Wednesday, April 23, 2014
The Associated Press
NORFOLK, Va. — Skylar Diggins was already having such a great day, her coach figured she might as well make it historic.
Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd, right is welcomed to the bench by teammates Skylar Diggins, second from right, Kayla McBride, 21, and Ariel Braker during the second half of Sunday's regional semifinal in the NCAA women's basketball tourney at Norfolk, Va. Notre Dame beat Kansas 93-63.
Kansas' Chelsea Gardner, 15, passes the ball to Angel Goodrich as Notre Dame's Ariel Braker pressures in Sunday's NCAA women's basketball regional semifinal at Norfolk, Va.
The Notre Dame point guard scored 22 of her 27 points by halftime Sunday and became the school's career scoring leader, leading the top-seeded Fighting Irish to a 93-63 victory against Kansas in the semifinals of the Norfolk Regional.
Coach Muffet McGraw had forgotten all about Diggins' pursuit of the school scoring mark until the game was well in hand. When she asked, she was told the senior was just two points away from passing assistant coach Beth Cunningham.
"I told her, 'You're coming out in 30 seconds. You might as well get one more,'" McGraw said she told Diggins.
Moments later, with 7:48 to play, the lefthander in her trademark white headband swished a 12-foot jumper.
"Coach told me to score two more. I didn't really know why, but I was like, 'OK,'" Diggins said.
It was that kind of the day for Diggins, who heard talk beforehand that the Norfolk Regional was full of great point guards, and quickly showed she might not have a peer, especially at this time of year with the stakes so high.
"We play in games that are so much like Sweet 16 or Elite Eight kind of caliber games in our conference," she said. "That helps all of us."
So does having a leader that makes it all look so easy. Diggins added nine assists and three steals, scored nine straight during a 16-2 first-half run that put the Irish (34-1) ahead to stay, and six more to cap a 10-2 run into halftime.
"She's what everyone says," Kansas point guard Angel Goodrich, who finished with seven points and 13 assists, said. "She's the whole package. She can create for herself and she can create for her teammates."
The victory was the 29th in a row for Notre Dame, and left the Irish one victory shy of a third consecutive trip to the Final Four. They have lost in the title game each of the last two years.
Carolyn Davis led the upstart Jayhawks (20-14) with 25 points on 11-for-17 shooting, but the second No. 12 seed ever to get this far in the women's tournament since the seeding format began in 1994 didn't stick around long.
Notre Dame led 40-27 at halftime and started the second half with a 22-9 run.
"We definitely let them play comfortable and confident," Jayhawks Coach Bonnie Henrickson said. "I was disappointed our defensive effort wasn't better."
Goodrich's head-to-head duel with Diggins never materialized. When Goodrich, like Diggins a senior, finally scored with 5:48 left in the first half, Diggins already had 16 points and her team was about to make another run before halftime.
It came in the final 4:30 of the half, a 10-2 burst capped by two 3-pointers by Diggins.
"When she starts hitting the 3, you're in trouble," McGraw said.
Natalie Achonwa added 17 points and 10 rebounds for Notre Dame, Jewell Lloyd scored 15 and Kayla McBride 13 as the Fighting Irish shot 54.4 percent from the field, making 37 of 69 attempts.
Monica Engelman added 10 points for Kansas, but on just 4 of 16 shooting.
The Irish trailed 15-11 when Lloyd made a 3-pointer with 14:37 to go and then Diggins took over. She hit a 16-footer, a 17-footer, a 3-pointer and then had a steal and layup, making it 23-15. After Davis' stickback for the Jayhawks, Ariel Braker scored inside and Diggins did, too, posting up Goodrich.
The 16-2 run gave the Fighting Irish a 27-17 lead, and the spread stayed about the same until late in the half when Diggins hit a 3-pointer, then followed a turnover with another 3 from the right side.