Feb. 9, 2014
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said the biggest surprise about No. 2 Notre Dame this season is that the team is better without Skylar Diggins.
Hillsman said coaches around the country expected a bit of a drop off for the Fighting Irish when Diggins graduated after leading the Irish to three straight Final Fours, including two title games.
"I guess that theory is out the window," he said. "No drop off."
After seeing Jewell Loyd score 23 points, Kayla McBride add 18 and the second-ranked Irish open a 33-point halftime lead Sunday in a 101-64 victory, the eighth-year Syracuse coach said he believes it's the best Notre Dame team he has seen.
"I thought last year with Skylar, some of the players would let her do her thing and kind of step to the side and let her shine. And she did, nothing against her. She really dominated the game," he said. "I think now with Skylar being gone they're so balanced. It's so hard to prepare for a team that has that kind of balance and can score from all spots on the floor."
The Orange (17-7, 6-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) clearly weren't prepared. Notre Dame took control from the start, beating the Syracuse zone inside and outside, jumping to a 14-2 lead, extending it to 29-10 midway through the first half and 61-28 at halftime, their most points in the first half this season. The Irish shot 61 percent in the first half, holding the Orange to 31 percent shooting, and outscoring Syracuse 20-8 inside.
"I thought it was one of the best halves we've had, and we've had some good ones," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "We shot the ball well, we handled the press well, I was most pleased defensively."
Notre Dame also matched its season-high with 10 3-pointers, hitting seven of its first nine, while holding the Orange to five, two below their average. The Irish also forced 24 turnovers.
Loyd was 9-of-11 shooting, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range, and the only thing that could slow her was sitting on the bench for nearly half the first half after picking up her second foul. McBride was 7-of-12 shooting as the Irish improved to 23-0, matching the best start in school history. The other time the Irish (10-0 ACC) started 23-0 was in 2000-01 en route to the national championship.
While Hillsman was ready to make comparisons with past Irish teams, McGraw was not. Asked whether she thinks the Irish might be better without Diggins, she said "that remains to be seen."
"But I do think this team is very different in a good way. I think everybody has stepped up and done more," McGraw said.
She said McBride and Loyd are key reasons the Irish are playing so well.
"Because they're hard to guard," she said.
McBride believes the Irish have a deeper bench, with the Irish reserves outscoring Syracuse's 43-27.
"They bring instant offense when they come in," she said.
Michaela Mabrey added 18 points for the Irish, including hitting three straight 3-pointers in the first half, and Natalie Achonwa had 14. Brittney Sykes led the Orange with 14 points and Rachel Coffey had 12.
Asked where he thinks the Irish might be vulnerable, Hillsman said he has no answer.
"I don't know if they are vulnerable. They're very balanced," he said.
McGraw (737-258) tied the late North Carolina State coach Kay Yow for 11th place in career wins. Yow died in 2009 after a long battle with breast cancer. The Irish and Orange wore pink as part of the Play4Kay game raising awareness of cancer research.
McGraw said tying Yow's victory total was special.
"She was an incredible woman, did so many great things for the game. A great ambassador," she said. "She just left a mark for all of us to try to follow. She did everything with such grace and dignity."
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame improves to 23-0, tying the longest winning streak to open a season in school history (first set by the 2000-01 club) ... the Fighting Irish also match the second-longest winning streak in program history (longest to begin a season), trailing only last year's 30-game run ... Notre Dame celebrated its sixth annual Pink Zone (Play4Kay) game designed to raise money for cancer research both locally (through the Foundation for Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center) and nationally (through the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, which was represented in the building by Debbie Antonelli, a member of the Fund's Board of Directors as well as the color analyst on the ACC Network television broadcast) ... in a remarkable and fitting coincidence, Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw moved into a tie with the late Kay Yow (who coached at Elon and North Carolina State from 1971-72 to 2008-09) for 11th place on the NCAA Division I career wins list (737) ... Notre Dame extended its regular season win streak to 46 games, its home winning streak to 23 in a row, and its conference win streak to 30 contests ... the Fighting Irish scored a season-high 61 points in the first half, tying for the seventh-most points in any half in school history, as well as matching the fourth-most points in the first half of a game in program history ... Notre Dame shot .610 from the field in the first half, the 15th time in 46 halves this season the Fighting Irish have shot better than 60 percent in a single half, including the seventh time in the first half ... Notre Dame is now 27-2 (.931) all-time against Syracuse and has won the past 14 meetings with the Orange ... the Fighting Irish also are a perfect 14-0 mark at Purcell Pavilion ... with a series-high 101 points, Notre Dame has now scored at least 70 points in 24 of the 29 games against Syracuse ... the Fighting Irish are 56-5 (.918) all-time against teams from the state of New York including a perfect 30-0 at Purcell Pavilion ... Notre Dame set a school record with its fourth 100-point game this season, topping last year's total of three triple-digit outings (the program has had numerous seasons with two 100-point games) ... it also was the first time an opponent had scored 100 points against Syracuse in more than five years (Connecticut scored 107 points on Jan. 17, 2009) ... since 2009-10, the Fighting Irish are 78-2 (.975) when scoring 80-plus points ... Notre Dame has now dished out at least 20 assists in 15 games this season ... the Fighting Irish led at the half for the 21st time this year and are 136-2 (.986) when leading at halftime in the past five seasons ... Notre Dame grabbed at least 50 rebounds for the sixth time this season ... for the 18th time this season, Notre Dame had four or more players reach double-figures in scoring, moving to 93-5 (.949) in such games since 2009-10, including wins in 63 of their last 64 outings ... the Fighting Irish tied their season high with 10 three-pointers, having also done so against UCLA and at Tennessee -- the 10 threes were one off the arena record, set twice before (most recently on Jan. 23, 1999, against St. John's ... sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey canned a career-high six three-pointers, the most by a Fighting Irish player in a game since March 26, 2011, when Brittany Mallory had six treys against Oklahoma in the NCAA Dayton Regional semifinal (Sweet 16) in Dayton, Ohio ... Mabrey's six three-pointers tied the Purcell Pavilion record for triples in one game, set on seven prior occasions, the last by Kellie Watson vs. Michigan State on Nov. 29, 2008 ... Mabrey's career-high 14 three-point attempts were one off both the school and arena records, and most by a Notre Dame player at home since Feb. 17, 1999, when Sheila McMillen tried 14 three-pointers against Syracuse (most in any game since March 3, 2002, when Alicia Ratay had 14 attempts vs. Syracuse in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at Piscataway, N.J.) ... Notre Dame's 26 three-point attempts were third-most in school history for one game and most since a school-record 29 attempts on Jan. 30, 2010, at Syracuse -- it also was the second-most in Purcell Pavilion history and most since Nov. 26, 2001 (28 vs. Army) ... with Mabrey's 18 points, Notre Dame has had at least one bench player score in double figures in 18 of 22 games this season ... senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride moved up to seventh in school history with 1,598 career points, passing a pair of Fighting Irish standouts in Trena Keys (1,589 from 1982-86) and Karen Robinson (1,590 from 1987-91) in the process ... sophomore guard Jewell Loyd has now scored in double figures in 28 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in school history, one better than Natalie Novosel's run from March 8, 2011-Jan. 21, 2012 (Katryna Gaither holds the school record with a 76-game double-figure streak from Dec. 28, 1994-Jan. 21, 1997) ... freshman forward Taya Reimer equaled her season high with four blocks ... the Fighting Irish improve to 109-28 (.796) in the month of February since 1995-96, including an active 14-game winning streak, and a 60-6 (.909) home record in February games during that same 19-year span ... during the 27-year McGraw era (1987-88 to present), Notre Dame is 157-43 (.785) in February, as well as 82-12 (.872) at home ... Notre Dame enjoyed its first sellout of the season, 31st in the past five years, and the 37th in program history, as 9,149 people packed Purcell Pavilion ... a free throw by junior guard Madison Cable with 9:00 left in the second half gave the Fighting Irish 88 points and thus assured the fans of a coupon for a McDonald's "Big Mac" for the 51st time in school history and a program-record ninth time this season (Cable's fourth career "Big Mac Basket" also tied her with classmate Markisha Wright for the most among current players) ... the final donation tally for this year's Pink Zone game is still to be determined, with Notre Dame having raised more than $550,000 in its first five years holding the event and other related fundraisers.