MARCH 27, 2012: Raleigh Regional MVP Skylar Diggins of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish cuts the net after her team defeated the Maryland Terrapins 80-49. (Photo by Orin A. Day)
MARCH 27, 2012: Raleigh Regional MVP Skylar Diggins of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish cuts the net after her team defeated the Maryland Terrapins 80-49. (Photo by Orin A. Day)

Raleigh Regional Championship: Diggins triple double pushes the Irish past the Terps and into the Final Four

Staff Writer
March 28, 2012 - 10:42pm
MARCH 27, 2012: #25 Alyssa Thomas of the Maryland Terrapins is swarmed by Notre Dame Fighting Irish defenders #11 Natalie Achonwa (right) and #21 Natalie Novosel (left). Notre Dame defeated Maryland 80-49 to advance to the NCAA Final Four. (Photo by Orin A. Day)

MARCH 27, 2012: #25 Alyssa Thomas of the Maryland Terrapins is swarmed by Notre Dame Fighting Irish defenders #11 Natalie Achonwa (right) and #21 Natalie Novosel (left). Notre Dame defeated Maryland 80-49 to advance to the NCAA Final Four. (Photo by Orin A. Day)

No. 1 Notre Dame 80, No. 2 Maryland 49

PHOTO GALLERY

The Raleigh regional ended not with a bang, but a whimper, as Notre Dame broke open a close game with a 16-1 run in the middle of the first half and cruised from there.  Maryland's advantages (toughness, size and rebounding) never materialized as the Irish dominated the boards and sliced through Maryland's defense with ease.  Notre Dame's experience proved to be a crucial factor with three seniors (including two fifth year seniors), a junior and a sophomore going up against four sophomores and a senior.  When Maryland couldn't hit easy shots in the early going, you could see that the Irish were ready to pounce as Maryland started to lose its confidence.  Those problems just compounded as the Irish hit jump shots, scored in transition, and had fantastic ball movement that resulted in easy baskets. 

Notre Dame completes the quartet of four #1 seeds going to the Final Four (only the second time ever and first since 1989) and will face arch-rival UConn for the fourth time this season.  The All-Tournament team consisted of Natalie Novosel, Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa of Notre Dame, Alyssa Thomas of Maryland and Alexia Standish of Texas A&M.  Skylar Diggins of Notre Dame was the Most Outstanding Player of the Raleigh Regional.

"I’m so excited right now for my teammates, and Notre Dame, and Coach McGraw," said tournament MVP Skylar Diggins.  "We worked so hard to get back to this point, and this feels so good to come out here and make a statement with this game. So many people were doubting us, but we stayed strong and our experience showed through this game.

"I was really proud of our defense," said Notre Dame head coach Muffett McGraw. "I think we read a lot about Maryland defense and size factor. I felt that we did a fantastic job in the half court man to man defense. We did a great job on the boards. We scored every way we wanted to. We scored inside and out. We just really did a fantastic job on the offense."

Why Notre Dame Won: The biggest factor was Notre Dame crushing Maryland on the boards, 46-27.  The Terps outrebounded teams by a margin of +15 on the year, but the Irish found a way to neutralize that advantage despite being smaller.  Whenever Maryland put a shot up, Notre Dame sent four into the box to block out the Terp bigs, which prevented Maryland from getting many second chance points.  In the decisive first half, the Terps were held to just four second-chance points, compared to eleven for the Irish.  Thirteen of their sixteen points during Notre Dame's decisive first half run were generated from offensive rebounds. 

MARCH 27, 2012: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish players and coaches pose with the 2012 Raleigh Regional trophy after defeating Maryland 80-49. (Photo by Orin A. Day)

Why Maryland Lost: Notre Dame made Maryland play at their tempo, and Maryland was always off-balance.  At one point, the Terps were forced to go to a three-guard lineup in an effort to energize its offense and stop the parade of turnovers, but Maryland's perimeter players were just as ineffective as their posts.  In particular, Laurin Mincy pulled a total disappearing act with 2 points on 1-6 shooting after scoring 21 points against Texas A&M.  It didn't help that steady senior center Lynetta Kizer was 1-9 from the field and pulled in just 1 rebound.  When Maryland started missing shots early in the game, they froze up and were never able to recover.

Player Of The Game: Who else but Skylar Diggins, who controlled the game's tempo and posted only the third triple-double in Notre Dame history with 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.  She started the game pressing a bit as she took some difficult shots, but she relaxed and got into the game's flow.  As a result, she scored on a lot of drives and carved up Maryland's defense, making Notre Dame's offensive attack look effortless.  On top of all that, she hounded the Maryland point guards into seven turnovers.

X-Factor: Notre Dame center Natalie Achonwa.  WIth starting post Devereaux Peters in early foul trouble, Achonwa dominated the bigger and quicker Maryland post players with smart and timely cuts and block-outs.  She finished the many passes thrown in her direction and scored on several stickbacks.  Maryland seemed especially discouraged when she was scoring against them.

McGraw had these comments on the break out performance, "I thought she was player of the game if you take away Skylars triple double. For Natile Ochugwa to have the best game she had all year long she really came out ready."

The Game Turned When: Notre Dame when on a 16-1 run in the first half, built on offensive rebounds and Maryland turnovers.  A key play in that run came when Maryland was down 20-13 and called time-out.  Instead of running a play for one of their post players or forward Alyssa Thomas, erratic shooter Anjale Barrett took a three that misfired and eventually turned into a three for the Irish.  Once the Irish seized a double-digit lead, they weren't going to let it get away like Texas A&M did.

Key Stat: Points off turnovers: Notre Dame 26, Maryland 13.  Those turnovers, more than missed shots or rebounds lost, absolutely stymied any chance Maryland had of making a comeback.  Every time it looked like they might mount a run as they got into a rhythm on offense, Notre Dame would come up with a steal and make it that much harder for the shell-shocked Terps.


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