Nov. 17, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Skylar Diggins scored 22 points and Natalie Novosel added 20 points, while Kayla McBride and Brittany Mallory chipped in the rest to help No. 2 Notre Dame rout Hartford 98-43 on Thursday night in the semifinals of the Preseason WNIT.
McBride had 14 points and Mallory added 12 for the Irish (3-0), who will visit No. 1 Baylor on Sunday for the tournament title.
"They really did shoot it well and they got good looks," Notre Dame Muffet McGraw said. "I thought they did a really nice job of using the ball screen. They created on their own. They found each other. They're really starting to play well together."
Hartford (2-1) had no answer for Notre Dame on either side of the court. The Hawks committed 30 turnovers and only shot 39.5 percent from the field. Daphne Elliott led the way for the Hawks with nine points and three assists.
The Irish came out strong opening with a 10-2 lead and set the tone of the game on the defensive end by forcing a shot-clock violation on the opening possession.
"Coach preaches getting up there and making them uncomfortable early," Diggins said. "I think especially early in the game we try to get out to a great start and that defensive intensity is what leads us to offense."
Notre Dame broke the game open with a 14-0 run over a 5:29 stretch midway through the first half. The Irish implemented a full-court press on defense for the majority of the half and stifled any kind of Hartford rally.
Hartford struggled with turnovers against the Irish defense, committing 18 in the first half - one more than the number of shots the Hawks had.
"We played against UConn last year, but it's different when it's Notre Dame and it's No. 2," Elliott said. "You're in a different kind of setting other than Connecticut. I think they're really great players and they showed us up tonight."
A pregame ceremony was held to honor coach Muffet McGraw on her induction to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame this past June. A banner commemorating her induction now hangs from the rafters of Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center.
"Their first unit plays great together and then they're second unit comes out and takes the ball from you," Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti said. "It's a different kind of defensive intensity, but it's relentless. It never really gives up."
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame advances to the Preseason WNIT championship game for the second time in four tournament appearances, having won the 2004 crown (66-62 win over No. 10/9 Ohio State in the final on Nov. 20, 2004, at Purcell Pavilion) ... this also marks the eighth time in the 17-year history of the tournament that a BIG EAST Conference team has reached the Preseason WNIT final, with DePaul the most recent league school to advance that far in 2010 (BIG EAST teams are 4-3 in the Preseason WNIT championship game after the Blue Demons' 67-58 loss at Purdue last year) ... Notre Dame already has set a new Preseason WNIT "all-tournament" record with 69 steals, topping the old record of 58 thefts set by Rutgers over a four-game span in 1998 ... for the first time in the 35-year history of Fighting Irish women's basketball, Notre Dame scored at least 98 points in consecutive games ... the combined 197 points in the past two games are the most scored by the Fighting Irish in a two-game span since Nov. 19-23, 2008, when they piled up 198 points in a home win over Evansville (96-61) and a road victory at Boston College (102-54) ... Notre Dame has registered consecutive wins by at least 55 points for the first time in school history ... fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory is the eighth Notre Dame player to go perfect from the three-point line (minimum of four attempts), and first since Nov. 22, 2000, when current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey knocked down all four of her long-distance tries in an 83-56 victory at No. 19/RV Wisconsin in the Coaches vs. Cancer Challenge ... Mallory is fourth Notre Dame player to go 4-for-4 or better on three-pointers at Purcell Pavilion, and the first since Dec. 8, 1998, when Sheila McMillen set an arena record by going 5-for-5 in a 106-81 loss to Connecticut ... the Fighting Irish held their opponent without a double-figure scorer for the first time since Jan. 23, 2011, in a 69-36 win over No. RV/23 St. John's at Purcell Pavilion ... Notre Dame had at least four double-digit scorers for the third time in as many games this year, improving to 37-4 in such outings during the past three seasons (2009-10 to present) ... the Fighting Irish have won 29 of their last 32 regular-season tournament games, and rise to 12-2 all-time in the Preseason WNIT, including a 10-0 record at home ... Notre Dame is 49-7 (.875) against first-time opponents since joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96, including a 29-3 (.906) mark against new foes since the start of the 2000-01 season ... the Fighting Irish have won 26 consecutive home games against first-time opponents dating back to January 1996 ... Notre Dame is 2-1 all-time against America East Conference teams ... both junior guard Skylar Diggins and senior guard Natalie Novosel moved up on the Fighting Irish career scoring list following Thursday's performances -- Diggins is up to 23rd all-time with 1,126 points, passing Danielle Green (1,106 points from 1995-2000), while Novosel jumped two spots to 27th all-time with 1,021 points, passing former teammate Melissa Lechlitner (1,005 points from 2006-10) and Kelley Siemon (1,006 points from 1997-2001) ... Thursday's victory was No. 559 of head coach Muffet McGraw's career, giving her sole possession of third place on the Notre Dame all-time coaching wins list (for all sports), passing baseball coach Jake Kline (558 from 1934-75) -- next up is former men's tennis/wrestling coach Tom Fallon, who logged a combined 579 wins from 1957-87.