Nov. 29, 2012
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (AP) - After getting an up-close look at Skylar Diggins, Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara knew she made the right decision in voting the Notre Dame star an All-American.
Diggins scored 17 of her 25 points in the first half, and the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish pulled away late in a 72-63 victory over the Chippewas on Thursday night.
"I'm on the All-American committee, and I voted for (Diggins)," Guevara said simply when asked about Diggins' performance. "Skylar takes the game over."
Diggins also added six steals and played a huge role in a defensive turnaround in the second half. Four of those takeaways came in the final seven minutes to help thwart a Central Michigan comeback.
"When she's defending you, you can't crossover in front of her," Guevara said. "She's got pretty quick hands."
Ariel Braker added 10 points and eight rebounds to help the Fighting Irish (5-0) close November undefeated for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
Diggins shot 6 for 15 from the field and was 12 for 14 on free throws.
"I just thought Skylar did exactly what we needed her to do," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw told the South Bend Tribune. "We had to get to the rim. They couldn't guard her. She did a great job of getting to the basket and getting fouled. "
Jessica Green scored 19 points and Niki DiGuilio had 12 points for Central Michigan (2-3).
In the program's first home game against a top-5 team, the Chippewas played like they belonged. The teams exchanged leads nine times in the first half before Notre Dame took a 40-39 lead at the break.
"We were beating them on dribble penetration and getting to the basket, and we were beating them to kick it out," Guevara said. "We had some kids hitting some 3-pointers, and Jess (Green) was able to beat people on penetration and get in and dish."
The Chippewas led by as many as four in the first half.
Green scored 12 points in the first 20 minutes, and sophomore star Crystal Bradford grabbed seven of the team's 21 first-half rebounds to help keep the Chippewas within reach of the Fighting Irish.
"We shared the ball, we just kind of got down on all the hype and played like we normally do," Green said of the first half. "They tie their shoes just like we do, so we just worked together and started off good."
Central Michigan's gritty effort didn't go unnoticed, either. The nearly sold-out crowd at McGuirk Arena gave the players a standing ovation as they headed into the locker room at the end of the first half, and the stands remained full until the closing seconds of the game.
"You could just feel their energy," Guevara said. "They were really into the game. They reacted when we got a loose ball or when we got a rebound. And they reacted when they didn't like what the officials called, which I liked too."
Notre Dame opened the second half on a 7-0 run but Central Michigan pulled within one with under 12 minutes to play. The Fighting Irish didn't truly pull away until Diggins hit a free throw for a 70-60 lead with 45 seconds to play.
The matchup marked the first time in the last four seasons that the Fighting Irish went on the road to play a Mid-American Conference opponent.
Coming into Thursday's matchup, the Chippewas had won two of their last four contests against ranked opponents, dating back to an 84-75 win over then-No. 23 Louisville in December 2009.
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame improves to 5-0 and also goes undefeated in the month of November for the first time since the 2009-10 season, when the Fighting Irish went 6-0 in November ... Notre Dame is 76-14 (.844) when playing in the month of November since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96 ... the Fighting Irish had four double-figure scorers for the fourth consecutive game (after having three reach double digits in the season-opening 57-51 win against No. 19/21 Ohio State on Nov. 9 at the Carrier Classic in Mount Pleasant, S.C.) ... since the start of the 2009-10 season, Notre Dame is 56-4 (.933) when it has at least four double-figure scorers, including an active 26-game winning streak dating back to Feb. 28, 2011, when No. 12/11 DePaul edged the seventh-ranked Fighting Irish, 70-69 at McGrath-Phillips Arena in Chicago ... Notre Dame had a season-high 24 free throws made and 31 free throw attempts ... Central Michigan's nine three-pointers were the most by a Notre Dame opponent since March 7, 2011, when No. 9/13 DePaul also made nine treys, but the No. 10/8 Fighting Irish prevailed, 71-67 in the BIG EAST semifinals at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. ... Notre Dame is 3-1 all-time against Central Michigan, including a 2-0 record at McGuirk Arena ... the Fighting Irish are 37-14 (.725) all-time against the current Mid-American Conference membership, and 22-5 (.815) against MAC schools in the 26-year Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present), including an active 20-game winning streak dating back to March 10, 1995 (87-64 loss to Northern Illinois in Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League tournament semifinals) ... Notre Dame is 55-20 (.733) all-time against Michigan schools, with a 35-8 (.814) record in the McGraw era, highlighted by wins in 12 of their last 13 outings ... the Fighting Irish senior class (guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner) led Notre Dame to the 100th win of their careers -- the program is 100-18 (.847) since the duo arrived on campus in 2009-10 ... Diggins scored a season-high 25 points, earning her 34th career 20-point game in the process ... Diggins matched her career high with 12 free throws made, having also done so against West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012 (she went 12-for-18 in that game) ... Diggins' season-best six steals (one off her career high) moved her into third place on Notre Dame's all-time steals list with 284 thefts, passing Mary Gavin (1984-88) and Ashley Barlow (2006-10), who were tied for third with 281 steals ... junior forward Natalie Achonwa registered her third consecutive double-double and fourth in five games this season -- she is the second Fighting Irish player in as many years with a run of three consecutive double-doubles, following in the footsteps of Devereaux Peters, who had a similar surge from Jan. 23-30, 2012, against Tennessee (16p/16r), St. John's (18p/15r) and Rutgers (10p/17r) ... junior forward Ariel Braker scored in double figures for the second time this season (fourth in her career), and finished two points, one rebound and one steal shy of her career highs in those categories (12 points vs. Mercer on Nov. 20, 2012; nine rebounds against Longwood on Dec. 28, 2011; four steals on two occasions, most recently on Dec. 20, 2011, against Central Florida) ... sophomore guard Madison Cable had a career-high seven rebounds, her previous best being three caroms against Ohio State on Nov. 9 (Cable missed all of last season with foot injuries) ... Notre Dame has had a different starting lineup in all five games this season ... the Fighting Irish are 252-19 (.930) since the start of the 2000-01 season when they lead at halftime, including an 89-2 (.978) record in the past four years (2009-10 to present).