MISSION: BEAT IRISH

Apr. 01, 2013 @ 10:38 PM

The Norfolk Regional championship comes down to top-seeded Notre Dame against No. 2-seeded Duke tonight at the Ted Constant Convocation Center (7 p.m., ESPN).

And even though Louisville, a No. 5 seed, upset reigning NCAA Women’s Tournament champion Baylor in Sunday’s Oklahoma City Regional semifinals, the Blue Devils found themselves answering to the “underdog” label Monday before their practice session.

“I definitely think most people are picking Notre Dame, but I think that gives us a little bit of an edge,” Duke junior Tricia Liston said. “We really have nothing to lose in this game; there is no pressure on us. No one thinks we can do this besides ourselves.

“I think it is a source of motivation to go out and prove to ourselves and everyone else that we belong here. We have worked hard, and everything we have done to this point in the season has prepared us for this game. This is an opportunity to go out and play loose and, hopefully, come out on top.”

It’s not that Duke’s résumé is lacking. The Blue Devils (33-2) are ranked No. 5 and will be playing in their fourth consecutive regional final.

But Notre Dame’s three wins over Connecticut, which beat Duke 79-49 on Jan. 21, fuel the speculation.

“You may match up well against one team but differently against another,” Liston said. “I do not think you can compare our game to any game that Connecticut played against Notre Dame because it is a completely different comparison.”

Duke freshman point guard Alexis Jones, who took over the position when Chelsea Gray suffered a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 17, said the Blue Devils are to blame for their game against UConn.

“I think we lost our energy and our poise,” Jones said. “We really didn’t stay focused on each other. ... I think we have really come a long way from the UConn game.

“We’ve gotten better every single game that we have played so far. We have learned from our mistakes, and we keep getting better.”

Tonight’s game will come down to performance, both coaches agreed.

“I think the center position matchup is going to be crucial for us, so that’s the one I’m most interested to see how it develops,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.

Irish count on Natalie Achonwa, who averages 13.9 points and 9.5 rebounds, in the post. Duke sophomore Elizabeth Williams contributes 15.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, but she blocked seven shots in the Blue Devils’ 53-45 regional semifinal win over Nebraska on Sunday.

“She is a tremendous player; she is a shot-blocker extraordinaire,” McGraw said of Williams. “She is a really good defender, but she can really score, too. She does everything.

“She’s a great player — certainly a future All-American — and I think a huge challenge for us to guard her, especially when they have Tricia Liston on the outside, who’s one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.”

Liston averages 13.4 points and has made 79 shots from 3-point range. Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins averages 17.1 points and has made 42 of 116 shots outside the arc.

“Slow her down, hopefully keeping bodies in front of her and not over-reaching on her,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said of the Blue Devils’ defensive plan against Diggins. “I see a lot of defenders, (and) I don’t know what they’re thinking. They reach a lot; they lunge, which provides her a great opporunity to gap and attack.

“I think you have to understand that she’s very good. She’ll score points, but (we want to) have her score points in a more difficult fashion. People are going to score points here; (there’s) a lot of very good players. But it’s how they do it, I think, that is the key.”

Notre Dame sas four players averaging double-figure scoring, so McCallie has focused on defense in preparation. Junior guard Kayla McBride contributes 16 points per game, while freshman Jewell Loyd adds 12.4.

“Their guards are really, really good,” McCallie said. “Their post (players) are good too, but they do most of their scoring from their guards. It’s going to take a team effort to keep them out of the paint.”

As for being the underdog, McCallie wasn’t buying it.

“I think all the projections are for fans, and we’re not fans,” McCallie said. “People can project and say what they think will happen, and that’s OK. That makes it fun for the fans.

“I think a great team is a great team that doesn’t have any fan mentality in them whatsoever. ... In other words, a team that gets absorbed by the film, gets absorbed about what the assignments are and really get into that piece of it. Those teams tens to advance because they just seem like they’re impervious.”

McCallie’s teams have overcome long odds in the past, both at Maine with an upset of Stanford and at Michigan State with a win over Tennessee after trailing.

She was asked to explain the feeling afterward.

“It tingles,” McCallie said. “You don’t, though, have to be an underdog (to) get the tingle. ...

“When your team really goes out there and just totally expresses their power and who they are from start to finish on both sides of the ball, that does just fine. And it’s an exciting thing to see because it usually means the coach needs to either sit down of get out of the way or say less, and that’s a really pleasant experience.”

 

LOOKING AHEAD TO TUESDAY NIGHT SHOWDOWN

No. 2 Duke Blue Devils vs. No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Where: Ted Constant Convocation Center, Norfolk, Va.

Region: Norfolk

Time: 7 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Records: Duke 33-2, Notre Dame 34-1

TOP QUOTES

Duke — “Our ability to fight back from adversity, like in our game against Oklahoma State. We had to come back from a deficit. ... I think this team is really strong and has built up the resilience to really come together to fight back against whatever is thrown at us.” — Junior Tricia Liston, on how the Blue Devils have improved the most.

Notre Dame — “I, personally, didn’t watch the (Baylor-Louisville) game. I was writing an accounting exam. We still have to focus on us; we are on the different side of the bracket. ... Duke is our next step, and that’s where our focus and our heads are right now.” — Junior forward Natalie Achonwa, when asked about the Cardinals’ upset of No. 1 Baylor.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Notre Dame — Skylar Diggins, G, Sr. — The 5-9 guard leads the Irish with 17.1 points per game, but also dished out nine assists in 30 minutes vs. Kansas in the regional semifinal.

Duke — Elizabeth Williams, C, So. — The Blue Devils’ 6-3 post player struggled with her shooting against Nebraska, making only 5 of 15 shots, but blocked seven shots.

KEY NUMBERS

Notre Dame — 29 — The Irish haven’t lost since a 73-61 setback against Baylor, which was eliminated by Louisville 82-81.

Duke — 70 — The Blue Devils average 74.5 points per game, but they have not scored more than 68 in their three NCAA Tournament wins.

 

HOW THEY GOT TO THE REGIONAL FINALS

Duke and Notre Dame regional semifinal box scores

DUKE 53, NEBRASKA 45

    FG FT
NEBRASKA Min M-A M-A O-R A PF PTS
Moore 40 5-18 0-0 2-5 6 2 11
Theriot 26 3-4 0-0 1-4 2 0 7
Sample 24 0-3 0-0 0-6 1 2 0
Hooper 28 3-14 0-0 3-11 1 2 6
Cady 37 2-7 0-0 1-6 2 2 4
Jeffery 12 1-4 0-0 0-0 0 1 2
Williams 11 2-5 0-0 1-4 0 0 4
Laudermill 19 3-10 0-0 0-1 0 3 7
Simon 3 1-1 2-2 0-1 0 0 4
Totals 200 20-66 2-2 12-45 12 12 45

Percentages: FG .303, FT 1.000.

3-Point Goals: 3-24, .125 (Theriot 1-1, Laudermill 1-4, Moore 1-8, Jeffery 0-2, Cady 0-2, Hooper 0-7).

Team Rebounds: 7.

Blocked Shots: 5 (Cady 3, Williams, Laudermill).

Turnovers: 12 (Moore 4, Cady 3, Theriot 2, Hooper 2, Williams).

Steals: 5 (Cady 2, Jeffery, Moore, Simon).

Technical Fouls: None.

    FG FT
DUKE                         Min M-A M-A O-R A PF PTS
Williams 36 5-15 0-0 5-9 1 1 10
Jones 35 6-12 1-2 2-9 6 1 14
Liston 37 5-13 4-4 1-8 0 1 17
Jackson 21 2-11 0-0 0-4 1 2 4
Peters 31 3-5 2-3 1-6 0 1 8
Johnson 4 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Wells 24 0-6 0-0 0-2 2 1 0
Vernerey 12 0-1 0-0 0-3 0 2 0
Totals 200 21-64 7-9 12-46 10 10 53

Percentages: FG .328, FT .778.

3-Point Goals: 4-16, .250 (Liston 3-5, Jones 1-5, Johnson 0-1, Jackson 0-2, Wells 0-3).

Team Rebounds: 5.

Blocked Shots: 10 (Williams 7, Peters 2, Jones).

Turnovers: 9 (Jones 7, Liston 2).

Steals: 7 (Vernerey 2, Jackson 2, Liston 2, Williams).

Technical Fouls: None.

Nebraska 18 27—45
Duke 23 30—53

A—5,687.

Officials—Beverly Roberts, William Smith, Brian Hall.

 

NOTRE DAME 93, KANSAS 63
    FG FT
KANSAS Min M-A M-A O-R A PF PTS
Gardner 30 4-6 0-0 1-6 0 2 8
Davis 39 11-17 3-3 3-4 0 2 25
Goodrich 39 3-11 1-2 1-4 13 0 7
Engelman 32 4-16 1-1 1-1 3 3 10
Hawkins 21 1-6 0-0 1-4 0 2 2
Boyd 11 1-4 4-4 1-4 0 1 7
Cole 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Williams 11 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Harper 16 2-7 0-0 3-3 0 1 4
Totals 200 26-67 9-10 15-32 16 11 63

Percentages: FG .388, FT .900.

3-Point Goals: 2-10, .200 (Boyd 1-1, Engelman 1-2, Hawkins 0-1, Goodrich 0-3, Harper 0-3).

Team Rebounds: 6.

Blocked Shots: 3 (Engelman, Hawkins, Williams).

Turnovers: 12 (Goodrich 6, Harper 3, Cole, Engelman).

Steals: 5 (Goodrich, Davis, Williams, Gardner, Harper).

Technical Fouls: None.

    FG FT
NOTRE DAME       Min M-A M-A O-R A PF PTS
Achonwa 26 7-11 3-4 4-10 1 1 17
Braker 23 3-4 0-0 1-7 2 1 6
Diggins 30 11-19 1-2 2-3 9 2 27
McBride 32 5-13 3-4 1-7 4 2 13
Loyd 28 6-8 2-2 2-4 3 0 15
Holloway 4 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Turner 16 0-2 0-0 0-1 1 3 0
Cable 8 2-2 2-3 0-0 2 2 7
Mabrey 5 0-2 0-0 0-0 1 0 0
Huffman 6 1-4 0-0 4-4 0 0 2
Wright 22 2-4 2-2 1-5 2 0 6
Totals 200 37-69 13-17 17-43 25 11 93

Percentages: FG .536, FT .765.

3-Point Goals: 6-13, .462 (Diggins 4-6, Loyd 1-1, Cable 1-1, Mabrey 0-1, Turner 0-2, McBride 0-2).

Team Rebounds: 2.

Blocked Shots: 8 (Achonwa 3, Braker 3, Cable, Wright).

Turnovers: 10 (Braker 2, Loyd 2, Achonwa 2, Mabrey 2, Wright, Diggins).

Steals: 8 (Diggins 3, Wright 2, McBride, Achonwa, Braker).

Technical Fouls: None.

Kansas 27 36—63
Notre Dame 40 53—93

A_NA.

Officials_Dennis DeMayo, Barbara Smith, Gina Cross.

 

QUOTES FROM DUKE-NOTRE DAME NEWS CONFERENCE

Monday in Norfolk, Va., courtesy Duke Sports Information

 

Joanne P. McCallie, Duke Head Coach:

On Alexis Jones:

Lex (Alexis Jones) is a pretty special player. She has been her entire life. She is one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever coached and, also, one of the best listeners. A lot of kids you try to coach and there’s an answer. Lex is like a sponge. She’s learned the game from her father and she’s learned it at a very intimate level of understanding the way basketball works, so there are no limits for her. She is really willing to do whatever it takes. If it’s nine rebounds, ten rebounds, whatever it is, she’ll do it. They’ll be a lot of matchups on the floor. There’s not one matchup. Their guards are really, really good. Their posts are good too but they do most of their scoring from their guards. It’s going to take a team effort to keep them out of the paint, keep in front of them and limit their ability to create as they like to. They certainly shoot the three-ball, and their transition is pretty exceptional - they get down the floor. So I don’t think there’s any matchup to point to. Lex is going to have to guard all their guards at various times. I think she’ll learn from it. I think she’ll be good at it, I think she’ll learn from it, and that’s what it’s all about, really, at this time of year.

 

On how different a feel it is to be in the underdog situation:

I think what really matters is just what we do together as a team. I think all the projections are for fans, and we’re not fans. People can project and say what they think will happen, and that’s okay. That makes it fun for the fans. I think a great team is a team that doesn’t have any fan mentality in them whatsoever. Just simply wants to execute what we need to execute and what we need to do to be successful. In other words, a team that gets absorbed by the film, gets absorbed about what the assignments are and really gets into that piece of it, those teams tend to advance because they just seem like they’re impervious. They’re just completely not part of that bubble, the fan bubble. They’re in their own bubble and those are usually the ones that end up playing for a national title.

 

On the different ways Elizabeth Williams can impact a game:

She has this tomahawk block. She can really block. I really like how she expresses herself when she blocks. I’d like that to bleed over into all aspects of her game, including scoring and rebounding because she really goes after that ball. I’m really proud of her. She’s been through a lot. Her injury was severe last year, at this time, when her injury was diagnosed. It took her out of the game for nine months. That’s a long time not to play. To come back now, I still think she’s getting in the groove. I think it’ll be her junior year before you see some of the dominance that she’s capable of, but she’s a special player and she works extremely hard. There aren’t too many limits to what she can do and she’ll be working on increasing her shooting range. It’d be nice to have her shooting three’s as well as posting up on the block but I’m excited for her because obviously there are some really good post players for Notre Dame so there will be nice matchups inside.

 

On Duke’s defensive play and if the Blue Devils have played better on defense later in games recently:

I think so. I’d like to think that we’ve been better overall defensively because we’ve had to be with some very good teams. I’m really pleased to see more aggression in the second half just because the defense is away from the bench. You really gotta create your own momentum at that time guarding very, very good players. I think there’s been some improvement there. This is the area that really hurt us with Chelsea (Gray) being out. The steals, her rebounds, her deflections, and her ability to command our defenses. That’s a lot to lose. That’s like losing our quarterback on the defensive side. Anyway, I think we’re getting better in that area and we’re going to have to be really good because Notre Dame likes to put up a lot of points. They’re very good at that. Hopefully, we can just have a good, strong 40 minutes of not only quarter-court but transition defense, really limiting and making sure we get back, because they’re very good at that.

 

On challenge Skylar Diggins presents to an opposing coach:

(Diggins) is a great player. Slow her down, hopefully keeping bodies in front of her and not over-reaching on her. I see a lot of defenders, I don’t know what they’re thinking. They reach a lot. They lunge, which provides her a great opportunity to gap and attack. I think you have to understand that she’s very good. She’ll score points, but if we could have her score points in more difficult fashion. People are going to score points here, a lot of very good players, but it’s how they do it, I think, that is the key. Keeping her off the boards. She likes to rebound. You can’t give some easy things there. She loves that pull-up jumper at the foul line. You gotta get back in transition and be alert to that. She comes off those drag screens beautifully with the post in transition. That’s hard because she’s got momentum, forward-moving, when that occurs. She’s great off screens and she mixes up in the paint, so she’s just a great player. She’ll be a terrific WNBA player, but from our standpoint, it’s gonna take a team effort there. There’s not one person.

 

On appreciating what (Skylar) Diggins brings to the game from an outside coach’s perspective:

I think that’s a great question. I think, as coaches, the answer is during season, no. You’re just trying to figure things out during the season. I think, offseason, you just have a huge appreciation for all the women in the game. Those that have come before, those that are coming now, and trying to move women’s basketball forward. I think there’s a lot of women doing it. I don’t think it’s just in a few kids. I really do believe that there’s a lot of neat, neat stories of people coming up. The parity is becoming evident with some of the results. That was never the case before. You could almost be 100% sure that the top seeds advance. Some neat things are happening in women’s basketball, so it’s important that we all kind of connect. Those that have come before, and certainly what Skylar and the others have done, and I think there’s terrific stories upcoming for future years. That’s important to us.

 

On roots of McCallie’s defensive philosophy:

I think it’s been a great experience. I was at Auburn as an assistant and a GA. Learned a lot of great things from Joe (Ciampi) when he was there, and I got to go to National Championships, Final Fours, and Elite Eights as an assistant and see some things, so I picked up a great deal there. And then went to Maine as a head coach, and you really don’t know what you’re doing, so trial-and-error there. Had to stick to matchups more so to beat an Alabama or to beat a Stanford, as we did at Maine. You just couldn’t match up man-to-man, you just didn’t have the personnel to do so. Coming to Michigan State, stayed pretty much with matchups, but increased pressing. A lot better athlete to go full-court, and you can change up some things. The ultimate has been coming to Duke where we can do everything and we do do everything. It’s very important to be a multiple-defensive team. I think the players like it. I think it can disrupt games and help you in a lot of different scenarios. So I’ve been really fortunate in my career to learn each place I’ve been and to add on.

 

On what it’s like as a coach to win as an underdog:

It tingles. That’s the best I can give you on that. My experience on that would probably be down 16 to Tennessee with seven minutes left in the semifinal, (with Michigan State), and we obviously weren’t supposed to win that game, but those kids played really hard and did. You don’t, though, have to be an underdog and get the tingle. When your team really goes out there and just totally expresses their power and who they are from start to finish on both sides of the ball, that does just fine, and it’s an exciting thing to see because it usually means the coach needs to either sit down or get out of the way or say less, and that’s a really pleasant experience. I’ve had that at Duke and I’ve had that at any place I’ve been, and it’s quite rewarding. It’s fun to see, but “tingle”, tingle is the word.

 

On ACC expansion and what a Notre Dame/Duke rivalry will do for women’s basketball:

I think that’s fantastic and really, really great for the ACC. Really proud of the ACC in terms of how we’ve expanded and the teams that have come in, and the rivalries that will develop. All I can say is it’s absolutely phenomenal for women’s basketball. You’ve got Syracuse and Pitt coming in too. Yeah, I can’t keep up. I’m sorry. I can’t keep up. I just think it’s excellent for women’s basketball. Great teams, great coaches and traditions. We’d like to be the women’s basketball conference. I know it’s all driven by football, I understand that, but it’d be a nice thing if it’s the elite women’s basketball conference that allows everybody to have a good time.

 

On the most important thing for Duke to do tomorrow night to “tingle”:

For us to tingle? It sounds sorta redundant, but we got to just slow them down in their scoring machine that they are. They’re definitely a scoring machine. Do it across the board so that no particular player has a big game. It’s a team thing. They’re an excellent rebounding team too. They’ve been plus-17 and -18, they’ve been up on the boards. Those combined, that’s going to be quite a task for us to do physically. But if we can do that, then the game will become more of a possession game and that’s exactly what we want. Like I said, we can only prepare for it now and then get out there and see what we can do.

 

On how big Sunday’s Louisville upset win over No. 1-ranked Baylor was for women’s basketball:

I think it’s a great thing. Again, I don’t know if everybody agrees with that. My feeling is when you see something raw that occurs without it being pre-fabricated, then that is exactly what people want to see and that’s what’s going to draw them into women’s basketball. When everything’s sort of anointed, whether it’s by the media or by a great player who just anoints because she does so well, I think people aren’t as excited by that. They want unpredictability. They want competition. They want teams to rise in the face of adversity. Louisville’s had quite a couple of days as a program with everything going on. I guess what I’m saying is that’s what draws the March Madness and that’s why I think the men’s tournament has gone so crazy. I think, women’s tournament, we’re our own thing, but still the principles are the same. They wanna see things happen. They wanna see different teams in the Final Four. They don’t wanna see the same teams in the Final Four. It doesn’t sell. It’s boring. People turn it off. Credit to teams who have been there multiple times, because I would like to be one of those teams and we’re not. But overall, I think that’s what people wanna see is something special occur through sports. I didn’t see the game because we were working the film room, but I imagine the Louisville women’s game got a lot of looks and that’s because of Baylor’s great success and who they’ve become and the potential that something new could happen. That’s apparently what did happen, so I think it’s a great thing.

 

Elizabeth Williams, Duke center:

On concerns about the last three consecutive games scoring less than Duke’s average of 70 points:

I’m more encouraged than concerned with finding ways to win. In the tournament, everyone is good and has the ability to win, so you have to play solid defense and crash the boards. We know we will have days when our shots will fall and times when they will not.

 

Thoughts on the matchup against Nortre Dame’s Natalie Achonwa:

Our game plan is to play inside out. We definitely want to get to the foul line early and be able to penetrate the gaps.

 

Thoughts on Natalie Achonwa’s style of play for their match up tomorrow:

She knows how to post up strong on the blocks. My main focus is to get her out of position and keep the ball out of her hands when she is at the high post.

 

On what they have learned from the past two years previously in the tournament in preparation for Tuesday night’s game:

We have learned that we need to play a full 40-minute game. In the past, we have gotten away with only playing for a half and not staying focused throughout the whole game. So for us, it will be our ability to play through 40 minutes or however long it takes.

 

Alexis Jones, Duke point guard:

On comparison of Duke’s game against Connecticut and Notre Dame’s games vs. Connecticut:

I think we lost our energy and our poise. We really didn’t stay focused on each other. That was the beginning of the season and I think we have really come a long way from the UConn game. We’ve gotten better every single game that we have played so far. We have learned from our mistakes and we keep getting better.

 

On match-up against Skylar Diggins:

I have never played against (Skylar) Diggins before. But she is like any other good player that we’ve played against. I’ve played in USA basketball before and played against good players. It’s going to be another good game for us. We just have to come out and play like a team and try to get the win the best way we can.

 

Tricia Liston, Duke guard:

On 30-point loss to Connecticut compared to Notre Dame’s three wins against Connecticut:

Every team is different. You may match up well against one team but differently against another. I do not think you can compare our game to any game that Connecticut played against Notre Dame because it is a completely different comparison. But looking back on that game, we have learned from our mistakes and have really grown together. We have progressed from that game and have gotten better.

 

On how the team has responded since Chelsea Gray’s injury:

I think this team has gone through more than most teams with injuries and other things of that sort. Richa (Jackson) coming back from her injury earlier this season. Then, we had to deal with losing a player for the remainder of the season when Chelsea (Gray) got injured. We have had to grow together a ton. A bunch of different people have had to step out of their comfort zone. Alexis Jones has had to become more vocal than she had to be when Chelsea was out there. Richa has also come into herself by being more vocal and being a leader out there. I think that everyone has had to do something that they are not always comfortable with. Everyone has to pull together because that is the only way we are going to overcome these obstacles.

 

On being underdog:

I definitely think that most people are picking Notre Dame but I think that gives us a little bit of an edge. We really have nothing to lose in this game; there is no pressure on us. No one thinks we can do this besides ourselves. I think it is a source of motivation to go out and prove to ourselves and everyone else that we belong here. We have worked hard and everything we have done to this point in the season has prepared us for this game. This is an opportunity to go out and play loose and hopefully come out on top.

 

On what area the team has improved the most throughout the season:

Our ability to fight back from adversity. Like in our game against Oklahoma State we had to come back from a deficit. Also being faced with situations whether in a game or off the court where we have been challenged mentally and physically. I think this team is really strong and has built up the resilience to really come together to fight back against whatever is thrown at us.

 

Haley Peters, Duke forward

On Louisville upsetting Baylor on Sunday:

It is an example of a team believing in themselves and not listening to what other people have to say. They focused on themselves and executing their game plan. They had great resolve and believed in themselves. That what makes this tournament so great; games like that and teams believing in themselves.

 

On what area the team has improved the most throughout the season:

Definitely our defensive intensity and focus have greatly improved. We have really focused on the details of what we want to shut down on the other team. I think our communication defensively has been much improved lately as well.

 

Richa Jackson, Duke guard/forward:

On obstacles team has faced this season:

We have come together as a team through all of the obstacles. It helps us to relax and allows us to rely on each other and play with poise, for each other, and for Chelsea (Gray). We come together and do what we know we can do.

 

Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame Head Coach:

On how important it was for Notre Dame to step up defensively this year

Well, when we looked at what we lost last year — Big East Defensive Player of the Year Devereaux Peters, our defensive perimeter player of the year, Brittany Mallory, and Fraderica Miller — we had three great defenders graduate and I knew it was going to be difficult for us. We focused on team defense. We thought we were going to have to do a much better job rotating because we didn’t have the shot blocker back there. Worked on taking charges. I think the people who play the most and start are our five best defenders, so I think it was pretty easy to motivate them through playing time.

 

On Duke and key elements of Tuesday’s game

Elizabeth Williams, she is a tremendous player. She is a shot-blocker extraordinaire. She is a really good defender, but she can really score too. She can run the floor. She does everything. She’s a great player — certainly a future All-American — and I think that’s a huge challenge for us to guard her, especially when they have Tricia Liston on the outside who’s one of the best three-point shooters in the country and Alexis Jones, who really has the great speed to get ‘em going. I think a lot of challenges for our defense today and I’m not sure what our game plan’s gonna be right now. We’ve got quite a few options.

 

On taking opposite results vs. common opposition into account

I think we’re pretty confident where we are right now, how we’ve played all season. Our resume, the experience we’ve had on the road and at home, the caliber of opponent we’ve beaten, I think, gives us great confidence and I hope that serves us well.

 

On whether or not the staff watched and appreciate the Baylor game

We had the opportunity to watch the finish. Just so happy for Louisville. I think it’s great for the Big East Conference. Three teams in the Elite Eight. Just a great win for Jeff Walz and his team. Played an extraordinary game, as you know. Shot the ball so well. I don’t think anybody in the country had that one on the bracket, so it was a big bracket buster across the nation. Just really thrilled for Louisville.

 

On Natalie Achonwa’s second half vs. Kansas after being challenged by coaches at half

(Achonwa) is, apparently, not an early riser, and I think her alarm went off at halftime, and she really refocused and was really ready. Had a fantastic second half. I think she really rose to the occasion. She is so important to our team. She makes such a huge difference when she’s on the floor, both ends. Everything she does in terms of communication and being vocal and being a leader, as well as the offense and defense. We need her rebounding, we need her defense, we need her scoring, and we were a different team in the second half when she was playing well.

 

More thoughts on the ‘Skylar (Diggins) Phenomenon’

I don’t think anybody could’ve anticipated the celebrity status that [Diggins]’s achieved across the country. I think, with the growth of social media, it’s a completely different game than it was even five years ago with twitter and all the things, where people can turn on the TV, watch her play, and say something that people are going to respond to. I think the celebrities that have gotten involved with her, in terms of following her on twitter and tweeting about her, has really grown our fan base for women’s basketball. I think it’s been a great thing for the game. I think she handles it extremely well and has for the last couple years. She’s an incredible role model, and I think it’s brought great notoriety, all positive, to the women’s game.

 

On particular element/matchup coach is most curious about vs. Duke

I think the center position matchup is going to be crucial for us, so that’s the one I’m most interested to see how it develops.

 

On sense of urgency to win a championship for (Skylar) Diggins

Yeah, really, I want it for her. I want it bad. I think she has been such a phenomenal presence in our program – legendary. I don’t think that what she’s done is ever gonna be matched and I would love nothing more than to see her go out a champion. Whether we win or lose, I think she will leave as a champion, but it would be great for her to cut down the nets.

 

Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame guard:

On the benefits or drawbacks of the Skylar Diggins’ phenomenon:

I do not know what you are talking about (chuckles). The benefits are definitely the added attention to the university and to our team. People are watching our games and I think that is great for the university. Sometimes we can get some crazy fans and some negative tweets, but the good always outweighs the bad. It is great that it draws attention to the university and our basketball team.

 

On the reference of her being more than just a basketball player and possibly a sex symbol:

I would not say I was a sex symbol. Like I said before, I do not really care why people watch the game, as long as they are watching. Most of the press I receive is positive. Whatever is good for the university is good for me. I do not think people disrespect me as a basketball player. For the most part, people talk about my game. The other things, I do not pay attention to.

 

On yesterday's aggressiveness offensively and its change on the second half:

I wanted to be aggressive in the beginning to try and get us off to a good start. I had some opportunities in the first half where I was able to have some open shots. My teammates found me when I got hot. In the second half, I noticed they were paying more attention to me, so I tried to get my teammates going. Natalie (Achowna) scored 17 second half points. That is because they were focused on me because of my first half performance. My teammates were moving so well without the ball and me being able to knock down the three opened up the floor for us. Ultimately, in the second half, it was our defense. Yesterday we really locked down on defense and we were able to get out on transition. I believe that is when we play our best basketball.

 

On last night’s feedback, tweets, calls, and words of encouragement:

I was able to talk to a few people. I did not really dissect my tweets to see who actually mentioned me, but I did notice them. I was able to talk to Lisa Leslie, Lady Magic, and Tisha (Penicheiro). I did not do anything different that I would not usually do after a win. I had the opportunity to spend some time with my family yesterday for Easter. I also spent time with some of my family who are not always able to come to my games. My dad came up from Florida and my boyfriend was able to come up as well. I was just thankful to spend some time with my family and friends for the holiday.

 

On the conversation with Lisa Leslie:

We talk often. She always gives me advice on playing hard and being a leader for my teammates. A lot of recent and former WBNA players give me a lot of advice. Candace Wiggins, who is one of my best friends, usually just gives me all types of advice that I can use at this time of the year. Most of those ladies have been there before, so their advice is always helpful. It’s always great to have legends share their experience and give words of encouragement.

 

On adding visibility to the game and the obligation or responsibility to help grow the game of women’s basketball:

No, I do not. I think that I have gotten to where I am now because of my family, coaches, and teammates. I try to just be myself. I still continue to do what I normally do. My focus is still the same. My priorities are still the same. It is flattering to see young girls look up to me and say I’m their role model. That is always great. Growing up, values stuck with me, and I continue to embody those values now. I do not feel any pressure though. I’m just being myself.

 

On Duke’s backcourt and what she’s been able to see:

Alexis Jones has come in after Chelsea Gray’s injury. She has really taken over at the point guard position. She is playing some great basketball right now. She is self-crafty with ball and her passes. She has really stepped up her scoring in the last couple of games. Chloe Wells is shooting the ball so well now and Tricia Liston is also shooting well. She knows how to create her own shot and play smart on offense. Those are the three guards that really push them. We must put pressure on them and get the ball out of their hands so we can get out in transition.

 

On what it would mean for her to cut down nets in New Orleans:

It would mean a whole lot to me. I cannot say that it has not run through my mind. This could be my last game possibly. Whether I like it or not, I only have three games left to play if we keep winning. This experience has been amazing and it would be great to cut down the nets in New Orleans. I try not to spend too much energy on it though. I try to focus one game at a time. We cannot get to that point if we do not win the next one against Duke. That is our task at hand.

 

Kayla McBride, Notre Dame guard:

On how Duke has embraced defense:

It’s something that we have been working on in practice and we take pride in. If you look at what we did against UConn and different teams, not letting them score three’s, it’s something that we take pride in and are comfortable in.

 

On defensive abilities:

I wouldn’t call myself a specialist. I think it’s something that my high school coach harked on a lot and I think Coach McGraw does the same thing. I don’t think it (defense) is any different than offense. No matter what happens on the offensive end you should always be able to play defense.

 

Natalie Achonwa, Notre Dame forward:

On Baylor vs. Louisville game:

I, personally, didn’t watch the game. I was writing an accounting exam. We still have to focus on us. We are on the different side of the bracket. We have Duke tomorrow, a great team and we are focused on one step at a time. Duke is our next step and that’s where our focus and heads are at right now.

 

On atmosphere against Duke:

I think mentally we approach every game the same. Our coaches do a great job on scouting and laying out what are principles and focuses are for the game. We’ve played in harsh atmospheres before and even if it is pro-Duke, I know we have great fans that are going to travel and come cheer for us. At the end of the day it’s the group that is in the huddle and the ones that are there for us. We are going to focus our energy on staying true to what are principles of the game are.

 

On hitting a wall physically:

We have a great staff here in our athletic trainers and physical trainers. Coach McGraw and our staff does a great job on preparing us for a long season like this as well as maintain us. I think that I’ve taken the time off when I’ve needed to, I have put in extra work in the gym when I needed to, and it’s just about building the body for games like this to be able to maintain up to this point. I’m still young and I can still bounce back.

 

Jewel Lloyd, Notre Dame guard:

On the possibility of a pro-Duke crowd tomorrow night:

We are going to stay true to our team defense and principles.

 

On how she has matured throughout the season:

I have learned a lot from my teammates on and off the court. They give me advise and keep me motivated.

 

Ariel Braker, Notre Dame forward:

On the defensive cohensiveness that the team has developed over the course of the season:

We have been focusing on the little things that we need to do defensively. It took a while in the beginning, but throughout the season we got better. The freshmen are starting to realize that we have to play defense to win games.