Nov. 11, 2011
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NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) - With its offense struggling to get in synch, No. 2 Notre Dame turned up its defensive to put away Akron.
Skylar Diggins scored 21 points, and the Irish forced 46 turnovers to beat the Zips 81-61 on Friday night in the opening round of the preseason WNIT. Notre Dame will host Indiana State on Sunday in the second round.
"First win usually comes with some first game jitters," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "That was a little unexpected with our veteran team. I thought we did some good things. We forced a lot of turnovers which was one of our goals, but I was disappointed in our rebounding."
The pesky Zips outrebounded the Irish 44-38.
With the Irish struggling on offense, Diggins took over.
"We lost the last (NCAA championship) game last year," she said. "Maybe we were trying to win the championship game tonight, because we were playing tight."
Kayla McBride added 15 points, and Natalie Novosel had 13 for Notre Dame, which committed 27 turnovers.
"I was concerned at halftime about our offensive efficiency because we had forced 26 turnovers and we were only ahead by 14," McGraw said. "I think there were times we looked too hard to find the open man. There were times when we just should have gone ahead and shot the ball."
Rachel Tecca had 13 points, and Carly Young added 10 for the Zips.
"We knew coming in that to stay in the game, we would have to play an almost perfect game," Zip head coach Jodi Kest. "Obviously, 46 turnovers is not close to that. It's very hard to simulate the Notre Dame pressure in practice. They are so long, and so quick. There is a reason why they are No. 2 and when they get the rest of their players back, they could really be a great team."
Notre Dame forced five turnovers on the first six Zip trips down the floor but some lackadaisical play allowed Akron to stay in the game early. The Irish kept the pressure on the experienced Zips, a team that returned 10 letter winners and four starters from last year, and forced 11 turnovers in the first eight minutes to establish an Irish 17-12 edge at the 11:46 mark. The turnovers continued, and the Irish ran off a 12-1 run over the next five minutes for a 29-13 edge with seven minutes remaining in the first half.
Akron closed back to within nine, 35-26, on two free throws by Natasha Williams with 3:15 remaining but the Irish tightened up the defense and led at halftime, 44-30. Diggins led all scorers with 14, while Williams led the Zips with seven. Akron led in rebounds at halftime, 22-14.
It was more of the same in the second half. A 3-pointer by Kayla McBride was followed by a layup by Brittany Mallory to set the score at 53-34 with 15:54 remaining and Notre Dame held on from there. They established their largest lead, 25, twice midway through the second half. The Zips closed the gap to 16, 65-49 with seven minutes to go but were unable to mount a serious challenge after that.
-- ND --
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame improves to 27-8 (.771) all-time in season openers, including a 22-3 (.880) record in the 25-year Muffet McGraw era ... the Fighting Irish have won 17 consecutive season openers, matching up exactly with their membership in the BIG EAST Conference ... Notre Dame is 10-2 (.833) all-time in Preseason WNIT games, including an 8-0 record at home ... the Fighting Irish have won 27 of their last 30 regular-season tournament games ... Akron was the first of potentially six first-time opponents for Notre Dame this season, with the Fighting Irish rising to 47-7 (.870) against new foes since joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96, and 27-3 (.900) against first-time opponents since the start of the 2000-01 season ... Notre Dame now has won 24 consecutive home games against new opponents, a streak that dates back to January 1996 ... the Fighting Irish move to 74-16 (.822) all-time against schools from the state of Ohio, including a 38-7 (.844) record at Purcell Pavilion and an active 18-game home winning streak against Ohio schools, stretching back to March 1993 ... Notre Dame improves to 36-14 (.720) against the current Mid-American Conference membership and extends its winning streak against MAC opponents to 19 games ... the Fighting Irish have a 22-4 (.846) record against the MAC at Purcell Pavilion, as well as a 21-5 (.808) mark in the McGraw era and 13-1 (.929) home record vs. the MAC since McGraw came to Notre Dame in 1987-88 ... for the third time in four Preseason WNIT appearances, Notre Dame opened at home against a MAC opponent, having won all three times (66-41 vs. Kent State in 1996; 98-50 vs. Miami-Ohio in 2007) ... the Fighting Irish forced 46 Akron turnovers, third-most by a Fighting Irish opponent in school history behind the 49 takeaways against New Hampshire in last year's season opener (Nov. 12, 2010 at Purcell Pavilion), and 48 turnovers by SIU-Edwardsville on Jan. 11, 1980 (in DeKalb, Ill.) ... the 29 Notre Dame steals also tied for second in school history, topped only by the 36 thefts recorded in last year's win over New Hampshire ... senior guard Fraderica Miller had a career-high seven steals (previous high was five on four occasions, the last vs, Southeast Missouri State on Jan. 2, 2011 at Purcell Pavilion), the most by a Notre Dame player in a single game since current senior guard Natalie Novosel had seven steals in the win over New Hampshire ... sophomore guard Kayla McBride registered a career-high seven rebounds (previous high was six on four occasions, the last on Jan. 12, 2011, vs. Louisville at Purcell Pavilion) and a career-best four steals (previous best was three on two occasions, the last on Nov. 26, 2010, vs. IUPUI at Purcell Pavilion) ... junior guard Skylar Diggins dished out a game-high eight assists, the most by a Notre Dame player in a season opener since Nov. 18, 2005, when Megan Duffy had eight assists in a 55-45 win over Michigan at Purcell Pavilion (a game better known for being McGraw's 500th career victory) ... Notre Dame will face Indiana State in Sunday's Preseason WNIT quarterfinals (2 p.m. ET at Purcell Pavilion) in the first-ever matchup between the Fighting Irish and Sycamores on the hardwood.