DAYTON, Ohio - No team has ever been so happy to be 1-20.
Skylar Diggins scored 24 points and second-seeded Notre Dame made up for 28 years of beatings at the hands of Tennessee, upsetting the top-seeded Lady Vols, 73-59, Monday night to earn a spot in the Final Four.
“We went into the locker room after the game and the first thing the team said was, “1 and 20! 1 and 20!” coach Muffet McGraw said with a laugh.
The Fighting Irish (30-7) came in with a 0-20 all-time recorrd against Tennessee. But the operative number on this night was 3-0 — Notre Dame’s record in regional championship games. The Irish are headed to the Final Four for the first time since 2001, when they won the national championship.
“This is what you work for,” said Diggins, a first-team All-Big East performer. “I said all day, this team has so much camaraderie. It’s been like that all year. We just rallied around each other.”
Natalie Novosel added 17 points and Becca Bruszewski — who didn’t practice Sunday and was listed as questionable with a knee injury — had 13 for the Fighting Irish. Brittany Mallory scored 10 points.
“It’s a surreal feeling, knowing that could have been my last game,” said Bruszewski, who got a new knee brace Monday. “But this team just came out ready to go. This is an unreal feeling.”
Notre Dame advanced to Indianapolis, where one national semifinal on Sunday will feature the Irish against the winner of today’s Hartford Regional championship game between top-ranked Connecticut (35-1) and second-seeded Duke (32-3).
McGraw said she had a clear rooting interest in that game.
“We’re definitely cheering for the Big East,” she said, referring to conference and national power Connecticut. “We’d like to have two Final Four teams from the Big East.”
Connecticut won all three meetings with Notre Dame this season.
Taber Spani and Shekinna Stricklen had 13 points for the Lady Vols (34-3). Glory Johnson added 12.
“Obviously I’m very upset, I’m very disappointed in our basketball team,” coach Pat Summitt said after being stuck with loss number 199 of her career against 1,071 wins. “I don’t think we came here with the focus. Don’t ask me why. I’m kind of at a loss for words. We’ve got a ways to go, obviously. We were exposed today.”
Stricklen choked up trying to fight back the disappointment.
“We just didn’t show up. We didn’t play great defense. ... No defense,” she said. “We didn’t have leaders step up today.”