Natalie Achonwa

No. 5 Irish Dominate Saint Francis (Pa.), 128-55

Dec. 31, 2012

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) – The Notre Dame women saved their biggest performance for the end of the year.

The fifth-ranked Irish closed out 2012 and their pre-Big East season with a 128-55 rout of Saint Francis, tying their largest point total in school history, set last season in another pre-conference game against Mercer.

Whatever the Irish tried, worked, and it was that way from the opening tip. Natalie Achonwa and Kayla McBride sunk easy put-ins from the low post, many off give-and-go’s from point guard Skylar Diggins after they tossed her the ball from the high post and then rolled to the hoop.

Diggins set a career mark for assists with 14, beating her previous high of 12. The team had 38 assists with 10 turnovers.

“She’s a great player and there were some frustrating times for us,” said Saint Francis coach Joe Haigh. “We came in and tried to focus a lot defensively on her, and we didn’t do a good enough job with it. The focal point was to try and make somebody else handle the ball. But their whole roster is loaded with great players . top to bottom they’re just so talented.”

Haigh, a Notre Dame alumn whose wife, Sherry (Orlosky), played for coach Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame, said it remains to be seen how the lopsided loss will affect his team as it heads into Northeast Conference play, but he felt they remained competitive through the end of the game.

McGraw said she liked how her team performed heading into its Big East opener Saturday at top-ranked Connecticut.

“I was really pleased with our offensive execution,” McGraw said. “We shot the ball extremely well, and to look at the number of assists we had to the number of field goals, that’s a phenomenal team accomplishment. We played unselfishly.”

McGraw had her reserves into the game with 13 minutes to play in the first half. Markisha Wright, who played the most minutes of any Irish player, came off the bench to lead all scorers with 20 points, followed by Kayla McBride with 19, reserve Michaela Mabrey with 18 and Achonwa with 17.

Notre Dame (10-1) dominated on both ends of the floor, forcing 33 turnovers and turning them into 49 points. They shot 62 percent from the field, compared to just 36 percent by Saint Francis, outscored them 70-20 in the paint, and outrebounded them 46-25.

The Irish led 63-25 at the break, and little changed after halftime, with Notre Dame jumping out to a 18-2 run over the first five minutes of the second half.

Notre Dame tied their record-high in scoring, set against Mercer in a game last season, and the 73-point margin was the season’s largest. Notre Dame reached 100 points for the third time this season.

Alexa Hayward led the Red Flash (5-6) with 13 points.

It was the fifth straight sell-out for the Notre Dame women, who were coming off an emphatic 74-47 win over No. 11 Purdue on Saturday.

— ND —

POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame is off to an 11-1 start for the fifth time in six years and seventh time in school history (a run that started with the 2000-01 national championship season) … Notre Dame tied the school record for points in a game, first set on Dec. 30, 2011, at Mercer (128-42 victory) and posted the most points by any NCAA Division I team in a game this season (previous high was 118 by Troy at home against Furman on Nov. 18) … the Fighting Irish set a Purcell Pavilion record for points in a game, topping the old mark of 120 set on Jan. 17, 2012, against Pittsburgh (120-44 win) … Notre Dame registered its third 100-point game of the season (all in the past six contests), marking the first time in school history the Fighting Irish have topped triple digits three times in one season (it had been twice in a season on multiple occasions, including last year) … Notre Dame tied the school and arena records for assists in a game, first set on Dec. 21, 1990, against Marquette … the 75-point margin of victory is the fifth-largest in school history, and third-largest at home (in both cases, the largest since last year’s win over Pittsburgh) … the margin of victory also is the second-largest by an NCAA Division I team this season, exceeded only by Murray State’s 110-28 home win over NAIA member Mid-Continent University on Dec. 6 … the 38-point halftime lead was the largest of the season for Notre Dame, and five points off the school record (58-15 vs. Indiana State on Nov. 13, 2011, at Purcell Pavilion) … Notre Dame’s 47 field goals were one shy of the school record set last season in the Pittsburgh victory … senior guard Skylar Diggins dished out a career-high 14 assists, the most by a Fighting Irish player since Feb. 28, 1987, when Mary Gavin had a school-record 17 assists at Marquette … Diggins’ 14 assists are one off Gavin’s arena record, set against Northern Illinois on Dec. 15, 1985 (Gavin was the last to have 14 in a Purcell Pavilion game, doing so against Marquette on Jan. 31, 1987) … Diggins moved into fourth place on Notre Dame’s career assists chart with 592, passing Karen Robinson (579 from 1987-91) … Diggins also now has exactly 1,900 career points, the fourth Fighting Irish player ever to reach that scoring level … Notre Dame shot a season-best .618 from the field, its highest mark since last year’s Pittsburgh game (.649) … the Fighting Irish made a season-high 30 free throws on 34 tries, with the 30 foul shots tying for 10th on the school’s single-game list, and most since a school-record 43 free throws made in last year’s win at Mercer … Notre Dame tied its season high with 21 steals, having first set the mark on Nov. 18 against Massachusetts at Purcell Pavilion (UMass’ 34 overall turnovers are the opponent season high, two more than Saint Francis’ total on Monday) … the Fighting Irish had a season-high six players score in double figures, and are 61-4 (.938) in the past four seasons when they have at least four double-digit scorers (9-0 this year) … sophomore forward Markisha Wright scored a season-high 20 points, her second career 20-point game, and first since she was the most recent Fighting Irish player to come off the bench and have 20 points in a game (24 at Mercer on Dec. 30, 2011) … junior guard Kayla McBride tied her season high with 19 points, set two games ago against No. 22 Texas A&M (Dec. 21 in Las Vegas) … freshman guard Michaela Mabrey scored a season- (and career-) high 18 points and added a personal-best seven assists … freshman guard Jewell Loyd connected on all six of her shots from the field (including a three-pointer), coming one field goal attempt shy of qualifying for the Notre Dame record books (Diggins is the last Fighting Irish player to go perfect from the field on a minimum of seven attempts, going 8-for-8 in last year’s win at Mercer) … sophomore guard Madison Cable collected her second double-figure scoring game of the season, while adding six rebounds and a career-high five steals for her first-ever “5-5-5” game … Notre Dame improves to 2-0 all-time against Saint Francis … the Fighting Irish are 7-2 all-time when playing on New Year’s Eve … Notre Dame is 52-26 (.667) all-time against Pennsylvania schools, including a 27-5 (.844) record at home, where they have won their last 10 games against the Keystone State … the Fighting Irish are 258-19 (.931) since 2000-01 when leading at halftime, including wins in 186 of their last 199 games (.935), and a 95-2 (.979) record in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present) … since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, Notre Dame is 265-15 (.946) when it holds opponents to fewer than 60 points … conversely, the Fighting Irish are 175-6 (.967) in that same 18-year span when they score at least 80 points … Notre Dame has won 226 of its last 255 home games (.886), including a 53-5 (.914) mark since Purcell Pavilion was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season … the Fighting Irish are 108-8 (.931) in non-conference home games dating back to the 1994-95 season … Notre Dame welcomed its second sellout in three days, fourth in six home games this season, 23rd in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present) and 29th in school history … for the fifth time in seven home games (counting the exhibition season), the Fighting Irish earned Big Macs for their home crowd by topping 88 points, with Cable putting Notre Dame over the mark for the first time in her career on a pair of free throws with 14:30 remaining (Cable is the eighth current Fighting Irish player to convert the Big Mac Basket at least once in her career).