No. 2 Notre Dame 76, Cincinnati 50

A tough stretch of the schedule took a toll on Notre Dame’s

gait, if not its record.

The second-ranked Fighting Irish won their 14th in a row

Saturday, pulling away from Cincinnati 76-50 with their unrelenting

defense and a balanced offense that did whatever it wanted. Then,

coach Muffet McGraw’s team limped to the locker room.

”You should have seen us hobbling down the steps,” McGraw

said. ”Four or five had ice bags coming down the steps. All the

travel and flying – it’s been an ordeal in the training room for

us.”

The Fighting Irish (17-1, 5-0 Big East) completed a challenging

stretch – four road games out of the last five. Their only home

game during that stretch was a 74-67 overtime win that snapped

Connecticut’s 87-game Big East winning streak.

They came through it with a few limps but no losses. Notre Dame

has won 14 straight, extending one of the three best starts in

school history.

”It’s just a focus thing, executing the plan for the team

you’re playing,” said point guard Skylar Diggins, who matched her

season high with 11 assists. ”We’ve done that lately, and plan to

continue to do that.”

They not only survived the tough stretch, but got a little more

versatile during it, too.

Natalie Novosel scored 21 points and Devereaux Peters had 17

points as Notre Dame emphasized going inside against the

overmatched Bearcats (9-8, 0-4). The Irish lead the nation with

84.2 points per game, getting a lot of baskets off jumpers and

turnovers.

Novosel made back-to-back 3s and a pair of free throws as Notre

Dame quickly pushed the lead to 15 points. She had 18 points in the

first half, which ended with Notre Dame ahead 42-21. Novosel has

scored in double figures in her last 25 games, the second-longest

streak in school history.

”It was just what the defense gave me,” Novosel said. ”I was

able to keep shooting. I was hot, so I shot with confidence.”

With Diggins flipping no-look passes inside, the Fighting Irish

scored 40 of their points in the paint. Peters had nine points

during a 16-2 run that opened the second half, pushed the lead to

35 points and prompted McGraw to rest her worn-down starters.

”We’ve been talking about putting in a couple of new plays so

we could look inside a little more,” McGraw said. ”In the second

half, we got a lot of good looks. That’s what we need. That’s our

next step. In order to get better, we’ve got to be able to score in

the blocks and get easy baskets. We did that today.”

Diggins scored a season-low four points, taking only five shots.

Instead, she spent the game looking for teammates. She hit Peters

with a no-look pass for a layup that made it 34-17 in the first

half. She also had four assists during the 16-2 run that opened the

second half.

”That’s nothing new for me,” Peters said. ”We get a lot of

good looks running the floor, and she sees everybody. And everybody

was hitting their shots.”

The Irish had a large contingent of green-clad fans in the crowd

of 2,906, which included Bearcat fans who stuck around from the

men’s 82-78 win over Villanova earlier in the afternoon.

Notre Dame has won 19 straight games against teams from

neighboring Ohio since 1993.

The Bearcats fell apart against Notre Dame’s unrelenting

defensive pressure, turning the ball over 19 times while falling

behind by 35. They finished with 22 turnovers, one shy of their

season high. Notre Dame let up after getting the big lead.

Dayeesha Hollins had 14 for Cincinnati, which had 11 assists as

a team, matching Diggins’ total.

”It was really fun to watch the way they passed the ball to

each other,” coach Jamelle Elliott said. ”By far they’re the best

passing team we’ve faced all year long. Everything that was a

little open, they found it.”