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ND Women’s Basketball: Too high a climb

Joseph Monardo | Sunday, February 12, 2012

On a day that was supposed to be a celebration of progress and a beacon of hope, No. 2 Notre Dame suffered its first loss in 22 games, falling to West Virginia 65-63 Sunday.

In the days leading up to the game, which was part of the national “Play 4Kay” event, the Irish raised $204,682 to help combat cancer in the name of former North Carolina State coach Kay Yow. After the successful fundraising effort, the Irish (24-2, 11-1 Big East) found themselves in a dogfight with the Mountaineers (18-6, 8-3).

Notre Dame clung to a two-point lead entering the final 1:30 of regulation, but a field goal from West Virginia junior center Asya Bussie as the shot clock expired tied the game with 37 seconds remaining. After a missed shot by junior guard Skylar Diggins, the Irish fouled Mountaineer sophomore guard Brooke Hampton with four seconds remaining. Hampton sunk both free throws and the Irish were unable to convert a last-second attempt as the Mountaineers escaped with a two-point upset.

“I feel like we have been building up to this game for a couple of weeks now. [We] haven’t really played well in a long time and I think the pressure really got to us today,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

Diggins led the Irish with a career-high 32 points. Graduate student forward Devereaux Peters grabbed 17 rebounds and recorded a career-high six blocks, but added only four points. Sunday’s game marked the fifth time in the last six games that Peters has reached at least 15 rebounds, becoming the third Irish player to have five such games in a single season. She is the first to do so since Shari Matvey in the 1979-1980 campaign.

Despite Peters’ effort, Bussie led the Mountaineers’ domination down low with her 22 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

“She’s an aggressive player and she really got us deep and was finishing,” Peters said of Bussie. “We couldn’t stop it. We weren’t keeping her out of the paint and she was getting easy layups. We weren’t doing our job on defense.”

The Irish offense struggled in the game’s opening stanza as early fouls and turnovers prevented Notre Dame’s normally potent scoring attack from taking control. The two teams traded baskets for the entire first half, with neither side opening up a lead of more than five points. West Virginia’s defense limited the Irish offense to a two-pronged attack, with 28 of Notre Dame’s 33 first-half points coming from Diggins and senior guard Natalie Novosel.

“I thought West Virginia played a great game,” McGraw said. “They are a very, very good team. They are a very good defensive team, they got us out of our rhythm and besides Skylar, nobody could really get anything going offensively.”

Despite their struggles, the Irish carried a 33-30 lead into halftime. Sparked by an 11-5 run to begin the second half, Notre Dame proceeded to push its lead to 11 points with just over 13 minutes left on the clock. The Mountaineers responded with a quick 7-0 run of their own and were able to stay with the Irish the rest of the way.

“We didn’t execute the offense like we have been. We weren’t able to put the kind of numbers that we usually do on the board,” McGraw said. “We were not shooting the ball well from the perimeter, and trying to drive it, they packed it in and took it away.

“Down the stretch, we are such a smart team and today we just looked flustered.”

The loss snapped the second-longest winning streak in school history for the Irish, whose only other loss this season came Nov. 20 against No. 1 Baylor.

“[I’m] really disappointed,” McGraw said. “Really, really disappointed for everybody. But hopefully that gets the pressure off our back and now we can settle in and start playing our game again because we really didn’t play our game today.”

With only four games remaining in their regular season schedule, including road games at No. 20 Louisville and No. 3 Connecticut, the Irish will have to regain their composure in a hurry. Diggins said Notre Dame’s loss Sunday came from a lack of intensity.

“We obviously became complacent,” she said. “We didn’t play any defense. We haven’t practiced with intensity this week and it showed. So we have to come back, it’s not the end of the season, it’s a loss, a bad loss.

“You know this league that we play in, and we know it, too — any team can lose and we were at home … We have to learn from this loss, but you have to let it go and get ready for the next game.”

The Irish will look to rebound Tuesday when they host Providence at 7 p.m.

Contact Joseph Monardo at [email protected]