SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame lost the first 20 times it played Tennessee. Now the Irish have carved out a modest but impressive two-game winning streak against the Vols. It wasn’t so much how second-ranked Notre Dame won Monday night but how easily the Irish did it, routing the Vols 72-44 and holding No. 7/9 Tennessee to the lowest-scoring game in the school’s modern history.
“That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment against a team of that caliber,” coach Muffet McGraw said after her team won its 17th straight game.
Skylar Diggins matched her season high with 27 points and Devereaux Peters added 16 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.
Notre Dame got a breakthrough win over the Vols in the NCAA regional finals last march in Dayton, Ohio.
The Irish haven’t lost since Nov. 20, to top-ranked Baylor, and have now beaten both UConn and Tennessee on their home floor this season after toppling both in last year’s NCAA tournament.
“This feels good. This team is actually undefeated against Tennessee,” McGraw said. “I think we are in a really good place right now. I think we are doing a lot of things well on the offensive end and then defensively I think that we are doing a lot of good things. We are on a good trajectory right now. We are playing good basketball and I think we played better than we did against UConn.”
Since that seven-point win over UConn in overtime on Jan 7, the Irish have won five straight by at least 20 points. McGraw said the Irish can still be better.
“I don’t worry about peaking,” McGraw said. “I don’t think we have painted our masterpiece yet. I think every game, we have seen some glimpses of what we can be, but I think we can play better. I think we are going to peak at exactly the right time.”
Diggins had 17 of her points after the half and Notre Dame quickly expanded a 10-point lead into runaway mode. Diggins hit a 3-pointer and Peters worked inside for three baskets in an 11-3 run that put the Irish up 18 and made a Vols comeback nearly impossible the way they were shooting.
“I have never been a part of anything like this. This is amazing,” Diggins said of the Irish’s 17-game winning streak.
“So many good players on the team. So unselfish. …”
Tennessee (14-5) got 13 points from Meighan Simmons, but shot just 27.9 percent in the lopsided loss.
Diggins made a nice strip of an inside pass, dribbled the length of the court, passed to Peters and then got it back for a layup to make it 44-26 with just over 14 minutes left. Then after picking up her third foul, Diggins hit her fourth 3-pointer of the game to make it a 21-point lead. Diggins was 10-of-17 from the field and 5 for 7 on 3-pointers.
After Tennessee closed to within 16 with about seven minutes to go, the Irish went on one final 14-0 run to put it away. Kayla McBride added 17 points for the Irish.
The Vols made just 17-of-61 field-goal attempts and were only 7-of-16 from the free-throw line.
According to the school press guide, Tennessee lost to Louisiana Tech 69-46 in the Final Four in 1982 and fell to Belmont 77-45 in January 1976.
“I want to apologize to the fans. We just were not very good today. We were not in Notre Dame’s league,” associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “We did not play hard and we did not compete. Notre Dame forced us into a lot of hurried plays. We did not compete and we did not play and Notre Dame had a whole lot to do with it.”
Tennessee’s leading scorer, Shekinna Stricklen, who missed the previous game against LSU with a sprained knee, returned to the lineup and managed five points — five points under her average. And Vols guard Taber Spani, who has been sidelined with a bone bruise in her left knee since Dec. 26, was also able to play.
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, received a nice ovation when she came on the floor before the game and waved to the crowd, most of which was dressed in lime green.
Material from interviews, school websites, the Associated Press wire service as well as league and team sources was used in this report.