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Notre Dame Romps Past Kansas

After scoring 26 points in Notre Dame’s first two NCAA Tournament victories this month, senior All-American guard Skylar Diggins detonated with 27 against Kansas on Sunday afternoon to become the program’s all-time scoring leader. Her performance spearheaded a 93-63 rout of surprising No. 12 seed Kansas in the Norfolk (Va.) Regional.

Senior All-American Skylar Diggins became Notre Dame's all-time scoring leader during the 93-63 romp versus Kansas to advance to the Elite Eight.

The 34-1 Irish, with 29 consecutive victories, advance to the Elite Eight on Tuesday night to play No. 2 seed Duke (33-2), a 53-45 victor versus Nebraska on Sunday. Kansas finished 20-14 and was the first No. 12 seed women’s team to advance to the Sweet 16 since San Francisco in 1996.

Slightly slowed by an illness during the tournament’s first week, Diggins was dominant against the Jayhawks, tallying 22 points in the first half and then becoming a distributor in the second half, finishing with nine assists. She converted 11 of 19 shots from the field — including 4 of 6 beyond the three-point arc — and took only three shots in the second half (making two).

With 7:49 remaining in the contest, Diggins pulled up from about eight feet while leading the fast break and canned a jumper that pushed her past current Irish associate head coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham (1993-97) — who helped Notre Dame to its first Final Four during her senior year — atop the Irish scoring charts. Diggins’ 2,323 points are now one more than Cunningham.

Both have been magnanimous in the moment, with Cunningham lauding Diggins’ leadership that has bolstered the program immensely, while Diggins has noted that Cunningham played only 125 games compared to the 148 she has had.

“She was the face of our program for so many years, she’s done so many great things at Notre Dame — the first Final Four,” Diggins told ESPN afterwards. “Just to be able to score that many points in the amount of games that she did is impressive, and I’m so happy to be able to learn from her every day and have her around me.”

Kansas opened on a hot streak to take a 15-11 lead, but Diggins tallied nine straight points to lead a 16-2 spurt that gave Notre Dame a 27-17 cushion. She then closed the first half with back-to-back treys for a 40-27 advantage at the intermission.

The floodgates opened early in the second half, highlighted by an 11-0 flurry that expanded the lead to 62-36 before head coach Muffet McGraw began to empty the Irish bench.

Junior Natalie Achonwa’s 17 points and 10 rebounds upped her single-season school record for double-doubles to 18, while freshman Jewell Loyd tallied 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor and junior Kayla McBride chipped in with 13 points. Junior Ariel Braker’s yeoman efforts as an inside complement continued with six points and seven rebounds, and she also matched Achonwa’s three blocked shots.

The Irish converted 37 of their 69 field goal attempts (53.6 percent), and defensively they overcame a quality effort from 6-3 senior center Carolyn Davis, who scored 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting from the field. The rest of the Jayhawks combined to convert only 15 of their 50 shots (30 percent).

“It’s very precious,” Diggins said of continuing the quest to a third straight Final Four. “At this point, any game could be my last. It’s an elimination game, an elimination tournament. So I’m just trying to soak it all in and enjoy this college experience while I can.”

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