Skylar Diggins scored 21 points and the Irish forced 46 turnovers to beat the Zips 81-61 on Friday night in the opening round of the preseason WNIT. Notre Dame will host Indiana State on Sunday in the second round.
“First win usually comes with some first game jitters,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “That was a little unexpected with our veteran team. I though we did some good things. We forced a lot of turnovers which was one of our goals, but I was disappointed in our rebounding.:
The pesky Zips outrebounded the Irish 44-38.
With the Irish struggling on offense, Diggins took over.
“We lost the last (NCAA championship) game last year,” she said. “Maybe we were trying to win the championship game tonight, because we were playing tight.”
Kayla McBride added 15 points and Natalie Novosel had 13 for Notre Dame, which committed 27 turnovers.
“I was concerned at halftime about our offensive efficiency because we had forced 26 turnovers and we were only ahead by 14,” McGraw said. “I think there were times we looked too hard to find the open man. There were times when we just should have gone ahead and shot the ball.”
Rachel Tecca had 13 points and Carly Young added 10 for the Zips.
“We knew coming in that to stay in the game, we would have to play an almost perfect game,” Zip head coach Jodi Kest. “Obviously, 46 turnovers is not close to that. It’s very hard to simulate the Notre Dame pressure in practice. They are so long, and so quick. There is a reason why they are No. 2 and when they get the rest of their players back, they could really be a great team.”
Notre Dame forced five turnovers on the first six Zip trips down the floor but some lackadaisical play allowed Akron to stay in the game early. The Irish kept the pressure on the experienced Zips, a team that returned 10 letter winners and four starters from last year, and forced 11 turnovers in the first eight minutes to establish an Irish 17-12 edge at the 11:46 mark. The turnovers continued and the Irish ran off a 12-1 run over the next five minutes for a 29-13 edge with seven minutes remaining in the first half.
Akron closed back to within nine, 35-26 on two free throws by Natasha Williams with 3:15 remaining but the Irish tightened up the defense and led at halftime, 44-30. Diggins led all scorers with 14 while Williams led the Zips with seven. Akron led in rebounds at halftime, 22-14.
It was more of the same in the second half. A 3-pointer by Kayla McBride was followed by a layup by Brittany Mallory to set the score at 53-34 with 15:54 remaining and Notre Dame held on from there. They established their largest lead, 25, twice midway through the second half. The Zips closed the gap to 16, 65-49 with seven minutes to go but were unable to mount a serious challenge after that.