Notre Dame women's basketball: McBride gets high marks from DePaul coach

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - When Notre Dame senior guard Kayla McBride took a pass from Irish point guard Lindsay Allen, DePaul coach Doug Bruno knew it was trouble before McBride’s shot from 3-point range swished through the net.

McBride’s 3-pointer capped a 7-0 Irish outburst to start the first half. It took a 45-41 halftime lead to 52-41 in 1:36. McBride helped the Irish go on a 19-5 run that put the No. 5 Irish on their way to a 92-76 romp against No. 25 DePaul on Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion.

McBride finished with 16 points and six rebounds, providing key production at critical points. She is averaging 14.2 points and 7.0 rebounds a game and, according to Bruno, is top WNBA prospect.

“I did get to coach Kayla in the Olympic Trials about six weeks ago, and she was one of the top three players there,” Bruno said. “We didn’t play the Olympians. Tamika Catchings was the only Olympian who chose to play, so the people who played at London didn’t play, but there were still 19 players, most of whom were WNBA players, and (McBride) was easily in the top three. That’s how good Kayla is.”

McBride, who is second on the team with an average of 4.0 assists a game, is being counted on for leadership in an important stretch that started with the DePaul game. Notre Dame plays a tough Duquesne team in Toronto on Saturday, and then plays at No. 13 Penn State on Wednesday, hosts UCLA on Dec. 7, and visits Michigan on Dec. 14.

Strong return

In her first game after being sidelined with a torn meniscus, 6-foot-3 senior post Natalie Achonwa played 14 minutes and scored four points against Pennsylvania.

In her second game, against DePaul, Achonwa scored 17 points and had eight rebounds in 27 minutes.

“It was like night and day, really,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said of the way Achonwa played in the DePaul game, compared to the Penn game. “I think the first game back, you’re just trying to get into the flow of the game. I thought she looked great in practice, but she looked different in the game, and it was a different environment. I think you have to get out and test it and feel comfortable. I think she was able to do that in the Penn game. I feel like she’s 80, 85 percent back.

“For me, the thing I saw that I liked the best was Natalie’s scoring. I knew she was going to rebound. I knew she would do well defensively. The last piece to fit in was the scoring.”

Achonwa said that her recovery has been up-and-down.

“It was a good knee day, as we call them,” Achonwa said of the DePaul game. “I am trying to get that strength back, and I think it will be a season-long thing. I will continue to get better. We have had some great knee days lately."

Bench strength

Notre Dame’s bench accounted for 32 points in the DePaul game. Taya Reimer, who played in her second game off the bench, scored 15 points to lead the Irish bench effort. Reimer, a 6-3 freshman, started three games in Anchonwa’s absence.

Reimer averages 13.4 points a game, and another Irish sub, Michaela Mabrey, averages 10.2 points a game. The Irish have six players overall averaging in double figures.

So far this season, the Irish bench is averaging 23.6 points a game, and is accounting for 34 percent of Irish scoring. Last season, the Irish bench averaged 16.9 points a game and accounted for 21 percent of the team’s scoring. In five NCAA Tournament games last season, the Irish bench averaged 10.0 points a game.

“I thought Madison Cable did a really good job off the bench in the second half, Michaela Mabrey did a great job in the first half, and Taya Reimer had 14 rebounds,” McGraw said. “I think we may have been able to wear DePaul down.

“I feel good about our top eight. I think that we need the bench to be ready every game, to be ready to play major minutes. We’ve got some great guards. We don’t want them to play 40 minutes every game if we don’t have to. We really hope that our depth is going to be a big factor for us.”

Reynolds homecoming

Former Penn High star Kelsey Reynolds, a 5-foot-7 senior guard, scored two points and had three steals for DePaul in Tuesday’s game against Notre Dame.

“Kelsey has been a tremendous asset to our program,” Bruno said. “When she transferred from Boston College, we knew we were getting a good person, and yet, her basketball has been very, very beneficial to us.

“The only knock I have on Kelsey is now that she’s in graduate school, she’s only taking two courses, so she only brings us two A’s this quarter instead of (her usual four A’s),” Bruno joked.

Reynolds, who hosted the team at the family restaurant in Granger, Jimmy’s Pizza and Ribs/Grill 23, said she loved the chance to play at Notre Dame one more time.

“It’s always great to come home,” Reynolds said. “I love that we can host the team. We had them at our house the last time we were here, and we had them at the restaurant this time. During the game, I love that there were like 20-plus people from my family here. It’s always great to see the support.”

Reynolds believes the Blue Demons have a shot at sweeping the Big East regular-season title, and the league tournament, which DePaul will host.

“We’re really excited about the tournament being in Chicago,” Reynolds said. “We think we have a great fan base, and that the tournament will draw a lot of people. This team, there’s an edge. Our goal is to win the Big East. I think everyone is on board with that. They’re motivated. It’s very competitive in practice every day. This team is close as a unit. When we’re on the court, we have each other’s backs. We go hard.”

Irish items

Notre Dame is 2-0 against ranked opponents this season, and the Irish have two of the ACC’s three victories against Top 25 teams. … Notre Dame has won 28 consecutive regular-season games … In lighting up the scoreboard for 92 points against DePaul, the Irish put up their highest point total against the Blue Demons in the 39-game series. … Notre Dame boasts three 50-plus rebound efforts in five games, and the Irish grabbed 49 rebounds against Valparaiso.

Notre Dame's Kayla McBride, right, looks for a shot with pressure from Valparaiso's Jessi Wiedemann, left, and Charae Richardson during the game on Saturday, November 16, 2013, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN