March 11, 2013
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Notre Dame is back in the BIG EAST tournament title game for a third straight season, and the Fighting Irish hope their luck is about to change.
“It would mean a lot for our program,” Diggins said. “The first ever would be great. This year, we’re hoping it would be wonderful to get one for coach (Muffet) McGraw. It’s the one thing we’re missing besides a national championship.”
Notre Dame has now reached the title game seven times since joining the conference in 1995, but the Irish have lost the previous six to perennial BIG EAST powerhouse Connecticut. The Irish will get another chance against UConn on Tuesday night. The Huskies beat Syracuse 64-51 to advance to the title game.
“We wanted to play in South Bend,” McGraw said laughing. “For us we’re going in with the same mindset that we did with both the games this year. It’s tough to beat a team three times in a year. It’s going to be another battle and war. Regardless of the outcome it will get us ready for the NCAA tournament win or lose.”
The top-seeded Irish extended a school record with their 25th straight victory. Only top-ranked Baylor, which handed Notre Dame its only loss this season, has a longer active winning streak.
The Irish (30-1) led the Cardinals by six at the half before opening the second period with a 13-2 run to take command. Louisville coach Jeff Walz got the play he wanted to start the second half when Antonita Slaughter had an open 3 – which she missed.
“It’s a six-point game at the half and if that goes in it’s a three-point game,” he said. “We have some momentum in our favor. She couldn’t make it then they started scoring some in transition. They did a really nice job in scoring when they needed to.”
It only got worse for Louisville (24-8) as its deficit kept expanding. Notre Dame’s lead ballooned to 31 before Louisville closed the gap against the Irish reserves.
Shoni Schimmel scored 20 points and Sara Hammond added 12 to lead the Cardinals, who were playing their final game in the BIG EAST conference. They still will play next season in the new football conference before bolting to the ACC in two seasons.
“It’s been a good six years for me,” Walz said. “They do a really nice job of putting on a good tournament here.”
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” Diggins said. “It wouldn’t be disappointing (not to play UConn).”
The Irish have lost to the Huskies in the past two BIG EAST tournament title games, but have otherwise dominated the rivalry recently. Notre Dame has won every other game against UConn over the past few seasons, including two in the Final Four.
This season, Notre Dame went 16-0 in the conference, including a one-point win at Connecticut in January before a triple-overtime thriller last Monday night.
The Irish had no such trouble with Louisville. With the exception of a 5-minute stretch in the first half, they were in firm command.
Notre Dame jumped out to a 12-0 lead before Schimmel started heating up, tying it at 16 on her second 3-pointer of the opening half. Diggins answered with two 3s of her own to make it 26-20 and the Irish led 32-26 at the half.
The Irish handed the Cards their worst loss of the season with a 93-64 victory Feb. 11.
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame advances to the BIG EAST Championship final for the third consecutive season and seventh time in school history … the Fighting Irish are 23-17 (.575) all-time in the BIG EAST Championship, including a 7-4 (.636) record in the tournament semifinals … in its last two BIG EAST Championship semifinal appearances, Notre Dame has won by an average of 26.0 points per game (defeated West Virginia 73-45 last year) … the Fighting Irish are 17-7 (.708) all-time as the higher seed in the BIG EAST Championship … Notre Dame registers its 30th win of the season, posting its third consecutive 30-win season after having two in its history prior to the 2010-11 campaign … the Fighting Irish reach the 30-win mark faster than any team in program history (last year’s club did it in 32 games) … Notre Dame stretches its school-record winning streak to 25 games … the Fighting Irish are 10-1 against ranked opponents this year, including an active eight-game winning streak against Top 25 teams … the Fighting Irish are 10-0 this season when playing on one day’s rest or less, including five wins over ranked opponents … Notre Dame is 19-0 this season when it has four players score in double figures, as well as 71-4 (.947) in the past four years when it pulls off that feat … Notre Dame is 12-13 (.480) all-time at the XL Center, including a 11-5 (.688) record against opponents other than Connecticut (which uses the building as one of its home courts during the regular season) … the Fighting Irish improve to 10-4 all-time against Louisville, including an active seven-game winning streak … Notre Dame also is 3-0 against the Cardinals in the BIG EAST Championship (all three wins in the past four seasons) … senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins tied her season high with four three-pointers, having also canned four treys on March 2 at Providence … senior guard/co-captain Kaila Turner scored a season-best 12 points, having tallied 11 points twice before (Dec. 20 vs. Kansas State in Las Vegas; Feb. 2 vs. Cincinnati at Purcell Pavilion) … Turner’s three treys also match her season high set against both Kansas State (Dec. 20) and Providence (Jan. 26 at Purcell Pavilion) … for the third time, junior guard Kayla McBride tied her career high with five assists, most recently on Jan. 26 vs. Providence … Notre Dame shot at least 90 percent from the free throw line for the fifth time this season and first since Jan. 23 (season-high .941 at Pittsburgh).