No. 5 Notre Dame women romp past St. Francis, Pa

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The Notre Dame women saved their biggest performance for the end of the year.

The fifth-ranked Irish closed out 2012 and their pre-Big East season with a 128-55 rout of Saint Francis, tying their largest point total in school history, set last season in another pre-conference game against Mercer.

Whatever the Irish tried, worked, and it was that way from the opening tip. Natalie Achonwa and Kayla McBride sunk easy put-ins from the low post, many off give-and-go's from point guard Skylar Diggins after they tossed her the ball from the high post and then rolled to the hoop.

Diggins set a career mark for assists with 14, beating her previous high of 12. The team had 38 assists with 10 turnovers.

''She's a great player and there were some frustrating times for us,'' said Saint Francis coach Joe Haigh. ''We came in and tried to focus a lot defensively on her, and we didn't do a good enough job with it. The focal point was to try and make somebody else handle the ball. But their whole roster is loaded with great players . top to bottom they're just so talented.''

Haigh, a Notre Dame alumn whose wife, Sherry (Orlosky), played for coach Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame, said it remains to be seen how the lopsided loss will affect his team as it heads into Northeast Conference play, but he felt they remained competitive through the end of the game.

McGraw said she liked how her team performed heading into its Big East opener Saturday at top-ranked Connecticut.

''I was really pleased with our offensive execution,'' McGraw said. ''We shot the ball extremely well, and to look at the number of assists we had to the number of field goals, that's a phenomenal team accomplishment. We played unselfishly.''

McGraw had her reserves into the game with 13 minutes to play in the first half. Markisha Wright, who played the most minutes of any Irish player, came off the bench to lead all scorers with 20 points, followed by Kayla McBride with 19, reserve Michaela Mabrey with 18 and Achonwa with 17.

Notre Dame (10-1) dominated on both ends of the floor, forcing 33 turnovers and turning them into 49 points. They shot 62 percent from the field, compared to just 36 percent by Saint Francis, outscored them 70-20 in the paint, and outrebounded them 46-25.

The Irish led 63-25 at the break, and little changed after halftime, with Notre Dame jumping out to a 18-2 run over the first five minutes of the second half.

Notre Dame tied their record-high in scoring, set against Mercer in a game last season, and the 73-point margin was the season's largest. Notre Dame reached 100 points for the third time this season.

Alexa Hayward led the Red Flash (5-6) with 13 points.

It was the fifth straight sell-out for the Notre Dame women, who were coming off an emphatic 74-47 win over No. 11 Purdue on Saturday.

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