Notre Dame dismantles Liberty early to roll on

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- So anxious and eager was Notre Dame to get back in the NCAA tournament, the Irish pretty much decided the outcome of their opener in the first two minutes.

Top-seeded Notre Dame took off with the game's first 11 points Sunday and, playing loose on their home floor, routed Liberty 74-43.

"It was important for us to come out and understand that the game started at 0-0 and we did not want to underestimate them, so we wanted to get off to a good start," guard Skylar Diggins said.

"We hadn't played in a while and that fed into it a lot. Plus, it's the NCAA tournament and upsets happen on both sides (men and women) and you don't want to be that team. So, we wanted to make a statement right off the tip and control the tempo right away."

Did they ever. After Liberty closed to within 16-8, Notre Dame reeled off 11 more points in a row and that led to a 44-19 halftime lead. Notre Dame was up by as many as 34 in the second half when coach Muffet McGraw was able to substitute freely and rest her regulars.

The Irish (31-3), the national runner-up last year, will face California (25-9) on Tuesday at the Purcell Pavilion, where Notre Dame is 16-1 this season. The Golden Bears beat Iowa 84-74 in the first game and they will most certainly provide a stronger test.

In the Irish's opening burst, Natalie Novosel and Brittany Mallory hit 3-pointers to open the scoring. Kayla McBride converted a three-point play and Devereaux Peters made a jumper for an 11-0 lead with 18:24 left in the half.

Playing in her first NCAA tournament game, McBride had 13 of her team-high 15 points in the first half to get the Irish moving.

"I came out with a sense of urgency to try and get into the flow of the game and try to get good shots," McBride said.

"I think she was so anxious to play in her first NCAA and she really came out well," McGraw said of McBride.

"I thought she might be a little bit nervous but she was fine right from the start. She got a good look at an inside layup early and that got her off to a really good start. ... She is so important to our success."

Deon Brown scored 16 for Liberty (24-9).

Novosel finished with 12 points and Peters 10. Diggins, the Irish's leading scorer at 17 points a game, attempted only six shots and finished with seven points to go with nine rebounds and six assists. The Irish didn't need her to score.

"She really had a complete game. She could have shot a lot more. I thought she was a little too unselfish today. She worked defensively and she went and got the ball rebounding wise," McGraw said.

Notre Dame shot 48.5 percent to 31 percent for the Flames, who managed only 42 shots. Danika Dale added 12 points for Big South champion Liberty, which got 10 rebounds from Avery Warley.

"I think we were a little shell-shocked and didn't really execute what we needed to do against a very talented team. I'm very pleased that we didn't just lay down," Liberty coach Carey Green said.

"We came back and fought a little harder in the second half. The way that Notre Dame started off and shooting the ball, they maybe made their first five, six, seven shots, really put us on a defensive-type of mode and we had to re-gather ourselves."

Liberty, averaging 20 turnovers, had 23 -- 17 in the first half. Known for their tough rebounding, the Flames were beaten on the boards 38-29, including 15-9 on the offensive glass.

"I though they did an excellent job rebounding. I thought they did an excellent job scoring in the paint all day long," Green said. "That was a major difference."