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    Video Blog: Diggins Hits the Long Ball

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    Before taking on Liberty in Sunday's first round NCAA tournament action at Purcell Pavilion, Skylar Diggins and her teammates spent some time at the driving range and batting cage earlier in the week.

    As the Notre Dame women's basketball team chases a national championship, Diggins is blogging for ESPNW for the second year. Here's her most recent post, a video blog of the trip. What do you think of Skylar's swing? Is the Irish point guard a better golfer or hitter?

    Visit Skylar's ESPNW blog page to stay updated on the Fighting Irish in the NCAA tournament, and check out her first post from Selection Monday.

    Notre Dame Cruises Past Liberty, 74-43

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    Libertyscoreboard.jpg

    One down. Five to go.

    On Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion, the Notre Dame women's basketball team moved one step closer to its championship dream with a 74-43 victory over #16 seed Liberty in a first round NCAA tournament game.

    The crowd was a bit smaller than at some regular season games, but the lime green faithful made up for it in volume, as head coach Muffet McGraw's team rolled to its 31st win of the season.

    The Fighting Irish dominated the Lady Flames from the start, jumping out to a 20-8 lead at the first media timeout and forcing 17 turnovers in the first half.

    Sophomore guard Kayla McBride led the Irish offense with 15 points, while senior Natalie Novosel added 12 and fifth-year forward Devereaux Peters scored 10. The Purcell Pavilion crowd erupted when 5-foot-4 freshman Whitney Holloway's layup with nine seconds left made her the tenth Notre Dame player to score in the game.

    Liberty's +16.4 rebound margin ranks the Lady Flames first in the nation in that category, but Notre Dame controlled the game on the boards, 38-29, led by Skylar Diggins' nine rebounds. The Fighting Irish also dominated the game down low, scoring 44 points in the paint.

    Notre Dame got win #31 with relative ease, but will not be satisfied until victory #36. The Irish will meet eighth-seeded California in second round action on Tuesday evening at 7 pm ET, after the Golden Bears defeated Iowa in an exciting first game of the afternoon, 84-74.

    Catch the game on ESPN2 as Notre Dame looks to book its ticket to Raleigh and the Sweet 16.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Halftime: Notre Dame 44, Liberty 19

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    With a 25-point halftime lead against #16 seed Liberty, perhaps Notre Dame can start looking ahead to a game with California on Tuesday.

    Led by Kayla McBride's 13 points, six Irish players have scored and head coach Muffet McGraw's team has jumped out to a 44-19 advantage at the break. Notre Dame is also controlling the game on the glass (19-14 Irish), against a Liberty squad that is ranked first in the nation in rebound differential.

    The "Nowhere Else But Notre Dame" video was absent. There was no special starting lineup introduction, chicken toss or section cheering signs, and the NCAA might call this a neutral site contest.

    But make no mistake about this afternoon's game. The Fighting Irish are playing in front of a great home crowd. The lime green faithful have made every Notre Dame bucket feels like a last-second game-winner.

    There are still 20 minutes left in this one, but barring a monumental collapse, Notre Dame looks well on its way to a second round game against the Golden Bears.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Irish Begin Road to Denver

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    This afternoon is the start of a journey that hopefully ends with a Rocky Mountain celebration for the Notre Dame women's basketball team. The top-seeded Fighting Irish will take on #16 Liberty in a first round NCAA tournament matchup at Purcell Pavilion. That game should tip at approximately 2:40 pm ET on ESPN2, but it will depend on when the California - Iowa contest finishes. At the half, the Golden Bears lead the Hawkeyes, 42-33.

    Notre Dame is one of sixteen host sites for the first two rounds of the tournament, so head coach Muffet McGraw's team will feel right at home this afternoon, as they take on a Liberty team that ranks first in the nation in rebounding differential.

    This year marks the first time Notre Dame has been a #1 seed since the 2001 championship season and after coming up six points short in last year's title game against Texas A&M at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, the goal is clear for the Fighting Irish - anything short of a national title will be a disappointment.

    An opportunity for a shot at a second championship banner is still five wins away, but in front of thousands of fans in their signature lime green, it couldn't possibly start in a better place for Notre Dame.

    NCAA tournament rules prohibit live play-by-play blogging, but we'll have more updates coming throughout the afternoon right here on UNDerground, and also on Twitter at @theUNDblogger.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Everything You Need To Know About Liberty

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    On Monday night, the Notre Dame women's basketball team learned that it had earned the #1 seed in the Raleigh region of this year's NCAA tournament. Purcell Pavilion is a host site this year, meaning the Irish will not have to leave the friendly confines of their home arena until hopefully advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.

    For Sunday's first round contest, the Irish will take on #16 seed Liberty University. With a win, head coach Muffet McGraw's squad would advance to take on the winner of #8 seed California and #9 seed Iowa. The Golden Bears and the Hawkeyes will tipoff at 12:10 pm ET, before Notre Dame and Liberty take the floor at approximately 2:40 pm ET. Both games will air on ESPN2 with the broadcast team of Dave O'Brien and Doris Burke.

    As the Irish begin a run that hopefully ends with a national championship celebration in Denver, here's a look at their opponent for Sunday's matchup:

    • Record: 24-8 (automatic bid)
    • Coach: Carey Green (13th season)
    • Best wins: vs. Winthrop (74-49), at High Point (73-65)
    • Home arena: Vines Convocation Center (capacity: 8,085)
    • Best players: Avery Warley, RS-Sr., C (13.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG), Devon Brown, RS-Jr., G/F (16.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
    • NCAA history: fourth appearance in past five seasons, 14th in program history
    • Deepest tournament run: Sweet Sixteen (2005)

    And a few facts about the university:

    • Location: Lynchburg, Virginia
    • Founded: 1971
    • Conference: Big South
    • Enrollment: 12,500 residential, 61,000+ online
    • Academics: 220 residential and online undergraduate programs, 87 residential and online graduate areas of study, 6 total online doctoral programs, Liberty University School of Law, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary
    • Religious Affiliation: Christian (Southern Baptist)
    • Mascot: Flames
    • Colors: Navy, white and red

    Liberty has won 18 of its past 19 games, finishing conference play with a 16-2 record. On Sunday, the Flames earned their 14th NCAA tournament trip in the last 16 years, by downing High Point, 81-73 in the Big South title game.

    Sunday will be the third meeting between Notre Dame and Liberty, with the Irish leading the series, 2-0. The teams last met on Dec. 5, 1999 at the Wachovia Women's Basketball lnvitational in Richmond, Va., a game Coach McGraw's team won, 85-68.

    Also worth noting - Kelley Siemon ('01), a starter on Notre Dame's 2001 national championship team and a 1,000-point scorer during her Fighting Irish career, was an assistant coach at Liberty from 2003-07.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Selection Monday

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    Before the Notre Dame women's basketball team begins its quest for a national championship, the Fighting Irish and their loyal fans gathered in Club Naimoli at the Purcell Pavilion on Monday evening for an NCAA tournament selection show party.

    While the men's bracket was unveiled yesterday on CBS, the women's field of 64 was announced on ESPN. Yesterday, Coach Brey's team awaited the location, seeding and opponent of its NCAA matchup.

    In the women's bracket, Notre Dame is a host site and the Fighting Irish's 30-3 record all but assured them a #1 seed. Coach McGraw's squad only had to await the announcement to see who it would play in its first round matchup on Sunday, and what the road might look like in the journey to the Final Four.

    As the team awaited the announcement, Fighting Irish Digital Media sat down with a few of the fans, many of whom described the special relationship they have developed with the Notre Dame women's basketball program over the years.

    Fans explained that, "it's like a family," saying they had formed friendships with the players and coaches over their years, or decades, cheering for the Irish.

    "The really special part about this team is that the girls so genuinely care about each other...It's not just on the basketball court," said another fan.

    From listening to the Irish fans, you really get the sense that those caring feelings are reciprocated. If you didn't know better, you might think the faithful in their lime green shirts were cheering on their own daughters, granddaughters, nieces or neighbors.

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    Coach McGraw, spoke to the fans in attendance at the start of the program, expressing her gratitude for their support. "We wouldn't be here without you," she said.

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    Everyone moved their attention to the Purcell Pavilion videoboard to see a 2011-12 highlight reel featuring Beyonce's "Love on Top," before gathering around the Club Naimoli TVs in preparation for the selection show broadcast.

    Two of the four 16-team brackets were announced, as the Irish anticipated their tournament draw.

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    Then at 7:20 pm, ESPN revealed the third bracket, announcing Notre Dame as the #1 seed in the Raleigh region, where the BIG EAST regular season champions will play #16 seed Liberty, out of the Big South conference in the first round.

    This year marks the first time the Irish have earned a #1 seed since 2001, the year in which they won the national championship in St. Louis.

    Notre Dame's first round game is scheduled for Sunday, Mar. 18 at 2:30 pm ET in the Purcell Pavilion and it will be broadcast on ESPN2.

    Check back to UND.com for more coverage of the Irish as they begin the exciting time that is, March Madness.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Sport Science: Skylar Diggins

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    Day In the Life

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    Following Flynt - 28 and Counting

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    With 28 wins and a regular season BIG EAST title, the Notre Dame women's basketball team has had its share of great moments this season. But don't be fooled. For head coach Muffet McGraw, her staff and her players, it's championship or bust. After making it to the 2011 championship game in Indianapolis, anything short of a celebration in Denver at this year's Final Four will be considered a disappointment.

    This weekend, they will head back to Hartford in search of a BIG EAST Tournament title and an automatic bid for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

    There is hopefully a lot of basketball left to be played, but here's a look at some of the top moments from this season so far:

    November 26, 2011 vs. Duke: One of the most exciting games of the season, and certainly the most memorable of Notre Dame's trip to the Bahamas, the Irish rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit against #7 Duke for a 56-54 win in the Junkanoo Jam final. Though she struggled offensively for much of the game, senior Natalie Novosel dribbled up courtfloor and banked a shot in from the foul line at the buzzer to seal the incredible comeback victory.

    December 18, 2011 vs. Kentucky: Notre Dame hosted #8 Kentucky in a nationally-televised game on the Sunday before Christmas. Using an 11-0 run late in the second half, the Irish won 92-83 to hand the Wildcats their first loss of the season. Five players scored in double figures, led by Novosel's 23 points. Skylar Diggins (16 points, 11 assists) and Devereaux Peters (13 points, 13 rebounds) each registered double-doubles for the third-ranked Fighting Irish.

    January 7, 2012 vs. Connecticut: On a big night for Notre Dame basketball, #3 Irish defeated #2 UConn, 74-67 in overtime at the Purcell Pavilion. Led by Diggins' 22 points, the win snapped the Huskies 57-game BIG EAST winning streak and marked the second straight time Notre Dame defeated Connecticut. At the same time the Irish were playing at home, the men's team edged 11th-ranked Louisville, 67-65 in double overtime.

    January 17, 2012 vs. Pittsburgh: With eight players in double figures, Notre Dame turned in its most dominant performance of the season, crushing the Panthers, 120-44. Peters led all scorers with 20 points, while Natalie Achonwa added 19 off the bench. Kayla McBride (11), Brittany Mallory (11), Kaila Turner (14), Markisha Wright (11), Diggins (11) and Novosel (13) also sparked the impressive Irish offense.

    January 23, 2012 vs. Tennessee: In a rare midseason non-league game, Notre Dame's strong defense held the #7 Lady Vols to just 44 points, their lowest total in head coach Pat Summitt's legendary career. Diggins scored 27 points, while Peters added 16, as well as a career-high, 16 rebounds.

    February 25, 2012 vs. South Florida: The Bulls fought hard on Senior Night at the Purcell Pavilion, but Notre Dame refused to lose and closed out its home schedule with a 80-68 win. After the game, Natalie Novosel, Devereaux Peters, Fraderica Miller and Brittany Mallory were honored on the court. Novosel set a career-high with 32 points, as did Peters with 18 rebounds.

    February 27, 2012 at Connecticut: Notre Dame defeated the #4 Huskies for the third-straight time, spoiling Senior Night at the XL Center with a 72-59 win. The Irish clinched their first outright BIG EAST title and handed Connecticut its second consecutive home loss. Before falling to St. John's earlier in the month, UConn had previously won 99 straight home games. Novosel scored 21 and Diggins added 20 as Notre Dame improved to 28-2 this season.

    Notre Dame is the top seed for the BIG EAST tournament and secured a double bye to Sunday's quarterfinal round. The Irish will play at 2 pm ET on ESPNU against DePaul or South Florida, depending on who wins in tomorrow's second round tournament action.

    Stay tuned to UND.com and Irish UNDerground for more coverage of the Irish as they continue the quest to add a second national championship banner to the Purcell Pavilion rafters.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Novosel Nominated for Senior CLASS Award

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    Every year, 20 male and female senior student-athletes across 10 sports are honored via nominations for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. The Senior CLASS award, which stands for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, commends senior student-athletes for their four-year commitment to their respective college programs. In addition to staying in school for four years, candidates have displayed exemplary achievement in the areas of character, classroom, community, and competition. From the 20 candidates from each sport, 10 finalists are chosen, and the public votes to determine the ultimate winner in each category.

    Because of her outstanding performance both on and off the court, it is no surprise that women's basketball player, Natalie Novosel, was nominated as a candidate and chosen as a finalist for the 2012 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award.

    Novosel can remember the first time she ever played in a Notre Dame game. The arena felt smaller then, and she remembers there being far fewer fans than there are now. Though she saw playing time in all thirty-one games freshman year, Novosel describes herself as feeling like a "deer-in-the-headlights" on the court sometimes during her first season of play with the Irish.

    "It's so amazing now being such a contributor, and thinking back to being a freshman, but it was fun, and I just remember wanting to get better after every single summer here," Novosel said.

    In fact, it is her work ethic that has made Novosel stand out in the NCAA. Coming off of a difficult sophomore season during which she even considered transferring schools, Novosel was committed to working harder than ever, and her junior season was noticeably improved. Due to her tenacity and strong work ethic, Novosel was able to come back her junior season to more than triple her scoring average from the previous year. Novosel averaged four rebounds per game and contributed seventy-five steals on the season to help the Irish in their run for the national championship.

    "I am most proud of how I have been able to grow as a player. It took a lot for me to get through sophomore year, and I stuck with it, and I couldn't be happier. It just fueled my fire to help with the championship run. I think that's what I am most proud of," Novosel said.

    Novosel has proven herself both on and off of the court, earning a 3.889 GPA while pursuing a degree in Anthropology. She says that studying at Notre Dame has taught her a lot about hard work, time management, and self-discipline, and she feels that she will carry many of these lessons with her in the future. On campus, Novosel has been able to participate in freshman orientation in her dorm, Pangborn Hall, and attend many events with friends and teammates. Additionally, she has been instrumental in the team's community outreach projects, visiting local elementary schools, contributing to youth basketball clinics, and participating in other programs that support children and cancer patients.

    "We're happy to go and serve because we have a lot of fans, and it's good to give back to them because they come and support us, so that's a great thing that we do," Novosel says of the team service projects.

    Now in her senior season, Novosel serves as co-captain with Brittany Mallory and Devereaux Peters. She values all of the time that she has been able to spend getting to know her teammates on a personal basis and learning what makes the team tick. Though the captains have set high expectations for their team, she believes that they will continue to meet every goal and even go above and beyond their expectations. Novosel and her co-captains complement one another well, and she considers herself to be a "leader by example."

    Not only has she set an excellent example for her team, but Novosel is also a standout in all of college basketball, and this is the reason why she has been nominated for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. Through her commitment to sportsmanship, athleticism, academics, and service, Novosel has created a lasting positive impact on Notre Dame, the South Bend community, and Women's College Basketball at large. Few players have demonstrated such great improvements on the court while maintaining such a positive attitude, academic achievement, and community involvement.

    "It is very humbling to be nominated with the other candidates who are really great. It's really nice to be a part of this without even having to do anything. The fact that they saw something in me is very rewarding and humbling," Novosel said of her nomination for the award.

    While Novosel says that she would be hugely honored to be the recipient of the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, she and the rest of the women's basketball team have their sights set on the ultimate prize. Coming up just short last year, the women were not able to clench the national championship against Texas A&M. This year, however, Novosel is even more determined to win the title.

    "I haven't even thought about winning [The Lowe's Senior CLASS Award]. I'm just honored to be nominated. I think that winning a national championship would mean more to me than an individual award because it takes an entire team to work together," Novosel said.

    Novosel says that the team's previous run for the national championship has been the highlight of her basketball career, and she is honored to have been a contributor on that team. Now looking to top last year's success, the team must work harder than ever. Luckily, Novosel knows from experience how to utilize hard work and discipline to get the best results, and she will do everything she can to get the team to the national championship game for the second year in a row.

    "I want to win a national championship. Absolutely. I really feel like my life would be complete after that," Novosel said with conviction.

    The remainder of the season will be monumental for Novosel's basketball career. She is up for the prestigious Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, is looking forward to another national championship run, and will be entering the WNBA draft shortly after the national championship game.

    Ultimately, Novosel would like to play in the WNBA for a number of years and then go back to school to pursue a career as a physicians assistant. Regardless of where Novosel finds herself in the future, she will undoubtedly work as hard as possible to achieve greatness as she has done throughout her time at Notre Dame.

    To vote for Novosel for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, visit www.seniorclassaward.com.

    - Maura Jones ('14)

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