Diggins leads Irish back to Final Four

Notre Dame forward Ariel Braker (44) reaches in as Duke guard Alexis Jones, right, tries to control a rebound during the first half of the regional final game of the NCAA women's college basketball tournament Tuesday, April 2, 2013, in Norfolk, Va. (AP Photo/Jason Hirschfeld) Show caption
Notre Dame forward Ariel Braker (44) reaches in as Duke guard Alexis Jones, right, tries to control a rebound during the first half of the regional final game of the NCAA women's college basketball tournament Tuesday, April 2, 2013, in Norfolk, Va. (AP Photo/Jason Hirschfeld)

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.

“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 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.

Liston led Duke (33-3) with 19 points, and Peters added 15.

LOUISVILLE 86, TENNESSEE 78: In Oklahoma City, Shoni Schimmel scored 24 points and giant-slaying Louisville claimed another big upset, beating second-seeded Tennessee and earning the school’s second trip to the Final Four.

Two nights after taking down Brittney Griner and defending national champion Baylor, the fifth-seeded Cardinals (28-8) built a 20-point lead and then withstood a second-half comeback by the powerhouse Lady Vols (27-8).

When it was over, the Cardinals huddled at center court and celebrated.

Tennessee headed home with a third straight loss in the regional finals, failing to make the Final Four for a fifth straight year.

Taber Spani led the Lady Vols with 20 points, and Meighan Simmons and Kamiko Williams chipped in 12 apiece.

Louisville’s win puts both of the school’s basketball teams in the Final Four.