Skylar Diggins drives past a USF defender on Saturday night.

No. 8 Irish Top USF, 76-68

Feb. 5, 2011

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Muffet McGraw was not impressed with Notre Dame’s latest victory.

Natalie Novosel scored 12 of her 19 points in the second half to lead the eighth-ranked Irish past South Florida 76-68 on Saturday night.

“It was a good scare for us,” McGraw said. “I think it showed us that we’ve got to come out and play our game, and that’s defense. We didn’t do that, so I think we learned a really good lesson and won at the same time.”

Skylar Diggins added 17 points for Notre Dame (20-4, 9-1 BIG EAST), which has won seven in a row since losing 79-76 to No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 8.

South Florida (10-13, 1-8) got 20 points from Andrea Smith. The Bulls have lost nine of 10.

“I’m very pleased with the effort and I would expect nothing less,” South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said.

Notre Dame had held four of its last five opponents to 50 points or fewer.

“I think we just took this team for granted a little bit,” Novosel said.

The Fighting Irish have now won 20 or more games in 21 of McGraw’s 24 years at the school.

After South Florida got within nine points with nine minutes left, Novosel had a basket and made a free throw during an 8-0 run that put Notre Dame up 70-53 four minutes later.

“We just, really, didn’t play our game and I think South Florida did,” McGraw said. “They ran. They attacked the rim on us.”

Notre Dame withstood a late surge after Smith hit a 3 to make it 73-66 with 44 seconds to go.

“She hasn’t practiced the past few days, she’s had the flu,” Fernandez said. “That just shows the type of student-athlete she is.”

The Fighting Irish, who connected on 28 of 41 free throws overall, made three to secure the win over the final 35 seconds.

South Florida was 14 of 24 from the line.

Becca Bruszewski had 11 of her 16 points to help Notre Dame, which led by as many as 17, go up 42-30 at halftime. Notre Dame went 12 of 21 from the free-throw line during the opening 20 minutes.

Andrell Smith had 15 points, while Akila McDonald chipped in 14 for South Florida.

— ND —

POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame earned its 20th victory, marking its 17th 20-win season in the past 18 years and the 21st 20-win campaign in the 24-year tenure of head coach Muffet McGraw … the Fighting Irish recorded their fourth consecutive win over South Florida and improved to 7-2 all-time against the Bulls, including a 3-1 record in Tampa … the last three series games in Tampa all have been decided by single digits … Notre Dame has scored at least 70 points in eight of its nine series games against USF … the Fighting Irish are 24-5 (.828) all-time against Florida schools, including a 13-2 (.867) record on the road … Notre Dame rises to 16-3 (.842) all-time when playing in the state of Florida … the Fighting Irish are 89-25 (.781) in the month of February since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, with a 137-40 (.774) February record in the 24-year McGraw era … for the second consecutive game, Notre Dame did not trail at any point during the contest — through 10 BIG EAST games this season, the Fighting Irish have not trailed by more than five points at any time (7-2 with 17:48 left in the first half at Villanova on Jan. 29) … Notre Dame shot 50 percent or better from the field for the 13th time this season, and topped the 45-percent mark for the 20th time … the Fighting Irish outrebounded their opponent by double digits for the 13th time this year … Notre Dame is 14-2 this season when having at least four players score in double figures … the Fighting Irish are 19-0 this year when leading at halftime and have won 44 games in a row when taking a lead to the intermission … Notre Dame attempted a season-low 46 shots, two fewer than their total against Georgetown on Jan. 18 … junior guard Natalie Novosel tied her career high with eight rebounds, the fourth time she’s hit that mark and the first since Nov. 21 at Kentucky … senior forward Becca Bruszewski scored in double figures for a career-best fifth consecutive game and the sixth time in her last seven outings … Bruszewski also tied her career high with eight free throws made (first set on Feb. 17, 2009, the last time Notre Dame visited USF), handed out a season-high five assists and registered her first “5-5-5” game of the season, as well as the second of her career (five points/six rebounds/seven assists at Louisville on Jan. 19, 2010) … Bruszewski is the seventh different Fighting Irish player to record a “5-5-5” game this season … freshman forward Natalie Achonwa tied her career high with 14 points, a mark she first set on Dec. 11 against Creighton at Purcell Pavilion … there was a sizable Notre Dame contingent at Saturday night’s game, including former Fighting Irish guards Le’Tania Severe (’04) and Alena Christiansen (’10), both of whom are residents of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area.