No. 2 Notre Dame 81, Akron 61

With its offense struggling to get in synch, No. 2 Notre Dame

turned up its defensive to put away Akron.

Skylar Diggins scored 21 points and the Irish forced 46

turnovers to beat the Zips 81-61 on Friday night in the opening

round of the preseason WNIT. Notre Dame will host Indiana State on

Sunday in the second round.

“First win usually comes with some first game jitters,” Notre

Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “That was a little unexpected with

our veteran team. I though we did some good things. We forced a lot

of turnovers which was one of our goals, but I was disappointed in

our rebounding.:

The pesky Zips outrebounded the Irish 44-38.

With the Irish struggling on offense, Diggins took over.

“We lost the last (NCAA championship) game last year,” she said.

“Maybe we were trying to win the championship game tonight, because

we were playing tight.”

Kayla McBride added 15 points and Natalie Novosel had 13 for

Notre Dame, which committed 27 turnovers.

“I was concerned at halftime about our offensive efficiency

because we had forced 26 turnovers and we were only ahead by 14,”

McGraw said. “I think there were times we looked too hard to find

the open man. There were times when we just should have gone ahead

and shot the ball.”

Rachel Tecca had 13 points and Carly Young added 10 for the

Zips.

“We knew coming in that to stay in the game, we would have to

play an almost perfect game,” Zip head coach Jodi Kest. “Obviously,

46 turnovers is not close to that. It’s very hard to simulate the

Notre Dame pressure in practice. They are so long, and so quick.

There is a reason why they are No. 2 and when they get the rest of

their players back, they could really be a great team.”

Notre Dame forced five turnovers on the first six Zip trips down

the floor but some lackadaisical play allowed Akron to stay in the

game early. The Irish kept the pressure on the experienced Zips, a

team that returned 10 letter winners and four starters from last

year, and forced 11 turnovers in the first eight minutes to

establish an Irish 17-12 edge at the 11:46 mark. The turnovers

continued and the Irish ran off a 12-1 run over the next five

minutes for a 29-13 edge with seven minutes remaining in the first

half.

Akron closed back to within nine, 35-26 on two free throws by

Natasha Williams with 3:15 remaining but the Irish tightened up the

defense and led at halftime, 44-30. Diggins led all scorers with 14

while Williams led the Zips with seven. Akron led in rebounds at

halftime, 22-14.

It was more of the same in the second half. A 3-pointer by Kayla

McBride was followed by a layup by Brittany Mallory to set the

score at 53-34 with 15:54 remaining and Notre Dame held on from

there. They established their largest lead, 25, twice midway

through the second half. The Zips closed the gap to 16, 65-49 with

seven minutes to go but were unable to mount a serious challenge

after that.