Skylar Diggins leads Irish to victory

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 NORFOLK, Va. — Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame are headed back to the Final Four for another rematch with Connecticut.

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Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins drive down court in the first half of the Norfolk Regional final. She scored 24 points to lead the Fighting Irish to victory.  JASON HIRSCHFELD/ASSOCIATED PRESS
JASON HIRSCHFELD/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins drive down court in the first half of the Norfolk Regional final. She scored 24 points to lead the Fighting Irish to victory.

Before looking ahead, though, they wanted to soak in their third consecutive trip to the national semifinals.

"We're enjoying the moment right now," Diggins said when asked about UConn. "We'll talk about that later."

The flashy left-hander shook off early foul trouble to score 24 points and the Fighting Irish rallied to beat Duke 87-76 on Tuesday night to earn their third consecutive trip to the Final Four. The Irish have lost in the past two national championship games.

"I want to win a championship for coach (Muffet) McGraw bad," Diggins, one of just two seniors on the Notre Dame roster, said. "When you have a coach who believes in you so much, I'd do anything for her."

Kayla McBride added 18 points while Jewell Loyd and Natalie Achonwa had 17 each as the Fighting Irish (35-1) won their school-record 30th consecutive game, earning a fourth meeting with the Huskies this season.

It's also the third consecutive meeting between the two Big East rivals in the Final Four. The Irish won both of those and have dominated the series lately, winning seven of the past eight meetings. Notre Dame swept UConn in all three meetings this season in thrilling fashion, winning in overtime and by 1 and 2 points.

The Irish had to rally past Duke to earn the right to get there again.

Trailing by six at the half and looking disjointed without Diggins on the court, Notre Dame got back to playing the way it likes after the break and took control with a 15-2 run early in the second half to take a 50-42 lead.

"We talked in the beginning about leaving with no regrets," Diggins said, adding that the first half could hardly have gone worse. "I think we were all pressing a little bit. We weren't playing like we talked about."

Diggins started the run with her fourth 3-pointer of the game and followed quickly with a no-look feed to Natalie Achonwa, who also grabbed 13 rebounds, for a layup that had drew an impressed roar from the crowd at Old Dominion's Constant Center. Diggins added a steal and a layup, and McBride finished the burst with another 3-pointer.

Duke (33-3) trailed by as many as 16 before closing the gap only slightly in the desperate final minutes.

"It bothers me a little bit that we had to fight so hard at the end. It was like, 'Where's that been?'" Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "You've got to play 40 minutes at this level. It was inspiring but also a little irritating."

The Blue Devils, who lost in the regional finals for the fourth consecutive year, hurt their cause with 21 turnovers.

 WOMEN’S NCAA TOURNAMENT

LOUISVILLE 86, TENNESSEE 78

In Oklahoma City, one mammoth upset wasn't enough for Shoni Schimmel and plucky Louisville. Going through two of the sport's powers, the Cardinals are Final Four-bound.

Schimmel scored 24 points and Louisville beat second-seeded Tennessee on Tuesday night to earn the school's second trip to the Final Four.

Two nights after taking down Brittney Griner and defending national champion Baylor, the fifth-seeded Cardinals (28-8) built a 20-point lead and then withstood a second-half comeback by the Lady Vols (27-8) before celebrating another big victory.

When it was over, the Cardinals huddled at center court and celebrated. Tennessee headed home with a third consecutive loss in the regional finals, failing to make the Final Four for a fifth consecutive year.

"We ruined the entire party," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "We're the ugly ducklings that ruined the party. No one gave us a chance and we shocked everybody. It's a journey and we're going to continue."

Taber Spani led the Lady Vols with 20 points, and Meighan Simmons and Kamiko Williams chipped in 12 apiece.

Louisville joined the school's men's team in the Final Four, marking the 10th time that a program had both teams make it that far.

Only Connecticut has won both titles in the same season, in 2004 - the last time the women's champion was crowned in New Orleans.

The Cardinals became only the second No. 5 seed to reach the national semifinals, joining Southwest Missouri State's 2001 team that featured guard Jackie Stiles, the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history. Only seven teams outside of the top four seeds have ever made it to the Final Four since the NCAA Tournament started in 1982.

No team seeded higher than fourth has ever won a game at the Final Four.

But the seemingly impossible hasn't stopped this group of Cardinals yet.

First, they took down Griner and her Baylor team that had lost just once in 75 games. Then, it was the eight-time national champion Tennessee.

"No one wanted to see us beat Baylor and Tennessee and we did both of those and now we're going to the Final Four," Schimmel said.

Next up is a Sunday showdown in New Orleans against California, the Spokane regional champion.

The Cardinals' only other Final Four trip was in 2009, ending in a loss to Big East rival Connecticut in the championship game

 MEN’S NATIONAL INVITATION TOURNAMENT

BAYLOR 76, BRIGHAM YOUNG 70

In New York, Pierre Jackson had 24 points and 10 assists to lift Baylor (22-14) into the title game for the second time in five years with a victory over Brigham Young (24-12).

IOWA 71, MARYLAND 60

In New York, Devyn Marble had 21 points and nine rebounds to help Iowa (25-12) reach the NIT championship for the first time with a win over Maryland (25-13).

 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Athletic director Pat Haden wants to make basketball relevant at the school known for its football program.

So he went out and hired Andy Enfield, of Florida Gulf Coast, who has been one of the most talked-about coaches since making the Eagles the first No. 15 seed to reach the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

“What we’ve missed is a coach that can be here for an extended period of time and get this program where it should be,” said Haden, who believes Enfield is the person to do it.

 RUTGERS: The school said it would reconsider its decision to retain coach Mike Rice after a videotape aired Tuesday on ESPN showed him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players in practice and using gay slurs.

Athletic director Tim Pernetti was given a copy of the video in November by an ex-employee. He suspended Rice for three games a month later, fined him $50,000 and ordered him to attend anger management classes.

Pernetti said his decision to only suspend Rice was made in part because the coach was remorseful and admitted he made mistakes.

GRINER IN SELECT COMPANY

Baylor star senior Brittney Griner was a unanimous selection to The Associated Press’ All-America team Tuesday.

Griner became the fifth three-time AP All-American, joining Tennessee’s Chamique Holdsclaw, Duke’s Alana Beard, Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris and Connecticut’s Maya Moore. Paris and Moore were the only two to earn the honor all four years.

She was joined on the first team by Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins, Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike, Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne and Baylor teammate Odyssey Sims.

– Associated Press


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