No. 8 Notre Dame 71, Rutgers 49
Rutgers could only withstand No. 8 Notre Dame's pressure for so long.
Rutgers remained within striking distance for the first 30 minutes, but Notre Dame's press finally cracked the Scarlet Knights and the Fighting Irish went on a 16-3 run midway through the second half for a 71-49 victory Saturday.
Devereaux Peters scored 21 points and sophomore guard Skylar Diggins sparked the run that put the Scarlet Knights away, finishing with 20 points and five assists for the Irish (22-4, 11-1 Big East) in the Pink Zone game before a sellout crowd in Purcell Pavilion.
''We got the press going, we shot the ball extremely well,'' Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. ''It was a close game in the beginning. We really got it going on the defensive end.''
The slow pace of the game didn't favor either team and both tried to apply pressure to increase the tempo, but only Notre Dame succeeded.
''We thought we'd go ahead and try to speed it up by going to our press,'' said Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer. ''We just fizzled out.''
Diggins sent the Irish on their spurt with a few key steals, layups and passes that her teammates converted into buckets.
''Skylar got it into high gear,'' McGraw said. ''She started to push the ball, and when she pushed the ball, that's when we're at our best.''
Diggins said the press was the key.
''Once we got into our game, we got to press more,'' she said. ''We started scoring more fast break baskets, that's how we got our momentum.''
Stringer thought her team would be prepared for the Irish, but Notre Dame overwhelmed the Scarlet Knights in the second half.
''They've got a really nice team,'' Stringer said. ''They execute well. You know what they're going to do, but they're so good you can't even stop it.''
The physical nature of the game forced both teams to deal with contact inside as the referees let the players battle. That also played directly into Notre Dame's hands.
''I thought they really did a great job letting us play. I thought it was very consistent both ways,'' McGraw said. ''That's the kind of game we like to play.''
Peters took the brunt of the physical play inside.
''Rutgers is a very physical team,'' she said. ''We've been getting a lot of that physicality throughout the year. So I think we're used to it. We just have to take the hits and keep moving.''
Notre Dame's run also featured 3-pointers from Diggins and Brittany Mallory, a senior who recorded her first career double-double with 10 points and 10 assists. Usually Notre Dame's lockdown defender, Mallory is the first Irish player to earn a double-double with points and assists since 2005.
''She's been our best defender all year,'' McGraw said. ''She really did it on offense today.''
Mallory said all she needed to do was trust her teammates.
''I play for my team,'' Mallory said. ''If I'm tired I've got to dig it out a little more.''
Notre Dame has four Big East games remaining and can clinch a double bye in the Big East tournament. The Irish face No. 2 Connecticut next Saturday in a game that will have Big East and NCAA tournament seeding implications.
''I think we're really in great shape,'' McGraw said. ''We could be ready by Tuesday, but (the week off) does allow us to rest a little bit.''
Notre Dame is 4-0 in ''Pink Zone'' games, which raise money for breast cancer research and awareness.