LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Louisville star Shoni Schimmel came away impressed. No. 3 Notre Dame definitely read the scouting report.
Schimmel went 3 of 16 from the field and 1 of 8 from 3-point range to finish with only nine points, and the 16th-ranked Cardinals never led in a 68-52 loss to No. 3 Notre Dame on Monday.
Schimmel said her poor shooting performance had something to do with the Fighting Irish's aggressive defense.
"It's never easy going against the (third)-best team in the nation," she said. "Just shots weren't falling that usually fall. I just tried to get my other teammates involved."
Skylar Diggins scored 21 points and freshman Kayla McBride added 15 for Notre Dame, which is trying to win its first Big East title since tying UConn for the regular-season crown in 2001.
Notre Dame (26-2, 13-1) came in as the nation's highest-scoring team, but had to shake off a sluggish start. In one sequence late in the first half, Devereaux Peters made a steal, but then threw a long outlet pass that was easily intercepted by Louisville guard Becky Burke.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw glared at Peters, who just looked down at the floor after the mistake in the midst of the Irish missing their final eight shots and committing two turnovers before halftime.
Still, Kaila Turner's 3-pointer was the difference, giving Notre Dame a 28-25 lead at the break as Schimmel missed all seven of her shots in the first half.
"She plays off a lot of emotion and she got frustrated out there. Just couldn't get some shots to go that she normally gets to fall," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "Normally in a game like that if she struggles that bad we're down 10 or 12 (at half)."
Notre Dame used a 12-4 run early in the second to take their first double-digit lead when Peters had a layup and made two free throws on the next possession to put Notre Dame ahead 44-33.
After Louisville (19-8, 8-6) cut it to 46-39 on a layup by Shawnta Dyer off a pass from Schimmel with 8:55 left, Brittany Mallory answered with a 3-pointer in the left corner following a timeout. She pumped her fist and clapped twice on a play that thwarted a potential run and silenced the Louisville crowd.
"We just could not come out with that big stop. We've got it at 7 with under nine (minutes)and then have a little bit of a breakdown on defense and give up a three," Walz said. "We got a little frustrated and then we did not finish out the game the last three minutes as hard as we had played the first 37 minutes. So then it looks like it's a 16-point game and an easy win for them."
The Cardinals missed 14 of their 16 3-point attempts as Notre Dame surged ahead. Diggins hit 11 of 12 free throws, and Notre Dame finished 17 of 18 overall from the line. Louisville has been without Monique Reid and Tia Gibbs because of season-ending injuries that have dampened high expectations this season.
"We started off the year with aspirations of going to a Final Four. Those are still our goals but when you lose Tia Gibbs and Monique, we've lost a big punch of our scoring. We're just trying to find some people to step and take over that role," Walz said. "I'm not expecting someone to step up and put in 15 a night and replace Monique. But we need three or four of them to give us six or seven a night and then we can make up for that. And then we just really miss Tia's leadership."
Antonita Slaughter scored 12 points for the Cardinals, who failed to reach the 20-win plateau with their fourth loss in six games. Mallory finished with 13 points, and Peters added 10 points and nine rebounds for the Irish, who were Schimmel's pick in a matchup against Connecticut.
"Just because they're older and they're wiser," Schimmel said. "UConn is pretty young, so I'd say Notre Dame."