PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Devereaux Peters can see the end of her stellar Notre Dame career approaching.
The fifth-year senior hopes it will finish in Denver with the Irish's second national championship. Notre Dame fell just short last season, falling to Texas A&M in the title game.
Before she can focus on another NCAA run, Peters is trying to help the Irish to their first Big East title since 2001. She had 10 points and a career-high 17 rebounds to lead second-ranked Notre Dame to a 71-41 victory over No. 13 Rutgers on Tuesday night.
"I'm realizing my time's almost up," Peters said. "I want to make the most of it. I'm a fifth year senior, I want to get our team winning and go as far as we can."
In the Irish's only blemish this season, a 13-point loss to No. 1 Baylor, Peters had only six points and eight rebounds. She was saddled by foul trouble that game.
Since that loss, Notre Dame has rattled off 19 straight victories, including wins over Duke, Connecticut, Kentucky, Tennessee and now Rutgers. The Irish are just four victories short of the school record set by the 2000-01 team that won the school's lone national championship and shared the Big East title. If they can beat DePaul on Sunday they will match the 20 straight victories achieved by the 2000 squad.
Peters has raised her game lately, recording three straight double-doubles. It's the first time an Irish player has done that since Jacqueline Batteast in the 2004 NCAA tournament. Peters has been able to put up the monster numbers by staying out of foul trouble.
"Dev stepped up not only defensively, but also on the boards," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "She runs the floor well and is scoring on offensive rebounds. That might be the biggest shift in our game."
Notre Dame (22-1, 9-0 Big East) completed a perfect January for the fifth time under McGraw and the first time since 2001. McGraw points to Peters' strong play as one of the main reasons for the success.
"She's playing like an All-American and that's why we're playing so well," McGraw said.
On Tuesday night, the Irish showed their balance. Peters only had two points in the first half as Notre Dame built a 17-point lead.
Skylar Diggins scored 18 points and Natalie Achonwa added 15 for Notre Dame's balanced offense. Kayla McBride added 13 points and 10 rebounds, and the Irish outrebounded Rutgers 52-24.
"You can't really key on one person, we're a team that has a lot of different weapons," McGraw said. "It could be anyone's game. Natalie coming off the bench provided a spark for us."
Trailing 9-8 early on, Notre Dame went on a 22-6 run over the next 7 minutes to take control. The Irish hit five 3-pointers during the spurt, including three by Diggins.
"We had opportunities early, knocked some 3s down and started our run," Diggins said.
They led by 17 at the half and blew Rutgers away in the second half, winning by the largest margin in the series' history.
Monique Oliver scored 17 points to lead the Scarlet Knights (17-5, 6-3).
Rutgers was missing second leading scorer Khadijah Rushdan, who sustained a concussion in Sunday's 18-point loss to Georgetown.
With Rushdan out and the Scarlet Knights not playing well, coach C. Vivian Stringer started four freshmen and Oliver. It's the first time she's had four freshmen in the starting lineup since 2005.
"I was particular proud of our (freshmen)," Stringer said. "They kept their heads up."
Sparked by the young group, Rutgers hung with Notre Dame for the first 7½ minutes. Oliver had the Scarlet Knights first seven points, including her first career 3-pointer. A layup by Briyona Canty a minute later gave the Scarlet Knights a 9-8 lead.
Then the Irish got hot from the outside and Oliver picked up her second foul, heading to the bench. Diggins ditched her trademark white headband and started connecting from the outside. She hit back-to-back 3s in the corner during the run.
"There's no formula to that," said Diggins laughing at tossing her headband. "I was sick of it, threw it off to change gears."
Leading 40-23 at the half, Notre Dame extended its advantage to 35 in the second half. Diggins hit one of two free throws with 11:30 left to move into a tie for 10th place on the school's career scoring list.
This was the Irish's second trip to the Tri-State area in the past week. They beat St. John's on Saturday afternoon, returned to South Bend for class Monday then flew back to New Jersey later that night.
It was the second straight poor offensive output by the Scarlet Knights. They only had 36 against Georgetown.
Life doesn't get any easier for the Scarlet Knights as they visit No. 3 Connecticut on Saturday.
After starting the season 17-2 and reaching No. 7 in the country, the Scarlet Knights have struggled. They're 1-2 in a challenging stretch against four ranked teams.
"I thought that our house was built on a house of cards in the first place, but we were able to get away with some things," Stringer said. "As we get into the Big East, this is no joke. I should've done what I normally do and played some real tough games (early)."
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