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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish roll against hapless Hokies

| Thursday, January 30, 2014

Their game was not perfect, but the No. 2 Irish did not need perfect play for their record to stay that way.

Notre Dame (20-0, 7-0 ACC) started slowly on offense before pulling away from Virginia Tech midway through the first half to earn the 74-48 win over the Hokies (10-10, 0-7 ACC) on Thursday at Purcell Pavilion.

“That was a difficult game to play in between Maryland and Duke,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think it’s just that time of the year when it’s hard to find energy, especially from the starters, you really need somebody on the bench to come in and just give you a shot, and I thought [junior guard] Madison Cable did a really good job of that tonight.”

Senior guard Kayla McBride handles the ball during Notre Dame's 79-52 victory Jan. 23 against Miami. Thursday, McBride had 18 points and converted all eight of her free throw attempts.Emmet Farnan

Senior guard Kayla McBride handles the ball during Notre Dame’s 79-52 victory Jan. 23 against Miami. Thursday, McBride had 18 points and converted all eight of her free throw attempts.

Cable, who grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds, knocked down a 3-point shot with 4:45 left in the first half that highlighted Notre Dame’s 15-1 tear headed in to the break to revitalize the squad.

The five-and-a-half-minute run also saw the Irish finally penetrate the Virginia Tech defense in the paint.

“I think it was just getting the ball inside,” senior guard Kayla McBride said of what sparked the run. “They went to the 2-3 [zone] towards the end of the first half, and we just started getting inside and getting easy looks and getting steals and turnovers, which allows us to get in transition, and we just started hitting shots.”

Notre Dame limited the Hokies to eight field goals on 24.2-percent shooting before the break and 27.4 percent throughout the game, and Virginia Tech posted a season-low 48 points.

The Irish specifically held Hokies senior forward Uju Ugoka to 10 points, well below her season average of 19.7.

“We were just really focused on [our defense],” freshman forward Taya Reimer said. “We worked on it a lot in practice. The post, we didn’t play as well in the Maryland game as we wanted to, so I think this was kind of our chance to redeem ourselves.”

The second half of the game featured another play that brought the home crowd to its feet, this time courtesy of a series of quick passes between sophomore guard Jewell Loyd and freshman guard Lindsay Allen capped off by an alley-oop layup for Loyd.

“It brought us energy,” McGraw said of the play. “We just needed something to get that crowd going. We’d just been so dead in terms of our pace and our effort at both ends of the floor. We just looked like we were going through the motions, so that really perked the crowd up, so it was good to see we had a little bit of energy in our tank.”

Loyd, playing with a brace on her knee for the second straight game, dropped 14 points in the contest, while McBride led all players with 18. Reimer and senior forward Natalie Achonwa also posted double figures in scoring with 15 and 10 points, respectively.

McBride said her team’s mental toughness has been the most important factor in their 20-0 start.

“We’re a really tough team,” she said. “We have this mentality of, we know what our goals are, and we’re not ready to settle for anything less than that.”

Another test awaits the Irish en route to accomplishing those goals when they head to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face No. 3 Duke on Sunday.

The Blue Devils (21-1, 8-0 ACC) are led by senior guard Tricia Liston, who averages 18.4 points per game and 50.4 percent from behind the arc.

The team comes in to the contest in the wake of a last-minute, 76-75 win over Miami on Thursday, in which junior center Elizabeth Williams sank two free throws with 1.7 seconds left to take the close victory for the Blue Devils.

“This is going to be yet another big road game for us in a string of many,” McGraw said. “It’s a tough time of the year. You’re in a grind, so we’ve really got to be focused mentally and be ready because it’s going to be just a battle. I think it’s going to be a war.

“We beat them last year to go to the Final Four, and I’m sure they have revenge on their mind.”

The top two squads in the ACC and two of the top three teams in the country will clash Sunday, when the Irish meet the Blue Devils at 2 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C.

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