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updated: 4/2/2013 9:39 PM

Notre Dame women headed back to Final Four

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  • Notre Dame forwards Natalie Achonwa (11) and Ariel Braker (44) celebrate Notre Dame's win over Duke at the regional final of the NCAA women's college basketball tournament Tuesday, April 2, 2013, in Norfolk, Va. Notre Dame won 87-76.

      Notre Dame forwards Natalie Achonwa (11) and Ariel Braker (44) celebrate Notre Dame's win over Duke at the regional final of the NCAA women's college basketball tournament Tuesday, April 2, 2013, in Norfolk, Va. Notre Dame won 87-76.

 
Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. -- Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame are headed back to the Final Four for another rematch with Connecticut.

Diggins shook off early foul trouble to score 24 points and Notre Dame rallied to beat Duke 87-76 on Tuesday night to earn its third consecutive trip to the Final Four. The Irish have lost in the past two national championship games.

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"I want to win a championship for coach (Muffet) McGraw bad," Diggins said. "When you have a coach who believes in you so much I'd do anything for her."

Kayla McBride added 17 points while Jewell Loyd and Natalie Achonwa had 17 each as the Fighting Irish (35-1) won their school-record 30th consecutive game, earning a fourth meeting with UConn.

It's the third straight meeting between the two Big East rivals in the Final Four. The Irish won both those and have dominated the series lately winning seven of the past eight meetings.

Notre Dame swept UConn all three meetings with UConn this season in thrilling fashion winning in overtime and by 1 and 2 points.

The Irish had to rally past Duke to get there.

Trailing by six at the half, Notre Dame took control with a 15-2 run early in the second half to take a 50-42 lead. The Blue Devils lost in the regional finals for the fourth straight year, failing once again to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2006.

Diggins, hampered by foul trouble in the first half, started the run with her fourth 3-pointer of the game and followed quickly with a no-look feed to Natalie Achonwa, who also grabbed 13 rebounds, for a layup that had drew an impressed roar from the crowd at Old Dominion's Constant Center.

Diggins added a steal and a layup, and McBride finished the burst with another 3-pointer. The Fighting Irish extended their lead to 60-49 with 9:57 to play, and Duke trailed by as many as 16 before closing the gap only slightly in the desperate final minutes. The Blue Devils hurt their cause with 21 turnovers.

"I think they were outworking us," said Diggins, who earned AP All-America honors for the second straight season earlier on Tuesday. "I've never seen that from my team. They were getting hustle scrap points. I couldn't wait to get in that locker room. We had to light a fire. We set the tone on defense and got some stops and played our game."

In the first half, the game developed better than Duke (33-3) could have hoped.

Diggins was whistled for two fouls in the first 4:10 and went to the bench, and after McBride hit a pair of jumpers, the Fighting Irish looked out of sorts. They extended their lead to 17-13 on a 3-pointer by Kaila Turner and two free throws by Ariel Braker, then went more than seven minutes without a point.

A free throw by Elizabeth Williams for Duke ignited a 13-0 run that took more than six of those minutes. Tricia Liston scored eight in the burst and Chloe Wells finished it with a 12-foot jumper.

Diggins returned with about 8 minutes to go in the half and while playing passively on defense to avoid a third foul, hit three 3-pointers in a span of 2:16, cutting a nine-point deficit to 32-31 with 1:07 left.

A basket by Williams and Wells' 3 just before the half gave Duke a 37-31 advantage.

The weekend was a homecoming for Williams, a Virginia Beach native, but Duke's scoring leader missed several shots from in close. She finished 3 for 9 and scored 8 points, roughly half her average.

Liston led Duke with 19 points while Peters added 15.

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