March 25, 2012
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Notre Dame guard Brittany Mallory has heard it from her coach’s husband for the past year. He keeps reminding her of last year’s loss in the national title game and how it can propel the Fighting Irish forward this time.
The halfway point of their march toward redemption gave them a place in history – and came with no drama.
The Irish routed St. Bonaventure 79-35 Sunday in the Raleigh Regional semifinals, setting an NCAA tournament record for fewest points allowed in a regional game – while their 44-point romp also matched the 22-year-old record for scoring margin at the regional stage of the women’s NCAA tournament.
“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘Chip on the shoulder,” Mallory said. “I think we’ve all been playing with that. It’s been a big emphasis. The last game last year, we didn’t accomplish what we wanted, so we’ve just been using that as our main … emphasis this year.”
They shot 52.5 percent, never trailed and led by 45 in advancing to face second-seeded Maryland (31-4) on Tuesday night with a spot in the Final Four on the line.
“They’re a strong, strong rebounding team,” coach Muffet McGraw said of the Terrapins. “They have great size. We’re a team that plays four guards. We don’t match up well. They’re much more physical and so much bigger inside than we are.”
CeCe Dixon had 13 points and Doris Ortega added 11 for the fifth-seeded Bonnies (31-4), who shot a season-low 19 percent, allowed a season-high point total and finished with a season-worst 21 turnovers. They missed 11 of 12 attempts from 3-point range and had just two assists on their nine field goals.
Leading scorer Jessica Jenkins was scoreless – she entered averaging 14 points – and missed all six of her shots with Mallory leading the defensive effort that blanketed her.
“They’re really physical with you on cuts,” Jenkins said. “They don’t even let you set them up or anything. … They’re just really physical, and they’re really, really good at blowing up screens and running you off the 3-point line.”
The best season in school history – and the Bonnies’ first NCAA tournament berth – ended in abrupt, decisive fashion after they couldn’t recover from a disastrous start in which they went scoreless for more than 10 minutes.
“Forty minutes isn’t going to define our season,” coach Jim Crowley said. “It didn’t earlier in the year. It doesn’t right now.”
The Irish have won all three games in this tournament by double figures. This one equaled the 91-47 beating Louisiana Tech gave Purdue in the 1990 Midwest Regional semifinals, and it was another convincing step toward the national championship that slipped away a year ago.
Calling it unfinished business, they’ve been fueled by their loss in the 2011 title game to Texas A&M. They would’ve had another crack at those Aggies in the regional final, had the Terrapins not rallied to beat them 81-74 in the first semifinal.
“This is a really competitive group,” McGraw said. “When you go down through the team, you kind of realize that they’re all the type of player that just hates to lose. So when we lost the last game last year, I think the whole summer workout for them was about getting back, and kind of had that motivation, that extra motivation, to try to get back to that.”
Notre Dame made it to a regional final for the fourth time – they’ve advanced to the Final Four in each of the previous three – and did it by bringing a quick end to St. Bonaventure’s dream season.
The Bonnies simply couldn’t have started much worse: After Ortega’s layup 30 seconds in, they didn’t score again until Ortega’s three-point play pulled them within 16-5 with 9:32 left in the half. At its nadir, St. Bonaventure missed 20 of its first 23 shots and didn’t get into double figures until the final minute of the half when Jennie Ashton’s free throw with 52.2 seconds left made it 33-10.
The Irish pushed their lead into the 30s when Novosel’s layup with 17 minutes remaining made it 43-13 – and it only got worse from there.
“My biggest worry the whole time was if we could score,” Crowley said. “And, obviously, that came to fruition.”
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame advances to the NCAA regional final (Elite Eight) for the fourth time in school history (1997, 2001, 2011, 2012), and for the first time, it does so in consecutive seasons … the Fighting Irish set a new NCAA Championship record for fewest field goals allowed (nine), one less than four other teams allowed (the last being Rutgers, which gave up just 10 field goals to East Carolina on March 13, 2007) … Notre Dame set NCAA regional (Sweet 16) records for fewest points allowed in a game (previous was 36 by two teams, one day apart — Stanford vs. Georgia in Sacramento Regional semifinal on March 27, 2010, and Connecticut vs. Iowa State in Dayton Regional semifinal on March 28, 2010), lowest field goal percentage (also sixth-lowest all-time; previous Sweet 16 low was .203 allowed by Stanford vs. Georgia in Sacramento Regional semifinal on March 27, 2010), and margin of victory (tied the mark set by Louisiana Tech in 91-47 conquest of Purdue in Midwest Regional semifinal on March 22, 1990) … St. Bonaventure’s 13 first-half points (including a banked-in three-pointer at the halftime horn) were second-fewest by a team in the Sweet 16, topped only by Texas Tech’s 10 points vs. Rutgers on March 20, 1999, in the Midwest Regional semifinals (Penn State also scored 13 points in the first half at Connecticut in the East Regional final on March 29, 2004) … Notre Dame rewrote the school record book for NCAA Championship play, with the 35 points allowed easily topping the old mark of 44 allowed to New Mexico on March 17, 2002, in a Midwest Region first-round game (the Fighting Irish allowed just 11 second-half points to the Lobos, still a program record for fewest points given up in a half) … the margin of victory was second-best for Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament, exceeded only by a 98-49 win over Alcorn State on March 17, 2001, in a Midwest Region first-round game … St. Bonaventure’s nine field goals and .188 field goal percentage also were well below Alcorn State’s 15 baskets and .211 field goal percentage in that 2001 game …the .188 field goal percentage also was the lowest allowed by Notre Dame since Jan. 2, 2011, when Southeast Missouri State managed just an opponent record-low .125 mark (on 7-of-56 shooting) against the Fighting Irish …junior guard Kaila Turner had a career-high 4-for-5 effort from three-point range (she made her first four triple tries), the third-best mark from distance by a Fighting Irish player in the NCAA Championship, bettered only by 3-for-3 performances by Charel Allen (March 25, 2008, vs. Oklahoma) and current Fighting Irish senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel (March 21, 2011, vs. Temple) …in NCAA Championship play, Notre Dame improves to 9-0 all-time as a No. 1 seed, 20-2 (.909) when holding its opponent to 60 points or fewer, and 35-17 (.673) overall … Notre Dame has scored at least 70 points in 14 of its last 16 NCAA Championship games … the Fighting Irish are 52-7 (.881) against first-time opponents since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, including a 32-3 (.914) mark since the start of the 2000-01 season, and an 11-3 (.786) record away from home (7-0 at neutral sites, including 4-0 in the NCAA Championship) … Notre Dame is 70-18 (.795) all-time against the current Atlantic 10 Conference membership, extending its active winning streak to 15 games (and including a 4-0 record in the NCAA Championship) … the Fighting Irish are 53-5 (.914) all-time against teams from the state of New York, with a 26-5 (.839) record away from home and wins in 11 of their last 12 games … Notre Dame extended its school records this season with its 19th game holding opponents to 50 points or fewer, their seventh holding the opposition to 40 points or fewer, and their 13th win by at least 30 points … the Fighting Irish set a school record for largest margin of victory against a Top 25 opponent, exceeding the 35-point spreads on March 19, 2000 (95-60 vs. No. RV/23 George Washington in NCAA Mideast Region second-round game) and tied on Feb. 25, 2004 (93-58 vs. No. 21/19 Miami-Fla.) … Notre Dame rises to 13-2 against ranked opponents this season (9-2 away from home), with 10 of those wins coming by double digits, including five by at least 25 points … junior guard Skylar Diggins became the third player in school history to amass 200 assists in one season (she now has 204), joining current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey (247 in 2000-01) and Mary Gavin (205 in 1985-86, 214 in 1986-87, 243 in 1987-88) in this elite club … Diggins also delivered her 500th career assist (now at 502), becoming the seventh player in school history to reach that milestone and also passing Megan Duffy (500 from 2002-06) in the process.