SALT LAKE CITY- After No. 10 Temple (24-8) defeated Arizona State surprisingly easily and No. 2 Notre Dame (27-7) was unsuspectingly challenged from Utah Saturday, the two are preparing to clash in the second round of the Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship at 6 p.m. PT Monday on ESPN.
The key matchup will be Notre Dame’s All-Big East sophomore guard Skylar Diggins (14.4 points and 4.5 assists per game) versus the Owls’ Shey Peddy – a 5-foot-7 junior who leads the team in scoring at 13.9 per game and is first team All-Atlantic 10.
“She runs the team,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said of Peddy. “She is the most important guard on that team.”
Temple coach Tonya Cardoza, the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year, stressed the pairing of the two.
“I think Shey is looking forward to it,” Cardoza said. “She is up for the challenge. The thing is Skylar is so strong. The only thing I am worried about is her trying to post Shey up, but Shey is a great post defender.”
Diggins burned Utah for 20 points in the opening round.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Peddy said. “She (Diggins) is a really good point guard, but I am not trying to look at her and just play our defense. It’s going to be fun trying to play against her.”
Notre Dame senior forward Devereaux Peters was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 7.2 rebounds to accompany her 11.6 points, and junior guard Natalie Novosel led the Irish with 15.2 points and was the conference’s Most Improved Player.
“We’re a very tight knit group this year,” senior guard Brittany Mallory said. “We lost four seniors last year. We don’t want to let anyone down, so we do whatever we can for each other.”
Senior guard Qwedia Wallace and junior forward Kristen McCarthy also average between 13 and 14 points per game for Temple. Center Victoria Macaulay averages only 4.7 points but had a game-high 12 Saturday.
Coach McGraw said she favors playing on a neutral court, but would rather the NCAA return to the old system where the top 16 seeds hosted the first two rounds, rewarding the elite teams. Under the current format, the 16 sub-regional sites are predetermined, and after the University of Utah’s surprise run through the Mountain West Conference Tournament, the 15th-seeded Utes ended up playing at home and gave the Irish a tough game Saturday.
Salt Lakers who are now in attendance may favor underdog Temple Monday night, of which Irish senior Becca Bruszewski said she can relate to from when her team plays at Connecticut, including the Big East Tournament.
Cardoza, who took the reigns of the Owls three years ago after Dawn Staley left for South Carolina, is a former 14-year assistant at Connecticut – the team that has given the Irish three of their seven losses this season and has made McGraw’s life miserable in her near quarter century at South Bend.
“Back then, they played mostly zone defense,” Cardoza said about the Irish. “Now, they play more man-to-man. That is something totally different. I remember it was difficult to score against their zone.”
Both teams own wins over Villanova and Rutgers, and while Temple lost by 10 at No. 3 seeded UCLA, the Irish defeated the Bruins in 2OT. The Owls lost at Duke, and the Irish lost at Baylor, in addition.
Temple and Notre Dame have split four meetings in the past, the last being an Irish win at home in December 2002.
The Irish, winners of the 2001 National Championship, have been to eight previous Sweet 16s, including last season’s OT loss to Oklahoma, while Temple is seeking its first.
“When you are seeded 10th and have never been past the second round, then advance to the Sweet 16 is like winning a national championship,” Cardoza said. “When you have been in the tournament eight straight years and have never made it past the second round, it would be a great thing for our program.”
Former Connecticut forward Willnett Crockett (2002-06) is a Temple assistant, and Niele Ivey – the leader of the 2001 team – assists the Irish. McGraw’s former point guard Coquese Washington defeated Dayton Saturday as Penn State’s head coach, and Megan Duffy (class of 2006) is an assistant at St. John’s, which won its first round game over Texas Tech – the only team other than Connecticut to beat Baylor this season.
The winner faces either No. 3 Miami, Fla., or No. 6 Oklahoma in the Sweet 16 March 26 in Dayton, Ohio.