- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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NORFOLK, Va. -- Barely 12 hours after one No. 1 seed was knocked out of the NCAA tournament, No. 1 Notre Dame made sure no such drama would occur in Sunday's first game in Norfolk with a 93-63 win against No. 12 Kansas. Skylar Diggins led the way with 27 points and nine assists and became Notre Dame's leading scorer with her final field goal. A quick reaction:
Overview: The top seed did what it is supposed to do at this point in the tournament, overwhelming a lesser opponent and exposing the flaws that momentum obscured. Notre Dame got just about anything it wanted on the offensive end, shooting better than 50 percent for the game and committing just 10 turnovers. And while Kansas was able to get points inside, most notably 25 from Carolyn Davis, the nation's No. 3 rebounding team established control of the boards. Sometimes these things aren't complicated. The No. 1 seed was just better by about a 30-point margin.
Turning point: Kansas gave about as good it got for the first eight or nine minutes of the game, using its size advantage inside with Davis and Chelsea Gardner to good effect, courtesy of Angel Goodrich's passing. With 11:41 remaining, Notre Dame had a one-point lead and Diggins had six points. With 10:28 remaining, Notre Dame had an eight-point lead and Diggins had 13 points. That lightning-quick 7-0 run from the All-American didn't knock out the Jayhawks -- that came with an 11-0 Notre Dame run early in the second half -- but it permanently put them on their heels.
Key player: Who else? A day before the game against Kansas, Diggins talked about trusting her instincts when it comes to the line any point guard must tread between setting up others and looking for her own shot. So it was only fitting that she put those instincts on display taking over a game in which she became Notre Dame's all-time leading scorer. The scoring established, she picked up assists on three of the team's first six field goals in the second half and put up seven of her nine assists after halftime.
Key stat: 21.0. That's the average point total of Notre Dame's leading scorer at halftime in the Irish's first three NCAA tournament games. Diggins did the damage Sunday, following the lead of Kayla McBride (24 first-half points against Iowa in the second round) and Jewell Loyd (17 first-half points against UT-Martin in the first round). Not coincidentally, no team has been within single digits of Notre Dame at halftime in the tournament.
What's next: Notre Dame faces the winner between No. 2 Duke and No. 6 Nebraska for a place in the Final Four. Diggins led all scorers with 19 points when Notre Dame beat Duke 56-54 on a neutral court early in the 2011-12 season. The Fighting Irish last played the Cornhuskers during the 2004-05 season and the all-time series is split 1-1. … Kansas ends its season at 20-14.
17dBonnie D. Ford