2011 NCAA Women's Tournament brackets
DAYTON, Ohio – Tennessee didn’t have much of a shot Monday night.
The top-seeded Lady Vols went down hard to Notre Dame 73-59 in the Dayton Regional final. Playing before a crowd of 5,708 at University of Dayton Arena, they shot 32.8 percent from the floor and bore scant resemblance to the team that was averaging nearly 80 points per game.
Point guard Skylar Diggins led a foursome of double-figure scorers that sent No. 2 seed Notre Dame (30-7) to the Women’s Final Four in Indianapolis courtesy of the program’s first women’s basketball victory over UT in 21 tries.
“The first thing the team says was ‘1-20, 1-20,’ ’’ Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “The team figured that the law of averages had them winning at least one.”
Diggins, who was voted the regional’s most outstanding player, scored a game-high 24 points. Natalie Novosel added 17. Becca Bruszewski, whose status was questionable beforehand after suffering a knee injury against Oklahoma on Saturday, scored 13 points and Brittany Mallory added 10.
“I think the growth of this team is one of the best of any team I have ever coached,’’ McGraw said.
They had their share of offensive laments. Senior Angie Bjorklund missed all four of her field-goal attempts and scored one point in her final game. Leading scorer Meighan Simmons shot 1 for 11 and scored two points. The most prolific 3-point shooting team in program history was 4 for 19 from long range.
But UT’s biggest gripe concerned its defense, specifically a lack thereof.
“Our defense was horrible,’’ UT forward Glory Johnson said. “We were going to have to stop them in transition and we were going to have to play sound one-on-one. We didn’t.”
Diggins was a force on both ends. She complemented her scoring with four assists and was instrumental in Notre Dame’s 18-10 edge in transition points. Her pretty lob pass to Devereaux Peters led to a layup, a 60-48 lead and an early start to the celebration with 3 minutes, 39 seconds left.
On defense, Diggins recorded four of Notre Dame’s 11 steals. Add some deflections and she short-circuited several other UT possessions.
“I thought Skylar was magnificent in running the show today,’’ McGraw said. “She did an outstanding job of attacking.”
The Lady Vols were under siege from the start, beginning with foul trouble that cost them the services of two key starters.
Point guard Simmons, UT’s primary offensive spark, went to the bench with two fouls inside the first four minutes. Before the first half was half over, Johnson joined her there in the same predicament.
The Lady Vols went deep into their bench in search of scoring and found a surprise source in reserve post Vicki Baugh. She scored eight first-half points. Her 3-point play gave UT a 17-15 lead with 7:02 left in the half.
Baugh’s 3-for-4 shooting was the exception to the Lady Vols’ 30 percent misfiring before halftime. Eleven turnovers compounded their problems.
Tennessee’s Kamiko Williams, who replaced Simmons, was poke-checked from behind three times by Diggins. The third time resulted not only in a turnover but a foul and two free throws by Bruszewski.
Trailing 29-24 at halftime, Tennessee made several second-half charges and was within 51-47 with 6:28 left.
A technical foul against center Kelley Cain shortly thereafter deprived the Lady Vols of some momentum. The Fighting Irish did the rest, summoning a strong finishing kick that sent them toward their third Final Four in program history. The Lady Vols, meanwhile, trudged back to their locker room in defeat for a third straight postseason.
“I’m very disappointed in our basketball team,’’ said UT coach Pat Summitt, who referred to her group as “soft” in the locker room afterward. “I don’t think we came here with a focus. Don’t ask me why. I look at the junior class and Angie as a senior and I’m kind of lost for words why they wouldn’t come in and already know what they were going to do.”
Simmons, a freshman, was pretty upset as well. She sounded lonely in her personal plight.
“I feel like I let my team down,’’ she said. “I didn’t do the things I should’ve done. There’s just so many things I could’ve done. I don’t like this ‘could’ve, would’ve, should’ve thing.’ I just don’t like it.”
In that sense, she had plenty of anguished company.
“I thought we had overcome this,’’ forward Alicia Manning said. “At this point of the year, you can’t let another team outwork you and they outworked us. It’s hard to live with but it happened and it’s over.”
Dan Fleser covers Lady Vols basketball. He may be reached at 865-342-6288. Follow him at http://twitter.com/fleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser/