Dec. 21, 2012
Diggins scored 24 points and had five steals, and Achonwa added 22 points and 14 rebounds as No. 5 Notre Dame beat No. 22 Texas A&M 83-74 on Friday night in the championship game of the World Vision Classic.
Texas A&M topped Notre Dame in the championship game of the 2011 NCAA tournament. While much less was on the line this time, the Fighting Irish made sure they left the court on top.
The Fighting Irish also got 19 points from Kayla McBride and 15 from Jewell Loyd. Muffet McGraw earned her 600th win as Notre Dame coach in the first meeting between the teams since Texas A&M won the title.
Notre Dame (9-1) took control with a 13-0 run that turned a 48-46 deficit into a 59-48 lead with 11:25 remaining. Diggins and McBride both had four points during the spurt, and Achonwa supplied the final three points of the run.
"She took over the game," McGraw said of Diggins. "She attacked the basket and did what we wanted her to do. Skylar draws so much attention. She opens things up for other people. I think she drove the ball well.
"And I thought her defense was outstanding. I think she took advantage of their guards defensively."
Kelsey Bone led Texas A&M (8-4) with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Courtney Walker had 12 points, and Kristi Bellock added 11.
The Aggies committed 26 turnovers, compared to 13 for the Fighting Irish. Several miscues occurred at key points in the game.
Notre Dame had its biggest lead of the first half, 44-37, after Loyd scored underneath off a feed from Diggins at the buzzer. But the Aggies hurt their own cause in the opening half by making 17 turnovers and committing 10 personal fouls.
With Texas A&M holding its biggest lead, 18-10, Notre Dame went on an 8-0 run to tie the game with 10:38 left. During that run, the Aggies turned the ball over on five consecutive possessions with the Irish scoring off two of them. In the opening half, the Irish were 11-for-13 at the free-throw line. The Aggies were only 1 of 2.
"The 17 turnovers in the first half was the difference in the ballgame," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. "I ran seven different plays and they made (baskets on) six of them. Then, they upped the defensive pressure.
"Overall, this is the best game we've played, and we lost. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to play them when it counts."
After getting even again at 21 on Loyd's three-pointer, the Fighting Irish grabbed the lead on Diggins' basket. Natalie Achonwa scored eight straight points to go ahead 36-30 with 3:16 left.
The Aggies took a 48-46 lead following seven consecutive points by Bone shortly before the Fighting Irish's 13-0 run. The Aggies got no closer than 65-60, after another basket by Bone, the rest of the way.
"We had a lot of trouble guarding her," McGraw said of Bone.
Achonwa made two free throws to give the Fighting Irish a 74-65 lead with 4:38 left, and Diggins followed with her lone 3-pointer of the game.
"The three, I thought, was the dagger," McGraw said.
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame wins its fifth regular-season tournament title (in six tries) during the past four seasons (dating back to 2009-10), adding the 2012 World Vision Classic hardware to the 2009 Paradise Jam (Island Division), 2010 WBCA Classic, 2010 State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic and 2011 Junkanoo Jam (Freeport Division) -- three of those tournaments (Paradise Jam, Junkanoo Jam, World Vision Classic) were sponsored by Seattle-based Basketball Travelers, Inc., with Notre Dame going a combined 8-0 in those events ... the Fighting Irish improve to 34-4 (.895) in regular-season tournament play (multi-game events only) since 1996-97 ... Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw earns her 600th win at the helm of the Fighting Irish (and 688th of her legendary Hall of Fame career), rising to 600-216 (.735) in 26 seasons under the Golden Dome and 688-257 (.728) in 31 years as a collegiate head coach, factoring in her successful five-year run at Lehigh from 1982-87 ... McGraw is the second Notre Dame coach (in any sport) in the University's 125-year athletics history to record 600 career wins, joining men's/women's fencing coach Michael DeCicco (774-80 from 1962-95) in that elite club ... the Fighting Irish are 3-1 against ranked opponents this season and 22-12 (.647) against the Top 25 during the past four seasons (2009-10 to present) ... for the fifth time in six years, and the seventh time in school history (all within the past 13 seasons), Notre Dame is off to a 9-1 start ... Notre Dame rallied from an early eight-point deficit (18-10 with 13:13 left in the first half), marking its biggest comeback win of the season -- the previous largest margin overcome in a victory had been seven points on Nov. 23 at No. 19/22 UCLA (trailed 10-3 with 16:14 left in first half; won 76-64) ... the Fighting Irish have now won their final game before Christmas for 17 consecutive seasons and are 27-9 (.750) all-time in such contests ... Notre Dame continues to be remarkably tough when playing several games in a short period of time, improving to 31-9 (.775) in the past five seasons (2008-09 to present) when playing on one day's rest or less, including a 3-0 record this year ... the Fighting Irish earn their first win in three tries against Texas A&M, and avenge their loss to the Aggies in the 2011 NCAA national championship game ... in all three series meetings, both Notre Dame and Texas A&M have scored at least 70 points in each game ... the Fighting Irish rise to 15-33 (.313) all-time against current Southeastern Conference schools, including wins in eight of their last nine matchups (not counting the 2011 NCAA title game with TAMU, which was played before the Aggies joined the SEC this past summer) ... Notre Dame earns its first win over an SEC school away from home (road or neutral site) since March 28, 2011, when it defeated fourth-ranked Tennessee, 73-59 in the NCAA Championship Dayton Regional final at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio ... the Fighting Irish snap a five-game losing streak against Texas schools, jumping to 8-11 (.421) all-time against the Lone Star State and picking up their first win over a Texas team since March 23, 2008, when they defeated SMU, 75-62 in the first round of the NCAA Championship (Oklahoma City Region) at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind. ... Texas A&M is the first Notre Dame opponent to shoot better than 55 percent from the floor in a game since March 1, 2010, when Connecticut made 55.6 percent of its shots in a win at Purcell Pavilion (the last 60-percent shooting opponent was DePaul on Jan. 22, 2008, also at Purcell Pavilion) ... Diggins earned her second regular-season tournament Most Valuable Player award, having collected a similar honor at the 2009 Paradise Jam (becoming one of just three freshmen ever to take home the award); Diggins also has been chosen as the Most Outstanding Player of Notre Dame's NCAA regional the past two seasons (Dayton-2011; Raleigh-2012) ... Achonwa was named to her first regular-season all-tournament team, although she did earn a spot on the 2012 NCAA Raleigh Regional All-Tournament Team ... Diggins moved into fourth place on Notre Dame's career scoring list with 1,877 points, passing another South Bend Washington High School graduate, Jacqueline Batteast, who scored 1,874 points for the Fighting Irish from 2001-05 ... Diggins posted her 36th career 20-point game (second in a row; one shy of Ruth Riley for third place on the school's career chart) and 96th career double-figure scoring game, moving her into sole possession of fifth place on the Notre Dame all-time list past Alicia Ratay (95 from 1999-2003) ... Diggins made her 117th career start on Friday, breaking a tie with Karen Robinson (1987-91) for sixth place in Fighting Irish history ... Diggins' 27 field goal attempts on Friday were both a career high and the fourth-most by a Fighting Irish player in one game (most since March 4, 1997, when current Notre Dame associate coach Beth Cunningham took a school-record 31 shots at Connecticut) ... Achonwa's 12 made free throws and 14 free throw attempts both were career highs, with the free throws made tying for eighth on Notre Dame's single-game list (most since Natalie Novosel made a school-record 18-of-20 foul shots on March 20, 2012, against California in the second round of the NCAA Championship (Raleigh Region) at Purcell Pavilion) ... Achonwa's 14 rebounds also were a career high, one more than she had at Kentucky on Nov. 23, 2010 ... Achonwa picked up her BIG EAST-leading sixth double-double of the season ... Notre Dame had four double-digit scorers for the fourth consecutive game (and eighth time in 10 outings this year), improving to 60-4 (.938) in the past four seasons when it has had at least four players score in double figures.