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ND Women’s Basketball: Bearing Down

Matthew Robison | Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Led by a 28-point, nine-rebound performance by senior guard Natalie Novosel and 21 points from junior guard Skylar Diggins, the top-seeded No. 4 Irish took down California by a score of 73-62 Tuesday in Purcell Pavilion to advance to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.

California gave the Irish a run for their money in front of more than 6,000 fans, but Notre Dame was able to build a lead and maintain it.

“We knew this game was going to be a challenge,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “They gave us everything we could handle.”

Junior guard Layshia Clarendon led the Golden Bears with 17 points, while sophomore forward Gennifer Brandon added nine points and 12 rebounds.

But on the defensive end, the combination of Diggins and Novosel was simply too much for the Golden Bears to handle.

“We’ve got three really good guards; they can do so many things,” McGraw said. “[Novosel] and [Diggins] really took over.”

The Irish and the Bears were evenly matched through the first 10 minutes of play. Diggins hit a shot with 10 minutes remaining in the first half to give the Irish a narrow edge by a score of 17-15. The Irish managed to go on short 4-0 and 5-0 runs. But every time Notre Dame looked ready to pull away, the Golden Bears hit a big shot to quell the fire.

Novosel started hot, scoring 17 points in the first half. She also knocked down nine free throws, driving aggressively and getting to the charity stripe often. For the game, Novosel made more free throws than the entire Golden Bears squad attempted.

“My shots weren’t falling for me at first, so I started attacking the basket,” Novosel said. “I was able to get comfortable that way.”

California freshman forward Reshanda Grey hit a layup with 53 seconds remaining in the first half to put the Golden Bears up 31-29. Novosel answered at the other end with a jumper from the free throw line, sending the teams into the locker room all knotted up at 31. Novosel had her way with the California defense all night.

“Their trying to get up and pressure the ball made it a little easier for me,” Novosel said. “It was easier for me to get a step on them.”

The Irish broke out on an early 10-2 run in the second half on a putback by graduate student forward Devereaux Peters, a pair of free throws and a jumper by Diggins, a steal and a layup by sophomore guard Kayla McBride and a scoop shot by graduate student guard Brittany Mallory.

“We switched defenses at halftime,” McGraw said. “When the drive came, the guards were attacking the ball a little bit more. I thought that was pretty effective.”

“In the first half, we weren’t containing the ball at all and the guards were having their way to the basket,” Diggins said. “We wanted to make sure we did a better job staying in front of the ball, helping our bigs out a little bit. We were getting outworked. We had to pick up the hustle and I think we did a good job of that.”

With 12:29 remaining in the second half, Diggins was fouled hard on a breakaway layup. An intentional foul was called and Notre Dame was awarded two free throws and the ball. On that possession, the Irish pulled ahead by 17 and never looked back. California made a few runs, but the Irish never lost control.

“I was just so pleased with the way we came out in the second half,” McGraw said. “I thought we ratcheted up the intensity with our defense.”

On the other end, whenever the Irish offense seemed sluggish, Diggins was able to catalyze scoring with a drive, a steal or a quick pass.

“When you’ve got [Novosel] attacking like she is and so many people paying attention to her, I’m surrounded by good shooters, and I can throw anything to [Peters] and she’ll catch it,” Diggins said. “That opens up stuff for me. I think tonight, in particular, my teammates did a good job of finding me.”

Peters had perhaps her most complete statline of the year, finishing with 11 points, 14 rebounds, a career-high seven blocks and a game-high five assists.

“To be able to count on her for so many rebounds, and her assists today I thought were phenomenal,” McGraw said.

Peters said Notre Dame’s experience helped them withstand the Golden Bears’ challenge.

“We’re an older team, we’ve been here before,” Peters said. “I think we play a lot better when we keep our composure. We know what we have to do to execute.”

The Irish travel to Raleigh, N.C., on Saturday for a matchup with No. 5 St. Bonaventure.


Contact Matthew Robison at [email protected]