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ND Women’s Basketball: Squad tops USF, clinches share of title

Molly Sammon | Sunday, February 26, 2012

When Irish senior guard Natalie Novosel made a 3-point shot on the first play of Notre Dame’s 80-68 win over USF on Saturday, it was clear she was on her offensive game. 29 points and 39:53 later, Novosel finished with a career-high 32 points, very fitting for senior night, and led the Irish to clinching not only a share of Big East regular season title, but also the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament.

“It was nice to have a great shooting day in our last game at home,” Novosel said. “I was lucky to make a shot early to build my confidence from the start.”

Tonight, the No. 3 Irish (27-2, 14-1) will close out the regular season and play No. 4 Connecticut (26-3, 13-2) to determine whether Notre Dame wins the Big East regular season title outright for the first time in school history, or whether it will share it with the Huskies. The two teams shared the title 11 seasons ago, the same year the Irish won the national championship.

“These girls finally have something to brag about to [Notre Dame ‘01 national champion and current assistant coach Niele Ivey],” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “She reminds them often enough of what she accomplished. It’s an amazing accomplishment in a conference that is so difficult. And for us to play the most difficult schedule in the league, we went to a lot of ranked teams and earned all those wins on the road. We definitely earned it.”

The Bulls (15-14, 7-8) did not make it easy for the Irish to earn the win.

With 30 seconds left before halftime, South Florida tied the game at 38 on a seven-point run. A three-pointer from graduate student guard Brittany Mallory put the Irish up three points at the break, but the Bulls gained the lead for the first time three minutes into the second half. After a pair of made free-throws from Novosel and two successive breakaway layups from Irish junior guard Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame never lost it again.

“[Skylar’s run] was huge because it helped us respond to their run and start a run of our own,” McGraw said. “It was probably good for us to play from behind. We don’t do that a lot and it was good for us. Skylar’s defense really created a lot of turnovers. She got two or three steals in a row for layups. She had a mini-run of her own and that broke the game open.”

Irish graduate student forward Devereaux Peters broke a personal-best rebounding record against the Bulls with 18 boards. Peters also had 17 points, just behind Diggins’ 18 points.

Following the actual contest, the crowd took time to congratulate Novosel, Mallory, Peters and senior guard Fraderica Miller and two student managers for their contributions to Notre Dame as part of Senior Day.

The contest marked Notre Dame’s last regulation home game, but it will return again to the Purcell Pavilion for at least one and potentially two games in March to open the NCAA tournament.

“It was rough [against South Florida], but it was worth it with [Connecticut] on Monday,” Peters said. “We knew it was going to be a physical game to the very last second. It was good to get a taste of what the game is going to be like on Monday.”

The Irish and the Huskies met on Jan. 7 at the Purcell Pavilion, where No. 3 Notre Dame upset then-No. 2 Connecticut 74-67 in overtime.

“It’ll be a big game on Monday, but there will be less pressure on us now that we already have a share of the Big East title,” McGraw said. “We can relax, have fun and play like we enjoy playing. We’re much better when we play relaxed.”

Notre Dame and Connecticut will face off at 9 p.m. tonight at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., for the teams’ last game of the regular season. The game will be featured on ESPN2 as part of the network’s Big Monday coverage.



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