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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish reach milestone with pair of wins

Brian Hartnett | Monday, November 26, 2012

No. 5 Notre Dame made the most of its Thanksgiving trip to California, as the Irish beat No. 19 UCLA 76-64 on Friday at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.

“It was a huge win for us,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said of the victory. “[UCLA] is a really good team, a top 20 team, that just got a really good road win against Oklahoma and was feeling really confident heading into the game.”

The Irish (4-0) struggled out of the gate against the Bruins (2-1), falling behind 10-3 early and burning a timeout four minutes into the game. Notre Dame responded with a 15-2 run, which allowed the Irish to carry a 36-29 lead into halftime.

Notre Dame came out strong in the second half, going on an 8-2 run to open the lead to 44-31. UCLA closed the deficit to eight after a layup by Bruins senior forward Markel Walker with 13:42 left in the game, but the Bruins would never come any closer, as the Irish rebounded with another 8-2 burst to help seal the victory.

Although the Irish held UCLA to 39 percent shooting, McGraw said she was disappointed with her team’s transition defense against the Bruins.

“In the UCLA game, we gave up way too many transition baskets, and we didn’t do a good job of matching up in transition,” she said. “I think we can rotate a little bit better, and we can rebound much better than we did.”

Freshman guard Jewell Loyd led the Irish with 19 points, while junior guard Kayla McBride chipped in with 18 points. Junior forward Natalie Achonwa logged her third double-double of the season, as she racked up 10 points and 10 rebounds.

The victory over UCLA came three days after the Irish exploded offensively in a 93-36 rout of Mercer in Purcell Pavilion.

Notre Dame jumped out to a 12-0 lead over the Bears (3-1) and never looked back, as it took a 48-12 lead at halftime. The Irish shot nearly 54 percent from the field and outscored the Bears 60-12 in the paint.

“I think we have a lot of good offensive players and a lot of people that can score,” McGraw said. “We’re very comfortable sharing the ball, and we’re a very unselfish team. We were executing the offense pretty well, setting good screens and using these screens a lot in transition.”

Achonwa recorded a double-double in just 18 minutes of action, scoring a career-high 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Loyd contributed 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting in 19 minutes against the Bears.

For her efforts against Mercer and UCLA, Loyd was named Big East Freshman of the Week on Monday, becoming the sixth Notre Dame rookie in the past five seasons to receive the award.

McGraw said Loyd has become a major force on the boards for the Irish and can contribute in multiple ways offensively.

“[Loyd] is somebody that can rebound, which is a big need we have,” McGraw said. “She’s able to come out and give us a big person on the boards that can really compete with a lot of the athletes we’re facing. She can score in a lot of different ways. With the way the offense is running right now, she’s got an opportunity to go backdoor, but she can also come off ball screens.”

Notre Dame also made its 100th consecutive appearance in the Associated Press poll on Monday, becoming one of just six schools in the country to achieve that milestone.

Notre Dame will return to the court Thursday when the Irish travel to McGuirk Arena in Mount Pleasant, Mich., to take on Central Michigan.

Contact Brian Hartnett at bhartnet@nd.edu