Bears hope to slow Diggins, top-seed Notre Dame

The Bears will have to top No. 1 seed Notre Dame on Tuesday if they want to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
The Bears will have to top No. 1 seed Notre Dame on Tuesday if they want to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

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In the first-round game against Liberty, Notre Dame star guard Skylar Diggins scored just seven points.

But Diggins’ stat line from Sunday afternoon should come with a buyer’s beware sign: With a 20-plus-point lead early in the first half, Diggins diverted her attention from scoring to rebounding and passing. The two-time All-American finished with nine rebounds and six assists in only 24 minutes of action.

The Cal women’s basketball team certainly wasn’t fooled by Diggins’ lack of points. In a more competitive game, Diggins — who led the Irish to the NCAA tournament title game last year — can be the most lethal shooter on the court.

In Tuesday’s 4:20 p.m. showdown at Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion, the eight-seed Bears need to keep Diggins from commanding the scoreboard to advance to their first Sweet Sixteen trip since 2009.

So far, since the victory against Iowa on Sunday, Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb has yet to find a solution to keep Diggins at bay.

“If you have (a strategy), we can talk after,” Gottlieb joked at the press conference. “There’s a reason why Skylar is one of the top, if not the top, point guard in the country.”

The last time Gottlieb made a similar joke was about Stanford’s Nnemkadi Ogwumike. The Bears kept Ogwumike to a modest 12-point performance in Maples Pavilion on Jan. 28, but they allowed 27 and 29 points from the dominant forward in the two rematches.

Cal has only one shot at Diggins and the top-seeded Irish. While Gottlieb might not have the blueprint for shutting down Diggins, she has the tools to patch together a net to contain the junior guard.

The biggest part of the net will be Brittany Boyd. The freshman point guard put together arguably her most complete game in a Cal uniform against the Hawkeyes. She posted 15 points, six rebounds, eight assists and six steals to lead Cal to a 84-74 win.

But Boyd’s most important impact was her defensive presence against guard Samantha Logic. Iowa committed 18 turnovers, and six came off steals from Boyd.

With Diggins at the helm, Notre Dame is regarded as one of the elite passing teams in the nation, ranking fourth in the nation in assists per game.

“The main things (in Notre Dame’s offense) are their balance, their passing ability and the way they run their system with much fluidity,” Gottlieb said.

The Bears, who play a traditional two-post player lineup, will need to make personnel adjustments against the unorthodox four-guard Irish offense.

Despite the guard-heavy spread offense, Notre Dame still excels on the glass. Against Liberty, which led the nation in rebounding margin, the Irish guards alone out-rebounded the entire Flames squad.

For the Bears’ post rotation, the Notre Dame-Liberty game is a cautionary lesson. For Cal to upset the Fighting Irish, it needs to win the battle of the boards against agile guards like Diggins.

And once again, it comes back around to the same message: stop Skylar Diggins or go home.

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