SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Second-ranked Notre Dame got its inside game going in the second half and overwhelmed No. 10 Louisville.
The Fighting Irish outrebounded the Cardinals 26-8 in the second half and outscored them 26-10 in the paint in the final 20 minutes en route to a 93-64 victory Monday night, the 18th straight win for Notre Dame. Natalie Achonwa led the Irish with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds.
"We just really got the transition game going," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "We had a great rebounding effort in the second half. Defensively tightened up quite a bit. Shot the ball well. We really did everything we absolutely wanted to do."
Louisville managed to cut Notre Dame's lead to seven points early in the second half, but the Irish quickly responded with a 10-0 run and the Cardinals didn't threaten again. Playing on the same court where the two schools' men's teams played a five overtime game two nights earlier, the women's game never came close to matching that intensity as the Irish dominated most of the way.
Notre Dame (23-1, 11-0 Big East) improved to 7-1 against ranked opponents this season, its only loss coming against No. 1 Baylor in December. It also was the 118th victory for the senior class, the most in school history. McGraw was asked if that's what she expected when she recruited Skylar Diggins, who finished with 21 points and seven assists.
"I didn't think we'd lose any," McGraw joked. "I'm a little disappointed."
The loss ended a six-game winning streak for Louisville (20-5, 8-3), its second longest Big East winning streak since joining the league in 2005-06.
Bria Smith, who led the Cardinals with 18 points, blamed Louisville's defensive play.
"''We were just unfocused on defense. They went on their runs and we didn't know exactly what we were doing," she said. "I mean we have a play to go by. We just didn't execute well."
Achonwa said the Irish were more physical and aggressive in the second half, noting that the Irish had 26 free throw attempts to seven for the Cardinals. Louisville coach Jeff Walz noticed that as well.
"I thought we attacked and went hard to the basket," he said. "Somehow they got to the line 26 times. Stuff happens, I guess."
Walz was visibly unhappy about the officiating at times, complaining when a foul against Achonwa was overturned and changed into a traveling call and again when Jude Schimmel was called for a foul with 0.1 seconds left in the first half when Diggins attempted a 25-foot running shot as she tried to beat the buzzer. "Danielle, welcome to Notre Dame," a frustrated Walz yelled toward Big East associate commissioner Danielle Donehew at the end of the court.
Kayla McBride added 15 points, Jewell Loyd 12 points and nine rebounds, and Ariel Braker scored 10 for the Irish. Antonita Slaughter had 16 points and Shoni Schimmel had 13.
Although the game wasn't as exciting as the men's game, the crowd of 8,368 still got into the game, letting out a loud cheer when Loyd scored on a fastbreak layup to give the Irish an 85-60 lead and again when Madison Cable hit a 3-pointer to give the Irish a 90-62 advantage.
The win marked just the fourth time in 10 tries the home team has won in the series.
"That's a great win for us, to come in and play that well against a really good team," McGraw said.