ND Women’s Basketball
ND to face ‘dangerous’ Terps in Final Four
Greg Hadley | Thursday, April 3, 2014
Without All-American senior forward Natalie Achonwa, No. 2 Notre Dame faces an uphill battle Sunday in the Final Four when they play No. 11 Maryland in the Nashville, Tenn.
Achonwa, who tore her ACL in the closing minutes of Notre Dame’s 88-69 victory over No. 5 Baylor in the Elite Eight on Monday, will have surgery and is out for the last weekend of the season. After Achonwa departed the game, the Irish went on a 13-5 run to close out the Lady Bears.“Natalie Achonwa sets the tone for our team in everything that we do,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “When she went down on the floor and before she even left for the locker room [she] bounced back up and went after the team and really gave them a very spirited talk and encouragement to finish that game. … She knows and she proved to them, it’s not about her, it’s about the team. We talked about it in the locker room yesterday. There were no tears, there’s no mourning. We are ready to move on.”
The Irish (36-0, 16-0 ACC) and the Terrapins (28-6, 12-4) have already gone down to the wire this year, with the Irish coming out on top, 87-83, on Jan. 27, thanks to 31 points from sophomore guard Jewell Loyd.
In that game, Achonwa was limited by foul trouble and finished with only seven points and three rebounds on just 21 minutes.
Maryland, however, has played its best basketball of the season in the NCAA tournament as they seek their second national title, McGraw said.
“They’re very dangerous,” McGraw said. “I think they’re a great team. They’re a team that has really kind of hit their stride lately, and I think they’re playing great basketball.”
The Terrapins rank just 52nd in scoring defense but feature a top-10 offense, led by three-time ACC player of the year and All-American senior forward Alyssa Thomas, who averages 19.1 points and 11 rebounds per game. Against Notre Dame, Thomas had 29 points and 12 rebounds, one of her 28 double doubles on the season, good for second in the country.
“[Thomas is] so good around the basket,” McGraw said. “I think her strength is rebounding. That girl is relentless. She plays so hard. It’s really, really hard to guard her because she’s so active going after the ball. I think you need somebody strong to try and guard her, and we really did a poor job last time. She’s a tough match-up because you’ve got to be physical and keep her off the glass, and that is not an easy task.”
The Terrapins feature eight players over six-feet, including four centers. Freshman Diamond Thompson is the only Irish center, creating a size problem for Notre Dame that McGraw said is an issue her squad will have to address, especially without Achonwa.
“Against a team like Maryland, who is just big and terrific on the boards and a player like Alyssa Thomas, it creates a couple more problems for us,” McGraw said. “We’ve played a four-guard line up before, with foul trouble. It’s been very successful for us last year. We haven’t played it as much this year, because we have so many post players. We’re kind of looking at all the options right now.”
Without Achonwa, freshman forward Taya Reimer will join senior forward Ariel Braker in the frontcourt, while junior forward Markisha Wright will also be called upon to defend Thomas, McGraw said.The matchup with Maryland will mark the sixth trip to the Final Four for Notre Dame and McGrawi, including the past four straight. With a win, the Irish would reach their third NCAA championship game in the past four years.
Notre Dame plays Maryland in the national semifinals Sunday, with a berth to the national championship on Tuesday on the line. Tipoff, in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.