Guard Skylar Diggins celebrates during the first half.

#4 Notre Dame Overwhelms Liberty in First Round, 74-43

March 18, 2012

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NOTRE DAME, IND. (AP)Kayla McBride scored 15 points, and top-seeded Notre Dame opened the game with an 11-0 run to rout Liberty 74-43 on Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

The Irish (31-3) will face California (25-9) on Tuesday at the Purcell Pavilion, where Notre Dame is 16-1 this season. The Golden Bears beat Iowa 84-74 in the first game.

“It was important for us to come out and understand that the game started at 0-0 and we did not want to underestimate them, so we wanted to get off to a good start,” guard Skylar Diggins said.

“We hadn’t played in a while and that fed into it a lot. Plus, it’s the NCAA tournament and upsets happen on both sides (men and women) and you don’t want to be that team. So, we wanted to make a statement right off the tip and control the tempo right away.”

Natalie Novosel and Brittany Mallory hit 3-pointers to open the scoring. Kayla McBride converted a three-point play and Devereaux Peters hit a jumper for an 11-0 lead. After Liberty rallied to within 16-8, the Irish took off on another 11-0 run to lead 44-19 at halftime behind 13 points from McBride.

Playing in her first NCAA tournament game, McBride had 13 of her team-high 15 points in the first half to get the Irish moving.

“I came out with a sense of urgency to try and get into the flow of the game and try to get good shots,” McBride said.

“I think she was so anxious to play in her first NCAA and she really came out well,” McGraw said of McBride.

” I thought she might be a little bit nervous but she was fine right from the start. She got a good look at an inside layup early and that got her off to a really good start. …She is so important to our success.”

Devon Brown scored 16 for Liberty (24-9).

The Irish’s biggest lead was 34 in the second half as coach Muffet McGraw was able to substitute freely and rest her starters late in the game.

Novosel finished with 12 points and Peters 10. Diggins, the Irish’s leading scorer at 17 points a game, attempted only six shots and finished with seven points to go with nine rebounds and six assists. The Irish didn’t need her to score.

“She really had a complete game. She could have shot a lot more. I thought she was a little too unselfish today. She worked defensively and she went and got the ball rebounding wise,” McGraw said.

Notre Dame shot 48.5 percent to 31 percent for the Flames, who managed only 42 shots. Danika Dale added 12 points for Big South champion Liberty, which got 10 rebounds from Avery Warley.

Liberty, averaging 20 turnovers, had 23 – 17 in the first half. Known for their tough rebounding, the Flames were beaten on the boards 38-29, including 15-9 on the offensive glass.

— ND —

POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame advances to the second round of the NCAA Championship, earning a first-round victory for the 15th time in its last 17 NCAA tournament appearances and improving to 33-17 (.660) all-time in NCAA postseason play … the Fighting Irish set a school record for NCAA Championship action by holding Liberty to 43 points, one fewer than the old mark (58-44 win over New Mexico in the first round of the 2002 NCAA Championship – March 17, 2002, in Knoxville, Tenn.) … Notre Dame also extends its school record by holding its 18th opponent of the season to 50 points or fewer … Notre Dame also is 19-2 (.905) all-time in the NCAA Championship (50 games) when limiting its opponents to 60 points or fewer … in its last 57 halves of basketball (dating back to the second half against No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26 at the Junkanoo Jam in Freeport, Bahamas), Notre Dame has held its opponent to 25 points or fewer on 31 occasions (54.4 percent of the time), including 18 halves (31.6 percent) when the opposition didn’t reach 20 points in a half … other NCAA postseason school records Notre Dame set on Sunday include: fewest field goals allowed (previous was 15 by Alcorn State in a first-round game on March 17, 2001, at Purcell Pavilion), fewest field goals attempted (previous was 48 on two occasions, the last by Boston College in the first round on March 19, 2006, in West Lafayette, Ind.) … the Fighting Irish rise to 7-0 all-time as a No. 1 seed and 9-2 all-time in NCAA Championship action at Purcell Pavilion … Sunday’s win lifts Notre Dame to 16-1 at home this season, tying the school record for home victories in a season (16-1 in 2009-10) … the Fighting Irish register their 31st win of the season, tying for the second-most victories in one season in school history (also 31-7 in 1996-97, 31-8 in 2009-10) … Notre Dame tied a school record with its 12th win by 30 points or more this season, a mark the Fighting Irish set just last season … the Fighting Irish 31-point margin of victory tied for their fourth-largest winning margin in NCAA Championship play, and largest since an 88-54 victory over Michigan in the second round of the 2001 tournament (March 19, 2001, at Purcell Pavilion) … Notre Dame’s 25-point halftime lead (44-19) was its largest in 50 all-time NCAA Championship games, one better than its 47-23 lead at the break against Alcorn State in the first round of the 2001 NCAA tournament (March 17, 2001, at Purcell Pavilion) … Liberty’s 19 points were the third-fewest allowed by the Fighting Irish in the first half of an NCAA Championship game (fourth-fewest in any half of those 50 tournament games), and fewest since Oklahoma’s 17 points in the first half of last year’s NCAA Dayton Regional semifinal (March 26, 2011) … conversely, Notre Dame topped the 70-point mark for the 12th time in its last 14 NCAA Championship contests … the Fighting Irish tied a school record for NCAA Championship play with 25 assists, a mark they had set twice before (most recently on March 21, 2010, in the first round of the NCAA Championship against Cleveland State at Purcell Pavilion) — it also was the 14th time Notre Dame had 20 assists in a game, and seventh with at least 25 assists … the Fighting Irish had at least three double-figure scorers for the 29th time this season … Notre Dame rises to 3-0 all-time against Liberty, with the Lady Flames being the first Big South Conference team ever to play at Purcell Pavilion … Notre Dame becomes the second team in 33 games this season to outrebound Liberty, which entered the game as the nation’s leader in rebounding margin (+16.4 rpg.) — High Point held a slim 37-36 edge on the glass against the Lady Flames on Feb. 6 … sophomore guard Kayla McBride’s 15 points were the most by a Notre Dame player in her NCAA Championship debut since March 19, 2006, when Lindsay Schrader scored 29 points against Boston College in a first-round game at West Lafayette, Ind. …sophomore forward Natalie Achonwa tied her career high with five assists, a mark she first set in her college debut game against New Hampshire on Nov. 12, 2010, at Purcell Pavilion … junior guard Skylar Diggins grabbed a season-high nine rebounds, one more than her previous best against No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26 in Freeport, Bahamas … Sunday’s attendance of 6,777 is the third-largest for Notre Dame in a home NCAA Championship game, and largest since March 19, 2001, when 9,597 fans watched the Fighting Irish defeat Michigan, 88-54 in a second-round game (the first-round win over Alcorn State drew 8,553 fans two days earlier — Purcell Pavilion’s capacity at the time was 11,418, but now stands at 9,149).