March 22, 2009

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Notre Dame's home-court advantage was no match for Minnesota's 3-point shooting and strong rebounding.

The Gophers started the game by making 11 of 13 shots and opened a 14-point first-half lead, then used timely 3-point shooting in the second half to hold off Notre Dame 79-71 on Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Emily Fox scored 23 points and Katie Ohm added 15 points, including a pair of 3-pointers 33 seconds apart when Notre Dame cut the lead to two points.

"She was the dagger. Fox did what we thought she'd do," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "But I thought she [Ohm] was the one who really won the game for them."

The Irish cut the lead to 53-51 when Erica Solomon made a pair of free throws midway through the second half. Ohm hit a 3 to restore the five-point lead, but Becca Bruszewski then hit a 3 to cut it to 2 again. Ohm then hit another 3, then Ashley Ellis-Milan made another and Fox one more to give the Gophers a 67-56 lead.

"I just go out there and shoot," Ohm said. "I think that that's my role on this team."

Minnesota coach Pam Borton said she was counting on her veteran players.

"Great players step up this time of the year," she said.

The Gophers (20-11) outrebounded the Irish 45-32 behind Zoe Harper's 13 boards.

Ashley Barlow led Notre Dame (22-9) with 20 points and Melissa Lechlitner added 16. Lindsay Schrader, Notre Dame's leading scorer and rebounder, played only 12 minutes because of foul trouble and a back injury she sustained two minutes into the second half. She finished with six points on 2-of-8 shooting.

"We missed her presence on the defensive and rebounding," Barlow said.

The real problem, though, was defense.

"Same old story every game. We can't defend the 3-point line," McGraw said. "The most disappointing thing is we had such a great crowd."

The crowd of 6,395 was more than the 5,032 fans who have attended the first two rounds of Notre Dame men's NIT games. But Minnesota quickly quieted the crowd with its hot early shooting -- 63 percent en route to a 42-30 halftime lead.

"I could tell the crowd wasn't in it. It was until they started to come back a little bit that I started to hear them. I think that was a big key for us, to get that momentum back," Fox said.

The Irish, who twice this season overcame 14-point deficits to win, including coming back from a school-record 18 points down against Vanderbilt in December, couldn't pull even after the Gophers despite the second-half rally.

"We never got over the hump," Barlow said. "That's the story."

The 49 percent shooting by Minnesota was the highest by an opponent against Notre Dame this season -- even better than unbeaten and top-seeded Connecticut.

Minnesota will play No. 2 seed Texas A&M in the second round. The Aggies beat Evansville 80-45 in their opening game.

It marked the second time a 10th-seeded Minnesota squad knocked off No. 7 seed Notre Dame. The same thing happened in 1994, the first time the Irish hosted an NCAA tournament game. It was just the third time in 16 tournament appearances the Irish have lost in the first round.

Minnesota, which had lost four of its last five heading into the Trenton regional, avoided being knocked out of the tournament in the first game for a third straight time.

The Irish fell to 6-2 all-time on their home court in NCAA games.