SOUTH BEND – There was not a hint of panic in the Notre Dame women’s basketball team Saturday.
The No. 5 Irish, even with All-American Skylar Diggins on the bench, just kept the pressure on to pound Purdue.
The hosts responded after a short-lived, first-half rally by the No. 11 Boilermakers to go to post a dominating 74-47 victory before a sell-out crowd of 9,149 in the Purcell Pavilion.
Kayla McBride, the main spark for the Irish with Diggins in first-half foul trouble, led the way with 18 points as Notre Dame improved to 10-1. Natalie Achonwa had a huge game with 15 points and 17 rebounds.
Senior superstar Diggins, the hometown hero from South Bend Washington, scored 16 points despite playing just 19 minutes in the rout. She also had four assists and two steals, collecting the 300th theft of her brilliant career early in the second half. That steal made her just the third player in program history with 300 steals.
The Irish simply owned the glass versus the undersized Boilermakers, who drop to 11-2 and have lost seven straight in the intrastate series. Notre Dame posted an incredible 56-28 rebounding margin, including grabbing 25 offensive boards in the contest.
Notre Dame, which has won five in a row since a 73-61 home loss to Baylor Dec. 5, raced to a 21-4 lead in the game’s first seven minutes. Diggins, the Irish point guard, collected her second foul with 9:28 to go and went to the bench. Purdue rallied with a 16-4 run to cut the deficit to 25-20 with 6:36 left in the half on a layup by Drey Mingo.
The Irish responded in fine form from there as McBride led the way. The junior guard hit a pair of buckets in a 10-2 run that made it 35-22 en route to a 42-26 halftime lead. The Boilers did not make a field goal the final 4:43 of the opening half. McBride and Achonwa each had 10 points in an opening half in which Purdue shot just 10-of-29 from the field, had 12 turnovers and were out rebounded 29-15.
“I’m really, really pleased with the way we never panicked,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “They cut it to five with Skylar out and we responded. That was huge for us because it hadn’t happened yet this season.
“Rebounding is all about effort and today we had a tremendous effort. We’re a tough team when we decide to go after the ball. Natalie just had a great game. We really guarded the 3-point line and that was our main focus today. To hold them to no 3-pointers is a phenomenal accomplishment.”
Purdue, which entered the game averaging 72 points and hitting 41 percent of its 3-pointers, was held to a season-low point total and also went 0-of-11 from beyond the 3-point arc. It was the first time since March 1, 2009 at Michigan State that Purdue failed to hit a 3-pointer.
The Boilermakers, whose other loss this season was to UConn, got no closer than 14 points in the second half. Notre Dame, which rested its starters much of the final half, led by as many as 30 points in the final half.
Junior guard Courtney Moses, a former Indiana Miss Basketball at Oak Hill High School, led Purdue with 13 points. Taylor Manuel, a 6-2 freshman from St. Louis, had 12 points.
“I cheated a little today,” joked Achonwa about her tremendous rebounding day. “I was 4-of-11 shooting and got my own rebounds. I just was aggressive today and attacked. It started on defense for us.”
Achonwa, a 6-3 junior from Ontario, entered the game leading the Irish at 9.2 rebounds-per-game. She posted her seventh double-double of the season Saturday.
Purdue coach Sharon Versyp, a former star player at Mishawaka High School, didn’t have to look far on the final stat sheet to see the difference.
“The only stat that mattered today and that I put on the board was rebounding,” said Versyp, the 1984 Miss Basketball winner and former Purdue star. “If we box out and finish, it’s a completely different game today.
“This is unacceptable. Period. This should linger for at least two weeks. Our kids are resilient and they will respond if they want to be a great team. In a loss, you really see what you need to work on. Hopefully, this is a good loss for us.
“For some reason, when we play Notre Dame we play as individuals and not as a team. We came here 11-1 because we had been playing as a team.”
McGraw, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011, was saluted by the Irish faithful with signs with the No. 600 on them. McGraw, in her 25th season at Notre Dame, won her 600th game as Irish coach with an 83-74 win over No. 22 Texas A & M Dec. 21 in the championship game of the World Vision Classic in Las Vegas.
Notre Dame hosts Saint Francis (Pa.) Monday at 1 p.m. and then opens Big East Conference play Jan. 5 at UConn. Purdue opens Big Ten Conference action at Illinois Wednesday.