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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame continues success with win over Loyola Maryland despite recent injuries

| Monday, November 11, 2019

On a night when Notre Dame inducted legendary forward Natalie Achonwa into their prestigious Ring of Honor, the Irish defeated Loyola Maryland 84-60. Sophomore guard Kaitlyn Gilbert scored 24 points and grabbed six rebounds, and graduate student transfer gard Destinee Walker added 19 and seven, respectively, to lead the Irish. 

Achonwa, who was known for her tremendous effort and leadership while with the Irish and played on Four Final four teams, gave an emotional speech before the game, which seemed to rally the Irish. Head coach Muffet McGraw quipped after the game that she wished Achonwa could check in.

“It was sad that I couldn’t put her in the game,” McGraw said. “She would turn us into a Final Four team if she was playing. It was great to have her here, to honor her; she’s done so much for the program. It’s always great when the alums come back.”

Junya Kanemitsu | The Observer
Irish graduate student guard Destinee Walker drives to the paint during Notre Dame’s 84-60 win over Loyola Maryland on Friday.

Coming off their 1000th overall win at Fordham, the Irish jumped out to an early lead. The first quarter was rather sloppy, with the teams committing a combined seven turnovers, but Notre Dame led 19-7 after one, thanks to their opportunistic defense. 

Loyola Maryland then opened the second quarter on a 6-2 run to pull within five, prompting an early timeout from McGraw. The timeout revitalized the Irish, who immediately went on a 7-0 run of their own, highlighted by five points from Walker. She would finish with eight points in the quarter, and Notre Dame led at the half by 18 points. 

Both offenses were much more efficient in the third quarter. Notre Dame was able to score the ball inside, but Loyola Maryland was able to knock down multiple threes in the opening minutes. Neither team managed any major scoring runs in the second half, but Notre Dame’s defense continued to disrupt the Greyhounds’ offensive flow. Towards the end of the fourth quarter, the Irish were able to get some of their bench in the game but played with a slim 7-player rotation for most of the game.

“I’ve got to do a better job using the bench,” McGraw said. “It’s hard figuring out what the rotation is going to look like.”

She has had to work virtually from scratch this year, with all five of Notre Dame’s starters from last year’s final four team drafted into the WNBA. 

McGraw was happy with Gilbert and Walker’s performances, but saw a lot of room for improvement for her team.

“I thought Destinee did some really nice things on offense. Kaitlyn Gilbert is finally finding where she can get her shots from. Those two really stepped up. I thought we all did a pretty good job rebounding,” she said.

When asked what concerned her, McGraw answered by saying “everything else.”

“Transition defense, we just have a complete lack of awareness,” she said. “We are not good communicators.”

The defense was shaky at times, but it did hold Loyola Maryland to 32% from the field. 

McGraw also emphasized transition offense as something the team could improve on, as her team managed just 15 fast break points Friday.

“The offense needs a lot of work. We really are not executing what we are trying to do yet. They can’t remember to set the screens in transition,” she said. “We struggle to score. If we could get easy baskets, that would be great.”

Notre Dame will meet another legendary women’s basketball program when the Tennessee Volunteers visit Monday night. Tennessee, the winningest program in women’s college basketball history, has consistently been a force but has fallen off in recent years after iconic coach Pat Summitt retired in 2012. Summit’s passing in 2016 was devastating to the entire college basketball world. Tennessee will still be a challenging opponent for Notre Dame, as they are led by new head coach Kellie Harper, a three-time national champion during her playing career at Tennessee, and are off to a 2-0 start this year. McGraw knows this is a big game for Tennessee.

“They’re a team that’s looking to get ranked. They’re really athletic, and this is a chance for them,” she said.

Notre Dame may have a tough time matching up with Tennessee, as junior Mikayla Vaughn was ruled out for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury. Vaughn, who is 6’3”, is typically the Irish center. This injury came just one day after sophomore guard Abby Prohaska announced she would be out until at least January with blood clots in her lungs. Vaughn’s injury forced freshman Sam Brunelle to move to center, leaving the Irish with a small starting lineup. Tennessee, on the other hand, only has one player on their roster listed as shorter than 6’0, and four of their five starters are above 6’2. 

Notre Dame beat Tennessee 70-62 in Knoxville last season. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the Joyce Center.

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