ND Women’s Basketball
Achonwa benched with injury
Observer Sports Staff | Tuesday, April 1, 2014
In a significant blow to No. 2 Notre Dame’s NCAA title hopes, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said that senior forward Natalie Achonwa will not play for the remainder of the season after tearing her ACL in the second half of Notre Dame’s 88-69 win over Baylor in the Elite Eight.
This means that Achonwa, a captain for the Irish (36-0, 16-0 ACC), will miss out on the team’s fourth-straight Final Four. The Irish seniors are one of only six classes in NCAA history to appear in four-straight Final Fours.
Achonwa sustained the injury with 4:51 to go in Monday’s game while going up for a layup.
Baylor sophomore forward Chardonae Fuqua’ fouled Achonwa, who immediately collapsed to the court floor and grabbed her knee in pain.
After being attended to by the team trainer, Achonwa got up without assistance and encouraged her teammates to finish out the game strong, before heading to the locker room. Achonwa had 19 points and 15 rebounds when she left and finished the game as the leading-rebounder for both teams. It was her eighth double double of the season.
At the time, the Irish were leading the Lady Bears, 75-64, and they finished the game on a 13-5 run to secure the victory. Achonwa returned to the bench in warm-ups before the final buzzer and thanked the fans for their support after the win. She was named to the all-region team during the post-game ceremony, alongside senior guard Kayla McBride and sophomore guard Jewell Loyd. Achonwa was also named third team All-American to go with her second team all-ACC honors.
She ranks third in the country in field goal percentage and sixth in program history.
Achonwa underwent an MRI exam Tuesday, which revealed the tear in her left knee. She is scheduled to have surgery and there is no timetable for her recovery.
“Natalie has been an extremely valuable contributor to our success, not only this season but throughout her career, and that won’t change,” McGraw said in an official press release. “While she may not be in uniform, her voice will be heard loud and clear in the locker room, on the bench and in the huddle. I know that our team is going to continue to feed off her energy, passion and leadership as we head into the Final Four.”
In Achonwa’s absence, the Irish will most likely look to senior forward Ariel Braker and freshman forward Taya Reimer to fill in during the Final Four. Reimer averages 7.4 points on less than 19 minutes per game, while Braker has started every game for the Irish this year and is fourth in rebounds on the team.
The Irish will play No. 9 Maryland in the semifinals Sunday. The Terrapins (28-6, 12-4) defeated No. 4 Louisville on Louisville’s home floor Tuesday night to clinch their first Final Four berth since 2006.
The Terrapins and the Irish have already squared off once this year, on Jan. 27, at the Comcast Center in College Park, Md. The Irish prevailed, 87-83, in their narrowest victory of the year to date, after leading by as many as 22 points.
Loyd led the Irish with a career-high 31 points, while Maryland senior guard and All-American Alyssa Thomas scored 29 and added 12 rebounds. In the game, Achonwa was limited to seven points and three rebounds.
The Irish will take on the Terrapins with a berth to the national championship game on the line at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.