Feb. 1, 2010
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) –Notre Dame looked tired in its fourth game in eight days. The Irish were clinging to a two-point lead against hard-charging Rutgers, and their coach still wasn’t worried.
Muffet McGraw’s team just keeps finding ways to win.
Skylar Diggins scored 14 points and keyed a late run to help the third-ranked Irish beat Rutgers 75-63 on Monday night.
“It’s the veterans. At the end of the game I’m so confident in this team,” McGraw said. “In timeouts I don’t have anything to say. They know what they have to do and go out and do it.”
The Irish are 5-0 since their loss to top-ranked UConn on Jan. 16, but haven’t played their best basketball. Notre Dame (20-1, 7-1 BIG EAST) trailed by double digits against Louisville and West Virginia, and blew a 16-point lead against Syracuse before rallying for a late victory.
“Champions will find a way to win,” said Melissa Lechlitner, who finished with 12 points against the Scarlet Knights. “That’s what made us so successful so far into the season, digging down and finding a way to get a win.”
Becca Bruszewski added 13 to help Notre Dame beat Rutgers for the first time since 2005.
Khadijah Rushdan scored 16 points and Myia McCurdy matched her career high with 14 – all in the second half – for Rutgers (12-10, 4-4), which has lost three straight games.
Notre Dame was leading 44-36 midway through the second half when Rutgers started to rally behind McCurdy and Chelsey Lee. The two combined for 13 straight points for the Scarlet Knights, and Lee’s two free throws with 5:12 left cut the deficit to 52-50.
The Scarlet Knights trailed 55-52 after Rushdan’s putback with 4:05 to go, but Diggins’ layup kicked off a 9-1 run for Notre Dame. Leading 57-53, the Irish called a timeout and Ashley Barlow hit a 3-pointer to extend the advantage to seven and put the game away.
“That was a huge shot,” McGraw said. “I thought her 3 was really big, so important as it stretched the lead a little bit.”
Notre Dame trailed 9-5 before going on a 16-4 run over the next 6 minutes. Lechlitner started the spurt with a layup and Diggins added consecutive baskets. The Irish scored 10 straight before Rashidat Junaid’s layup ended a 5-minute scoring drought for the Scarlet Knights and made it 15-11. The Irish then scored six of the next eight points, capped by Natalie Novosel’s layup.
The Irish extended the advantage to 12 on Barlow’s 3-pointer before Rutgers started pressing and trimmed the deficit to 31-23 at the half.
Rutgers is in the midst of a brutal stretch in the schedule. The Scarlet Knights lost to Connecticut, then fell to then-No. 17 Georgetown on Saturday before Monday’s game against the Irish.
“The type of schedule we play you don’t have easy games,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. “Everyone you play they’re legitimate.”
Rutgers leading scorer Brittany Ray has really struggled against the tough competition. She was 1 for 21, including going 0 for 10 from behind the arc, against UConn and Georgetown. Ray hit just 2 of 10 shots against the Irish, making her first 3-pointer. She missed her next seven shots before hitting a jumper in the final minute.
“I told her to stay confident her shots will fall,” McCurdy said. “Keep shooting.”
The schedule gets a bit easier for the Scarlet Knights after Monday night with games against the lower half of the BIG EAST.
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame registers its 20th victory of the season, marking the program’s 16th 20-win campaign in the past 17 seasons and 20th in the 23-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present) … the Fighting Irish earn their 20th win in their 21st game, with only the 2000-01 club getting to that milestone faster (that crew, which included current assistant coach Niele Ivey, did it in 20 games, as well as one calendar day earlier on Jan. 31, 2001, with a 64-44 home win over Providence) … Notre Dame snaps a five-game series losing streak vs. Rutgers, collecting its first win over the Scarlet Knights since Jan. 23, 2005 (a 63-47 triumph at Purcell Pavilion) … the Fighting Irish also break a four-game skid at the Louis Brown Athletic Center (aka “The RAC”), earning their first victory over Rutgers in Piscataway since Feb. 16, 2002 (a 57-52 win) … Monday’s 12-point margin of victory is Notre Dame’s largest in its four series wins at Rutgers, with the other three victories all coming by single digits … Notre Dame’s 75 points are the most it has scored against the Scarlet Knights since Feb. 19, 2000, when it logged a 78-74 overtime win in Piscataway (a game best remembered for then-freshman guard Alicia Ratay’s 7-for-7 effort from the three-point line, including two triples in the final 16 seconds of regulation that forced the OT period) … the Fighting Irish finish up a stretch of four games in eight days, winning all four contests (vs. #16/11 West Virginia, vs. Providence, at Syracuse and at Rutgers) … Monday marks the fourth time this season Notre Dame has played twice in a three-day span, with the Fighting Irish improving to 4-0 on the back half of these tight turnarounds (and 8-1 in such contests during the past two seasons) … since the start of the 2007-08 season, Notre Dame is 26-10 (.722) on the road, with a 6-1 record this season … the Fighting Irish open the month of February with a win, continuing a trend that has seen them go 82-23 (.781) in February games since joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96, and 130-38 (.774) in the month of February during the McGraw era … Notre Dame forces at least 20 opponent turnovers for the 18th time this season, while notching double-digit steals for the 15th time … the Fighting Irish have five double-figure scorers for the fourth time this season, and second in three games … fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Lindsay Schrader moves into 15th place on the Notre Dame career scoring list with 1,293 points, passing Megan Duffy (1,290 points from 2002-06) … junior forward Devereaux Peters tallies her second double-figure scoring game of the year, adding to her 12-point effort at top-ranked Connecticut on Jan. 16 … junior forward Becca Bruszewski posts her eight double-digit scoring night of the season, and second in three games … freshman guard Skylar Diggins notches a game-high four steals, giving her a team-high 51 thefts for the season and making her the seventh Notre Dame freshman in history to record 50 steals in her rookie campaign (current Fighting Irish senior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow was the most recent player to accomplish that feat with 63 steals in 2006-07).