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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish overcome inertia, roll past Sun Devils in NCAA second round

| Monday, March 24, 2014

TOLEDO, Ohio — Seven minutes into the second half, Irish senior guard Kayla McBride’s jumper rolled around the rim and through the hoop. On the next trip, Arizona State sophomore guard Elisha Davis’s layup rolled around the rim and off.

The game had finally gone Notre Dame’s way.

Much like the play of their leading scorer, the No. 1-seed Irish had to fight through first-half struggles to earn a second-round win in the NCAA tournament over the No. 9-seed Sun Devils, 84-67 Monday at Savage Arena in Toledo, Ohio.

Irish senior guard Kayla McBride dribbles up the court during Notre Dame's 84-67 win over Arizona State on Monday night.The Observer | Emily McConville

Irish senior guard Kayla McBride dribbles up the court during Notre Dame’s 84-67 win over Arizona State on Monday night.

Notre Dame (34-0, 16-0 ACC) entered halftime with a 32-26 lead but also with 12 turnovers and a 16-12 rebounding deficit to Arizona State (23-10, 11-7 Pac-12). The Sun Devils even took a brief two-and-a-half minute lead midway through the first frame, the first time the Irish have trailed in the tournament.

“We couldn’t get in transition because we weren’t rebounding in the first half,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We looked at their numbers at halftime, and 17 of [Arizona State’s] 28 points were off either turnovers or offensive rebounds. We told them we just needed to take care of the ball and rebound.”

The Irish responded in the second half by outscoring the Sun Devils, 52-41, hitting 52.9 percent of their field-goal attempts and taking a 25-17 advantage on the boards.

“We did a much better job of honing in on what we were trying to accomplish in the second half,” McGraw said.

In a microcosm of the game, McBride made her first two layups of the night but missed her next 11 shots. However, she closed out the second half shooting 6-of-7 to finish with 22 points and nine assists.

“I think it came down to me being relaxed,” McBride said. “I thought I was pressured a little bit with [freshman guard Lindsay Allen] out of the game, and I felt like I was doing too much. I think in the second half, I just settled down and started taking better shots.”

One of those 11 misses from the ACC Player of the Year was a 3-point attempt that missed the rim, which led to chants of “air ball” throughout the entire game from the Arizona State band.

“Oh, yeah, I definitely heard it,” McBride said with a laugh. “Every single time, all the way up to the last free throw — that was terrible. It was awful.”

Senior forward Natalie Achonwa led all players with 25 points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes on the floor and provided much of Notre Dame’s offense during McBride’s struggles. Redshirt senior guard Deja Mann led the Sun Devils with 12 points.

“We thought she had an advantage, speed-wise,” McGraw said of Achonwa. “We thought she could put it on the floor and drive by them. We were looking for her to get it on the move, off the dribble. She was really able to get it going in the second half.”

While a large part of Notre Dame’s 93 points in the first round Saturday against Robert Morris came from the bench, non-starters contributed only 12 Monday. Achonwa, McBride and sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (19) totaled 66 points for the Irish.

“They’re capable of doing that,” McGraw said of her three leading scorers. “That’s why we don’t worry if they are in a little bit of a shooting slump. We know they will pull themselves out of it.

“In a pressure game like this, you’ve got to rely on your big three.”

In addition to overcoming its early offensive woes, Notre Dame also had to battle with foul trouble for much of the game.

Arizona State hit the bonus just a little over four minutes into the second half, and at that point, McBride, Achonwa and senior forward Ariel Braker each had two fouls, while Allen and freshman forward Taya Reimer had both picked up three. No Irish players fouled out, however.

“No matter what the circumstances in the game, it’s always hard to sit on the bench,” Achonwa said. “But I think the team did a great job of responding and picked up the responsibility.”

With the win, the Irish advance to the Sweet Sixteen to face No. 5-seed Oklahoma State (25-8, 11-7 Big 12) on the familiar hardwood of Purcell Pavilion.

“Our fans, family and friends do so much for us, so to be able to go back and play in front of them as a senior means a lot to me, and I know Kayla and Ariel are the same way,” Achonwa said. “To be on our home court is going to be really exciting.”

Notre Dame, looking to extend its undefeated season and move on to the Elite Eight, takes on the Cowgirls on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Mary Green at mgreen8@nd.edu

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Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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