Jan. 23, 2012
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NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) - Notre Dame lost the first 20 times it played Tennessee. Now the Irish have carved out a modest but impressive two-game winning streak against the Vols.
It wasn't so much how second-ranked Notre Dame won Monday night but how easily the Irish did it, routing the Vols 72-44 and holding No. 7 Tennessee to the lowest-scoring game and second-worst margin of defeat in the school's modern history.
"That's a pretty amazing accomplishment against a team of that caliber," coach Muffet McGraw said after her team won its 17th straight game.
Skylar Diggins matched her season high with 27 points, and Devereaux Peters added 16 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.
Notre Dame got a breakthrough win over the Vols in the NCAA regional finals last March in Dayton, Ohio.
The Irish haven't lost since Nov. 20, to top-ranked Baylor, and have now beaten both UConn and Tennessee on their home floor this season after toppling both in last year's NCAA tournament.
"This feels good. This team is actually undefeated against Tennessee," McGraw said. "I think we are in a really good place right now. I think we are doing a lot of things well on the offensive end, and then defensively, I think that we are doing a lot of good things. We are on a good trajectory right now. We are playing good basketball and I think we played better than we did against UConn."
Since that seven-point win over UConn in overtime on January 7, the Irish have won five straight by at least 20 points. McGraw said the Irish can still be better.
"I don't worry about peaking," McGraw said. "I don't think we have painted our masterpiece yet. I think every game, we have seen some glimpses of what we can be, but I think we can play better. I think we are going to peak at exactly the right time."
Diggins had 17 of her points after the half and Notre Dame quickly expanded a 10-point lead into runaway mode. Diggins hit a 3-pointer and Peters worked inside for three baskets in an 11-3 run that put the Irish up 18 and made a Vols comeback nearly impossible the way they were shooting.
"I have never been a part of anything like this. This is amazing," Diggins said of the Irish's 17-game winning streak.
"So many good players on the team. So unselfish. ..."
Tennessee (14-5) got 13 points from Meighan Simmons, but shot just 27.9 percent in the lopsided loss.
Diggins made a nice strip of an inside pass, dribbled the length of the court, passed to Peters and then got it back for a layup to make it 44-26 with just over 14 minutes left. Then after picking up her third foul, Diggins hit her fourth 3-pointer of the game to make it a 21-point lead. Diggins was 10 of 17 from the field and 5 for 7 on 3-pointers.
After Tennessee closed to within 16 with about seven minutes to go, the Irish went on one final 14-0 run to put it away. Kayla McBride added 17 points for the Irish.
The Vols made just 17 of 61 field-goal attempts and were only 7 for 16 from the free-throw line.
According to the school, Tennessee set a new program mark for the fewest points scored by a Lady Vol squad. The previous program low came was 45 points vs. Belmont on January 17, 1976. The only time UT has ever been defeated by a larger margin was a 31-point loss to Texas on December 11, 1984.
"I want to apologize to the fans. We just were not very good today. We were not in Notre Dame's league," associate head coach Holly Warlick said. "We did not play hard, and we did not compete. Notre Dame forced us into a lot of hurried plays. We did not compete and we did not play, and Notre Dame had a whole lot to do with it."
Rebounding, including eight early offensive caroms, kept the Vols close in the early stages of the game because they could not make a shot. They missed 14 of their first 17 attempts from the floor and finished the first half 7 for 35 (20 percent). And the poor shooting extended to the line, where the Vols were only 4 for 10. The field-goal percentage and total points were first-half lows for the Vols this season.
"I think (our bad start) was a combination of a bad shooting night and Notre Dame hurrying us up," Warlick added. "I don't know how you can't be disciplined, how you cannot stick to the game plan when you are playing the No. 2 team in the country on their floor. You can't make mistakes. You can't miss easy buckets. You cannot miss free throws, and so we got the result tonight of not being disciplined and focused."
McBride, showing an ability to break for the basket, had nine straight Notre Dame points at one juncture and scored 11 in the first half. Diggins ended up with 10 at the half, hitting two free throws with 2 seconds left to put the Irish up 28-18.
Tennessee's leading scorer, Shekinna Stricklen, who missed the previous game against LSU with a sprained knee, returned to the lineup and managed five points - five points under her average. And Vols guard Taber Spani, who has been sidelined with a bone bruise in her left knee since Dec. 26, was also able to play.
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's, received a nice ovation when she came on the floor before the game and waved to the crowd, most of which was dressed in lime green.
-- ND --
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame is just the second school ever to defeat both Connecticut and Tennessee in consecutive seasons, duplicating the feat first pulled off by North Carolina in 2005-06 (77-54 vs. Connecticut, 75-63 vs. Tennessee) and 2006-07 (82-76 vs. Connecticut, 70-57 vs. Tennessee) ... the Fighting Irish move to 6-1 against ranked opponents this season, including a 4-1 mark against top-10 teams (all of which were ranked No. 8 or higher in the Associated Press poll at tipoff) ... Notre Dame posts its largest win ever against a top-10 opponent, besting the 84-57 victory it recorded against No. 6/4 Duke on Nov. 21, 1998, at Purcell Pavilion ... the Fighting Irish also set a school record for fewest points allowed to a top-10 opponent, with the old mark coming on Jan. 6, 2001, in a 67-46 win over No. 9/10 Rutgers at Purcell Pavilion ... Notre Dame earns its second consecutive series win against Tennessee after losing its first 20 meetings with the Lady Vols -- Monday's victory also was the first in nine series games at Purcell Pavilion ... prior to the current two-game Fighting Irish winning streak against UT, the Lady Vols had never scored fewer than 62 points against Notre Dame (something they have done in each of the last two games, including Monday's 44 points, the fewest scored by Tennessee in head coach Pat Summitt's legendary career, erasing a 45-point effort against Belmont on Jan. 17, 1976) ... the 28-point margin of defeat was the second-largest in the Summitt era, exceeded only by a 91-60 loss at Texas (also ranked No. 2 at tipoff) on Dec. 11, 1984 ... Notre Dame is 13-31 (.295) all-time against the Southeastern Conference (5-11 at home), but has won seven of its last eight meetings with SEC opponents, including both this year against top-10 SEC foes (also 92-83 vs. No. 8/7 Kentucky on Dec. 18 at Purcell Pavilion) ... Notre Dame reaches the 20-win mark faster than any team in school history (in terms of calendar date), hitting that milestone eight days earlier than the 2000-01 Fighting Irish squad (Jan. 31, 2001 - 64-44 win at home over Providence) ... the Fighting Irish have posted at least 20 wins for the 18th time in 19 seasons, as well as the 22nd time in the 25-year Muffet McGraw era ... Tennessee's 18 first-half points tied for the seventh-fewest in that program's history and fewest since scoring 15 in the opening 20 minutes against Vanderbilt on Feb. 13, 2011 ... Notre Dame has held opponents to 25 points or fewer in 21 of the past 31 halves of basketball ... the Fighting Irish have tied a school record with their 14th game of the season holding the opponent to 50 points or fewer (including the past four) ... Notre Dame chalked up its 12th game of the season with 20-plus assists ... the Fighting Irish had at least three double-figure scorers for the 18th time this season ... fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters logged her fourth double-double of the year (15th of her career), adding a career-high 16 rebounds and career-best six assists along the way ... Peters is the first Notre Dame player with 15 points/15 rebounds in a game since Jan. 31, 2009, when Lindsay Schrader piled up 19 points and 15 rebounds in a 66-50 win over Cincinnati at Purcell Pavilion ... Peters' 16 rebounds are the most by a Notre Dame player in a game since Jan. 13, 2007, when Erica Williamson pulled in 18 rebounds in an 87-78 overtime loss at South Florida ... Peters also moved into 10th place on Notre Dame's career rebounding list with 735 boards, passing Krissi Davis (730 from 1987-91) ... as if that weren't enough, Peters rose into second place on Notre Dame's career blocked shots list with 171 rejections, supplanting Amanda Barksdale, who had 170 blocks from 1999-2002 ... and to cap it off, Peters elevated to 25th place on the Fighting Irish all-time scoring list with 1,108 points, passing Danielle Green (1,106 points from 1995-2000), who was in attendance at Monday's game ... junior guard Skylar Diggins scored a season high-tying 27 points (also at No. 1 Baylor on Nov. 20), notching her team-high ninth 20-point game of the year and 26th of her career (the latter tying Alicia Ratay for seventh in school history -- Ratay did so from 1999-2003) ... Diggins jumped to eighth place on Notre Dame's career steals list with 221 thefts, passing Megan Duffy (220 from 2002-06) ... senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel had her streak of 27 consecutive games scoring in double figures (the second-longest in school history) snapped, finishing in single digits for the first time since March 7, 2011, when she scored eight points in Notre Dame's 71-67 win over No. 9/13 DePaul in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. ... fifth-year senior guard/tri-captain Brittany Mallory appeared in her 133rd career game, taking sole possession of second place on the Notre Dame career games played list, one more than current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey (132 from 1996-2001) ... Notre Dame drew its fifth sellout crowd of the season (second in a row, with all five this year coming in the past seven games) -- the Fighting Irish also have attracted 16 sellouts in the past three seasons and 22 in program history (all beginning with the 2000-01 season).