Debby Wong/US PRESSWIRESI.com - Both Skylar Diggins and Devereaux Peters are strong-minded, opinionated women so don't read too much into it if you hear them engage in some R-rated language every now and then. Last week following a blowout win over Tennessee, Peters admitted that she and Diggins will curse each other on the court one minute and be fine the next, and when her words were read back to Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw, the coach let out a hearty laugh. "I'm sure that the [Notre Dame] priests were not really happy to read that and even I cringed a little when Devereaux said that," McGraw said. "It's unusual for women to be able to do that, but it's great for the coaches because we don't have to be the bad guys when they hold each other so accountable. Those two hold each other to a high standard and their expectations are so high that they can get on each other. And I love a point guard [Diggins] who can get on people, bring their best out, and still be a leader who is respected." Things were strictly G-rated between pals Diggins and Peters on Saturday afternoon during a 71-56 win over a feisty St. John's team, though Red Storm fans were likely cursing the Notre Dame duo out of respect. A 6-2 fifth-year forward with boundless energy and arms that seemingly extend to Canada, Peters finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds, five blocked shots and four steals. Diggins, a junior guard and Player of the Year candidate, had a game-high 24 points to go along with six assists and three blocks. The two combined for 42 points on 17 of 27 shooting. "We both have extremely strong personalities," said Peters, when asked how graphic the language gets between she and Diggins. "When Sky gets upset, she yells and people get silent. But being who I am, I yell back, too. Nobody takes it personally and it doesn't happen often, but when it does, it does. We just want to make each other perfect." Notre Dame (21-1, 8-0 Big East) has been close to perfect this season. The win over St. John's (13-8, 5-3) was the team's 18th consecutive victory, the third longest winning streak in program history and its longest run since it won 23 consecutive games to open the 2000-01 season. The Irish entered the game leading the nation in scoring offense (84.5 points), and ranked second in steals (14.4 spg), assists (20.0), field goal percentage (.491) and scoring margin (34.8 ppg) "And I still don't think we've played our best game yet," said Diggins, who leads the Big East assists-to-turnover ratio and whose teams are now 81-15 since she arrived at Notre Dame three years ago. Two first half runs, including an early 19-2 run and a late 14-0 run, gave Notre Dame a 20-point halftime lead. The Irish were sloppy with their shot selection in the second half -- St John's cut the lead to 11 and outscored Notre Dame in the second half -- but the No. 2 ranked team had too much scoring depth and too much Diggins and Peters. "They are really a special group, the way they share the basketball, find each other, make extra passes, plus Peters is playing outstanding," said St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico, whose team has faced both top-ranked Baylor and Notre Dame this season. "I would find it hard for someone to beat them down the stretch the way they are going." Notre Dame entered the season at No. 2, their highest ranking since the final poll of the 2000-01 season, and returned six of their top seven scorers, including Diggins, the Big East preseason player of the year, Natalie Novosel, a senior guard who is averaging 15.4 points and Peters, the 2011 Big East defensive player of the year. The squad has been bent on redemption all season. In last year's title game in Indianapolis, Notre Dame blew a 48--41 lead to Texas A&M early in the second half. The final score -- Texas A&M 76, Notre Dame 70 -- is written on the main whiteboard in Notre Dame's locker room. So far the Irish have played with the urgency a champion needs. Notre Dame's only loss came at Baylor on Nov. 20, a game that wasn't as close as the 94-81 final. Baylor center Brittney Griner finished with 32 points and 14 rebounds and sophomore point guard Odyssey Sims controlled the perimeter with 25 points, six assists, six steals. McGraw said she does not think about that game often, but believes her team is better than it was in Waco two months ago. "Maybe if we were undefeated and No. 1 in the country we would be a little more complacent," McGraw said. "This keeps you hungry because there is somebody ahead of you." Notre Dame's immediate task is a road game at No. 11 Rutgers on Tuesday. In late February, the team will travel to Hartford to face the No. 3-ranked Huskies after they snapped Connecticut's 57-game Big East winning streak earlier this month. Prior to last year's national semifinals, UConn had beaten Notre Dame 12 straight times. "Now we have beaten them back to back," said McGraw. "I think that's continued to feed our confidence." That confidence grew last week after a 72-44 pounding of Tennessee, the worst loss suffered by the Lady Vols in 28 years, and the fewest points scored by a Tennessee team in Pat Summitt's coaching career. McGraw said the defense played by the Irish that night was as good as she's ever had a team play, especially because Notre Dame did not press much. One place the Irish must improve is rebounding -- Diggins said the team has been working hard on the defensive glass and making better decisions in transition -- because Notre Dame is undersized in the post. It's also why Peters must stay out of foul trouble -- her bugaboo -- because she's a terror when she plays extended minutes. She is averaging 18 points and 9.2 rebounds over her last five games. "She's long, she's athletic and she's relentless on the boards," said Diggins. "We need Devereaux in the game. When people see her in there, they change their shot. You see the blocks and the steals, and she's someone who can guard either a guard or a post player." McGraw described her team as more businesslike than previous Irish teams, and she's marveled at how this group has used last year's championship loss to self-motivate. "I'm really pleased with the way we are improving, and I love the way this team is ready for a challenge," McGraw said. "We go into practice with something to fix and they are completely engaged with how we can get better. They want to be challenged. We never talk about, 'Wasn't that a great game? or 'We beat UConn, wasn't that awesome?' For this group, it's let's move on to the next game." - Richard Deitsch
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ESPN.com - Run the court with Skylar Diggins and the bruises and bruised egos teach you to expect the unexpected, the ball likely to arrive out of thin air, whistling through a thicket of torsos only to arrive where it knows hands ought to be. But by far the point guard's greatest skill is making what was once unexpected entirely expected. On a night Tennessee set a dubious program record with its fewest points in a game and suffered its most lopsided defeat in nearly 30 years, only the seismic scale of Notre Dame's 72-44 win felt at all out of the ordinary in watching these two teams compete. Tennessee wasn't in Notre Dame's league. All you had to do was ask Lady Vols associate head coach Holly Warlick, who spoke for the team. She's the one who said it. Notre Dame played Tennessee 20 times before Skylar Diggins arrived on campus. It lost every one of those games. The Fighting Irish have played the Lady Vols twice with Diggins. Monday's victory makes her 2-0. More to the point, the win against the Lady Vols makes almost the entirety of this Notre Dame roster perfect against the most decorated program in women's college basketball (only fifth-year seniors Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory were around for a Sweet 16 loss against Tennessee in 2008). And it is an entire team that looks as good as any in the nation right now, including the Baylor team that handed it its only loss. It's a team that recorded assists on 25 of 30 field goals against Tennessee. It's a team that got 27 points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals from Diggins, but also one that got 16 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and three blocks from Peters. It's a team that got 17 points from sophomore Kayla McBride, 11 of them in the first half for a player sneaking up as a scoring asset the team didn't have last season. But it is Diggins' team. It has been since she spurned Stanford to stay home in South Bend. It's her team that became just the second to beat both Connecticut and Tennessee in back-to-back seasons, joining North Carolina in 2005-06 and 2006-07. It's her team that drew the fifth sellout crowd of the season to Purcell Pavilion, the 16th full house during the Diggins era for a program with 22 in its history. It's a team that followed her lead to turn an all-around ugly game in the first half into a historic rout. It didn't start out that way, looking at times early on more like a game that might set the sport back a few decades than make history. With the notable exception of McBride, nobody on either team could put the ball in the basket in the first half. The teams combined to miss 48 shots in those 20 minutes. The Lady Vols missed layup after layup and free throw after free throw, while the Fighting Irish either forced shots or gave away the ball. Diggins was as guilty as anyone, forcing passes as the Fighting Irish teetered on the fine line between familiarly frenetic and flat-out frantic. "I think we got the shots we normally get and normally make, but they weren't falling," Diggins said. "Bad choices on my part in some transition things that I usually make better decisions in, that we usually make better decisions as a team in." With seven minutes remaining in the first half, Diggins had three turnovers and had hit just 1 of 5 shots from the floor. A quick scan of the Tennessee box score would have revealed similarly ineffective lines from top to bottom, be it Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen, Ariel Massengale or anyone in orange. But where the Lady Vols never did figure out where to turn for an answer, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw never even pondered the question. "I trust her implicitly," McGraw said of Diggins. "I know she's going to get going. I have total confidence in her ability, and she can turn it around instantly. I think that she did a really good job of managing her own frustration at the way that we started and really turned it on in the second half. To hit those 3s -- she hit some huge shots when the game was a little bit in question. She hit a shot and then we got a steal and a layup, it was her getting a 5-0 run that I think turned the game around." As poorly as Tennessee played in the first half, it trailed just 23-18 with fewer than two minutes to play before the break. Diggins followed with a 3-pointer and closed the half with two free throws to push the lead to 28-18. Still, the Lady Vols had a pulse, if only they could convert some of their offensive rebounds or hit free throws at any reasonable rate. Then Diggins hit a 3-pointer 10 seconds into the second half and found Peters for an easy basket barely a minute later. By the time she put together one more one-woman, 5-0 run with a little more than 14 minutes to play, the game was over but for the formality of time running off the clock. The exclamation point won't be recorded for posterity, Diggins whistled for a foul that could have gone uncalled when she slid along the baseline, rose and met the 6-foot-3 Johnson in the air to block a shot. She had 13 3-pointers in her team's first 20 games this season. She broke Tennessee's back with five on Monday night. Whatever is required. Diggins and Notre Dame outlasted Tennessee in a 73-59 victory in the Elite Eight last season. This time the Fighting Irish outclassed the Lady Vols. "This one they kicked our butts by quite a bit," Warlick said in a simple summation of the difference between then and now. [Skylar] Diggins doesn't guarantee the Fighting Irish anything. But she does make it easy to believe in the possibility of everything. With the lack of confetti as concrete proof, even a record-setting win against Tennessee doesn't clinch a thing for Notre Dame in January, just as it doesn't doom the Lady Vols to a spring of despair. Notre Dame beat Duke on a neutral court in November and routed Purdue on the road, but signature wins against Kentucky, Connecticut and Tennessee came in South Bend. The rest of the major tests will come on the road, beginning with a tricky two-game trip to the Northeast to play St. John's and Rutgers this weekend and continuing with the possibility of two games in nine days against Connecticut in Hartford at the end of the regular season and in the Big East tournament. Diggins doesn't guarantee the Fighting Irish anything. But she does make it easy to believe in the possibility of everything. "I've never been a part of anything like this, so this is amazing," Diggins said. "So many good players on the team, so unselfish and just a great coaching staff that's willing to work. And you've got girls coming in putting in the work. I'm excited to see what we have coming up and to get back in the gym and get better and continue this run with this team." Notre Dame has been a part of a championship before, but when it comes to Diggins, the feeling is mutual. It has never been party to anything quite like her. Via @grahamhays
ESPNW.com - The troops are suited up in lime-green aprons, their names embroidered in blue script over the Fighting Irish logo, making it all the easier to complete a mission that on this day includes selling programs, handing out pompoms and posters and, as usual, greeting 9,000-plus patrons as if they are close friends and relatives streaming through their own front doors. Their leader is a 70-year-old, no-nonsense former nun named Patricia McAdams, who is stationed at Gate 10 of the Purcell Pavilion inside Notre Dame's Joyce Center and manages this group of about 50 mostly female, mostly senior volunteers that serve as the heart of one of the top-ranked and most highly supported women's basketball programs in the country. It is this core unit, with hugs and smiles for seemingly every fan who streams by, that transforms Notre Dame's home court on this Saturday before a clash with No. 2 Connecticut, and before every home contest, into a green-filled mass of organized hysteria, making it one of the toughest places for opposing teams to play. They are a family, they say, drawn together by their shared love of Notre Dame basketball and a desire to see the women's program, the NCAA runner-up last season, and women's sports prosper. One volunteer, Mary Jane Goodwin, is 94 and pauses in her duties passing out posters to say she played basketball, softball and volleyball as a girl. "Of course, it was hardly anything back then," she said. "I wish I was young, playing today. I'd love to get out there." Goodwin, who has her fingernails painted green, says she was drawn to today's game because her granddaughter played basketball at Sienna College and because, while nursing her husband who was weakened by a heart condition for 16 years, the two religiously listened to Notre Dame women's games on radio. After her husband passed away, Goodwin attended games in person and was invited to volunteer with her sister, Marguerite Krueger, who died recently. "I just love [Muffet] McGraw," Goodwin said of Notre Dame's head coach. "And what a pleasure it is for me to do this for the girls. I feel like I'm part of the program." David Woods remembers the days when attendance was sparse. He was new to South Bend. A retired colonel, he accepted the post of Notre Dame's ROTC Air Force commander in 1985. Woods and his wife, Eileen, met McGraw and her husband, Matt, when Muffet accepted the Notre Dame women's job and the couple moved two doors down in '87. "As we got to know Muffet, she let us know that they needed some help in getting fans to come out, and so Eileen and I started to talk it up amongst all our friends," Woods said. When Woods tried to get out promotional information, he found he was up against a South Bend business community already committed to Notre Dame's men's programs. But he also discovered there was an available niche for the women.
8:54 pm, Irish 72-44, Final: A dominant, dominant second half performance by the Fighting Irish. They outscore Tennessee 44-26 and cruise to a 28-point victory. Notre Dame improves to 20-1 on the season and the Irish have now won 17 straight games, including six consecutive against ranked teams. It's also their second victory in a row over Pat Summitt's Lady Vols, the team they knocked off in last year's NCAA Tournament Dayton Regional final. Skylar Diggins finishes with 27 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, while Kayla McBride scores 17 and Devereaux Peters adds 16. More importantly for Peters, she pulled down 16 rebounds to help the Irish tally a 44-35 advantage on the boards. The Irish shot 50.8% from the floor, compared with Tennessee's mere 27.9% performance. It wasn't a pretty start for either team, but in the second half, Notre Dame simply dominated the #9 team in the country on national television. After the game and her radio interview, dozens of fans waited around to take pictures and get autographs from Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, the 2011 Sports Illustrated Sportswoman of the Year, and one of the all-time greats among American coaches, in any sport. With upcoming games at St. John's (Saturday) and #11 Rutgers (Tuesday), Notre Dame will not be returning to Purcell Pavilion until Feb. 5 against DePaul. There's a lot of basketball left to be played, but at this point, it looks like few teams will be able slow down the Irish this season. It was a perfect basketball weekend in South Bend. In front of three sold-out crowds, the Irish women won a pair of games, while the men knocked off the nation's top-ranked team. It will be more than a week and a half before either team returns to the home floor, but hopefully each can use the momentum from this weekend as they hit the road for some key BIG EAST contests. 8:52 pm, Irish 72-42, 1:05 2nd half: Diggins exits the game to a huge ovation. She finishes with 27 points, including 5-for-7 from 3-pt range. Also adds 5 rebounds and 5 assists. 8:46 pm, Irish 68-40, 3:28 2nd half: Peters makes a great dish from the wing to Diggins inside for another basket, before Sky returns the favor in transition. A couple of great, great plays and the lead is at 28 for Notre Dame. It doesn't top Saturday night (How could it?), but tonight is one of the best atmospheres I've seen at Purcell. 8:41 pm, Irish 64-40, 5:01 2nd half: Natalie Achonwa gets a nice rebound and put-back layup off Novosel's in-and-out three, before another Diggins layup in transition. Two more layups, one each from Achonwa and McBride and this game is all but over. An 8-0 run gives Notre Dame a 24-point lead and Purcell is on fire now. Tennessee calls a timeout. Fans are loving this second half showing from the Irish. 8:36 pm, Irish 56-37, 7:15 2nd half: Tennessee cuts the deficit to 14 with a pair of free throws from Isabelle Harrison and a put-back layup from Vicki Baugh. The Irish respond shortly later with a great steal and lead pass from McBride to Diggins for a fastbreak layup. On the next possession, the Lady Vols commit a foul and McBride heads to the line for a one-and-one, where she converts both free throws. Tennesee's Cierra Burdick hits a jumper from the corner, before Diggins hits yet another three, her fifth of the game. We're at the under-8 media timeout, and it's starting to look like a 17th straight win and 20th of the season for Coach McGraw's team.
In 25+ seasons with Notre Dame, head coach Muffett McGraw has won more than 73% of her games. So it should not come as a surprise that there aren't too many teams who have had the Irish's number. One of these rare exceptions comes in tonight's opponent, the Tennessee Lady Volunteers. Led by Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, Tennessee has won eight national titles and until last season, held a 20-0 series advantage against Notre Dame. On Mar. 28, 2011, the Lady Vols and Fighting Irish met in the Dayton Region championship game and Coach McGraw's team finally broke through with its first win over Tennessee, 73-59. Skylar Diggins scored 24 points, Natalie Novosel added 17 and Notre Dame celebrated its first trip to the Final Four since 2001. This season, the second-ranked Irish (19-1) have not lost since Nov. 20, when they fell 94-81 at Baylor, a team currently unbeaten and #1 in the country. During its impressive 16-game winning streak, Notre Dame has defeated five ranked opponents - Duke, Purdue, Kentucky, Connecticut and Georgetown. In less than seven hours, Notre Dame puts that winning streak on the line and looks for its second consecutive win against Tennessee in a sold-out, nationally televised matchup at Purcell Pavilion. The game begins at 7 pm ET and will be broadcast on ESPN2. Catch the radio call on UND.com or locally on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) and follow the live blog right here at Irish UNDerground. Though the calendar says Monday, tonight should be an exciting conclusion to a wild sports weekend in South Bend. - Josh Flynt ('11)
For those who will be around Notre Dame this weekend, prepare for the craziness that's about to hit campus. Over a 48-hour period from Friday through Sunday evening, there are eleven varsity athletic events scheduled at the university. Here's a quick look at the schedule: Friday:
Men's Tennis vs. William & Mary at 6 p.m.
Hockey vs. #15 Michigan at 7:35 p.m. (NBC Sports Network) Saturday:
Indoor Track Notre Dame Invitational at 10 a.m.
Women's Basketball vs. Villanova at 1 p.m. (UND.com)
Women's Tennis vs. Cincinnati at 1 p.m.
Women's Swimming vs. Michigan State at 2 p.m.
Men's Swimming vs. Michigan State at 2 p.m.
Men's Basketball vs. #1 Syracuse at 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Hockey vs. #15 Michigan at 7:35 p.m. (CBS Sports Network) Sunday:
Women's Tennis vs. Missouri at 11 a.m.
Women's Tennis vs. IPFW at 5 p.m. There won't be any tailgating, Knights of Columbus steak sandwiches or team walk to the stadium, but the amount of traffic on campus might make it feel more like a football Saturday than a mid-winter weekend.
One of the most overdue features in all of women's college basketball? Al Lesar takes a look into the rabid Notre Dame hoops fanbase. Lime green t-shirts available at the door. Hat tip to the fans who braved the (almost) apocalyptic snow storm of January 2011 to watch Notre Dame face Connecticut. Big nod to those who show up two hours before each home game to secure a good parking spot in the Joyce Center lot.
South Bend Tribune - Who are these people? Most have already lived a long life. They appreciate hard work. Character's important; old-fashioned values. And their basketball? They like it hard-nosed and fundamentally sound. Notre Dame women's basketball fans are a unique bunch. They're grandparents who have adopted 12 young 'uns. They're young kids who look forward to watching a dozen "big sisters" work their magic. Student support is minimal. The band is nice. This team, though, belongs to the Michiana community -- 7,500 season-ticket holders strong in an arena that seats 9,149. Affordable tickets (17 home games for $70), a great product (the second-ranked Irish are 18-1) and some very likeable players make for plenty of reasons to follow the Irish. They wear their (coach Muffet) "McGraw (lime) green" shirts and swear their girls can do no wrong. "The UConn game (a couple weeks ago) was great," said Rachael Lynn of Granger. "When Notre Dame was behind, (her 6-year-old son) Aiden said, 'We're losing. We never lose.'" Such is the mentality of the typical card-carrying, T-shirt wearing Notre Dame women's basketball fan. Blame Stephanie Menio for the phenomenon. She can get over 8,500 people into Purcell Pavilion on a snowy night in January to watch a 76-point blowout. Now, that takes some work. The 29-year-old Menio, in her seventh year of drumming up business for Irish women's basketball, has the process down to a science. No checklist. No scribbled notes. She has a legion of volunteers, mostly those keeping busy in their retirement years, who do the legwork and help things run smoothly. Entertain the crowd. Give back to the community. Enhance the players' experience. "The fans know (sophomore) Kayla McBride is a great player," Menio said, giving an example of her mission. "What we want them to know is that she's a great person." Autograph sessions after every game. Personal appearances in the community. An impromptu surprise team drop-in to a bowling league in which several longtime fans are involved. Anything to show there are some really special young women on the roster. "We love 'em all," said Betty Bennett of Lakeville. Her button, with a photo of Devereaux Peters and Whitney Holloway, gives away her allegiance. She sits in the "Dev & Whit" section of the arena, behind the west basket. Those folks are loyal to their ladies, you know. "I've followed 'Sky' for the last seven years," Donna McCullough of South Bend said of Irish All-American Skylar Diggins. "I came here a Skylar fan, now I'm a Notre Dame fan. I'll be back even after Skylar's done." "Skylar opened a lot of doors on the West Side of South Bend," Menio said of the Washington High grad. "Those same people have come around and adopted the whole team." Everybody has their reason for being part of the fun game-day atmosphere. Abby Lynn, 9, of Granger, figures out ways to get on the JumboTron by busting a new move during the "dance cam" segment. Her dad, Hugh, likes the Irish style of play. "I like to see what kind of abuse Brittany (Mallory) is going to dish out," Hugh said of Notre Dame's rough-and-tumble fifth-year senior. Frank Smith of South Bend enjoys the purity of the women's game. "I love the way they play. I'm a big fan," Smith said. "It takes me back to a time in basketball when everybody wasn't 8-feet tall." McGraw's got a handle on the basketball side of the operation. The win over UConn will go a long way toward a No. 1 seed come tournament time. Every home game is proof that, given the right set of circumstances and the proper chemistry, the community can come together for a common cause. It's an electric atmosphere. A strange melting pot of personalities and backgrounds - age 70 or 7 - takes ownership in a collection of a dozen quality young women. That's who those people are. They all have a stake in the Irish
8:37 pm, Irish 120-44, Final: An absolutely dominant game for the Irish and a 76-point victory tonight at the Purcell Pavilion. The 120-point night was the second highest scoring performance of the season for Notre Dame, topped only by the 128-point day at Mercer. A great night for the fans who exited the arena to the sounds of "The Blood of Cu Chulainn," better know as the awesome and ubiquitous-on-the-Notre-Dame-campus theme song from Boondock Saints. The Irish ladies will have a few days to practice and get back into the swing of the academic semester before taking on Villanova on Saturday at home. The game begins at 1 pm ET and you can catch it live on UND.com. With hockey, men's basketball, track & field, men's and women's swimming and women's tennis all at home, it will be a very busy weekend on campus. 8:29 pm, Irish 107-41, 3:53 2nd half: At the final media timeout, the Irish are up by 66 points. A few impressive stats for Notre Dame: 29 assists, 39 points off turnovers, 22 second chance points, 41 bench points, 62 points in the paint and 7 players in double-figures. An all-around dominant performance tonight at the Purcell Pavilion. 8:24 pm, Irish 100-37, 7:22 2nd half: 100! A midrange jumper from Kaila Turner gives the Irish 100 points for the second time this season. 8:22 pm, Irish 98-37, 7:49 2nd half: At this point, it's only a question of "by how much." Notre Dame is cruising to its 18th win over the season and a 6-0 start to the BIG EAST schedule. Six players have scored in double-figures. 8:15 pm, Irish 88-34, 10:39 2nd half: The BIG MAC basket! Thanks to Fraderica Miller's layup, everyone in attendance gets a Big Mac. With more than 10 minutes to play, it looks like the Irish will have no problem eclipsing the 100-point mark this evening. 8:13 pm, Irish 83-34, 11:33 2nd half: Freshman Markisha Wright makes a couple of nice moves down low on back-to-back possessions for Notre Dame. The Panthers are finding the basket more frequently than they did during the first half, but they've still been unable to shut down the Irish offense, and find themselves down by 49 points with 11:33 to play. 8:04 pm, Irish 70-26, 15:34 2nd half: At the first media timeout of the second half, the Irish already have 70 points, thanks to their continued hot streak from the field (62%). Peters leads with 20 points, while Novosel has 13 and Mallory and McBride have 11 apiece.
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