RALEIGH, N.C. -- Skylar Diggins knew she needed to do more
than score to send Notre Dame back to the Final Four.
So she rebounded. And passed. And stole the ball.
It all added up to a game to remember -- and now the Fighting
Irish can keep their focus on avenging the one loss they'll never
Diggins had a triple-double and Notre Dame earned its second
straight Final Four berth by beating Maryland 80-49 on Tuesday
night in the Raleigh Regional final.
Diggins did it all for the top-seeded Irish (34-3). The Big East
player of the year and AP All-America selection finished with 22
points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds -- and, for good measure, five
"Our No. 1 point coming into this game was rebounding and
boxing out," the 5-foot-9 Diggins said. "I thought I'd get my
little self in there and see what I could do."
What she did was keep Notre Dame's four-guard lineup humming and
give the second-seeded Terrapins fits all night.
"She went off on us tonight," Maryland star Alyssa Thomas
said, "and we really didn't have an answer."
Natalie Achonwa added 18 points while Kayla McBride had 16 and
Natalie Novosel finished with 14 for Notre Dame, which built a
46-27 rebounding advantage against low-post-oriented Maryland.
A huge run late in the first half essentially ended this one at
halftime and propelled them to their fourth Final Four trip and
second in a row.
All four No. 1 seeds are headed to Denver -- the first time
that's happened since 1989 -- so once the Irish arrive in the
Rockies, maybe they'll find a close game there for a change. Only
one of Notre Dame's four tournament wins was closer than 31 points.
A loss in last year's national championship game provided a
season's worth of focus and motivation for the Irish, who moved two
victories away from the title that eluded them when Texas A&M
rallied past them.
But before they can think about another title game, a familiar
foe awaits: Connecticut, which beat Notre Dame 63-54 earlier this
month in the Big East title game, though the Irish did win both
"This game is great momentum for us going into it, and our
incentive is getting back to the championship," Diggins said.
"That's been our goal, which we've wanted to do all year. ...
There's nothing, really, that you could tell us about UConn that we
didn't already know."
Thomas scored 17 points and Tianna Hawkins and Alicia DeVaughn
added 10 apiece for Maryland (31-5). After rallying from 18 points
to beat reigning national champion Texas A&M two days earlier in
the semifinal, the Terps finally slipped into a deficit they
Notre Dame raced out to a 19-point lead in the first half and
wasted no time after halftime pushing it into the 20s and beyond.
Maryland simply couldn't recover, and was denied its fourth Final
Four trip and first since its national title in 2006.
"Obviously, tonight was Notre Dame's night," Maryland coach
Brenda Frese said. "I thought they were really spectacular. Really
did a tremendous job on all ends of the floor. Beat us at our
rebounding game, just destroyed us on the glass. ... Our energy and
effort, I felt, was spent in the game before."
The location and scenario made for a disturbing parallel for
Maryland's seniors who were freshmen in 2009 when they won the
Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title and breezed to the
Raleigh Regional semifinal, only to come up short against a
determined Big East opponent. Back then, it was Louisville.
This time, the Irish broke things open midway through the first
half, holding the Terps without a field goal for roughly 5½ minutes
during a 26-7 run that pushed their lead well into double figures.
Diggins scored seven points during the run while Achonwa had eight,
including a pretty layup off a pick-and-roll that put Notre Dame up
38-19 with 2:15 before the break.
That burst -- and the entire game, really -- was marked by the
strong guard play usually expected from Notre Dame, along with some
impressive work underneath. The Irish made all the hustle plays and
got to nearly every significant loose ball and rebound.
"We read a lot about Maryland's rebounding and the size factor
and I thought we did just a fantastic job in the half-court,
man-to-man, did a great job on the boards, scored any way we wanted
to -- we scored inside and out," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw
said. "I couldn't be prouder of this team, to handle the
expectations all year long of being a No. 1 seed and the target on
our backs, and to come through and make it back to the Final