Skylar Diggins fired up the troops at halftime in a player's only huddle on the court and Notre Dame responded to overcome a 6-point halftime deficit to beat Duke 87-76 in the Elite 8 Tuesday night in Norfolk, Virginia.
Notre Dame is off to the Final Four for the 3rd straight season, where they will once again face arch-rival UConn in the National Semifinals Sunday night in New Orleans. Louisville-Cal is the first game at 6:30pm with the Irish and Huskies to follow at approximately 9:00pm.
The Irish have defeated the Huskies to reach the national title game each of the last two seasons. Notre Dame also won all three regular season meetings this year.
But it was almost not meant to be.
Diggins picked up two quick fouls just four minutes into the game and went to the bench for nearly eight minutes. With Skylar out, Duke took advantage and built a 26-17 lead.
Jewell Loyd finally hit a bucket with about 4:30 left in the 1st half to end Duke's 13-0 run. The Irish had missed 12 straight shots until Loyd's bucket.
Diggins hit three 3-pointers in the final minutes of the half to pull ND within one, but Duke scored the final five points of the half to go up 37-31 at the break.
Diggins wouldn't let her sensational career end like this. She hit her 4th 3-pointer early in the 2nd half and then made an incredible move inside and dished it off to Natalie Achonwa to tie the game at 40.
It led to a 15-2 Notre Dame run, capped by a Diggins steal and score and another Diggins steal and Kayla McBride 3-pointer to put the Irish up 50-42.
Diggins sealed the game with a bucket and the foul with 5:45 left in the game to put Notre Dame up 12. Skylar yelled, "that's right" after making the bucket.
Diggins finished with 24 points while Kayla McBride added 17.
Notre Dame has lost in the national title game each of the last two years. With Baylor losing Sunday, Notre Dame is now the favorite to win it all.
The Irish lost just one game this season--to the Bears back in December. Since then, Notre Dame has now won 30 straight games.
The Irish still savored the moment of a 3rd straight regional championship Tuesday night, singing and dancing on the court to "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
As for the pending matchup with UConn, the Irish say that discussion will wait for another day. The team elected not to answers questions about the Huskies after the game--saying its all about celebrating this moment first.