March 20, 2012

Kayla McBride had four of Notre Dame’s 14 steals

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) – Notre Dame stayed cool at halftime. No big speeches needed. The top-seeded Irish knew they were in a struggle with a good team and had to do something to get themselves and their home crowd into the game.

“We knew what we needed to fix and we just came out and did it,” Irish forward Devereaux Peters said.

They did it with defense, making five steals in the first four minutes of the second half and using a 10-2 run to get some distance. They rode that surge to a 73-62 victory Tuesday night that sends them into the round of 16 at the NCAA tournament.

The Irish will take on fifth-seeded St. Bonaventure in the semifinals of the Raleigh Regional at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday from PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. — ESPN2 will televise the game live to a national cable audience.

“We were getting outworked,” star guard Skylar Diggins said. “And we had to pick up our hustle a little bit.”

Coach Muffet McGraw wanted her team to be more aggressive, especially against Cal’s big and talented front line.

“We knew this would be a challenge. They gave us everything we could handle,” McGraw said.

“We talked about helping out and attacking the ball a little bit more. I thought it was pretty effective,” she said. “We put more pressure on the ball.”

Skylar Diggins – who had 15 of her 21 points in the second half – thanks the fans

Their defense swung the game early in the second half and got the Golden Bears a bit rattled. Another major factor was the Irish’s effectiveness at the free throw line where they made 26 of 33.

Natalie Novosel made 18 of 20 free throw attempts to finish with 28 points. Diggins had 15 of her 21 points in the second half and Peters had 11 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high seven blocks.

“Shots weren’t falling for me at first, so I just started attacking the basket and was able to get confidence there,” Novosel said.

The Golden Bears stayed close in the opening half with tough defense, a deep bench and poise as they refused to be bothered by Notre Dame’s partisan and loud home crowd. Then it all changed quickly in the opening minutes of the second half.

“I think Notre Dame feeds off the crowds and gets better. I didn’t feel like our mistakes came from panic. I think it came when the other team was able to do things that rattle you,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said.

“We knew this would be a challenge. They gave us everything we could handle … We talked about helping out and attacking the ball a little bit more. I thought it was pretty effective.”
– Head Coach Muffet McGraw

“There is no question we got a little bit rattled and made some mistakes that changed the tempo of the game at the beginning of the second half.”

Cal (25-10) got 17 points from Layshia Clarendon and 15 from Reshanda Gray. But the Golden Bears were hurt by 19 turnovers, 12 in the second half.

“They just didn’t steal the ball, we also threw it to them a number of times,” Clarendon said. “We lost our composure. … We’ve faced pressure all year, we’ve faced zone and we’ve faced ranked teams. I think it was us more than them, taking crazy and quick shots and not playing how we know how to play.”

Novosel, who had 17 points by half, shot just 5 for 18 from the field but made the most of her frequent trips to the line. Notre Dame finished 26 for 33 from the line to only 7 for 14 for Cal in the rough and physical game.

It is Notre Dame’s 10th trip to the round of 16 in the last 16 seasons under coach McGraw.

Notre Dame came out with a quick 8-2 run in the first two minutes of the second half, as Diggins scored four points and Kayla McBride hit a layup after making a steal. After a timeout, McBride made another steal and Brittany Mallory drove for a lefty layup and a 41-33 lead.

The Irish came up with five steals in the first four minutes of the second half, as Cal suddenly had trouble handling the ball and the crowd at the Purcell Pavilion erupted.

Peters made two free throws for a 10-point lead, and the Golden Bears stayed close because of two clutch jumpers by Clarendon.

Muffet McGraw has led her Irish teams to 10 Sweet 16s in the last 16 years

Diggins then went high to tip a Cal inbounds pass and drove for a layup make it a 12-point. And when the Notre Dame star went hard to the basket on another break attempt, she got knocked to the floor by Clarendon.

After officials reviewed the video, it was ruled a flagrant foul. Diggins hit one of two free throws, Notre Dame retained possession and McBride hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 54-37 with 12:17 left.

Cal rallied and cut it to nine points four times, including a final time with 25 seconds to go but their gritty comeback attempt fell short. Gennifer Brandon had 12 rebounds for the Golden Bears.

Cal shot 46 percent in the first half and held Notre Dame to 34 percent.

Clarendon missed her first three shots before making four straight and scoring 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Diggins also missed her first three attempts and had six first-half points.

Cal had a late 8-0 run and took a two-point lead with just under a minute left before Novosel hit a jumper with about 30 seconds left that made it 31-31 at the half.

Cal freshman Brittany Boyd, one of the stars in the Golden Bears’ opening-round win over Iowa, picked up her third foul early in the second half and then her fourth about 11 and a half minutes left. She fouled out with 2:53 to go, scoring nine points in 22 minutes.

— ND —

POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame advances to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the 10th time in program history, all in the past 16 seasons — the Fighting Irish are one of just seven schools in the country to make 10 Sweet 16s since 1997 … Notre Dame also will make its third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance (and fourth in five years), the first time in school history the Fighting Irish have reached the Sweet 16 three years in a row … the Fighting Irish set a school record with their 17th home win of the season, finishing 17-1 at Purcell Pavilion this year after going 16-1 at home in 2009-10 … Notre Dame earned its 32nd win of the year, the second-most victories in one season in school history behind a 34-2 record in 2000-01 … Notre Dame moves to 8-0 all-time in NCAA Championship play as a No. 1 seed, 21-5 (.808) as the higher seed in the competition, 10-2 (.833) when playing at home in the tournament, and 34-17 (.667) overall in the NCAA Championship … the Fighting Irish have reached the 70-point mark in 13 of their last 15 NCAA tournament games … senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel set an NCAA Championship record for ANY round of the tournament with her 18 made free throws, topping the old mark of 17 set by Tennessee’s Bridgette Gordon against Long Beach State in the East Regional final on March 25, 1989 (the first/second round game record of 16 had been set on five previous occasions (most recently on March 19, 2011, by Missouri State’s Jackie Stiles in a second-round win at Rutgers)) … Novosel also tied the school record with her 18 made free throws, matching the total set by Ruth Riley against Miami (Fla.) on Feb. 22, 2000, at Purcell Pavilion … Novosel’s 20 free throw attempts were second-most in school history, trailing only Riley’s 23 attempts in that 2000 game against Miami … the 20 free throw attempts tied for third-most in an NCAA Championship first/second round game (and fourth-most in ANY tournament game), and were the most by an individual player since March 21, 2004, when Kansas State’s Nicole Ohlde tried 21 foul shots in a first-round game against Valparaiso (Harvard’s Allison Feaster also had 21 attempts in a 1998 first-round win at Stanford, while Colorado State’s Becky Hammon logged 20 free throw attempts against Cal State Northridge in the first round of the 1999 tournament, and Tennessee’s Bridgette Gordon tried 20 free throws against Long Beach State in the 1989 East Regional final) … Novosel moved to 10th place on Notre Dame’s all-time scoring list with 1,514 points, passing former teammate Ashley Barlow (1,492 points from 2006-10) … Novosel grabbed a career-high nine rebounds, one more than her previous best set on five occasions (the last on Feb. 27, 2012, at Connecticut) … Notre Dame’s 26 made free throws are third-most in an NCAA tournament game, and most since March 30, 2001, when they converted 28 foul shots against Connecticut in the NCAA Women’s Final Four national semifinals at the Savvis (now Scottrade) Center in St. Louis … fifth-year senior forward/tri-captain Devereaux Peters had a career-high seven blocks, tying Riley’s program record for blocks in an NCAA tournament game (Riley did it on April 1, 2001, against Purdue in the national championship game in St. Louis) … Peters’ seven blocks were the most by a Notre Dame player in any game since Feb. 10, 2002, when Amanda Barksdale turned aside a school-record 11 shots against Boston College at Purcell Pavilion … Peters’ 14 rebounds tied for the second-most by a Fighting Irish player in the NCAA Championship, and most since March 24, 2001, when Riley also grabbed 14 rebounds in a Midwest Regional semifinal win over Utah at the Pepsi Center in Denver … Peters posted her career-high 11th double-double of the season (22nd of her career), and fourth in her last seven NCAA Championship contests … Peters grabbed her 900th career rebound (now at 903), becoming the fifth Notre Dame player to reach that milestone … the Fighting Irish improve to 2-0 all-time against California, with both wins coming in the NCAA Championship (Notre Dame also won 62-59 in the first round of the 2007 tournament at Pittsburgh) … the Fighting Irish rise to 23-20 (.535) all-time against current Pac-12 Conference schools, including a 10-4 (.714) record at home, and they have won 20 of their last 27 games against that conference … Notre Dame also moves to 24-15 (.615) all-time against California schools, with a 10-4 (.714) record at Purcell Pavilion, and a 22-7 (.759) record in the 25-year Muffet McGraw era — the Fighting Irish are 5-1 (.833) against California teams in the NCAA Championship, with wins in both games at Purcell Pavilion (they also defeated San Diego, 87-61 in a 2000 first-round game) … Notre Dame moves to 11-1 (.917) this season, and 27-8 (.771) in the past four years when playing on one day’s rest (or less).