March 23, 2010
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) - The NCAA tournament jitters didn't last long for Skylar Diggins.
After making one basket on four attempts, both season lows, in Notre Dame's opening round victory against Cleveland State, the 5-foot-9 freshman guard bounced back with a season-high 31 points and seven steals to lead second-seed Notre Dame to an 84-66 victory over 10th-seeded Vermont in the second round on Tuesday night.
Diggins, who admitted to being a bit nervous to start the first game, looked calm against the Catamounts. She flashed a smile as she went in for a fastbreak basket a half minute into the game.
"I was smiling because we want to play with a lot of positive emotion. Last game I think we were a little uptight. We weren't having as much fun as we usually do. We just wanted to make sure we were having fun with each other. We had a great crowd out there. I think that's why you saw a lot of raw emotion. Positive emotion."
Diggins scored Notre Dame's first eight points and 15 of its first 20 as the Irish started slow. Then she began passing the ball, finishing with a team-high six assists.
"She is wise beyond her years. I think she recognized she was doing a lot of scoring, then you saw her try to drive and dish and really look for the post players and really get everybody involved," coach Muffet McGraw said. "That was an incredible performance."
She also set the tone defensively for the Irish (29-5) as they finished with 19 steals and forced the Catamounts (27-7) into a season-high 25 turnovers. Diggins also helped slow down Vermont's two high scoring guards as May Kotsopoulos finished with 12 points and Courtnay Pilypaitis had 11, but also turned the ball over 10 times. Kostopoulos said the pressure by Diggins was key.
"She's a great, strong player but I think we just turned the ball over too much," she said.
Vermont coach Sharon Dawley said while the Irish defense was tough, the Catamounts were sloppy.
"Big stage, big game. A lot of nerves going on," she said. "It doesn't matter whether you're a freshman or a senior. I think a lot of nerves showed."
Lindsay Schrader had 14 points and 11 rebounds and Melissa Lechlitner added 12 points as Notre Dame advanced to the Kansas City Regional semifinal, their eighth trip to the round of 16 in last 14 years. Alissa Sheftic and Kendra Seto added 14 points each for Vermont, which lost for just the second time in 13 games.
Notre Dame fell behind 20-10 as the Catamounts hit nine of their first 13 shots with just two turnovers. But then Brittany Mallory had two quick steals, Devereaux Peters blocked a shot by Kostopoulos and the momentum quickly changed.
The Irish ended the half on a 32-13 run and Vermont could never mount a serious challenge in the second half.
The Irish are a victory away from the third 30-win season in school history. The other two times were in 2001 when they won the national championship with a 34-2 record and in 1997 when they went to the Final Four.
Vermont, which beat Wisconsin on Sunday for its first NCAA tournament win ever, fell to 0-8 all-time vs. top 10 teams. The Irish finished the regular season ranked No. 7.