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ND Women’s Basketball

Shooting the lights out

| Friday, February 28, 2014

Seniors Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa said goodbye to Purcell Pavilion in style, scoring 28 and 24 points, respectively, while leading the No. 2 Irish to a 100-75 win over No. 14 North Carolina in their final home game Thursday night.

“We shot the lights out, all over campus,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said in a darkened hallway after the game, jokingly taking responsibility for the campus-wide power outage that occurred minutes after the final buzzer. “I was so impressed by [guard] Kayla McBride tonight; she was phenomenal, yet again. And [forward] Natalie Achonwa — the two of them were just really, really in sync. They had a good rhythm going.”

Unlike their official Senior Night against Georgia Tech on Feb. 17, the Irish (28-0, 15-0 ACC) were far from sluggish in the first few minutes of their final home game of the season. McBride drove to the basket and sunk a layup in the first play of the game, which was soon followed by a jumper from McBride and a 3-pointer from freshman guard Lindsay Allen. Notre Dame took just over three minutes to build a 14-2 lead.

“We got off to a great start,” McGraw said. “You know eventually they’re going to make shots, and things are going to come back into balance, but tonight we did a better job of holding onto a larger lead.”

At times in the first half, North Carolina (21-8, 9-6) struggled to get the ball past half-court: of their 13 first-half turnovers, nine were steals by the Irish. Although the Tar Heels narrowed the deficit down to five points halfway through the period, the Irish build it right back up, leading by as many as 22 before heading into halftime with the 55-38 lead.

“I think these past two games, we’ve come out and just tried to have fun,” McBride said. “I think we weren’t pressing as much as the games prior to that, and we’re just coming out and getting stops on defense and led to transition baskets.”

The Tar Heels stopped the bleeding for the first five minutes of the second period, and a jump shot by freshman guard Jessica Washington brought UNC within 10 points with 14:32 left in the game.

“We just picked up our intensity,” sophomore forward Xylina McDaniel said. “We did not have as much intensity as we needed in the beginning of the first half, which is why we fell so far behind.”

But as the minutes passed by, it became clearer and clearer that the Tar Heels could not slow the Irish, who pulled further and further ahead.

“Their back cuts really hurt us,” McDaniel said. “They took it to us.”

Junior guard Madison Cable made two free throws to break the century mark with two seconds left in the game.

The Irish will conclude the regular season Sunday when they travel to face No. 13 North Carolina State (24-5, 11-4), who beat Pittsburgh, 79-68, on Thursday night. The Wolfpack are 14-1 at home (the Tar Heels handed them their only defeat at Reynolds Coliseum on Feb. 16), and all but one of their losses have come from ACC opponents.

Senior center Markeisha Gatling currently leads the Wolfpack with 17.4 points per game and has hit 68 percent of her shots this season. She is also the team leader in rebounds (7.0) and shots blocked (1.1) per game. Her fellow senior, forward Kody Burke, is averaging 15.1 points per game. Burke, a two-time Academic All-American, hit a three-point shot with 11 seconds left that gave the Wolfpack a 68-66 win over Virginia on Sunday.

The Irish close out the regular season against North Carolina State at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C.

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