March 2, 2013
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Notre Dame enters the biggest game of the regular season with its two best players playing their best basketball.
Skylar Diggins scored 28 points and Kayla McBride added 24 as the second-ranked Irish clinched a share of their second straight BIG EAST regular-season title with a 92-57 rout of Providence on Saturday.
Natalie Achonwa chipped in 14 points and eight rebounds for the Irish (27-1, 15-0 BIG EAST) who extended their winning streak to 22 games.
"How could we be anything but happy right now," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. "This team has overachieved all season and I'm just thrilled with where we are right now."
Notre Dame will look to win the regular-season outright Monday at home in a showdown with No. 3 Connecticut. The Huskies can gain a piece of the title with a win.
"We don't want to share it," said McBride, who has combined with Diggins to score 101 points in their wins this week over Syracuse and Providence.
McBride hit 10 of her 15 shots from the field Saturday. Diggins was 8 of 15.
"At this point, right before the BIG EAST tournament, you want to be playing well," McBride said. "It's coming down to the grind. Your body is a little more sore and so we are just trying to come out here and have some fun."
Symone Roberts had 22 points for Providence (7-21, 2-13), which has lost six straight and 13 of its last 15 games.
"She's played hard all year, and she would shoot a little better if she didn't have to play 38 minutes a game," said Providence coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl.
The Irish led by 20 points at halftime and opened the second half on a 10-2 run.
Notre Dame shot better than 52 percent from the floor, and hit seven of their 15 shots from 3-point range. Diggins had four of those on seven attempts.
Notre Dame also outrebounded Providence 51-21.
The back-to-back regular-season titles are the first for the Fighting Irish since they won what is now the Horizon League back in 1993-94 and 1994-95.
"That's special, especially for Coach McGraw," Diggins said. "And my senior year, going out of the BIG EAST, the best conference in America, to have that title and to represent that is good. But we've still got a lot to do."
The 22-game winning streak is the second longest in school history, just behind the 23-game run the school went on to open its 2000-01 their national championship campaign.
The win also was the 19th straight in BIG EAST regular-season play for the Irish, and their 16th straight conference road win. The Fighting Irish haven't lost a regular-season conference game since falling to West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012.
Notre Dame has won 22 straight road games and Saturday's game was never in doubt.
Diggins grabbed the opening tap, raced for a layup and the Irish never trailed, going on a 13-4 run to open the game.
Notre Dame hit seven of its first 10 shots and its first six shots from 3-point range.
Brianna Edwards tried to keep the Friars close, scoring all 10 of her points in the first half. But when she picked up her third foul, with just under 4 minutes to go in the half, Notre Dame was already up 19, 46-27.
Diggins had 17 points before intermission and McBride had 16 as the Irish went into the half leading 52-32.
Diggins also had two steals, moving her past assistant coach Niele Ivey and into the top spot on the school's career list with 349.
A win Monday would give the Irish the top seed in the BIG EAST tournament. A loss to UConn would drop Notre Dame into a tie with the Huskies, and UConn would get the top seed in a tiebreaker, because the Huskies beat Marquette twice this season while Notre Dame was only 1-0 against the Golden Eagles.
The Irish have turned the rivalry with UConn into a one-sided affair lately, winning five of the past six meetings, including a 73-72 win at Connecticut on Jan. 5.
"Monday it will be to win the BIG EAST outright, so we want to play well, because that looks good on our resume," Diggins said.
The Fighting Irish have never lost to Providence, improving to 22-0 with Saturday's win. Nineteen of those wins have come by double digits. Notre Dame also beat Providence at home this year, 89-44 in January, a game in which Diggins became the fourth Fighting Irish player to ever score 2,000 career points.
This was the final home game for Roberts, who last week scored her 1,000th career point, Edwards and Jenna Roncarati.
Tori Rule chipped in 13 points for the Friars.
Robinson Fruchtl, whose team lost to UConn earlier this season 105-49, said she'd give the slight edge Monday to Notre Dame, because the Irish have Diggins and UConn doesn't.
"She's the best point guard in the country in my opinion," she said. "Yes, she has great ability, but it's her leadership, it's her dictating the tempo, it's her getting people in the right spots."
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame clinches a share of the 2012-13 BIG EAST Conference title, earning its second consecutive league championship (it won last year's crown outright) and third since joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96 (the program's other BIG EAST championship was shared in 2000-01) ... with Saturday's win, the Fighting Irish secure back-to-back conference titles for the first time since 1993-94 and 1994-95, when they won consecutive outright championships in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League) ... Notre Dame sets a new school record with its 19th consecutive BIG EAST win, topping the old mark of 18 straight BIG EAST victories set from Feb, 17, 1999-Feb. 22, 2000 ... at 15-0, the Fighting Irish matches the best start to a BIG EAST season in school history, duplicating the feat accomplished by the 1999-2000 squad ... Notre Dame also sets a new school record with its 16th consecutive conference road win, surpassing the previous standard of 15 set from Feb. 25, 1989-Feb. 14, 1991, when it was part of the MCC/Horizon League (the old mark for consecutive BIG EAST road wins had been seven on several occasions, most recently crossing between the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons) ... the Fighting Irish have won 22 consecutive regular season road games, and 27 of their last 32 road games overall ... Notre Dame earns its 22nd consecutive victory, the second-longest winning streak in school history and one off the program record set from Nov. 17, 2000-Feb. 14, 2001 ... the Fighting Irish post their 27th win this year, one away from the school record for most victories in the regular season (set by last year's club) ... Notre Dame moves to 22-0 all-time against Providence (11-0 at Alumni Hall), with the Friars remaining one of two BIG EAST opponents the Fighting Irish have never lost to (with a minimum of five games played); the other is Cincinnati (9-0) ... Notre Dame's 22-game winning streak vs. Providence is its longest active success string against a conference opponent ... the Fighting Irish have scored at least 80 points in 12 of their 22 series games against the Friars, while PC has reached that mark against Notre Dame once all-time ... the Fighting Irish have won 19 of their 22 series games against Providence by double figures ... with two steals on Saturday (the second on a theft 2:58 into the second half), senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins seized the Notre Dame career record for steals (349), passing current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey (348 from 1996-2001) ... Diggins scored the 1,000th point of her BIG EAST career on a layup with 13:58 remaining in the game (she now has 1,002 points in conference play) ... Diggins now stands at exactly 2,200 career points, putting her 122 away from the Notre Dame all-time scoring record held by current Fighting Irish associate coach Beth Cunningham (who scored 2,322 points from 1993-97 under her maiden name of Beth Morgan) ... with 24 points on Saturday, junior guard Kayla McBride moved into a tie for 28th place on the Notre Dame career scoring list with 1,034 points (matching Mollie Peirick's total from 1994-98) ... the Fighting Irish tied their season high with seven three-pointers on Saturday, posting that mark for the fourth time this year (first since Jan. 28 at No. 9 Tennessee) ... Notre Dame is 25-0 this season when leading at the half and 109-2 (.982) in the past four seasons when it goes to the locker room with the lead ... the Fighting Irish are 17-0 this season when holding opponents to fewer than 60 points and 275-15 (.948) in such games during their 18-year BIG EAST membership ... Notre Dame is 12-0 this year when scoring at least 80 points in a game and 57-2 (.966) in the past four seasons when it reaches that total (as well as 180-6, .968, in the program's BIG EAST era).