SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Third-ranked Notre Dame got the two things Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw was looking for most against No. 18 Vanderbilt: a challenge and a victory.
“It was good for us to get that test and that challenge,” she said. “I thought we responded well.”
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The Fighting Irish, who hadn’t trailed by more than five points all season, trailed by eight in the first half before pulling out the 74-69 victory on Thursday before a crowd of 9,149, the seventh sellout in the team’s history.
It was the closest game for the Irish (12-0) since a 68-67 win at Michigan State on Nov. 19. It looked for a while as though the Irish would beat the Commodores (11-2) pulling away, with the Irish opening a 70-56 lead when Skylar Diggins made a pair of free throws with 3:43 left.
A 13-2 run by Vanderbilt cut the lead to 72-69 when Jessica Mooney hit a jumper in the paint with 7 seconds left, but Lindsay Schrader was fouled on the inbounds pass and made a pair of free throws to put the game away as the Irish improved to 4-0 against ranked opponents this season.
Schrader finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds for her 13th career double-double, a school record for a guard at Notre Dame, although the 6-foot senior plays much more like a post player most games.
“She’s amazing,” McGraw said. “She’s just a workhorse. She’s just going to work and be physical and she’s just a nightmare to guard.”
Schrader said although she plays inside quite a bit and frequently guards the opponents’ post player, she still thinks of herself as a guard.
“Absolutely,” she said.
“Just as long as you don’t have to jump center, I think we’ll be OK,” McGraw joked.
The Irish outscored Vanderbilt 22-10 on second-chance points, outrebounding the Commodores 56-41. Many of Notre Dame’s rebounds came with Tiffany Clarke sitting on the bench with foul trouble, as she played just 24 minutes, finishing with 11 points and nine rebounds.
“Once she came out of the game I knew they were going to attack the basket and get second and third shots,” Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. “Maybe a couple of those rebounds she would have gotten.”
Balcomb said the other thing that hurt the Commodores was Notre Dame’s 9-0 run to end the first half, giving the Irish a 43-34 lead at intermission.
“I thought these teams were very evenly matched and that one spurt where they shot 5 for 8 and got any offensive rebound they wanted in those four minutes was really important,” she said.
Diggins added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Irish and Melissa Lechlitner added 14 points. Jence Rhoads led Vanderbilt with 18 points, Merideth Marsh added 11 and Jessica Mooney had 10.
McGraw said she hopes her team isn’t paying attention to the fact the Irish are off to their second-best start ever, have the fourth-longest winning streak in school history or where they are in the rankings.
“It’s like a pitcher whose thrown a no-hitter going into the eighth inning and you look around in the dugout and no one’s asking him any questions. That’s where I want to be,” she said. “I want to get a shield around me so we don’t have to answer the questions of what comes next.”