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Women’s Basketball: Achonwa steps up and fills the void

Chris Masoud | Tuesday, March 27, 2012

RALEIGH, N.C. – Junior guard Skylar Diggins and senior guard Natalie Novosel were in true form, pacing Notre Dame to its second consecutive Final Four appearance with a combined 36 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists Tuesday night. But on a night when graduate student forward Devereaux Peters finished 3-for-9 from the floor in just 20 minutes of action, sophomore forward Natalie Achonwa filled the gap, giving the Irish a much-needed boost off the bench.

The sophomore forward poured in a smooth 18 points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes, often battling the Maryland frontcourt as Notre Dame’s only six-footer on the floor.

“We had a hard enough job obviously with [Notre Dame’s] five starters and trying to contain their best players, and then you have Natalie come in for 18 and seven,” Terrapins coach Brenda Frese said. “Obviously it’s a difficult night at the office when you have other players contribute like that.”

Diggins may have stolen the show with her first career triple-double, but the signature moment of the game was Achonwa’s block of Maryland sophomore guard Laurin Mincy with just over 11 minutes remaining in the contest. Peters recovered the loose ball and fed Diggins on the fast break, leading to a quick layup and extending Notre Dame’s lead to 24. A deflated Maryland team never recovered.

“I think I just really wanted to block her bad,” Achonwa said. “I was just waiting for her to put it up.”

Achonwa entered the game at the 15:07 mark of the first half with the score tied at 8-8. Over the next 10 minutes, Notre Dame would extend its lead to 15 with a 20-5 run during which the sophomore scored six points and grabbed five rebounds while Peters sat on the bench for extended minutes.

“I thought she was the player of the game when you take away Skylar’s triple-double,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “For Natalie to come in, that’s the best game she’s played all year … She really came out ready today. When Devereaux got in foul trouble I thought that was going to be a real problem for us on the boards, but Natalie came in and easily filled in that spot.”

Achonwa fell just two points and two minutes shy of her previous career highs, but was named to the Raleigh Regional All-Tournament Team for her contributions off the bench. She became the sixth Irish player to reach double figures in scoring four games into the NCAA tournament.

Achonwa credits position coach Carol Owens for preparing the Notre Dame frontcourt mentally and physically for the challenge of matching up against a much taller opponent.

“Carol Owens was saying all [the media] is talking about is [Maryland’s] posts and how big they are and how are we going to defend,” Achonwa said. “Tonight, me and Dev just wanted to step and show that, ‘Yeah they’re big, yeah they’re strong, but we can be just as physical as them.'”

Achonwa’s emergence could add a new wrinkle to Notre Dame’s impending Final Four clash with Connecticut, the team’s fourth matchup against the Huskies this season. The Irish face Connecticut in Denver on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

 

Contact Chris Masoud at cmasoud@nd.edu