ND Women’s Basketball
Irish rebounds key to victory over Maryland
Greg Hadley | Monday, April 7, 2014
Just 27 seconds after the opening tip, No. 1-seed Notre Dame had three offensive rebounds and all the momentum against No. 4-seed Maryland.
After losing senior forward Natalie Achonwa to a torn ACL in the Elite Eight, the Irish (37-0, 16-0 ACC) faced the daunting task of replacing their leading rebounder while facing the Terrapins (28-7, 12-4), who ranked third in the nation in rebound margin.
They responded by shutting down Maryland on the boards, collecting nearly as many offensive rebounds (19) as the Terrapins had in total (21). And it all started with that opening possession, when senior forward Ariel Braker, freshman forward Taya Reimer and sophomore guard Jewell Loyd all collected rebounds before Loyd finally sank a layup.
“They set the tone from the first possession with the offensive rebounding and being dominant on the glass,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said.
Without Achonwa, the Irish did struggle to defend the interior at first, surrendering six points to Terrapins freshman center Brionna Jones in the early going. Reimer, who started in Achonwa’s place, picked up a quick foul and sat down in the first five minutes.
But behind the steady play of junior Markisha Wright, who picked up 12 points and nine rebounds after averaging 2.1 points and 1.5 rebounds all year, the Irish steadily pulled away on the boards, ending the game with a 50-21 margin overall.
“I think this was the most I’ve played all year, so I was able to use those minutes to my advantage,” Wright said. “My mindset was to be more aggressive and to get more rebounds.”
Wright’s breakout performance came as no surprise to her teammates, who said she is just as dominant in training.
“[What she did] was nothing,” Loyd said. “Markisha is unstoppable. We see it all the time in practice, so for her to come out here and perform here at the Final Four for everyone, that’s exciting.”
Loyd also enjoyed a good day on the boards, hauling down nine in total, tied with Wright for the game lead. Both Loyd and Wright out-rebounded Maryland senior forward Alyssa Thomas, who entered the game with 28 double-doubles and an average of 11 rebounds per game.
“All of us had that mentality of just rebounding the ball,” Loyd said. “Maryland is really good at rebounding, and Thomas does a great job on the boards and putting it back up, so we focused on keeping her off the glass.”
When Notre Dame played Maryland on Jan. 27, Thomas put up 29 points and 12 rebounds, while Achonwa was limited by foul trouble. This game, the Irish held Thomas to 14 points and six rebounds, and although Achonwa was not on the court, she provided her teammates with a spark from the sideline.
“At the beginning of the game, we talked, and it went beyond just me,” Achonwa said. “I went around the circle, and I asked every single one of them if they wanted to go home anymore, and every single one of them said, ‘No.’ So I said, ‘You put me on your back, you put each other on your back, you need to do it for all 13 people in this ring.’”
Filling Achonwa’s spot in the lineup, Reimer recovered from some early nerves and chipped in nine points, five rebounds and four assists on 30 minutes of work.
“I knew that I was going to be nervous, coming into this environment as a freshman,” Reimer said. “My teammates helped me focus, and I just relaxed and focused and came back.”
Reimer and the Irish will face Connecticut on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. The Huskies rank 12th nationally with a 9.2 rebound margin.