Irish up to the challengePublished 11:05pm Tuesday, March 20, 2012
NOTRE DAME — It was a challenge for No. 4-ranked and top seed Notre Dame Tuesday night in its second round match up with California.
The Bears just wouldn’t go away, but couldn’t find a way to stop the Fighting Irish’s Natalie Novosel, who finished with 28 points in its 73-62 victory at Purcell Pavilion.
The victory advanced Notre Dame to the Sweet 16 for the 10th time in program history.
It was a battle in the first half between the Bears (25-10) and Fighting Irish (32-3) as neither team was able to put together much of a sustained offensive push.
Notre Dame’s biggest advantage was a mere six points, while California managed to hold a three-point lead early on.
While the Fighting Irish took advantage of numerous fouls by the Bears, they were never able to pull away.
Notre Dame was 11-of-12 from the free throw line in the opening 20 minutes, which was the reason they were able to force a 31-31 tie at the intermission.
California was just 1-of-4 from the charity stripe, but outshot Notre Dame 13-10 from the field and 4-0 from 3-point range.
The Fighting Irish opened up the second half with an 10-2 run in the first two and a half minutes to open up a 45-35 advantage.
Notre Dame forced five turnovers in four minutes as it increased its defensive pressure. California was unable to respond.
The Fighting Irish continued to build its advantage and when they went on a 9-0 run over a span of three minutes, it appeared the game was in hand.
The run started with a pair of Natalie Novosel free throws with 15:41 to play in the second half and ended with a
Kayla McBride 3-pointer with 12:17 showing on the clock.
Brittany Boyd ended the run with a basket, but Notre Dame was leading 54-39.
“I was just so pleased with the way we came out in the second half,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought we ratcheted it up in intensity with our defense.”
In something that the Bears have done all season, California responded.
Down 56-41 with just over 10 minutes to play in its season, California would begin a run that could eventually narrow the gap to 67-58.
From there the Fighting Irish would continue to take advantage of the Bears’ fouling and eventually wound up going 26-of-33, including 18-of-20 by Novosel.
California would only attempt 14 foul shots in the contest, if which it made seven.
Rebounding was another key for Notre Dame.
After outrebounding the nation’s top squad on Sunday, the Fighting Irish followed that up by outrebounding California, who’s among the top teams in the country, 40-35.
“We really had an emphasis on that,” Novosel said. “It was in our minds that we had to do that to win.”
“That was something we have been struggling with all year so for us to do that is a step in the right direction,” Skylar Diggins added.
Senior center Devereaux Peters turned in a stellar performance for Notre Dame as she finished with 11 points, 14 rebounds, seven blocks and a game-high five assists.
Novosel besides her 28 points, also had nine rebounds and four steals.
Diggins, who had just six points at halftime, finished with 21 and four assists.
Layshia Clarendon led the Bears with 17 points and four assists, while Reshanda Gray scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench.
Notre Dame now advances to the Raleigh (North Carolina) for the regional semifinals.