

“[Peters had] a monster, monster game. She’s unbelievable. She goes up with two or three people, and she’s going to come down with the ball,” McGraw said. “She’s strong and she’s scoring off offensive rebounds. She’s just been amazing. I couldn’t be happier with the way she’s playing.”

Despite the 30-point margin of victory, the largest in the 28 meetings between Notre Dame (22-1, 9-0 Big East) and Rutgers (17-5, 6-3), the Irish came out of the gate slow. Senior guard Natalie Novosel picked up two quick fouls within the contest’s first two minutes and the Irish found themselves tied with the Scarlet Knights at 11 after seven minutes of play.

Playing in Novosel’s absence, sophomore forward Natalie Achonwa sparked a 9-0 Irish run to put Notre Dame ahead for good. Achonwa finished with 11 points and six rebounds in the first half and the Irish took a 40-23 lead into halftime.

“She’s able to get a lot of points in a few minutes,” McGraw said. “I thought she gave us a great lift off the bench today. I was really pleased with her rebounding and just her game in general. I thought she was doing a really good job.”

Novosel returned with a strong performance in the second half, finishing with six points, three rebounds and two steals in 15 minutes of play.

“Novosel got two quick fouls, only played two minutes in the first half,” McGraw said. “Two of the last three games she’s played very limited minutes in the first half, and then she goes in and plays a chunk in the second.”

Junior guard Skylar Diggins contributed a game-high 18 points and hit three-of-five shots from behind the arc. Diggins connected on five of seven three-point shots during Notre Dame’s victory over Tennessee on Jan. 23, as the Irish continue to shoot well from three-point range.

Notre Dame’s third consecutive victory over the Scarlet Knights also marked its seventh win in eight contests against ranked opponents. McGraw finishes the month of January undefeated for the fifth time in her tenure at Notre Dame.

“[The January success] is all the players, it really is,” she said. “We’re trying to keep them fresh mentally. We’ve been able to use the bench well, and that’s been important. We’ve been able to work in a few days off where we can give them a mental and a physical rest. I think this team’s mentally tough. They don’t mind the grind, and that’s what you’ve got to do win.”

The Irish return to action Sunday when they host DePaul at 1 p.m.

Contact Chris Masoud at [email protected]