Dec. 18, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Skylar Diggins and No. 3 Notre Dame carry a grudge.
Diggins made her only 3-pointer of the game and then forced a turnover as Notre Dame used an 11-0 run to finish off No. 8 Kentucky on Sunday, winning 92-83 and handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season. Not only did the Irish snap Kentucky’s 10-game winning streak, which was tied for second-best in the country, they avenged a loss last season in Lexington, Ky., in the first meeting between the teams.
“The pride thing kicked in,” Diggins said. “This was such a big game for us personally because we lost last year, we’re at home and it’s a very good team. All those things. We wanted to win.”
Natalie Novosel, a Lexington native, led five Irish players in double figures with 23 points, while Diggins (16 points, 11 assists) and Devereaux Peters (13 points, 13 rebounds) each had double-doubles. Notre Dame (10-1) has now won seven straight since losing to top-ranked Baylor.
Samantha Drake had 21 points for the Wildcats (10-1), who were playing their third ranked team in four games. A’dia Mathies had 17 before fouling out with 7:25 to play, and Samarie Walker, playing in her first game since transferring from Connecticut, had seven points and seven rebounds.
“Everyone did not play as hard as they could so that really put us in a bad position,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Because now you are putting people who have played extremely hard and you can’t get them much of a rest before they have to go back in.”
The Wildcats had won 10 straight behind one of the country’s nastiest defenses. They came in leading the country in turnover margin (plus 17) and steals (16.5), and were holding opponents to below 52 points a game.
Kentucky did force the Irish into 22 turnovers, scoring 27 points off the miscues. But the Irish, runners-up in last year’s national championship game, simply have too many options.
And too long of a memory.
“I thanked every one of them,” Novosel said, unable to keep the smile off her face. “I’m just really happy to get that win over Kentucky. It was a little revenge.”
The Irish led by as much as 10 early in the second half, only to have Kentucky keep finding ways to come back. Drake’s layup gave the Wildcats a 75-74 lead with 5:07 to play.
But the Irish showed a little nasty D of their own, holding the Wildcats to just two field goals the rest of the game while their offense kicked it up a notch with the 11-0 run.
Novosel made a pair of free throws and Peters scored on a layup to put the Irish up 78-75 with 4:09 to play. Kentucky’s Bernisha Pinkett attempted a 3-pointer but it sailed over the rim and the Wildcats couldn’t corral the rebound, watching helplessly as it rolled out of bounds. After a timeout, Diggins coolly drilled a 3, drawing a roar from the sellout crowd of 9,149.
Diggins then stripped Amber Smith on Kentucky’s next possession.
“That was the nail in the coffin,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “And then to come up with steal after it, that was a momentum killer for them.”
“It was a 3-point game, and we asked our kids not to let the ball not to go long, and press,” Mitchell said. “It happens sometimes. We make mistakes and we let them go straight line, and I think our team faded at that point.”
Drake fouled Novosel, who made both free throws. After a Kentucky miss, Peters scored on an easy layup and, just like that, the Irish were back up 85-75 with 2:40 to play.
Kentucky never threatened again.
“We just have more of a sense of urgency,” Diggins said. “This team wants to win.”
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame earns its third win against a Top 25 opponent in four tries this season, while also picking up its second victory over a top-10 foe this year (56-54 vs. No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26) … this marks the third time in four years the Fighting Irish have collected three wins over ranked opponents prior to Christmas … Notre Dame registers two top-10 wins before Christmas for the fifth time in school history and first since the 2004-05 season, when it defeated No. 6 Duke (76-65) and No. 10/9 Ohio State (66-62) at Purcell Pavilion in the semifinals and final of the Preseason WNIT (Nov. 17 & 20, 2004) … the Fighting Irish post their first win at home against a top-10 opponent since Jan. 23, 2005, when they defeated No. 6/7 Rutgers, 63-47 … Notre Dame’s 92 points are the most it has scored against a ranked opponent since Feb. 25, 2003 (93-58 vs. No. 21/19 Miami-Fla. at Purcell Pavilion), and the most against a top-10 foe since Jan. 15, 2001 (92-76 vs. No. 1 Connecticut, also at Purcell Pavilion) … the Fighting Irish have won 24 consecutive games when coming off their mid-December final exam break, with their last post-exam loss coming on Dec. 21, 1985 (73-67 vs. UCLA at Purcell Pavilion) … Notre Dame evens its abbreviated series with Kentucky at 1-1, avenging last year’s 81-76 loss in Lexington … the Fighting Irish have won six of their last seven games against Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams, with the one loss being at UK last season … Notre Dame had five double-figure scorers for the third time this season, and improves to 39-4 (.907) in the past three years when at least four players crack double digits … Notre Dame had two players post double-doubles in the same game for the first time since Dec. 29, 2010, in a 70-61 win over Gonzaga in Seattle, Wash. (Diggins – 19 pts/11 rebs; Peters – 10 pts/10 rebs) … Diggins notched her third career double-double with a season-high 11 assists, becoming the first Fighting Irish player to tally a points/assists double-double since Feb. 12, 2011, when Brittany Mallory had 10 points and 10 assists … Diggins posted her second career double-digit assist game, logging a career-high 12 assists on March 26, 2011, against No. 21/20 Oklahoma in a 78-53 victory in the NCAA Dayton Regional semifinals in Dayton, Ohio … Diggins has dished out at least seven assists in the past four games (33 total), the first time a Notre Dame player has had four consecutive seven-assist outings since Jan. 13-24, 2001, when current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey pulled off a similar feat against Virginia Tech (8), No. 1 Connecticut (10), Seton Hall (7) and West Virginia (9) … Peters collected her 13th career double-double, and second in as many games (second this season) … Peters also was the last Notre Dame player with double-doubles in consecutive games, doing so against Temple (17 pts/12 rebs) and Oklahoma (17 pts/13 rebs) in the second round and regional semifinals of last year’s NCAA Championship on March 21 & 26 … Peters also blocked a season-high three shots … Novosel moved up two spots into 22nd place on the Notre Dame career scoring list with 1,163 points, passing both former teammate Becca Bruszewski (1,148 from 2007-11) and Courtney LaVere (1,150 from 2002-06) during Sunday’s game … Notre Dame topped the 90-point mark for the fourth time this year, and rise to 159-6 (.964) when scoring at least 80 points during its BIG EAST Conference era (1995-96 to present), including a 36-2 (.947) record in the past three seasons … the Fighting Irish are 62-1 (.984) when leading at halftime during the past three years … Notre Dame welcomed its first women’s basketball sellout crowd of the season, as well as the 12th in the past three years and 18th in school history (first since Feb. 26, 2011, vs. Cincinnati).