March 27, 2012
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The Sky's the limit for revenge-minded Notre Dame - especially with its star guard playing like this.
Skylar Diggins had a triple-double, and Notre Dame earned its second straight Final Four berth by beating Maryland 80-49 on Tuesday night in the Raleigh Regional final.
Diggins did it all for the top-seeded Fighting Irish (34-3).
The BIG EAST Player of the Year and AP All-America First Team selection finished with 22 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds and, for good measure, five steals. She kept Notre Dame's four-guard lineup humming and causing the second-seeded Terrapins fits all night, while also becoming the first Irish player to record a triple-double since 1990.
Natalie Achonwa added 18 points, while Kayla McBride had 16 and Natalie Novosel finished with 14 for Notre Dame, which built a 46-27 rebounding advantage against low-post-oriented Maryland, which came in as the second-best team nationally in rebounding margin. A huge run late in the first half essentially ended this one at halftime and propelled them to their fourth Final Four trip and second in a row.
"Our No. 1 point coming into this game was rebounding and boxing out," the 5-foot-9 Diggins said. "I thought I'd get my little self in there and see what I could do."
All four No. 1 seeds are headed to Denver - the first time that's happened since 1989 - so once the Irish arrive in the Rockies, maybe they'll find a close game there for a change. Only one of Notre Dame's four tournament wins was closer than 31 points.
A loss in last year's national championship game provided a season's worth of focus and motivation for the Irish, who moved two victories away from the title that eluded them last year. A familiar foe awaits: Connecticut, which beat Notre Dame 63-54 earlier this month in the BIG EAST title game. Notre Dame did beat the Huskies in both meetings in the regular season.
"This game is great momentum for us going into it, and our incentive is getting back to the championship," Diggins said. "That's been our goal, which we've wanted to do all year. ... There's nothing, really, that you could tell us about UConn that we didn't already know."
Alyssa Thomas scored 17 points, and Tianna Hawkins and Alicia DeVaughn added 10 apiece for Maryland (31-5). After rallying from 18 points to beat reigning national champion Texas A&M two days earlier in the regional semifinal, the Terps finally slipped into a deficit they couldn't escape.
Notre Dame raced out to a 19-point lead in the first half, wasted no time after halftime pushing it into the 20s, and Maryland simply couldn't recover while being denied its fourth Final Four trip and first since its national title in 2006.
This time, the Irish broke things open midway through the first half, holding the Terps without a field goal for roughly 5 1/2 minutes during a 26-7 run that pushed their lead well into double figures. Diggins scored seven points during the run while Achonwa had eight, including a pretty layup off a pick-and-roll that put Notre Dame up 38-19 with 2:15 before the break.
That burst was marked by the strong guard play usually expected from Notre Dame - along with some impressive work underneath, where the Irish made all the hustle plays and got to nearly every loose ball and rebound. The rebounding margin was at its widest when the Irish were up 22-9.
"We read a lot about Maryland's rebounding and the size factor, and I thought we did just a fantastic job in the half-court, man-to-man, did a great job on the boards, scored any way we wanted to; we scored inside and out," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I couldn't be prouder of this team, to handle the expectations all year long of being a No. 1 seed and the target on our backs, and to come through and make it back to the Final Four."
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame advances to the NCAA Women's Final Four for the fourth time (1997, 2001, 2011, 2012) ... this marks the first time in program history the Fighting Irish have earned back-to-back Final Four appearances ... Notre Dame becomes the fifth school to make four trips to the Final Four and earn at least one national championship, joining Connecticut, Tennessee, Stanford and Louisiana Tech in that elite company ... the Fighting Irish improve to 4-0 all-time in regional finals (Elite Eight games) ... at some point this season, Notre Dame defeated all four of the No. 2 seeds in this year's NCAA Championship (Duke, Kentucky, Maryland, Tennessee) ... Notre Dame tied the school record with its 34th win of the season, matching the total set by the 2000-01 squad that went 34-2 en route to the program's first national championship ... junior guard Skylar Diggins recorded the 13th triple-double in NCAA Championship history, and only the second in a regional final -- Old Dominion's Anne Donovan had 20 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocks in an East Regional final win at Penn State on March 26, 1983 ... Michigan State's Kristin Haynie (13 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) had the last triple-double in NCAA tournament play on March 27, 2005, in a Kansas City Regional semifinal win over Vanderbilt (the only other time a player had a triple-double in the regional round of the tournament; there have been 10 triple-doubles in first/second round play) ... Diggins also posted the third triple-double in school history (first in the postseason), and first since Feb. 15, 1990, when Sara Liebscher tallied 17 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Detroit at Purcell Pavilion -- ironically Liebscher was in attendance at Tuesday's game as part of the enthusiastic Notre Dame contingent ... the Fighting Irish move to 14-2 this season against ranked opponents (10-2 away from home), including a 6-2 record against top-10 teams ... 11 of Notre Dame's 14 wins over ranked opponents have come by double digits, including six by at least 25 points ... the Fighting Irish have won 23 times by at least 20 points, and a school-record 14 games by at least 30 points ... Notre Dame has held its opponent to 60 points or fewer in 28 games this season, including a school-record 20 games when the opponent had 50 points or fewer ... the Fighting Irish are 21-2 (.913) all-time in the NCAA Championship when holding their opponent to fewer than 60 points ... Notre Dame reached the 80-point mark for the 15th time this season, and the 15th time in its last 17 NCAA Championship games ... the 80 points scored by the Fighting Irish represented their highest offensive production in the NCAA Championship since March 23, 2010, when they defeated Vermont, 84-66, in a Kansas City Region second-round game at Purcell Pavilion ... it's also the most points Notre Dame has scored in a game this late in the NCAA Championship since March 30, 2001, when it defeated Connecticut, 90-75 at the NCAA Women's Final Four (national semifinals) in St. Louis ... the Fighting Irish are 23-5 (.821) all-time as the higher seed in the NCAA Championship, including a 10-0 record as a No. 1 seed ... Notre Dame improves to 36-17 (.679) all-time in the NCAA Championship, good for the seventh-best winning percentage in tournament history (minimum of 20 games played) ... the Fighting Irish have faced the top three teams in the nation in terms of rebounding margin and finished on the plus side of the final rebounding totals in all three games by an aggregate +33 total or +11.0 rpg. -- Liberty (first at +16.4 ppg. coming in; ND 38-29 edge), California (third at +13.1 rpg.; ND 40-35 edge) and Maryland (second at +13.8 rpg.; ND 46-27 edge) ... Notre Dame picked up its 141st win in the past five seasons (2007-08 through 2011-12), its highest five-year win total in school history (140 from 1996-97 through 2000-01) ... the current Fighting Irish senior class now has a record-setting 116 wins (2008-09 through 2011-12), seven more than the old mark of 109 set by the Class of 2001 that includes current Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey, as well as Ruth Riley, Kelley Siemon (who also was in attendance Tuesday night), Imani Dunbar and Meaghan Leahy ... the Fighting Irish earn their second win in six series games against Maryland, with the other prior win over the Terrapins coming on Jan. 9, 1985 (a 49-40 victory in College Park, Md.) ... Notre Dame improves to 43-17 (.717) all-time against the current Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) alignment, including an 8-3 (.727) record at neutral sites, and a 2-0 record this season (the Fighting Irish defeated ACC regular-season champion Duke, 56-54 on Nov. 26 at the Junkanoo Jam in Freeport, Bahamas, in addition to dispatching ACC Tournament champion Maryland on Tuesday night) ... the Fighting Irish held an opponent without a three-point field goal for the second time this season, having previously limited Pittsburgh to an 0-for-10 showing from beyond the arc on Jan. 17 at Purcell Pavilion ... Notre Dame forced at least 20 turnovers for the 23rd time this season and registered double-digit steals for the 28th time ... Diggins had five thefts on Tuesday, giving her 97 steals for the season to top Ivey's school record of 95 set back in 1999-2000 ... Notre Dame posted its 15th game with at least 20 assists ... Diggins notched her fifth double-digit assist game of the season, the most by a Fighting Irish player in one campaign since 2000-01, when Ivey had seven such games ... Diggins' 215 assists this season are third-most in school history behind Ivey's 247 handouts in 2000-01 and Mary Gavin's 243 assists in 1987-88 ... Diggins posted her 32nd career 20-point game, tying Jacqueline Batteast (2001-05) for fourth on that all-time school list ... fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters moved up to 18th place on the Notre Dame career scoring list with 1,295 points, passing Megan Duffy (1,290 points from 2002-06) ... the Fighting Irish are 12-1 (.923) this season and 28-8 (.778) in the past four seasons when playing on one day's rest (or less) ... Diggins was named the NCAA Raleigh Regional Most Outstanding Player, becoming the first Notre Dame player to earn that honor more than once in her career (she also was the Dayton Regional Most Outstanding Player last year) ... joining Diggins on the Raleigh Regional All-Tournament Team were Natalie Achonwa, Kayla McBride and Natalie Novosel -- it's the first all-tournament selection each for Achonwa and McBride, while Novosel also was a member of last year's Dayton Regional All-Tournament Team with Diggins.