SOUTH BEND | Call it a glimpse of the future: Notre Dame women's basketball in the post-Skylar Diggins era.
While Coach Muffet McGraw surely will miss her All-American senior point guard next year, she can take solace in the promise shown Sunday by freshman guard Jewell Loyd in a 71-46 win over Rutgers.
Diggins scored 15 points to lead No. 2 Notre Dame, despite playing limited minutes. McGraw benched her with 8:55 left in the first half after Diggins was whistled with a technical foul after jumping up and down in protest of a foul called against her.
"With Skylar on the bench, we were able to maintain and build on our lead, and that's really important for us. I thought Jewell stepped up during that time," McGraw said.
Loyd, playing in only her third Big East game, finished with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, and she was 2-of-2 from 3-point range.
"I knew we had to stay composed," Loyd said. "We couldn't freak out. I think we just stayed within the offense. We knew we had to get it going somehow but we weren't scared of anything, really."
Rutgers managed only one basket during Diggins' rest.
"I thought (Notre Dame's defense) did a great job, but we're just poor, we really are," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "Diggins, for her to go out like that and we couldn't score. We didn't do very well. We didn't make good decisions."
The Irish (14-1, 3-0) won their sixth conference home opener in the past seven seasons, and picked up their ninth consecutive win, coming off a 75-71 overtime victory at South Florida Tuesday night.
Erica Wheeler scored 17 points to lead Rutgers (9-7, 0-3), which is off to its worst start ever in the Big East since joining the conference in 1995.
The Irish built much of their lead with three big spurts, two of them in the first half. First came a 13-4 run over a roughly four-minute span midway through the half, in which they stretched their lead to 21-10. The spurt included 3's by Diggins and Jewell Loyd, and a 3-point play by Diggins after she was fouled on a fastbreak layup.
Notre Dame closed the final 3:34 of the first half on a 9-1 run, thanks to two jumpers and a layup by Loyd. That run stretched their lead to 20, giving them a 37-17 lead at the break. Notre Dame then opened the second half with an 11-3 run over the first 4:14.
The Irish dominated inside, outscoring Rutgers 40-10 in the paint. Irish forwards Natalie Achonwa and Ariel Braker scored 11 and 10 points, respectively, and each pulled down six rebounds.
Rutgers was unable to take advantage of Diggins' down time in the first half, hitting only one field goal over that time. The Irish, on the other hand, did capitalize on frequent fouls committed by Rutgers.
Monique Oliver, Copper and Chelsey Lee each picked up two fouls within the first six minutes of the game for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights committed 11 fouls in the first half, and the Irish hit all nine free throws in the half.half.