HARTFORD, Conn. —
Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame are one victory away from crossing another item off this season’s to-do list.
Natalie Novosel scored 18 points and Kayla McBride added 15 to help third-ranked Notre Dame beat West Virginia (No. 25) 73-45 on Monday night in the semifinals of the Big East tournament.
Notre Dame has played in the Big East title game five times and come up short each trip, losing to UConn each time. The Irish haven’t had any problems with the Huskies lately, winning the last three meetings — including beating UConn in Hartford last Monday night to earn its first outright Big East regular season title.
“We’re in a position right where we want to be,” Novosel said. “Going into (tonight’s) game we want to go in and win that for coach.”
The Irish will play the winner of Connecticut-St. John's in the title game tonight. Notre Dame will be looking for its first Big East tournament championship.
“It’s great for our school, particular in the season we’ve been having,” Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins said. “We’re excited for the opportunity to compete for the Big East championship. How much it would mean for us, our program, and coach McGraw.”
Notre Dame (30-2) got a measure of revenge on the Mountaineers (23-9), who ended the Irish’s 21-game winning streak on Feb. 12 with 65-63 win in South Bend, Ind. It was Notre Dame’s only Big East loss.
“We’re happy to be able to avenge our loss,” McGraw said. “We played well right from the start and got out of the gate offensively. Shot the ball extremely well. We did a great job on their guards, had good balance today which we didn’t have last time.”
On Monday night, the Irish scored the first seven points and had built a 20-4 lead 8½ minutes in as five different players scored. Devereaux Peters, who had four points and missed seven of her eight shots in the loss, had seven by the half as Notre Dame led 37-19.
“I think we came out here with a little fire in us,” Novosel said. “We were excited when we saw we were playing West Virginia. We started out really well.”
West Virginia couldn’t get within 16 in the second half closing to 51-35 midway through the period, but Notre Dame scored 18 of the next 22 points to end any hope of a comeback.
“We knew they were going to come out with a chip on their shoulder,” Ayana Dunning said. “Coach said the first eight minutes they’d try to get a lead on us and we didn’t come out ready to play. We got ourselves down so much in the beginning of the game we were trying to fight back the entire time.”
This was West Virginia’s final game in the Big East before leaving for the Big 12 next season.
The Mountaineers advanced to the semis with a 39-32 win over then-No. 12 Georgetown on Sunday. That was the lowest scoring game in the history of the Big East tournament, easily surpassing the previous record of 78 set in 2005 by Boston College and Villanova.
Buoyed by that victory, West Virginia entered the Top 25 for the first time this season.
Asya Bussie scored 15 points and Dunning added 12 to lead the Mountaineers. The pair was 12 for 16, but got little help from the rest of the team which missed 31 of its 38 shots.