Skylar Diggins

No. 5 Notre Dame Outlasts No. 20 Oklahoma, 81-71

Nov. 28, 2009

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ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands (AP) — Notre Dame might as well play ranked teams all the time.

Freshman Skylar Diggins scored 16 points and the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish beat its third ranked opponent in six games, knocking off No. 20 Oklahoma 81-71 on Saturday to win the Island Division of the Paradise Jam.

Notre Dame (6-0) beat then-No. 21 Michigan State last week, then eased past No. 23 San Diego State on Thursday in the Paradise Jam.

Oklahoma (4-2) led 51-48 with 12:53 left when the Fighting Irish locked down on defense, triggering a 20-0 run. The Sooners, with leading scorer Danielle Robinson on the bench with four fouls, were 0-of-8 shooting and committed eight turnovers during the run.

Notre Dame led 68-51 with 5:27 left, but Robinson scored 10 points during a 12-5 spurt that made it 73-63. Oklahoma got no closer the rest of the way.

“This is a confidence boost, and the good thing about it is, I thought we played really well for three days,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “We had some slips, but the third game in three days, I thought we really came out and played hard.”

McGraw said switching from a zone helped trigger the 20-0 run.

“That was the point where we decided to go man-to-man,” McGraw said. “We felt like they were strong inside against the zone. We had a little trouble in the high post area, so we switched to man-to-man and tried to put a little pressure on the ball. I thought we helped each other more. We got a hand in on the dribbles. We did a really nice job.”

Brittany Mallory scored 15 for Notre Dame. Ashley Barlow had 12 and Lindsay Schrader 11.

Robinson finished with 26 points to lead the Sooners. Amanda Thompson contributed 12 points, while Carlee Roethlisberger and Abi Olajuwon scored 11 points each.

Oklahoma was hampered by the absence of Whitney Hand, who averages 13.4 points. Hand hurt her right knee during Friday’s victory over San Diego State.

With Hand sidelined and Robinson on the bench in foul trouble, the Sooners were in trouble.

“Obviously, our experienced backcourt is Danielle Robinson and Whitney Hand,” coach Sherri Coale said. “Whitney is not in the game all night with a knee injury, and then when Danielle comes out with foul trouble, there’s no steady presence there.

“Notre Dame’s strength is obviously in its guard play, and in execution against a zone, you have to have somebody who is poised, and we weren’t. Our inexperience showed right there. That was the beginning of the end. A lot of factors that you don’t want to line up, lined up.”

Coale was proud of Robinson’s effort, even with the foul problems.

“Danielle was just fantastic,” Coale said. “She was a warrior on both ends. She took the game over. There wasn’t anything they could do from keeping her from getting to the basket.

“I like our team a lot,” Coale added. “You come here and win two games against two quality opponents, and then play the No. 5 team in the country down to the wire, closer in my opinion than a 10-point game, without arguably your best player. … Hey, we’re going to be just fine.”

— ND —

POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame wins its first regular season tournament title since the 2005 Duel in the Desert (Gray Division) in Las Vegas … the Fighting Irish now have won 21 of their last 24 regular season tournament games, dating back to the 1996-97 season … for the second time in school history, Notre Dame has defeated three ranked opponents in its first six games, having also done so in 1998-99 (#6 UCLA, 99-82; #6/4 Duke 84-57; #25/23 Illinois, 101-93) — all three in ’98-99 came at home, unlike this year’s trio of ranked wins, all of which came away from home (one road, two neutral) and all within a span of nine days … Notre Dame improves to 6-8 (.429) all-time against the current Big 12 Conference alignment, including wins in six of their last eight games (all since the formation of the Big 12 in 1996-97 and all in tournament settings) … the Fighting Irish rise to 2-1 all-time against Oklahoma, with all three series games coming on neutral floors (1986 at Seattle Times Husky Classic in Seattle – L, 57-54; 2008 at NCAA Championship second round in West Lafayette, Ind. – W, 79-75 OT) … Notre Dame continues its run of success in the month of November, moving to 61-11 (.847) all-time in the penultimate month of the year, including an active 14-game winning streak … the Fighting Irish forced 20 Oklahoma turnovers and now have forced at least 20 opponent turnovers in all six games this season … freshman guard Skylar Diggins is the first regular-season tournament MVP for Notre Dame since Melissa D’Amico took home top individual honors at the 2005 Duel in the Desert (Gray Division) in Lasy Vegas … junior guard Brittany Mallory tied her career high with seven rebounds (previously set twice, most recently on Feb. 27, 2008 vs. South Florida) … Mallory’s 15 points also tied a season high that she set two days ago in a win over #23/24 San Diego State … Notre Dame tied a season high with eight three-pointers and set a new season best with a .421 three-point percentage, having gone 8-20 (.400) in a win over Iona on Nov. 22 at Purcell Pavilion … senior guard Melissa Lechlitner earned her first career all-tournament team honor.