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Women’s Basketball: Rocky Mountain High

Molly Sammon | Tuesday, March 27, 2012

RALEIGH, N.C. – For the second time in the tournament’s history, each of the four No. 1-seeded teams will compete in the Final Four. Notre Dame will be featured among the other top teams – Stanford, Baylor and Connecticut – after a 80-49 win over Maryland in the Raleigh, N.C., regional final Tuesday at PNC Arena.

“I could not be prouder of this team to handle the expectations all year long of being a No. 1 seed with a target on our back and to make it to the Final Four.” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

This will be Notre Dame’s fourth trip to the Final Four in program history and the first time the Irish have ever qualified in back-to-back seasons.

“This puts us in more elite company” McGraw said. “This is something that [junior guard] Skylar [Diggins] has brought to our program. I think we now have a place with all the elite programs in the country, and I couldn’t be prouder of that.”

Diggins led the Irish with her first career triple-double, the first triple-double by a Notre Dame player since 1990. She had 22 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in 38 minutes of time on the court. Diggins also added five steals for the Irish.

“I think we felt the pressure,” Diggins said. “I think that we embrace the pressure, and I think that expectations that others put on us doesn’t exceed the ones that we put on ourselves anyway. We were very confident coming into this game, very loose.”

Sophomore forward Natalie Achonwa came off the bench to put up 18 points for the Irish and shot 70 percent from the field. Starting sophomore forward Kayla McBride scored 16 points for the Irish, including two 3-pointers, and senior guard Natalie Novosel had 14 points.

“We scored every way we wanted to,” McGraw said. “We scored inside and out. We just really did a fantastic job on offense. Skylar managed the game and to have a triple-double in a regional final, that’s an amazing accomplishment.”

The Irish outrebounded the Terrapins 46-27, despite Maryland’s height advantage.

“I was really proud of our defense,” McGraw said. “I think we read a lot about Maryland defense and size factor. I felt that we did a fantastic job in the half court man-to-man defense. We did a great job on the boards.”

Diggins earned the title of the Regional All-Tournament Team’s Most Outstanding Player. Achonwa, McBride and Novosel all joined her on the Raleigh Regional All-Tournament Team.

“I thought this was going to be a close game back and forth,” McGraw said. “I thought at the end our leadership and experience would give us the edge. I thought we might get ten points ahead. I did not envision this. I’m amazed at how my team came out.”

Notre Dame will head back to South Bend before the Final Four teams convene in Denver. The Irish are set to face Big East rival No. 3 Connecticut , whom the Irish beat twice in the regular season but fell to in the conference tournament final.

“I think this [Maryland] game is great momentum for us going into [the Connecticut game],” Diggins said. “Our goal is getting back to the championship, which is what we have wanted to do all year. it’s going to be a battle and it always is. There is nothing you could tell us about UConn that we don’t already know. This team is prepared. We’ve played them a lot of times, and we just have to execute.”

The Irish will tip off with Connecticut at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Denver.


Contact Molly Sammon at [email protected]