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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Devereaux Peters can take comfort in the fact that her last home game was not her last college game. She can take some credit for that, too, but Skylar Diggins did the honors for her after Notre Dame's 73-62 win over California ensured the top-seeded Irish another trip to the Sweet 16.
"The 14 rebounds, that's regular now," Diggins said, adding, "I think she's done a great job of stepping up. The five assists -- she's a good passer. She gets the ball and initiates the offense sometimes on the first pass, so that doesn't surprise me.
|Devereaux Peters and Notre Dame are one step closer to Denver and another Final Four.|
"Seven blocks -- that's crazy. She's helping us out a lot, and I think if this is a couple years ago, maybe some of those would've been fouls, but I think she's done a great job making sure she put her body in a good position, keeping her hands straight up, and her timing is good, too. She's a life-saver to us guards sometimes, most of the time. It just impresses me, that stat line."
Peters also added 11 points, but who's counting? The fifth-year senior was instrumental in the Irish's electric defensive effort in the second half. It began with them tied with the No. 8-seeded Golden Bears and the 6,500-plus fans inside the Joyce Center all but silenced.
The tension was palpable, and all of a sudden, it was gone.
Building a double-digit lead in less than five minutes will do that. So, too, will forcing eight turnovers in less than six minutes.
Kayla McBride and Natalie Novosel combined to force turnovers on four straight Cal possessions early in the second half, turning a 31-all halftime score into a 45-35 Notre Dame advantage before the 16-minute mark.
The Bears turned it over seven times in the first half but succumbed to the Irish's second-half pressure, coughing it up eight times by the 14:50 mark. They finished with 19 giveaways on the night, but the control they re-established would not be enough once the hosts got into their groove.
"In the first half, we weren't containing the ball at all, and the guards were having their way getting to the basket and dishing and things like that," Diggins said. "So we wanted to make sure we did a better job staying in front of the ball, helping our bigs out a little bit and just stepping up on defense, the intensity part of it. We were getting outworked, and we had to pick up the hustle a little bit. I thought we did a better job of that, particularly in the beginning of the second half."
Diggins, scoreless through the game's first 10 minutes, finished with 21 points off 9-for-15 shooting. Off another Bears turnover with 12:29 to go, she absorbed what was eventually ruled a flagrant foul from Layshia Clarendon, crashing into the padding behind the basket before the partial crowd voiced its displeasure with the hit -- which Irish coach Muffet McGraw later insisted was unintentional.
With unfinished business after last year's run ended one win shy of a national title, the junior remained unrattled.
"You wanna win, and to win we got to all be together," Diggins said. "We have to be in the game, and I think that's some of our issues in the past, being able to maintain composure. I think we've done a great job, and we're an older team now, older players. We're at home in front of our fans, they did a great job of keeping us excited and ignited tonight, and you have to keep that composure, especially at the point guard."
That translated to the free throw line, where Novosel sank 18 of 20 attempts en route 28 points and nine rebounds.
Two nights after outrebounding a Liberty team with the best rebounding margin in the country, the Irish held a 40-35 edge on the boards against the nation's No. 3 team in rebounding differential.
That, along with eight team blocks to Cal's zero, helped make up for a 41 percent shooting night, ensuring a date with fifth-seeded St. Bonaventure on Sunday in Raleigh, N.C.
For seniors such as Peters and Novosel, Tuesday night was just another step toward the bigger goal.
"At halftime, it just was kind of a calming feeling -- we knew this was our last game but it was kind of like a 0-0 game; we knew what we had to do going into it," Novosel said. "And I think, as seniors, we knew this was not going to be our last game played even though it was here, and we just want to go out with a bang."