ND Women’s Basketball
Irish roll Yellow Jackets on emotional Senior Day
Vicky Jacobsen | Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Georgia Tech made a concerted effort to bring down No. 2 Notre Dame on Senior Day, but the Yellow Jackets could not withstand the undefeated Irish, who ultimately won 87-72.
“I think next year we’re going to have Senior Night on the first day of classes, August 27th. There won’t be a game, but we’ll celebrate the seniors,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw joked after the game. “I feel like every year it’s the same thing with the emotion of the moment. I thought we got ourselves together in the second half, but the first half was a little rough.”
Georgia Tech (17-9, 7-6 ACC) grabbed an early 8-2 advantage over the Irish with two 3-pointers from junior guard Sydney Wallace and a jump shot from senior guard Tyaunna Marshall.
“The ACC is the best league in women’s basketball, and every team comes in with that kind of intensity, especially for us, because it’s a chance to beat a top team and everyone is gunning for us. We have a big target on our back,” McGraw said. “At the beginning of the game, I was a little worried when they hit back-to-back threes and got off to a pretty good start, so I was glad they steadied the ship and were able to finish the game.”
The Yellow Jackets were able to hold off the Irish offense for the first five minutes, but then the shots began to fall for Notre Dame (25-0, 12-0 ACC). Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd hit two field goals, and with 11 minutes remaining in the half, sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey hit a jump shot from the outside to tie the game at 10. Less than a minute later, freshman guard Lindsay Allen hit a free throw to put the Irish up for good, then followed that up by making a contested layup and completing the three-point play at the halfway point of the period.
A 3-pointer from Loyd put the Irish up by 10 with 1:46 remaining in the half, and on the next possession, senior Kayla McBride passed to an air-bound Loyd, who sank the layup to give the Irish a 12-point lead, the biggest of the half. The Yellow Jackets, however, got the final work of the period, as sophomore Aaliyah Whiteside hit a 3-pointer to cut the Irish lead to eight going into halftime.
Though Georgia Tech maintained defensive intensity well into the second half, the Yellow Jackets could not keep up with the Irish on the scoreboard. Loyd led off scoring in the second half with a 3-pointer that stretched the lead to 11, and though free throws from Whiteside brought Georgia Tech within eight points, the Irish steadily built a comfortable double-digit lead over the next five minutes.
The Yellow Jackets never recovered, and the Irish led by as many as 22 before settling for a 15-point win. Georgia Tech had to finish the game without sophomore forward Roddreka Rogers and freshman guard Kaela Davis, who together contributed 19 points before fouling out.
Loyd scored 27 points, her eighth 20-point game of the season.
“She had a quiet 27,” Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said. “She is lethal. She gets it done, and you don’t even know she’s getting it done.”
Senior forward Natalie Achonwa celebrated her senior night with 21 points and 10 rebounds, her sixth double-double of the season. Before the game, the Senior Night ceremony included a rendition of “O Canada” for the Ontario native.
“It takes a toll on you, having that break in your warm-up,” Achonwa said of the Senior Night festivities. “But it was fun at the same time, so we got to enjoy it with our teammates and our coaches. … But ‘O Canada’ really was the touching part, and I was really grateful that they did that for me.”
McBride and forward Ariel Braker were also honored during the pregame ceremony.
“[The senior class] has been the heart and soul of this program,” McGraw said. “I think all three of them have contributed in such different ways, and the great thing about this trio is that they complement each other so well. You have a vocal leader in [Achonwa], a leader by example in [McBride], and Ariel is the one that’s going to give the personal touch, and she’s going to keep everybody laughing and everybody loose.
“As you lose seniors, you hope they leave something behind, and this group — there are going to be some giant holes to fill when they’re gone.”
The Irish will be back on the court Thursday when they travel to Winston-Salem, N.C., to take on Wake Forest at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.