SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CBS / AP) — Natalie Novosel was aggressive from the outset, taking the ball to the basket and her reward was a long and successful night at the free throw line that helped top-seeded Notre Dame beat California to earn a spot in the NCAA round of 16.
Novosel scored 28 points, hitting 18-of-20 from the line, as the Irish pulled away in the second half and beat the Golden Bears 73-62 on Tuesday night.
Skylar Diggins added 21 points — 15 in the second half—and Devereaux Peters had 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Irish (32-3).
Tied at the half with the determined Golden Bears, the Irish started the second half with a 10-2 run and came up with five early steals, setting off the partisan crowd at Purcell Pavilion. The Irish built the lead to 17 and held on after Cal cut it to nine as Novosel made six straight free throws in the final minute.
Cal (25-10) got 17 points from Layshia Clarendon and 15 from Reshanda Gray. But the Golden Bears were hurt by 19 turnovers, 12 in the second half.
Novosel, who had 17 points by half, shot just 5-for-18 from the field but made the most of her frequent trips to the line. Notre Dame finished 26-for-33 from the line to only 7-for-14 for Cal in the rough and physical game.
It is Notre Dame’s 10th trip to the round of 16 in the last 16 seasons under coach Muffet McGraw.
Notre Dame came out with a quick 8-2 run in the first two minutes of the second half as Diggins scored four points and Kayla McBride hit a layup after making a steal. After a timeout, McBride made another steal and Brittany Mallory drove for a lefty layup and a 41-33 lead.
The Irish came up with five steals in the first four minutes of the second half as Cal suddenly had trouble handling the ball and the crowd at the Purcell Pavilion erupted.
Peters made two free throws for a 10-point lead and the Golden Bears stayed close because of two clutch jumpers by Clarendon.
Diggins then went high to tip a Cal inbounds pass and drove for a layup make it a 12-point. And when the Notre Dame star went hard to the basket on another break attempt, she got knocked to the floor by Clarendon.
And after officials reviewed the video it was ruled a flagrant. Diggins hit one of two free throws, Notre Dame retained possession and McBride hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 54-37 with 12:17 left.
Cal rallied and cut it to nine points four times, including a final time with 25 seconds to go but their gritty comeback attempt fell short. Gennifer Brandon had 12 rebounds for the Golden Bears.
The Golden Bears stayed close in the opening half with tough defense, a deep bench and poise as they refused to be bothered by Notre Dame’s partisan and loud home crowd.
Cal shot 46 percent in the first half and held Notre Dame to 34 percent.
Clarendon missed her first three shots before making four straight and scoring 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Diggins also missed her first three attempts and had six first-half points.
Cal had a late 8-0 run and took a two-point lead with just under a minute left before Novosel hit a jumper with about 30 seconds left that made it 31-31 at the half.
Cal freshman Brittany Boyd, one of the stars in the Golden Bears’ opening-round win over Iowa, picked up her third foul early in the second half and then her fourth about 11 and a half minutes left. She fouled out with 2:53 to go, scoring nine points in 22 minutes.
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