Monday, February 19, 2018
Sports

Irish, UConn to clash again

NORFOLK, Va. — Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame are headed back to the Final Four for another rematch with Connecticut.

Before looking ahead, though, they wanted to soak in their third consecutive trip to the national semifinals.

"We're enjoying the moment right now," Diggins said when asked about UConn. "We'll talk about that later."

The flashy left-hander shook off early foul trouble to score 24, and the Fighting Irish rallied to beat Duke 87-76 on Tuesday night to earn their third straight trip to the Final Four. The Irish have lost in the past two national championship games.

"I want to win a championship for Coach (Muffet) McGraw bad," said Diggins, one of two Notre Dame seniors. "When you have a coach who believes in you so much, I'd do anything for her."

Kayla McBride added 18 points while Jewell Loyd and Natalie Achonwa had 17 each as the Fighting Irish (35-1) won their school-record 30th consecutive game, earning a fourth meeting with the Huskies this season.

It's also the third straight Final Four meeting between the Big East rivals. The Irish won both of those and have dominated the series, winning seven of the past eight meetings. Notre Dame swept UConn in all three meetings this season in thrilling fashion, winning in overtime and by one and two points.

The Irish rallied past Duke (33-3) to get there again.

Trailing by six at the half and looking disjointed without Diggins on the court, Notre Dame got back to playing the way it likes after the break and took control with a 15-2 run early in the half to take a 50-42 lead.

"We talked in the beginning about leaving with no regrets," Diggins said, adding that the first half could hardly have gone worse. "I think we were all pressing a little bit. We weren't playing like we talked about."

Diggins started the run with her fourth 3-pointer and followed with a no-look feed to Natalie Achonwa for a layup that drew a roar from the crowd at Old Dominion's Constant Center. Diggins added a steal and a layup, and McBride finished the burst with a 3-pointer.

Duke trailed by as many as 16 before closing the gap only slightly in the final minutes.

"It bothers me a little bit that we had to fight so hard at the end. It was like, 'Where's that been?' " Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "You've got to play 40 minutes at this level. It was inspiring but also a little irritating."

Louisville keeps rolling

OKLAHOMA CITY — Shoni Schimmel scored 24 and giant-slaying Louisville claimed another big upset, beating second-seeded Tennessee 86-78 and earning the school's second trip to the Final Four.

Two nights after taking down Brittney Griner and defending national champion Baylor, the fifth-seeded Cardinals (28-8) built a 20-point lead then withstood a second-half comeback by the powerhouse Vols (27-8).

When it was over, the Cardinals huddled at center court and celebrated. It was Tennessee's third straight loss in the region finals, failing to make the Final Four for a fifth straight year.

"We ruined the entire party," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "We're the ugly ducklings that ruined the party. No one gave us a chance and we shocked everybody. It's a journey and we're going to continue."

Louisville joined the school's men's team in the Final Four, the 10th time that a program had both teams make it that far. Only Connecticut has won both titles in the same season, in 2004.

ALL-AMERICANS: Baylor center Brittney Griner became the fifth player to be named an All-American for a third straight season. Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins, Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne and Baylor's Odyssey Sims were also on the team.

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