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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame trounces Pitt

| Friday, January 17, 2014

Missed shots were few and far between for No. 2 Notre Dame as the team took an early lead and never looked back in Thursday’s 109-66 win over Pittsburgh at the Panthers’ Petersen Events Center.

Notre Dame (16-0, 4-0 ACC) shot 60.6 percent from the floor, including 9-for-12 from behind the arc, while converting 20 of its 22 free-throw attempts en route to its highest point total of the season.

“I think we beat them on both ends of the floor,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “Shots were dropping, and I think we really felt good about that, and that probably gave us a little bit more energy on defense.”

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The Irish were just as solid on the other end of the court, holding the Panthers (9-9, 1-3 ACC) to 28.1 percent shooting in the first half and 37.1 percent for the game. The 43-point win comes on the heels of Notre Dame’s 79-72 win over Virginia on Sunday, the smallest margin of victory for the squad this season.

“We worked really hard on our defense after the Virginia game because we weren’t happy with how we defended them,” McGraw said. “So I was really pleased with how we were able to execute and just really, really able to defend them in the first half.”

Senior guard Kayla McBride and sophomore guard Jewell Loyd led the way for the Irish with 20 points each. Senior forward Natalie Achonwa, sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey and freshman forward Taya Reimer also contributed double-digit scoring, with 14, 13 and 10 points, respectively.

For McBride, a native of Erie, Pa., the game was something of a return home, as her hometown and Pittsburgh lie about two hours from each other.

“She really shot it well,” McGraw said. “It’s great for her to have a nice homecoming. So many fans from Erie came down for the game, and she was able to play really well in front of her family and friends, so that was great.”

Mabrey, meanwhile, continued to showcase the outside shot she has improved from last season, making four of her five 3-point attempts and increasing her season average to 44.2 percent from behind the arc.

“That is her job — to take those threes,” McGraw said. “Tonight she made them, and she was so poised and efficient and really had a great game.”

Besides contributing to the box score with her 20 points and four steals, Loyd had the task of defending Pittsburgh junior guard Brianna Kiesel, who entered the night leading the ACC with 22.3 points per game in conference play.

Kiesel scored 20 points against the Irish before leaving midway through the second half with an injury. However, she was scoreless through the first six minutes of the game and limited to two-for-nine shooting from the floor before halftime.

“That was the one area I thought we could’ve done a little better at,” McGraw said. “We did a decent job on her in the first half. She’s a really good player, and she was able to find some openings and make some shots. But overall, Jewell’s defense was very good all night.”

The victory increases Notre Dame’s lead in the series to 21-6 in the 19th consecutive year the two teams have met. However, this is the first time McGraw and the Irish faced off with first-year Panthers head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, who gave a new look to a longtime opponent.

“They have a new coach, so it’s really different, even though we’ve played them before,” McGraw said. “They have a new system, running different things, but there was some familiarity with the players.”

The Irish had a change to their lineup for the contest, as well. Reimer, usually one of McGraw’s first players off the bench, started in place of senior forward Ariel Braker, who did not play with a strained Achilles and is day-to-day, McGraw said. Freshman center Diamond Thompson did not make the trip because of illness, but McGraw said she expects her to be ready for the team’s next game against Tennessee.

The Irish take their perfect record to Knoxville, Tenn., for a matchup with the No. 12/10 Volunteers and one of college basketball’s most storied programs Monday at 7 p.m.

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