Irish come up big on boards
SOUTH BEND, Jan 21, 2013 (South Bend Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
There may have been a couple of sluggish stretches on offense, but defense and rebounding by the Notre Dame women's basketball team made sure that Sunday's noon game had a nightmarish feel for St. John's.
The Irish hit St. John's with its first loss in Big East Conference play, 74-50.
No. 2 Notre Dame shook off a couple of different offensive lulls to win its 11th consecutive game. The Irish (16-1 overall, 5-0 Big East) play at Pittsburgh on Wednesday (7 p.m. EST). Pulse FM 96.9/92.1 has the broadcast. St. John's is 9-7, 3-1.
South Bend's Skylar Diggins scored 18 points for the Irish and had six rebounds and six assists. The All-American point guard is 14 points shy of the 2,000-point plateau. Only three players in Notre Dame women's basketball history have reached the mark, Beth Morgan (2,322 in 1993-97), Katryna Gaither (2,126 in 1993-97) and Ruth Riley (2,072 in 1997-2001).
Irish post Natalie Achonwa scored 16 points and had 12 rebounds for her 10th double-double of the season, tops in the Big East.
Madison Cable came off the bench to score 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including three 3-pointers.
The game was a sellout (9,149), Notre Dame's seventh in nine home games. The school record for women's basketball sellouts is eight, set last season.
Despite the brief lulls in offensive play, the Irish had a number of bright spots.
Notre Dame harassed St. John's leading scorer, Shenneika Smith, into 1-of-15 shooting.
Smith, who entered the game averaging 16.6 points a game, was primarily
guarded by freshman Jewell Loyd. Smith ended up with three points, her lowest total since scoring two in the season-ending loss to Stanford in the NCAA Tournament her sophomore season.
The Irish crushed St. John's on the boards, 48-22. Notre Dame hammered the Red Storm on the offensive boards, 19-8, for a 17-4 advantage in second-chance points.
Notre Dame hit 7-of-11 3-pointers, led by Cable's trio. The Irish entered the game hitting only 31 percent of its 3s this season.
"I was really pleased with our defense," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "Jewell Loyd did a phenomenal job once again on their best player, holding (Shenneika) Smith to her season low. Kayla McBride also guarded her and the two of them really did a great job. I thought our team defense was very good."
Notre Dame suffered through a sluggish start to the second half. The Irish missed their first five shots, and were 0-for-4 free-throw shooting. The Irish also committed two turnovers. Notre Dame didn't score until its sixth possession of the half. St. John's was able to hit only one basket in the stretch, closing to 39-27.
Kayla McBride, who entered the game leading the Irish in scoring at 15.3, struggled the most. The Irish guard scored six points on 1-of-8 shooting and 4-of-4 free throws.
"I thought late shot-clock was a train wreck,". McGraw said of Notre Dame's offensive struggles. "We've worked on it and we didn't execute it well. Our handle was just a bit off today. I think that's one thing that we really need to improve on."
Forcing turnovers helped get the Irish on track. Achonwa hit a jumper following a turnover for the first Irish basket of the second half (16:12). Seconds later, Ariel Braker came up with a steal and Diggins converted with a fastbreak layup. It led to a 10-2 Irish run and Notre Dame quickly found itself up by 22 points, 51-29, with 12:50 left in the game.
"We've been working on defense and that's what we've been preaching," Diggins said. "This team is capable of playing defense when we feel like it and we've been feeling like it more often. We still have some things we need to work on, little things, and when we tweak those little things, I think we're capable of being the best defensive team in the country."
Notre Dame led by as many as 17 points, 37-20, with 1:39 left in the first half. After a timeout, St. John's hit the Irish for a layup and then a 3 following a turnover. Diggins gave the Irish a 39-25 halftime lead with a buzzer-beating, driving layup.
Cable's shooting highlighted Notre Dame's 7-of-11 3-point showing.
"I got some pretty open looks," Cable said. "Whitney (Holloway) found me a couple times, Markisha (Wright) got doubled-teamed and kicked it out, so they did the hard part. I was just open and shot it. "
St. John's coach Joel Tartamella credited the Irish with a tough defensive effort against Smith.
"They frustrated her and made her take some really tough shots," Tartamella said. "Her shot selection, though, I thought was questionable at times. I thought she took some good ones and shot herself out of things as well. Today was probably the first day where she struggled the most from the field. I expect her to bounce back but they did do a great job on her today."
Irish guard Kaila Turner suffered a knee injury with 5:34 left in the game after she hit a 3-pointer to give Notre Dame a 66-39 lead. She is scheduled for an MRI on Monday.
ST. JOHN'S (9-7): Amber Thompson 4-6 0-0 8, Mary Nwachukwu 1-2 0-0 2, Aliyyah Handford 3-9 2-5 8, Nadirah McKenith 5-11 4-4 15, Shenneika Smith 1-15 0-0 3, Cedricka Gibson 0-1 0-0 0, Ashley Perez 1-1 0-0 3, Jennifer Blanding 2-3 0-0 4, Keylantra Langley 2-6 2-2 7, Sandra Udobi 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-54 8-11 50.
NOTRE DAME (16-1): Natalie Achonwa 8-13 0-0 16, Ariel Braker 2-3 0-6 4, Skylar Diggins 6-15 5-5 18, Kayla McBride 1-8 4-4 6, Jewell Loyd 3-5 0-0 7, Whitney Holloway 0-3 0-0 0, Kaila Turner 1-1 0-0 3, Madison Cable 5-6 0-0 13, Michaela Mabrey 1-3 0-0 3, Huffman 0-0 0-0 0, Markisha Wright 1-1 2-2 4. Totals 28-58 11-17 74.
Halftime -- Notre Dame 39-25. 3-Point Goals -- St. John's 4-9 (Perez 1-1, Langley 1-1, McKenith 1-2, Smith 1-5), Notre Dame 7-11 (Cable 3-3, Turner 1-1, Mabrey 1-2, Loyd 1-2, Diggins 1-2, Holloway 0-1). Fouled Out -- None. Rebounds -- St. John's 22 (Thompson 5), Notre Dame 48 (Achonwa 12). Assists -- St. John's 13 (McKenith 7), Notre Dame 21 (Diggins 6). Total Fouls -- St. John's 14, Notre Dame 9. A -- 9,149.
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