No. 5 Notre Dame women’s basketball team was on upset alert at McGuirk Arena before pulling away in the final minutes to beat Central Michigan 72-63 Thursday night in front of 3,879 fans.
“We rattled the cage of the Irish,” CMU head coach Sue Guevara said. “They hit shots, rebounded and hung in there. It’s nice to know we can hang with them, but like I told our team, I don’t care for moral victories.”
CMU senior guard Jalisa Olive hit a deep three-pointer to cut the ND lead to 64-60 with two minutes remaining. Skylar Diggins, ND’s senior guard, responded, making four free-throws during the next three Irish possessions.
Diggins showed why she was an All-American last year and on the preseason list this season. She finished with 25 points, a block, four assists and six steals. She was also 12-for-14 from the free-throw line.
“I’m on the All-America committee and I voted for her,” Guevara said. “She takes games over. When she’s going to the basket, she’s going hard.”
Sophomore guard Jessica Green led the Chippewas in scoring with 19 points, five steals and four assists.
CMU athletics threw out free T-shirts for every CMU three-pointer. Junior Niki DiGuilio helped give out plenty of T-shirts shooting 4-for-5 from deep for 12 points.
“I was really impressed by Central Michigan,” ND head coach Muffet McGraw said. “They had a great crowd; a great atmosphere for women’s basketball. We had to gut it out at the end.”
With the score 49-48, and 11 minutes left, the Irish went on a 13-4 run and never gave up the lead.
“They went to the zone in the second half and that hurt us,” Guevara said. “We didn’t move the ball very well … I thought we just stood around.”
Out of halftime, the Irish went on a 7-0 run to take a 47-39 lead. Consecutive baskets from Bradford, DiGuilio and Taylor Johnson cut that lead to 49-48.
After a back and forth game early that had three ties and six lead changes in the first 13 minutes, ND took a 30-23 lead, forcing CMU to take a 30-second timeout. Olive came in for the first time after the timeout and made a quick layup and a three-pointer, followed by a Green layup to erase the Irish lead.
Diggins used her speed and dribble penetration several times in the first half to beat the CMU defense in transition and the half court set, finishing in the lane. She came in averaging 14 points a game, and tallied 17 in the first half.
“I thought she played great both halves,” McGraw said.
Diggins blamed herself after the game for giving up some scores on the defensive end.
After ND built another lead, CMU sophomore guard Kerby Tamm hit a three-pointer to make it 40-39 in favor of ND, heading into halftime.
Green came out quickly with eight points in the first eight minutes.
For the second consecutive game, Bradford did not start. Last year, she led CMU in points, rebounds, blocks and steals. Thursday night she had seven points, eight rebounds and five blocks.
“The crowd was great; our kids played their guts out,” Guevara said.
The Irish (5-0) remain undefeated, which includes wins against Ohio State and UCLA – both ranked at the time.
The Chippewas slipped to 2-3 and will play their next game at 2 p.m. Sunday against No. 14 Purdue. Last year, CMU beat the No. 12 Boilermakers at McGuirk Arena.