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Irish ‘Sky-High’ Again

Excellent scoring balance has been the hallmark of the Notre Dame women’s basketball program while advancing to the national championship game each of the past two seasons and currently ranking No. 2.

All-American Skylar Diggins scored a career-high 33 points and added five assists in the 77-67 victory at No. 9 Tennessee.

Every now and then, though, senior All-America guard Skylar Diggins just needs to take over. Monday night was one of those occasions.

DIggins tallied a career high 33 points while leading Notre Dame to a 77-67 victory at No. 9 Tennessee. The victory extended the Fighting Irish winning streak to 14 and improved their overall record to 19-1, with the lone loss coming Dec. 5 to No. 1 Baylor, the defending national champ.

Entering the contest, Diggins was the scoring leader with a 15.5 average per game, but she has made it a point to get her teammates involved while dishing out 107 assists, more than double of anyone else on the team. That has allowed juniors Kayla McBride (14.2 points per game) and Natalie Achonwa (13.8), as well as freshman Jewell Loyd (12.7), to be consistent scorers and keep opposing defenses honest.

Although Diggins also handed out five assists against the Volunteers, she was the focal point of the offense while converting 13 of her 26 field goal attempts, including 3-of-7 from three-point range. She was only 4-of-8 from the foul line, and the Irish surprisingly were a tepid 12-of-21 overall from the charity stripe. They came into the game No. 1 nationally in that category at an 82 percent clip.

Notre Dame held a 33-29 halftime lead despite McBride converting only 2-of-13 from the floor and Achonwa sitting the last 11:07 with foul trouble and not scoring. The Irish were able to stay ahead with Diggins’ 11 points and scoring punch off the bench from sophomore Madison Cable and freshman sharpshooter Michaela Mabrey, who drilled two three-pointers.

Diggins’ then led an early second half onslaught in which Notre Dame connected on 10 of its first 15 field goal attempts while building a 62-43 lead. She scored 12 of Notre Dame’s first 23 points after the intermission.

Tennessee made a frantic rally to cut its deficit to 69-64. Cable then took a backdoor pass from Diggins, and Diggins followed with a trey to push the lead back up to 10 (74-64) in the closing minutes.

Loyd was the only other Notre Dame player to score in double figures with 10 points. McBride had nine points and 10 rebounds, while Achonwa chipped in with eight before fouling out.

Head coach Muffet McGraw’s Irish are now 6-1 against ranked foes this season, highlighted by the road wins against then No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 5 and now Tennessee.

Twelve of the last 18 national titles since 1995 have been won by either Connecticut or Tennessee (with Notre Dame one of the exceptions in 2001), but the Irish have had the number of both in recent years. Notre Dame has won five of the last six against the Huskies plus three straight by double digits versus the Volunteers after losing its first 20 contests to Tennessee, including an 0-8 mark at the Thompson-Boling Arena

Notre Dame is the first team ever to defeat UConn and Tennessee three consecutive years.

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