Feb. 26, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- After second-ranked Notre Dame fell behind by 15 points early to No. 22 Syracuse, Skylar Diggins scored 21 points in the first half to get the Fighting Irish back in the game and then told Kayla McBride at halftime she was counting on her.
''I went to K-Mac and told her, 'It's all you, baby,' because I was tired,'' Diggins said. ''I told her, 'You're going to take us there.'''
McBride scored a career-high 25 points and Diggins finished with 24 points and eight assists as Notre Dame beat the Orange 79-68 Tuesday night, the 21st straight victory for the Fighting Irish.
The game was one of starkly different halves. Syracuse (22-5, 10-4 BIG EAST) had 12 more rebounds than Notre Dame in the first half and had a 47-31 percent advantage in shooting. The Irish (26-1, 14-0) turned those numbers around in the second half. They had 13 more rebounds and outshot the Orange 44-32 percent.
''I liked the second half better,'' Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. ''I thought we played our game in the second half. We rebounded. We played defense.''
Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said the difference was the Orange made their shots in the first half and didn't in the second half, meaning they had to guard the Irish in transition more.
''They came out strong in the second half and made their run early and we just didn't recover,'' he said.
Kayla Alexander led Syracuse with 24 points and 16 rebounds, making her first six shots of the game. But she made just one of her next eight shots and finished 10-of-18 from the floor. Alexander blamed herself.
''Those were misses that should have been points, so I feel like that's on me,'' she said.
Notre Dame held its senior night Tuesday even though it still has a home game Monday against third-ranked UConn, hoping to avoid the emotional trappings that come with the event in a game that likely will decide whether the Irish win their second straight Big East or share it with the Huskies. After seeing the Irish hit just 2-of-16 shots to start the game against Syracuse, McGraw was happy with that decision saying the entire team was affected.
''We couldn't make a shot. It was just a little bit of emotion, a little bit trying too hard, a little bit of trying not to let it bother us. I think it was tough in the beginning and everybody got a little bit jittery. Then that's when Sky usually takes over and calms everybody down,'' McGraw said.
That's what happened against Syracuse. Diggins scored nine points during a 13-2 run late in the first half to get the Irish back into the game and the Irish took control by opening the second half with a 9-0 run. Syracuse had one last gasp, using an 8-0 run to 65-59 with six minutes left on a pair of baskets by Carmen Tyson-Thomas, who finished with 18 points. But they couldn't get any closer than six the rest of the way as the Irish improved to 26-2 all-time against the Orange.
Diggins said she could feel the emotions of senior night weighing on the team.
''Once we got down I was just telling the team, just stay calm,'' Diggins said. ''We're going to win this game. We're just going to do it the hard way.''
Diggins, a South Bend native, and fellow senior Kaila Turner have led the Irish to a school record 121 victories in their four years at Notre Dame and back-to-back national championship game appearances.
The 21-game winning streak is the second-longest in Notre Dame history, two shy of the record 23 straight wins set by the squad that won the national championship in 2001. It also was the 18th straight BIG EAST win for the Irish, tying a school record.
-- ND --
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame improves to 8-1 against ranked opponents this season (23-4 against Top 25 teams in the past two years) ... after trailing by 15 points (22-7 with 12:45 left in the first half), the Fighting Irish post their largest comeback win since Nov. 26, 2011, when they tied a school record by rallying from an 18-point deficit (38-20 with 19:15 left in the second half) to defeat No. 7/6 Duke, 56-54 in the championship game of the Junkanoo Jam at St. Georges High School in Freeport, Bahamas ... prior to Tuesday night, Notre Dame's largest deficit all season was 12 points (the final score in its lone loss -- a 73-61 setback to third-ranked Baylor on Dec. 5 at Purcell Pavilion) ... Tuesday's comeback victory bore eerie similarities to another Notre Dame Senior Night game on Feb. 28, 2006, when the Fighting Irish trailed Pittsburgh by 15 points (38-23 with 2:26 left in the first half) thanks to a strong first half by an opposing post player (Pitt's Marcedes Walker finished the night with 12 points and 18 rebounds), but rallied to win 72-65, sending out seniors Megan Duffy and Courtney LaVere with a victory ... Notre Dame is 30-6 (.833) all-time on Senior Night, including a 23-3 (.885) record in the 26-year Muffet McGraw era ... Notre Dame has tied a school record with its 18th consecutive BIG EAST Conference win, matching its run from Feb. 17, 1999 to Feb. 22, 2000 ... the Fighting Irish earn their 21st consecutive victory overall, tying for the second-longest winning streak in school history (last year's squad won 21 in a row from Nov. 25, 2011 to Feb. 7, 2012 -- ironically, that 21st win also came against Syracuse) ... Notre Dame is off to a 14-0 start in BIG EAST play for the second time since joining the conference in 1995-96 (the Fighting Irish opened the 1999-2000 campaign with a 15-0 record), and the fourth time in ANY conference in school history (in 1989-90, Notre Dame went 16-0 in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League, then came back the next season and started 14-0 before finishing 15-1) ... the Fighting Irish continue to play well on short rest, improving to 8-0 this season (36-9 in the past five years) when playing for the second time in three days, including four wins in as many tries when playing a Top 25 team on the back half of these tight turnarounds ... Notre Dame completes the critical month of February undefeated for just the second time in school history, and first since 1989-90, when it went 7-0 ... the Fighting Irish are 106-28 (.791) in February games since joining the BIG EAST 18 seasons ago, including a 59-6 (.908) home record; they also are 154-43 (.782) in the month of February during the McGraw era, with an 81-12 (.871) record at Purcell Pavilion ... Notre Dame trailed at halftime for just the third time all season, and the first since Jan. 8 at South Florida (down 35-32, won 75-71 in overtime) ... the Fighting Irish rise to 26-2 all-time against Syracuse, including a 13-0 record at home ... Notre Dame's 13-game winning streak against SU is the longest by either team in the series, which dates back to 1987-88 ... the 26 series wins against Syracuse tied with Georgetown for the second-most by Notre Dame against one opponent in program history ... the Fighting Irish have scored at least 70 points in 23 of their last 28 games against Syracuse ... for the seventh time in the past 10 series meetings, a Notre Dame player has posted a new career scoring high against Syracuse ... Notre Dame is 55-5 (.917) all-time against New York schools, with wins in 13 of their last 14 games overall -- the Fighting Irish also are 29-0 all-time when playing at home against a team from the state of New York ... with her jumper 29 seconds into the second half, junior guard Kayla McBride became the 31st member of the Fighting Irish 1,000-Point Club -- she now ranks 29th in school history with 1,010 points, passing both Melissa Lechlitner (1,005 from 2006-10) and Kelley Siemon (1,006 from 1997-2001) ... McBride scored a career-high 25 points, topping her previous best of 21 points in a win at No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 5 ... Notre Dame had two 20-point scorers in the same game for the third time this year (all vs. ranked opponents), and first since Feb. 11 vs. No. 10/11 Louisville (junior forward Natalie Achonwa - 22 points; senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins - 21 points) ... despite missing all but the first four minutes of the first half with foul trouble, Achonwa came alive in the second half to register her BIG EAST-leading 15th double-double of the season (eighth in league play; seventh against ranked opponents), moving within one of the Notre Dame single-season record set in 1996-97 by Katryna Gaither (who needed 38 games to reach that mark) ... Diggins tied her season high with six steals, while moving within one of catching Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey for the Notre Dame all-time steals record (Ivey - 348; Diggins - 347) ... the Fighting Irish extended their school record with their 10th sellout crowd of the season, and eighth in the past nine games.