Nov. 29, 2008
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -
Notre Dame couldn't do much against Michigan State's Aisha Jefferson defensively, so Kellie Watson got the 14th-ranked Fighting Irish going offensively.
Watson made five consecutive 3-pointers in the first half and finished with six from long range, igniting a sluggish Notre Dame offense in a 78-72 victory on Saturday. The freshman attempted six 3-pointers in the Irish's first four games of the season.
"Kellie Watson was absolutely fantastic. She had an unbelievable night," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
Watson, who had 18 points, helped the Irish overcome a 34-point effort by Jefferson, who scored 22 in the first half. That surpassed her previous career best of 20 points set three years ago against Iowa. She also had 11 boards as the 24th-ranked Spartans outrebounded the Irish 48-32.
Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said Jefferson was determined after scoring just five points in the previous game against Old Dominion.
"Today was just my day," Jefferson said.
The Irish (5-0) are off to their best start since opening the 2005-06 season with six straight wins. The Spartans (6-1) fell a win shy of matching their best start in school history, but Merchant was pleased they battled back and made a game of it.
"We had a shot to win it at the end," she said.
Watson, who is from Ionia, Mich., and strongly considered going to Michigan State, said it was a surreal feeling when the shots started falling.
"The first two, I was just glad my shots were finally falling," she said, laughing. "They kept giving me the ball and I took open shots. It's not something I'm going to complain about."
Merchant said the shots by Watson hurt.
"One and two were big. The rest were bigger," she said.
The last two of Watson's consecutive 3-pointers were part of a 13-6 run that gave the Irish a 39-34 halftime lead. The Irish then opened the second half with a 7-0 run, highlighted by a three-point play by Ashley Barlow, who finished with 14 points and six assists. They went ahead 46-34 on a 15-foot jumper by Lindsay Schrader, who scored 10 of her 15 points in the second half.
The Irish stretched the lead to 55-40 when Barlow hit three of four free throws after Merchant and forward Kalisha Keane were called for technical fouls 7 seconds apart with 13 minutes left. The Spartans played better after the technicals and closed to 75-72 on a layup by Keane with 27 seconds left but couldn't get any closer.
The Irish held Michigan State's 6-foot-9 center Allyssa DeHaan to 2-of-10 shooting. The only player in double figures for the Spartans was Keane, with 10.
"You're not going to win in this environment with just a player and a half," Merchant said.
The Irish forced 24 turnovers and blocked six shots. McGraw said her focus in practice this week will be rebounding.
"I thought it was just short of embarrassing the way we worked at the boards," McGraw said. "I was really disappointed with our effort on the boards."
-- ND --
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame picks up its second win over a ranked opponent in five games this season ... the Irish are off to a 5-0 start for the first time since 2005-06, when they opened with a 6-0 record ... Notre Dame earns its first win over Michigan State since Dec. 11, 1999, when the Irish downed the Spartans, 84-54 at the Joyce Center ... MSU still leads the all-time series 8-5, although the margin is just 4-3 in South Bend ... seven of the 13 games in the series have been decided by single digits ... Notre Dame collects its 10th win in its last 14 games against Big Ten Conference opponents, moving to 37-46 (.446) all-time against that conference and 16-11 (.593) at home ... the Irish also chalk up their eighth consecutive win over a Michigan school, rising to 51-19 (.729) all-time and 21-13 (.618) at home against the Great Lakes State ... Notre Dame jumps to 19-13 (.594) all-time in its first game after Thanksgiving with an 8-3 (.727) mark at home ... the Irish have made a combined 29 three-pointers in their last four games, the most in a four-game stretch for Notre Dame since Nov. 21-Dec. 2, 2001, when they canned 32 treys in games at Colorado State (7), at Arizona (7), home vs. Army (10) and vs. Michigan at Grand Rapids, Mich. (8) ... Notre Dame's nine three-pointers and 25 three-point attempts against Michigan State are the most for the Irish in a single game since March 3, 2002, when they went 10-for-26 from beyond the arc in an 84-79 loss to Syracuse in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Championship at Piscataway, N.J. ... freshman guard Kellie Watson tied the Notre Dame Joyce Center record for three-pointers in a game, which had been set six times before by four different players (most recently on Dec. 4, 2003, by Megan Duffy on 10 attempts in an 82-64 win over Wisconsin); Duffy's six triples vs. UW also marked the last time a Notre Dame player hit that many shots from distance in any game ... Watson is the fourth different player to lead the Irish in scoring in as many games; only junior guard Ashley Barlow has finished with team-high scoring honors more than once this year ... Barlow tied her career high with six assists, a mark she last set less than a week ago on Nov. 23 at Boston College ... Barlow also extended her streak of double-digit scoring games to 10 in a row, dating back to last year ... freshman forward Erica Solomon scored in double figures for the third consecutive game, averaging 13.0 points with a .765 field goal percentage (13-of-17) in that span ... Notre Dame has had at least three double-figure scorers in all five games this season, with four or more for the third time ... sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski tied her career highs with four assists (last set in last weekend's Boston College game) and two blocks (last set on March 3, 2008 at St. John's) ... Notre Dame improves to 150-14 (.915) when leading at halftime since the start of the 2000-01 season, with wins in 78 of their last 86 such games (4-0 this year) ... the Irish have won 74 of their last 80 non-conference home games (.925), dating back to the 1994-95 season.