Cincinnati women fall to No. 2 Notre Dame 76-50
CINCINNATI—Coach Jamelle Elliott shook her counterpart's hand and thanked her for easing up.
Second-ranked Notre Dame went ahead by 35 points in the second half and rested its starters. Coach Muffet McGraw substituted freely down the stretch of a 76-50 victory, the 14th in a row for the Fighting Irish.
Then, they shook hands and limped to the locker room.
"I thanked Muffet," Elliott said. "I appreciate her subbing because it could have been really ugly."
Notre Dame never trailed, using its unrelenting defense and a balanced offense that did whatever it wanted in a game that concluded a tough stretch of the schedule.
"You should have seen us hobbling down the steps," McGraw said. "Four or five had ice bags coming down the steps. All the travel and flying -- it's been an ordeal in the training room for us."
The Irish (17-1, 5-0 Big East) have played four road games out of their last five. Their only home game during that stretch was a 74-67 overtime win that snapped Connecticut's 87-game Big East winning streak.
They came through it with a few limps but no losses.
"It's just a focus thing, executing the plan for the team you're playing," said point guard Skylar Diggins, who matched her season high with 11 assists. "We've done that lately, and plan to continue to do that."
They not only survived the tough stretch, but got a little more versatile during it, too.
Natalie Novosel scored 21 points, and Devereaux Peters had 17 as Notre Dame emphasized going inside against the overmatched Bearcats (9-8, 0-4). The Irish lead the nation with 84.2 points per game, getting a lot of baskets off jumpers and turnovers.
Novosel made back-to-back 3s and a pair of free throws as Notre Dame quickly pushed the lead to 15 points. She had 18 points in the first half, which ended with Notre Dame ahead 42-21. Novosel has scored in double figures in her last 25 games, the second-longest streak in school history.
"It was just what the defense gave me," Novosel said. "I was able to keep shooting. I was hot, so I shot with confidence."
With Diggins flipping no-look passes inside, the Fighting Irish scored 40 of their points in the paint. Peters had nine points during a 16-2 run that opened the second half, pushed the lead to 35 and prompted McGraw to rest her worn-down starters.
"We've been talking about putting in a couple of new plays so we could look inside a little more," McGraw said. "In the second half, we got a lot of good looks. That's what we need. That's our next step. In order to get better, we've got to be able to score in the blocks and get easy baskets. We did that today."
Diggins scored a season-low four points, taking only five shots. Instead, she spent the game looking for teammates. She hit Peters with a no-look pass for a layup that made it 34-17 in the first half. She also had four assists during the 16-2 run that opened the second half.
"That's nothing new for me," Peters said. "We get a lot of good looks running the floor, and she sees everybody. And everybody was hitting their shots."
The Irish had a large contingent of green-clad fans in the crowd of 2,906, which included Bearcat fans who stuck around from the men's 82-78 win over Villanova earlier in the afternoon.
Notre Dame has won 19 straight games against teams from neighboring Ohio since 1993.
The Bearcats fell apart against Notre Dame's unrelenting defensive pressure, turning the ball over 22 times -- one shy of their season high. Notre Dame let up after getting the big lead.
Dayeesha Hollins had 14 for Cincinnati, which had 11 assists as a team, matching Diggins' total.
"It was really fun to watch the way they passed the ball to each other," Elliott said. "By far they're the best passing team we've faced all year long. Everything that was a little open, they found it."