Natalie Novosel takes charge in second half to lift Irish

TAMPA, Fla. -- Muffet McGraw was not impressed with Notre Dame's latest victory.

Natalie Novosel scored 12 of her 19 points in the second half to lead the eighth-ranked Irish past South Florida 76-68 on Saturday night.

"It was a good scare for us," McGraw said. "I think it showed us that we've got to come out and play our game, and that's defense. We didn't do that, so I think we learned a really good lesson and won at the same time."

Skylar Diggins added 17 points for Notre Dame (20-4, 9-1 Big East), which has won seven in a row since losing 79-76 to No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 8.

South Florida (10-13, 1-8) got 20 points from Andrea Smith. The Bulls have lost nine of 10.

"I'm very pleased with the effort and I would expect nothing less," South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said.

Notre Dame had held four of its last five opponents to 50 points or fewer.

"I think we just took this team for granted a little bit," Novosel said.

The Fighting Irish have now won 20 or more games in 21 of McGraw's 24 years at the school.

After South Florida got within nine points with nine minutes left, Novosel had a basket and made a free throw during an 8-0 run that put Notre Dame up 70-53 four minutes later.

"We just, really, didn't play our game and I think South Florida did," McGraw said. "They ran. They attacked the rim on us."

Notre Dame withstood a late surge after Smith hit a 3 to make it 73-66 with 44 seconds to go.

"She hasn't practiced the past few days, she's had the flu," Fernandez said. "That just shows the type of student-athlete she is."

The Fighting Irish, who connected on 28 of 41 free throws overall, made three to secure the win over the final 35 seconds.

South Florida was 14 of 24 from the line.

Becca Bruszewski had 11 of her 16 points to help Notre Dame, which led by as many as 17, go up 42-30 at halftime. Notre Dame went 12 of 21 from the free-throw line during the opening 20 minutes.

Andrell Smith had 15 points, while Akila McDonald chipped in 14 for South Florida.