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ND Women’s Basketball: Notre Dame looks to get past UCLA

By Vicky Jacobsen | Friday, December 6, 2013


After winning their third game over a ranked opponent on Wednesday, the No. 4 Irish return to Purcell Pavilion to take on UCLA at noon Saturday.

The Bruins (3-4) have found mixed results on the court so far this season. The Bruins have shown flashes of potential in their first seven games, which include a victory over No. 17 Oklahoma and a respectable 10-point defeat at the hands of No. 18 North Carolina. But UCLA also lost by 18 points to unranked North Carolina State and was trounced by No. 15 Nebraska, 77-49, in the squad’s season opener on Nov. 8.

But Irish coach Muffet McGraw had measured praise for the Bruins.

“They’re a really athletic team. They’re very young,” McGraw said. “They upset Oklahoma a couple of weeks ago at home, and they’re a very good team.”

McGraw also praised sixth-year senior forward Atonye Nyingifa and sophomore guard Nirra Fields, UCLA’s two leading scorers. Nyingifa is averaging just over 18 points per game, while Fields is close behind with an average of 16.6 points per contest. 

Nyingifa earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors on Nov. 25 after the Bruins beat the Sooners (5-2). She reached or surpassed her career-best in six different statistical categories, scoring 28 points and pulling down 16 rebounds.

Fields banked in the winning shot with two seconds remaining to give UCLA a come-from-behind victory over Grand Canyon (6-2) this past Saturday in the consolation bracket of the Gulf Coast Showcase.

Bruins senior guard Thea Lemberger has also lit up the scoreboard this season with an average of 16.0 points per game.

The Irish (7-0) are still undefeated after a 77-67 victory over No. 10 Penn State on Wednesday. The margin of victory was Notre Dame’s smallest of the year. The Lady Lions, then-No. 19 Michigan State and then-No. 25 DePaul are the only Notre Dame opponents to lose by fewer than 20 points.

Still, McGraw sees room for improvement.

“We’ve got to get better offensively,” McGraw said. “We had been shooting well until [Wednesday], but we’re still not executing as well as I would have liked, so I think that’s the one thing I really want to get better at by Saturday.”

The Irish are shooting just under 50 percent from the floor so far this season, although they only made 37 percent of their shots against the Lady Lions on Wednesday. 

Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd and senior guard Kayla McBride have paced the Irish offensive attack in the first seven games of the season. Loyd has averaged 17.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, while McBride has averaged 15.1 points per game and played a team-high 29.3 minutes per game.

Senior forward Natalie Achonwa missed the first three games of the year after undergoing a knee scope just before the season began, but has averaged 13.3 points and 23.8 minutes played in the four games since her return.

The Irish and Bruins will tip off at noon Saturday in Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at [email protected]