The Notre Dame women's basketball team is going to the Final Four. And it's no fluke!
The Irish played their best game of the season Monday night to get there. They didn't just beat top seed Tennessee, who the rest of the world had already penciled into the Final Four (to play UConn...another team already penciled into people's brackets, if not written in Sharpie marker). Notre Dame was the better team on the floor last night. And they played the better game. The smarter game. Their game.
Skylar Diggins saved her best collegiate performance for the biggest stage she's stepped onto. Twenty-four points is just the beginning of the story. I was shocked when I read the box score to see she only had four assists, because I vividly remember three of them as key plays in the game. A kick out to Brittany Mallory for a 1st half three pointer that spawned an 11-2 run. The no-look pass to Natalie Novosel to give the Irish a 9-point 2nd half lead, their largest of the game at the time. And the lob to Devereaux Peters, the closest thing you'll see to an alley-oop slam in this game, which turned the regional final from a game into a bit of a rout. There's no way to measure clutch plays in a box score, but every time Notre Dame needed a big play, Diggins was there to make it.
Skylar wasn't alone. Becca Bruszewski played 37 minutes, on a knee she sprained two days earlier, and scored 13. Huge, because Devereaux Peters fouled out in just 17 minutes, although she did some pretty good damage in a short amount of time (7 pts, 5 reb). Seventeen points and 5 assists from Novosel. You can break down this game any way you'd like, and Notre Dame still comes out ahead. They were the better team.
You can't give enough credit to coach Muffet McGraw for getting her team ready to beat Tennessee. Muffet has accomplished more than most in her Hall of Fame career. She's won a national championship, been to Final Fours, turned an awkward kid with a little height into the national player of the year. But she'd never beaten Tennessee.
All those questions she heard the last 48 hours about going 0-20 against Tennessee.
She won't have to answer those any more.
Notre Dame is going back to the Final Four for the first time in a decade. Unlike in 2001, where the Irish were expected to make the Final Four - and anything less than a national title would've been disappointing - this time is a bonus.
Few people outside South Bend expected them to be there.
But it's no fluke!