8:41 AM EST, November 30, 2012
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (AP) — After getting an up-close look at Skylar Diggins, Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara knew she made the right decision in voting the Notre Dame star an All-American.
Diggins scored 17 of her 25 points in the first half, and the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish pulled away late in a 72-63 victory over the Chippewas on Thursday night.
"I'm on the All-American committee, and I voted for (Diggins)," Guevara said simply when asked about Diggins' performance. "Skylar takes the game over."
Diggins also added six steals and played a huge role in a defensive turnaround in the second half. Four of those takeaways came in the final seven minutes to help thwart a Central Michigan comeback.
"When she's defending you, you can't crossover in front of her," Guevara said. "She's got pretty quick hands."
Ariel Braker added 10 points and eight rebounds to help the Fighting Irish (5-0) close November undefeated for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
Diggins shot 6 for 15 from the field, but was and 12 for 14 on free throws.
"I just thought Skylar did exactly what we needed her to do," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw told the South Bend Tribune. "We had to get to the rim. They couldn't guard her. She did a great job of getting to the basket and getting fouled. "
Jessica Green scored 19 points and Niki DiGuilio had 12 points for Central Michigan (2-3).
In the program's first home game against a top-5 team, the Chippewas played like they belonged. The teams exchanged leads nine times in the first half before Notre Dame took a 40-39 lead at the break.
"We were beating them on dribble penetration and getting to the basket, and we were beating them to kick it out," Guevara said. "We had some kids hitting some 3-pointers, and Jess (Green) was able to beat people on penetration and get in and dish."
The Chippewas led by as many as four in the first half.
Green scored 12 points in the first 20 minutes, and sophomore star Crystal Bradford grabbed seven of the team's 21 first-half rebounds to help keep the Chippewas within reach of the Fighting Irish.
"We shared the ball, we just kind of got down on all the hype and played like we normally do," Green said of the first half. "They tie their shoes just like we do, so we just worked together and started off good."
Central Michigan's gritty effort didn't go unnoticed, either. The nearly sold-out crowd at McGuirk Arena gave the players a standing ovation as they headed into the locker room at the end of the first half, and the stands remained full until the closing seconds of the game.
"You could just feel their energy," Guevara said. "They were really into the game. They reacted when we got a loose ball or when we got a rebound. And they reacted when they didn't like what the officials called, which I liked too."
Notre Dame opened the second half on a 7-0 run but Central Michigan pulled within one with under 12 minutes to play. The Fighting Irish didn't truly pull away until Diggins hit a free throw for a 70-60 lead with 45 seconds to play.
The matchup marked the first time in the last four seasons that the Fighting Irish went on the road to play a Mid-American Conference opponent.
Coming into Thursday's matchup, the Chippewas had won two of their last four contests against ranked opponents, dating back to an 84-75 win over then-No. 23 Louisville in December 2009.