Notre Dame women's basketball: Achonwa, Irish skate past Dukes

Curt Rallo
South Bend Tribune

TORONTO -- In a Toronto landmark revered as a hockey shrine, a loud statement was delivered about women’s college basketball in America. No. 5 Notre Dame ventured to Canada for Irish senior leader Natalie Achonwa’s homecoming game, and the only thing that slowed the Irish down on Sunday was the customs check on the way out of the country. Notre Dame crushed Duquesne, 100-61, before 933 fans in the basketball complex of the Mattamy Athletic Centre, which is better known as the old Maple Leafs Garden. It was the first time the Irish hit the century mark since a 128-55 romp against St. Francis (Pa.) on Dec. 31, 2012. Next for Notre Dame (6-0) is a road trip to No. 13 Penn State (5-1) on Wednesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Tip-off is set for 7:30 on the Big Ten Network. Duquesne coach Dan Burt said that the Irish showed Final Four potential with their performance on Sunday. “When we scheduled the game two years ago … we wanted to challenge our program and see where our program was,” Burt said. “I do not believe that today was indicative of what our program is capable of, and what we are. However, it’s very clear that Notre Dame is an elite-level, elite-caliber basketball team. If Notre Dame is in the national championship, I will not be surprised.” Achonwa, a 6-foot-3 post who grew up 45 minutes away in Guelph, Ont., put up the 21st double-double of her career with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Kayla McBride led the Irish with 22 points followed by Jewell Loyd (16), Michaela Mabrey (12) and Lindsay Allen (11). “I was really pleased with the win,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “I thought we just shot the ball extremely well. Kayla McBride and Jewell Loyd played very, very well. I thought we rebounded … pretty well. I thought defensively, Wumi (Agunbiade) was a tough matchup for us. We really could do a better job. I think that’s something we have to work on.” Notre Dame dominated against a talented Duquesne squad that hung close with No. 25 DePaul before suffering an 88-77 setback on Nov. 9. The Irish hit 42 of 69 shots for a sizzling 60.9 percent, and outrebounded the Dukes, 43-29. The Irish owned a 14-0 advantage in second-chance points and kicked the fastbreak into high gear for a 20-6 edge in transition points. The Irish bench continued to produce, outscoring Duquesne, 35-5. A festive atmosphere and spirited crowd greeted Achonwa. The time the cheers were hushed was when Achonwa left the court after suffering a cut over her eye at the 14:08 mark of the second half. It happened on a play in which she made a dazzling behind-the-back pass to Taya Reimer for a layup and a 68-24 Irish lead. She returned at the 10:50 mark. “It was just great to be home,” Achonwa said. “For my family and my friends and everyone to be able to come out and watch Notre Dame and see what it means to be in the NCAA, it was great for women’s basketball, and basketball in Canada.” Notre Dame jumped on Duquesne (5-3) from the opening tip, which Allen grabbed and turned into a fastbreak layup. The Irish opened with a 14-2 run. Duquesne missed its first nine shots before Orsi Szecsi hit a jumper at the14:15 mark of the first half. McGraw was especially pleased with the way the Irish attacked at the start. “We were laughing on the bench,” McGraw said. “We scored on the tip for the first time this year. Finally, we were thinking we attacked the basket. That was a good start for us. We missed a couple of shots after that, but then we went on a huge run to open up the game and set the tone early that we wanted.” Leading 47-22 at halftime, the Irish kept up the pressure. Notre Dame slugged Duquesne with a 17-2 run early in the second half to build a 64-26 lead with15:06 left. The Irish hit seven of their first eight field-goal attempts in the half. McBride hit 9 of 15 shots, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range. “I thought Kayla’s offense was effortless,” McGraw said. “She was very patient. She was really smooth. She worked her way open and shot the ball so well. It looked so easy for her today.” McBride said that patience and shot selection were the key to her day offensively. “We were taking good shots,” McBride said. “I know I was very patient. We weren’t forcing shots, and we were getting everybody involved.”At Mattamy Athletic Centre DUQUESNE (5-3): Wumi Agunbiade 8-17 7-8 23, Jose-Ann Johnson 1-4 3-8 5, Orsi Szecsi 8-13 3-3 20, Raegan Moore 1-7 4-4 6, April Robinson 0-4 2-2 2, Amadea Szamosi 0-0 0-0 0, Kyasia Duling 0-0 1-2 1, Angela Heintz 1-6 2-2 4, Belma Nurkic 0-2 0-0 0, Stasia King 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 19-55 22-29 61. NOTRE DAME (6-0): Natalie Achonwa 4-9 3-3 11, Ariel Braker 2-3 1-1 5, Lindsay Allen 4-4 2-3 11, Kayla McBride 9-15 2-2 22, Jewell Loyd 8-12 0-1 16, Whitney Holloway 0-1 0-0 0, Kristina Nelson 1-1 1-3 3, Taya Reimer 3-6 0-0 6, Madison Cable 3-5 0-0 6, Michaela Mabrey 5-8 0-0 12, Hannah Huffman 1-2 1-2 3, Markisha Wright 1-2 1-2 3, Diamond Thompson 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 42-69 11-17 100. Halftime — Notre Dame 47-22. 3-Point Goals — Duquesne 1-9 (Szecsi 1-2, Nurkic 0-1, Heintz 0-1, Moore 0-2, Robinson 0-3), Notre Dame 5-9 (McBride 2-3, Mabrey 2-3, Allen 1-1, Loyd 0-2). Fouled Out — Nelson. Rebounds — Duquesne 29 (Agunbiade, Szecsi 7), Notre Dame 43 (Achonwa 10). Assists — Duquesne 14 (Moore 4), Notre Dame 21 (Allen 4). Total Fouls — Duquesne 18, Notre Dame 26. A — 933. CRallo@SBTinfo.com

Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa, left, slaps hands with teammate Ariel Braker as the starting lineup is introduced before a women's NCAA college basketball against DePaul on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, at the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER