ND Women’s Basketball
Irish blow past Maryland, advance to title game
Vicky Jacobsen | Monday, April 7, 2014
“Next man in.”
It’s a favorite saying of Irish football coach Brian Kelly, but on Sunday it was the Notre Dame women’s basketball team that put the philosophy into practice in an 87-61 blowout win over Maryland in the national semifinal at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
Despite losing senior forward Natalie Achonwa to a torn ACL in their Elite Eight win, the Irish (37-0) did not miss a beat as they dominated the boards and outshot the Terrapins (28-7) by 10 percentage points.
“I think I saw it in practice,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said when asked when she knew her team would be able to play without Achonwa. “I saw it the day after [her injury]. When we came back Wednesday for practice, I thought you could see it in their eyes. They were determined that this was not going to slow them down.”Irish sophomore guard Jewell Loyd scored the first basket of the night on a fourth-chance shot. That play would prove to be indicative of the entire evening, as Notre Dame outrebounded Maryland, 50-21, and held the Terrapins to just four offensive boards.
“The biggest key, the thing that we worked on all week against our practice guys was boxing out, really getting a body on someone,” McGraw said. “Not worrying about who’s going to go get the rebound, just putting a body especially on [Maryland senior forward] Alyssa [Thomas], making sure she didn’t get the rebound. So whoever was guarding her, that was their job, just to keep her off, not to get any rebounds.”
Loyd hit a second layup at 18:31, which was answered with a shot from Maryland freshman center Brionna Jones, who would bury the first three baskets of the night for the Terps and finish with 16 points.
The Irish and the Terrapins traded the lead back and fourth, and at 12:31 redshirt junior guard Laurin Mincy hit a jump shot to tie the game 17-17. Over the next seven minutes, the Irish would go on a 16-4 run sparked by senior guard Kayla McBride. McBride finished the game with 28 points.
“Without Ace [Achonwa] in the game, we ran a few more sets than we usually would and tried get [McBride] the ball early on,” McGraw said. “And then when she was playing well we wanted to continue to give it to her. She can really create a lot of shots out of our entire offense. I thought she did a great job in transition, but she was really good on the ball screen today, too.”And while McBride was a huge key to replacing Achonwa’s production, the senior guard insisted she made a point of taking pressure off herself.
“I was just trying to have fun,” McBride said. “The past couple of games I’ve been pressing a little bit. I’m a senior and I felt like I had to do too much. I let the game come to me. But it was a team effort all around.”
The Terps were not able to create a run of their own in the last few minutes of the first half, and as the final seconds of the period ticked down Irish junior guard Madison Cable hit a 3-pointer to give the Irish a 48-31 lead going into the break.
The Irish onslaught continued in the opening minutes of the second half. Twenty seconds in, Loyd hit a contested jumper to stretch the lead to 50-31. McBride hit a layup on the next possession to put Notre Dame ahead by 21.
Unlike the Jan. 27 meeting between the two teams, when Maryland erased a 22-point Irish lead, there would be no second-half 20-point comeback for the Terrapins.
“They just wanted it more,” Maryland freshman guard Lexie Brown said. “They clearly remembered what we did to them last time, so they weren’t going to take us lightly in the second half. We are a second-half team, and they knew that, so they just played harder than us.”
Thomas, Maryland’s all-time leading scorer and a three-time ACC player of the year, finished her college career with an uncharacteristically frustrating night. The senior picked up two fouls in the first half and another two in the first 11 minutes of the second. Her usually excellent shooting suffered for long stretches as she went 5-for-13 from the floor for 14 points, most of those scored after Maryland had fallen far behind the Irish.
“When that happens to Alyssa, at times she has to pull back because she knows she wants to be on the floor. So definitely it was difficult,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said when asked about Thomas’s foul trouble.
While Thomas was struggling to stay on the court, role players like Notre Dame junior forward Markisha Wright took advantage of the limelight. Wright scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
“What a great day to bring it out,” McGraw said of Wright’s performance. “She really was great. I think she’s been ready all year long. … I think this is a moment she’s been looking forward to, the opportunity to go out there and play more than she has been, and she really took advantage of it.”
Cable added seven points, and freshman forward Taya Reimer and freshman guard Lindsay Allen tallied nine apiece.
The Irish will play Connecticut for the national title Tuesday night. The tip-off at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.