Feb. 12, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) - Rutgers could only withstand No. 8 Notre Dame's pressure for so long.
Rutgers remained within striking distance for the first 30 minutes, but Notre Dame's press finally cracked the Scarlet Knights and the Fighting Irish went on a 16-3 run midway through the second half for a 71-49 victory Saturday.
Devereaux Peters scored 21 points and sophomore guard Skylar Diggins sparked the run that put the Scarlet Knights away, finishing with 20 points and five assists for the Irish (22-4, 11-1 BIG EAST) in the Pink Zone game before a sellout crowd in Purcell Pavilion.
"We got the press going, we shot the ball extremely well," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "It was a close game in the beginning. We really got it going on the defensive end."
The slow pace of the game didn't favor either team and both tried to apply pressure to increase the tempo, but only Notre Dame succeeded.
"We thought we'd go ahead and try to speed it up by going to our press," said Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer. "We just fizzled out."
Diggins sent the Irish on their spurt with a few key steals, layups and passes that her teammates converted into buckets.
"Skylar got it into high gear," McGraw said. "She started to push the ball, and when she pushed the ball, that's when we're at our best."
Diggins said the press was the key.
"Once we got into our game, we got to press more," she said. "We started scoring more fast break baskets, that's how we got our momentum."
Stringer thought her team would be prepared for the Irish, but Notre Dame overwhelmed the Scarlet Knights in the second half.
"They've got a really nice team," Stringer said. "They execute well. You know what they're going to do, but they're so good you can't even stop it."
The physical nature of the game forced both teams to deal with contact inside as the referees let the players battle. That also played directly into Notre Dame's hands.
"I thought they really did a great job letting us play. I thought it was very consistent both ways," McGraw said. "That's the kind of game we like to play."
Peters took the brunt of the physical play inside.
"Rutgers is a very physical team," she said. "We've been getting a lot of that physicality throughout the year. So I think we're used to it. We just have to take the hits and keep moving."
Notre Dame's run also featured 3-pointers from Diggins and Brittany Mallory, a senior who recorded her first career double-double with 10 points and 10 assists. Usually Notre Dame's lockdown defender, Mallory is the first Irish player to earn a double-double with points and assists since 2005.
"She's been our best defender all year," McGraw said. "She really did it on offense today."
Mallory said all she needed to do was trust her teammates.
"I play for my team," Mallory said. "If I'm tired I've got to dig it out a little more."
Notre Dame has four BIG EAST games remaining and can clinch a double bye in the BIG EAST tournament. The Irish face No. 2 Connecticut next Saturday in a game that will have BIG EAST and NCAA tournament seeding implications.
"I think we're really in great shape," McGraw said. "We could be ready by Tuesday, but (the week off) does allow us to rest a little bit."
Notre Dame is 4-0 in "Pink Zone" games, which raise money for breast cancer research and awareness.
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame stretches its current winning streak to nine games, all during BIG EAST Conference play ... this marks the longest BIG EAST regular-season winning streak for the Fighting Irish since the 2004-05 season, when they put together a similar nine-game conference success string from Jan. 19-Feb. 15, 2005 ... Notre Dame earns its first win over Rutgers at Purcell Pavilion since Jan. 23, 2005 (a 63-47 victory), and its second consecutive win in the series, which RU now leads 16-11 (the Fighting Irish hold a 6-4 edge in South Bend) ... Notre Dame wins back-to-back series games against Rutgers for the first time since March 1, 1999 (68-61 in BIG EAST Championship semifinal) and Feb. 19, 2000 (78-74 in overtime), with both games played in Piscataway ... the Fighting Irish post their second-largest margin of victory in the 27-game series with the Scarlet Knights, topped only by an 86-58 win over Rutgers on March 2, 1997, in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals at Storrs, Conn. ... Notre Dame scored 70 points against RU for the second consecutive meeting, the first time the Fighting Irish have done that since Feb 19, 2000 (the aforementioned 78-74 OT win in Piscataway) and March 6, 2000 (an 81-72 overtime loss to the Scarlet Knights in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals at Storrs, Conn.) -- Notre Dame had never scored 70+ points against Rutgers in consecutive regular season meetings prior to the past two matchups ... the Fighting Irish held the Scarlet Knights to 49 points, their third-lowest output in series history and lowest since the 2005 Notre Dame win (63-47) at Purcell Pavilion ... Notre Dame shot better than 50 percent from the field for the 15th time this season, while becoming just the second Rutgers opponent to make more than half its shots this season (Tennessee connected at an RU-opponent high .525 from the floor on Dec. 30 in Knoxville, Tenn.) ... the Fighting Irish held their opponent to 50 points or fewer for the 13th time this season, including the seventh time in BIG EAST play ... through 12 conference games, Notre Dame has not trailed at any time by more than five points (7-2 with 17:48 left in the first half at Villanova on Jan. 29), and has not trailed at the half in any BIG EAST game this season ... the Fighting Irish had two 20-point scorers in the same game (Devereaux Peters - 21; Skylar Diggins - 20) for the first time since Feb. 24, 2009, against Syracuse (Lindsay Schrader - 23; Becca Bruszewski - 20) ... senior guard Brittany Mallory collected her first career double-double, making her the fifth different Notre Dame player this season to record a double-double ... with 10 points and a career-high 10 assists, Mallory is the first Fighting Irish player to log double-digit assists (and also record a points/assists double-double) since Feb. 26, 2005, when Megan Duffy tallied 12 points and 10 assists in an 82-57 win over West Virginia at Purcell Pavilion ... for the third time in four games, Diggins chalked up a "5-5-5" performance, giving her six on the season and 14 for her career ... Peters posted her third 20-point game of the season (and her career), while Diggins notched her fifth 20-point outing of the campaign and the 12th of her career ... Bruszewski moved up to 24th on Notre Dame's career scoring list with 1,039 points, passing Mollie Peirick (1,034 points from 1994-98) ... the Fighting Irish registered their fourth sellout of the season, and 10th in the past two years ... Notre Dame held its annual WBCA Pink Zone game on Saturday, with the Fighting Irish players and staff wearing pink in support of the fight against breast cancer -- Notre Dame raised $116,405 this season, topping last year's total of nearly $104,000 (as well as this year's goal of $110,000) and boosting the program's combined Pink Zone fundraising total in the last three years to more than a quarter of a million dollars (approximately $260,000), with proceeds going locally to the Foundation for St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, and nationally to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund ... Notre Dame also improves to 4-0 all-time in Pink Zone games since the initiative began with the 2007-08 season.