Kayla McBride

No. 2 Irish Top Cincinnati, 76-50

Jan. 14, 2012

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CINCINNATI (AP)Natalie Novosel scored 21 points Saturday, and point guard Skylar Diggins steadied Notre Dame’s balanced offense with 11 assists, leading the Fighting Irish to a hard-fought 76-50 victory over Cincinnati.

“You should have seen us hobbling down the steps,” McGraw said. “Four or five had ice bags coming down the steps. All the travel and flying – it’s been an ordeal in the training room for us.”

The Fighting Irish (17-1, 5-0 BIG EAST) completed a challenging stretch – four road games out of the last five. Their only home game during that stretch was a 74-67 overtime win that snapped Connecticut’s 57-game BIG EAST winning streak.

They came through it with a few limps but no losses. Notre Dame has won 14 straight, extending one of the three best starts in school history.

“It’s just a focus thing, executing the plan for the team you’re playing,” said point guard Skylar Diggins, who matched her season high with 11 assists. “We’ve done that lately, and plan to continue to do that.”

They not only survived the tough stretch, but got a little more versatile during it, too.

Natalie Novosel scored 21 points and Devereaux Peters had 17 points as Notre Dame emphasized going inside against the overmatched Bearcats (9-8, 0-4). The Irish lead the nation with 84.2 points per game, getting a lot of baskets off jumpers and turnovers.

Novosel made back-to-back 3s and a pair of free throws as Notre Dame quickly pushed the lead to 15 points. She had 18 points in the first half, which ended with Notre Dame ahead 42-21. Novosel has scored in double figures in her last 25 games, the second-longest streak in school history.

“It was just what the defense gave me,” Novosel said. “I was able to keep shooting. I was hot, so I shot with confidence.”

With Diggins flipping no-look passes inside, the Fighting Irish scored 40 of their points in the paint. Peters had nine points during a 16-2 run that opened the second half, pushed the lead to 35 points and prompted McGraw to rest her worn-down starters.

“We’ve been talking about putting in a couple of new plays so we could look inside a little more,” McGraw said. “In the second half, we got a lot of good looks. That’s what we need. That’s our next step. In order to get better, we’ve got to be able to score in the blocks and get easy baskets. We did that today.”

Diggins scored a season-low four points, taking only five shots. Instead, she spent the game looking for teammates. She hit Peters with a no-look pass for a layup that made it 34-17 in the first half. She also had four assists during the 16-2 run that opened the second half.

“That’s nothing new for me,” Peters said. “We get a lot of good looks running the floor, and she sees everybody. And everybody was hitting their shots.”

The Irish had a large contingent of green-clad fans in the crowd of 2,906, which included Bearcat fans who stuck around from the men’s 82-78 win over Villanova earlier in the afternoon.

The Bearcats fell apart against Notre Dame’s unrelenting defensive pressure, turning the ball over 19 times while falling behind by 35. They finished with 22 turnovers, one shy of their season high. Notre Dame let up after getting the big lead.

Dayeesha Hollins had 14 for Cincinnati, which had 11 assists as a team, matching Diggins’ total.

— ND —

POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame’s 17-1 record ties for the second-best 18-game start in school history, trailing the 18-0 debut in 2000-01 and matching the 17-1 record of the 2009-10 club … the Fighting Irish open BIG EAST Conference play with a 5-0 record for the first time since starting 2000-01 (12-0), while starting BIG EAST action with five consecutive wins for the fifth time in school history … Notre Dame’s 14-game winning streak is fifth-longest in school history, and longest since a 15-game streak to open the 2009-10 season … the Fighting Irish registered their 14th 20-point win of the season, and hold their opponent to 50 points or fewer for the 11th time this year … Notre Dame has won its last five road games, all by 20 points or more and all while holding its opponent to 60 points or fewer, including two victories at ranked opponents (66-38 at #12/14 Purdue on Dec. 10; 80-60 at #18/17 Georgetown on Jan. 10) … the Fighting Irish move to 8-0 all-time against Cincinnati (4-0 at home, 4-0 on the road), with the Bearcats joining Providence (19-0) as the two BIG EAST opponents Notre Dame has never lost to … Saturday’s margin was the second-largest in the series with Cincinnati, topped only by a 73-41 Fighting Irish win on Feb. 2, 2008, also at Fifth Third Arena … Notre Dame has held the Bearcats to 50 points or fewer in the past five series games (three of the past four have seen UC score EXACTLY 50 points) … the Fighting Irish rise to 75-16 (.824) all-time against Ohio schools, including a 32-7 (.821) record on the road … Notre Dame is 17-2 (.895) all-time when playing in the city of Cincinnati and has not lost in the Queen City since March 30, 1997, when the Fighting Irish fell to Tennessee, 80-66, in the national semifinals of the NCAA Women’s Final Four at Riverfront Coliseum … the Fighting Irish forced at least 20 opponent turnovers for the 13th time this year … Notre Dame recorded at least 20 assists for the 10th time this season … this marked just the second time all season the Fighting Irish did have at least three players score in double figures (the other was an 80-58 win over Southern California on Nov. 25 at the Junkanoo Jam in Freeport, Bahamas) … senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel scored in double figures for the 25th consecutive game, taking over sole possession of second place on the Fighting Irish charts (Beth Morgan had a 24-game run from Feb. 10, 1994-Jan. 19, 1995) — the school record is a 76-game double-digit scoring streak by Katryna Gaither from Dec. 28, 1994-Jan. 21, 1997 … Novosel also posted her third consecutive 20-point game, giving her six this season (13 in her career) and making her the second Notre Dame player this year to record three consecutive 20-point outings (junior guard Skylar Diggins also pulled off that feat against Hartford (22), at #1 Baylor (27) and against Southern California (22) from Nov. 17-25, then adding 19 points in her next game against #7/6 Duke on Nov. 26) … Diggins logged her third double-digit assist game of the year (and fourth of her career), tying her season high with 11 assists first set against #8/7 Kentucky on Dec. 18 at Purcell Pavilion … Diggins is the first Fighting Irish player with three double-digit assist games in one season since 2004-05 when Megan Duffy had four games with 10+ assists … Diggins also delivered her 400th career assist (she now has 402), becoming the seventh player in school history to reach that milestone … sophomore forward Ariel Braker scored a season-high seven points … fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Brittany Mallory appeared in her 130th career game, tying former teammate Ashley Barlow (2006-10), as well as Alicia Ratay (1999-2003) and Julie Henderson (1996-2000) for sixth place in school history.