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ND Women’s Basketball: ND wins two over break

Brian Hartnett | Monday, December 2, 2013

 

No. 4 Notre Dame used a balanced offensive attack to extend its season-opening winning streak to six games, as the Irish defeated then-No. 25 DePaul, 92-76, at Purcell Pavilion on Tuesday and overpowered Duquesne, 100-61, at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto on Sunday. 

Notre Dame senior forward Natalie Achonwa played a central role in both wins for the Irish (6-0), as she led the team with 17 points and added eight rebounds against DePaul (3-2). Playing for the first time collegiately in her home province Sunday, the Guelph, Ontario, native posted 11 points and 10 rebounds to notch her first double-double of the season and lead the Irish past the Dukes (5-3).

“I don’t think [Achonwa’s] 100 percent yet, but she’s playing really well,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We’re pleased with where she is, and I think she’s just going to continue to get better.”

McGraw said she was pleased to give Achonwa, the first international player in Notre Dame history, a chance to experience a homecoming. 

“She’s done so much for our program and really for all of Canada basketball, being the youngest member of [the 2012 Canadian Olympic women’s basketball team],” McGraw said of Achonwa. “She’s very well known in Toronto, and it was just great that her family, friends, teammates could all come out and see her play. We were just so happy to be able to do that for her.”

Achonwa’s post presence helped spark the Irish to an early lead against Duquesne. Notre Dame opened the game on a 14-2 run and jumped out to a 47-22 lead at halftime against the Dukes. A 17-4 run to start the second half helped seal the victory for the Irish.

Notre Dame senior guard Kayla McBride led the Irish with 22 points. Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd scored 16 points, while fellow sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey added 12 points off the bench.

As a team, Notre Dame shot 60.9 percent from the field and held Duquesne to an 11.1 percent mark from 3-point range. 

The Irish did not have it quite as easy against DePaul on Tuesday night, as they struggled to fend off the Blue Demons in a close first half. After DePaul tied the game at 19 with 11:33 to play in the first half, Notre Dame went ahead on a jumper by Mabrey and carried a four-point lead into halftime. 

Notre Dame went on a 19-5 run at the start of the second half to build its lead to 18 en route to a 16-point victory. 

McGraw said she was proud of the way her team faced the challenge from the Blue Demons.

“I was really pleased with how we handled [the game],” she said. “I thought defensively in the first half, we could have done a lot better. We came out in the second half and established a defensive tone, and I thought definitely played more like we wanted to.”

McBride notched 16 points and six rebounds against DePaul, while freshman forward Taya Reimer added 15 points and 14 rebounds off the bench.

Despite holding the Blue Demons to 30.3 percent shooting from the field in the second half, the Irish need to work on defense, McGraw said.

“I think we can continue to get better in that area,” she said.

Notre Dame will now enter one of the more daunting parts of its non-conference schedule, as the Irish will take on No. 10 Penn State, UCLA and Michigan in its next three contests.

McGraw said road contests against the Nittany Lions (5-1) and Wolverines (5-3) pose tough challenges for the Irish.

“It will be really difficult because we’re on the road for two out of three, and we’re still finding our identity and trying to improve defensively,” McGraw said. “We have a real challenge with all three teams, but certainly on the road at Penn State, a top-15 team, to start us off, we need to play well.”

Notre Dame will face Penn State on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pa.

Contact Brian Hartnett at bhartnet@nd.edu