Jan. 9, 2010
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)--Notre Dame's starters were sitting on the bench counting the number of turnovers Villanova was committing.
"We heard they had 29, then we were like, `Thirty, that's 30, 31!"' Irish point guard Melissa Lechlitner said. "We were definitely excited because coach kept saying, `They're not going to turn it over, they're not going to make dumb plays.' So for us to force them into turnovers and travels and everything, I think that's really a credit to our defense."
The third-ranked Irish (14-0, 1-0 BIG EAST) forced the Wildcats (10-4, 0-2) into a season-high 34 turnovers in beating Villanova 81-46 on Saturday, the largest margin of victory in the 26-game series between the schools. The Wildcats entered the game second in the nation in fewest turnovers per game at 12.6. They had 17 in the first half--one shy of their previous season high.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw was pleased her team, which in the past has struggled against Villanova's methodical style in the past, was able to control the tempo.
"This is a game I don't look forward to because their style of play and they take such good care of the ball and they move so well. It's a difficult game for us," McGraw said. "I thought our pressure today in the man-to-man was unbelievable."
The Irish turned the ball over nine times, matching the season low set against Purdue the previous game.
Skylar Diggins led the Irish with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting and was key in leading the Irish defensively. She was among seven Irish players with at least two steals. Melissa Lechlitner added 11 points.
Villanova's leading scorer Laura Sweeney, who had a career-high 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting in loss at Providence on Wednesday, played just three minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. She finished with five points. Maria Getty scored 10 points to lead the Wildcats.
The Irish used a 19-4 run to end the first half and open a 43-22 lead at intermission. That was one point shy of the most points surrendered in a half this season by the Wildcats, who were giving up an average of 48 points a game. The Irish added a 23-3 run in the second half to go ahead 75-38.
Diggins said getting the lead early was key.
"We wanted to dictate the game and make them play to our pace and our tempo," she said.
Villanova coach Harry Perretta said the Wildcats, who start a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and a freshman because it lost two starters earlier this season to knee injuries, weren't ready for the experienced Irish.
"We're a little short on talent right now because of the injuries and we have very inexperienced players," he said. "Usually when that happens, that's going to be the result, what you saw out there."
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame snaps a two-game series losing streak to Villanova, improving to 16-10 all-time against the Wildcats (8-2 at Purcell Pavilion) ... the Fighting Irish post their largest win ever against Villanova, topping the 64-33 victory they registered on Dec. 6, 2000, in South Bend ... Notre Dame scored 80 points against Villanova for only the third time in the 26-game series and the first time since Feb. 28, 1999 (an 83-53 win in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at Piscataway, N.J.) ... the Fighting Irish held the Wildcats to their lowest series point total since Jan. 24, 2004, when Notre Dame pulled out a memorable 38-36 win at Purcell Pavilion ... the Fighting Irish have forced 106 Villanova turnovers in the past five series games, averaging 21.2 takeaways in that time; in all five games, the Wildcats came into the contest ranked among the top five in the nation for fewest turnovers committed (they were second prior to Saturday's tipoff at 12.6 per game) ... Notre Dame moves to 11-4 (.733) in BIG EAST openers since joining the conference in 1995-96, including a 6-1 (.857) record when tipping off BIG EAST play at home (Saturday was only the second time in the past nine seasons the Fighting Irish opened conference action at Purcell Pavilion) ... Notre Dame logs its largest margin of victory ever in any conference opener (BIG EAST, Midwestern Collegiate/Horizon League, and North Star), with Saturday's margin exceeding its previous BIG EAST best (31) set in the 2000 win over Villanova ... the Fighting Irish held an opponent to fewer than 50 points for the fourth time this season, with Villanova's 46 points being the fewest yielded by Notre Dame in a BIG EAST opener since Jan. 2, 2005 (a 54-33 win over Seton Hall at Purcell Pavilion) ... Notre Dame registers its sixth 35-point win over the season, extending its school record in that category ... coming into Saturday's game, the Fighting Irish had forced a combined total of 27 turnovers in their last two games, but with 34 takeaways vs. Villanova, they forced 30+ turnovers for the sixth time this season and have forced at least 29 turnovers in six of eight home games this year (Notre Dame is causing 29.8 turnovers per game at home this season) ... the Fighting Irish collected 19 steals, more than four ahead of their season average at tipoff (14.9 spg., third in the nation), and it marked the 10th time in 14 games that Notre Dame has nabbed double-digit steals (sixth with 19+ thefts) ... conversely, the Fighting Irish tied their season best with only nine turnovers (set on Monday at Purdue), posting back-to-back games with 10 turnovers or fewer for the first time since Feb. 2 & 10, 2008 at Cincinnati (10) and vs. Pittsburgh (9) ... Notre Dame shoots better than 50 percent from the field for the fifth time this season, and first since a .508 percentage at UCF on Dec. 29 ... the Fighting Irish shoot a season-best .571 (4-7) from the three-point line, topping the .545 (6-11) mark they posted against IPFW on Dec. 8 ... the seven three-point attempts by Notre Dame were a season low (9 at UCF on Dec. 29) ... for the third time in five games, every Fighting Irish player in uniform got into the scoring column (12 vs. Charlotte on Dec. 20; 13 at UCF on Dec. 29) ... Notre Dame now has had a different leading scorer in six of the past seven games, with only junior guard Brittany Mallory repeating with top scoring honors in that time (Valparaiso and UCF) ... Notre Dame added another win to three other ongoing records -- leading at halftime (176-17, .912, since start of 2000-01), holding opponents to fewer than 60 points (203-14, .935, since joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96), and scoring at least 80 points (132-4, .971, since joining the BIG EAST 15 seasons ago) ... the Fighting Irish earn their 100th BIG EAST win at Purcell Pavilion, improving to 100-17 (.855) all-time in BIG EAST play at the arena ... Saturday's crowd of 8,917 was the 16th-largest audience in program history and the seventh crowd of 8,000+ fans in eight home games this season (including a sellout o 9,149 on Dec. 31 vs. Vanderbilt) ... one late scoring correction from Monday's win at Purdue -- after consultation with the game video (and following approval by the home team's sports information director, as per NCAA rules), it was determined a first-half basket originally credited to Brittany Mallory should have gone to Melissa Lechlitner, who now is credited with a game-high (and career-high) 22 points on a career-best 8-of-16 FG in that contest, while Mallory finishes with five points on 1-of-5 FG; all statistics (game and season) here at UND.com have been edited to reflect this change.