Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins, right, drives the lane as Vanderbilt guard Meredith Marsh defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Thursday Dec. 31, 2009, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

Irish End '09 with 74-69 Win Over Vanderbilt

Dec. 31, 2009

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)–Third-ranked Notre Dame got the two things Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw was looking for most against No. 18 Vanderbilt: a challenge and a victory.

“It was good for us to get that test and that challenge,” she said. “I thought we responded well.”

The Fighting Irish, who hadn’t trailed by more than five points all season, trailed by eight in the first half before pulling out the 74-69 victory on Thursday before a crowd of 9,149, the seventh sellout in the team’s history.

It was the closest game for the Irish (12-0) since a 68-67 win at Michigan State on Nov. 19. It looked for a while as though the Irish would beat the Commodores (11-2) pulling away, with the Irish opening a 70-56 lead when Skylar Diggins made a pair of free throws with 3:43 left.

A 13-2 run by Vanderbilt cut the lead to 72-69 when Jessica Mooney hit a jumper in the paint with 7 seconds left, but Lindsay Schrader was fouled on the inbounds pass and made a pair of free throws to put the game away as the Irish improved to 4-0 against ranked opponents this season.

Schrader finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds for her 13th career double-double, a school record for a guard at Notre Dame, although the 6-foot senior plays much more like a post player most games.

“She’s amazing,” McGraw said. “She’s just a workhorse. She’s just going to work and be physical and she’s just a nightmare to guard.”

Schrader said although she plays inside quite a bit and frequently guards the opponents’ post player, she still thinks of herself as a guard.

“Absolutely,” she said.

“Just as long as you don’t have to jump center, I think we’ll be OK,” McGraw joked.

The Irish outscored Vanderbilt 22-10 on second-chance points, outrebounding the Commodores 56-41. Many of Notre Dame’s rebounds came with Tiffany Clarke sitting on the bench with foul trouble, as she played just 24 minutes, finishing with 11 points and nine rebounds.

“Once she came out of the game I knew they were going to attack the basket and get second and third shots,” Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. “Maybe a couple of those rebounds she would have gotten.”

Balcomb said the other thing that hurt the Commodores was Notre Dame’s 9-0 run to end the first half, giving the Irish a 43-34 lead at intermission.

“I thought these teams were very evenly matched and that one spurt where they shot 5 for 8 and got any offensive rebound they wanted in those four minutes was really important,” she said.

Diggins added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Irish and Melissa Lechlitner added 14 points. Jence Rhoads led Vanderbilt with 18 points, Merideth Marsh added 11 and Jessica Mooney had 10.

McGraw said she hopes her team isn’t paying attention to the fact the Irish are off to their second-best start ever, have the fourth-longest winning streak in school history or where they are in the rankings.

“It’s like a pitcher whose thrown a no-hitter going into the eighth inning and you look around in the dugout and no one’s asking him any questions. That’s where I want to be,” she said. “I want to get a shield around me so we don’t have to answer the questions of what comes next.”

— ND —

POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame’s 12-game winning streak ties for the fourth-longest in school history (first set by the 1989-90 squad), and it remains the longest since a school-record 23-game run to open the 2000-01 season … the Fighting Irish knock off their fourth ranked opponent this season, while also toppling four ranked non-conference foes for the second year in a row (last year the ranked quartet was LSU, Michigan State, Purdue and Vanderbilt) … Notre Dame leads the BIG EAST Conference with four wins over ranked opponents this season, while Connecticut is right behind with three (they make up the majority of the conference’s 10 ranked wins to date) … the Fighting Irish have led by double figures in all four of their ranked victories this season … Notre Dame improves to 4-1 all-time against Vanderbilt, having won four in a row since the Commodores took the initial series meeting, 86-64 in Nashville on Jan. 8, 1989 … Vanderbilt was making its first visit to South Bend since Jan. 4, 1990 (a 77-63 Notre Dame win over the 20th-ranked Commodores that marked the first home victory over a ranked foe in school history) … while Notre Dame has won four of five over Vanderbilt, the series has been closely-contested, with the Fighting Irish amassing 346 points in the series, while the Commodores have registered 339 points to date (the past three series games have been decided by eight points or less) … Notre Dame has won four consecutive games against Southeastern Conference opponents dating back to the start of last season, extending the longest run against the SEC in program history … Thursday’s win was the first home win over an SEC opponent for the Fighting Irish since Dec. 19, 1993, when Notre Dame defeated LSU, 82-80 at Purcell Pavilion … the Fighting Irish collected 26 offensive rebounds, their highest total since Nov. 26, 2001 (26 vs Army at Purcell Pavilion), while their 56 total boards were two short of the season best set in the Nov. 15 opener vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff … Notre Dame blocked a season-high 10 shots, its first time reaching double figures in that category since a 10-block night at St. John’s on March 3, 2008 … Notre Dame trailed by eight points three times in the first seven minutes, marking its largest deficit of the season (previously was five points, 56-51 with 10:16 left at Michigan State on Nov. 19) … fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader set a new school record for guards with her 13th career double-double, breaking the old mark previously held by current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey (1996-2001) … Schrader has two double-doubles this season, both against ranked opponents and both including season-high rebound totals (12p/14r at #21 Michigan State; 18p/14r vs, #18/16 Vanderbilt) … Schrader’s season-high 18 points also pulled her within two of 19th place on the school’s career scoring list with 1,192 points (Krissi Davis scored 1,194 points from 1987-91) … senior guard/tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner’s 14 points were one off her season high set against South Carolina on Nov. 27 at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands … freshman guard Skylar Diggins not only logged her eighth double-figure scoring game of the season, but also finished one shy of her season bests for rebounds (8 vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Nov. 15) and assists (5, twice, the last on Dec. 20 vs. Charlotte) … junior forward Devereaux Peters’ four blocks were one off her career best, set in her first college game on Nov. 9, 2007 vs. visiting Miami (Ohio) in the opening round of the Preseason WNIT … Peters’ eight rebounds also were the most she has had in a game since Jan. 27, 2008, when she posted her first career double-double (10 points, career-high 12 rebounds) against Connecticut at Purcell Pavilion … for the second time in three games, senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow snared a season-high eight rebounds, having also done so on Dec. 20 vs. Charlotte … junior guard Brittany Mallory collected her team-high third “5-5-5” game of the season with eight points, five rebounds and five assists in 19 minutes … Thursday’s crowd of 9,149 marked the seventh sellout in program history and the first since the renovated Purcell Pavilion opened with the smaller capacity this season … the crowd also was the 14th-largest in school history (the other 13 all came with the older and larger version of the Joyce Center with a capacity of 11,418) … Notre Dame is 6-2 (.750) all-time when playing on New Year’s Eve and has won five of the past six times it has played on Dec. 31 … the Fighting Irish are 19-14 (.576) all-time in their final game of a calendar year … for the second time in the program’s 33-year history, Notre Dame closed out a decade with a victory, having previously lost in its final game of the 1970s (66-60 in overtime at home to Michigan on Dec 8, 1979) and 1980s (70-61 at Temple on Dec. 29, 1989) before winning to end the 1990s (88-65 at home vs. Valparaiso on Dec. 29, 1999) … the Fighting Irish wrap up the decade of the 2000s with a 239-85 (.738) record, including a 134-20 (.870) mark at home and a 117-43 (.731) BIG EAST Conference regular season record, with the 2001 national championship, 2001 BIG EAST regular season co-championship, five NCAA Sweet 16 appearances (2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2008) and the 2004 Preseason WNIT title highlighting the most successful 10-year span in program history.