Notre Dame women's basketball: Irish jump on Jackrabbits, roll to easy win

Curt Rallo
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - In a one-minute stretch of the first half, starting at the 5:45 mark, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team missed six shots. It was more shots than the No. 2 Irish missed in the first 12 minutes of their game against South Dakota State on Thursday night. Notre Dame hit 17 of its first 21 shots (81 percent) in a torrid first-half shooting performance and went on to rout the Jackrabbits, 94-51. Irish senior guard Kayla McBride turned in an 8-for-8 shooting effort, including two 3-pointers, for 18 points.Natalie Achonwa, a 6-foot-3 senior post, overpowered South Dakota State inside for 13 points and 13 rebounds. She also had six assists. Jewell Loyd had 14 points and six rebounds. Madison Cable scored 13 points for the Irish on 5-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range. Gabby Boever led the Jackrabbits with nine points. Next up for Notre Dame is its inaugural game in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Irish (12-0) host Clemson (8-6) at 2 p.m. on Sunday. South Dakota State, which beat then No. 12 Penn State 83-79 earlier this season, is 9-7. “I thought that the starters came out and played pretty well,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “Madison (Cable) came off the bench and gave us some good minutes. Taya (Reimer) did some good things. I was pleased with the tone we set early on. I thought we got a little sloppy in the second half. That’s going to happen when you sub.” Achonwa’s effort inside set the tone for the Irish, who used their height and physical play to take command early. “I thought Natalie Achonwa really showed what she can do,” McGraw said. “I thought she played really aggressive, really looked for her shot. In the first half, she had six assists and no turnovers. It was really a great half. ... I thought for a minute that she might get a triple-double if she continued to pass as well as she did.” According to Achonwa, hitting the Jackrabbits hard inside early was the game plan. “I think before the game, coach said that we had a height advantage inside,” Achonwa said. “I think one of her keys to the game was pounding it inside. I was able to attack the basket and force them to collapse. Then, it was easy to find some more open players. Once they double team, or even looked at me, players were open. I think our team did a good job of moving and reacting to the defense.” While Achonwa owned the lane and led the Irish to a 60-24 advantage in the paint, McBride scored on a variety of back-door cuts, pull-up jumpers, and a pair of 3’s. “It was just the flow of the game,” McBride said. “My teammates were finding me in open areas. I was just hitting shots. It felt good, though, as a shooter, to go out and hit shots that I haven’t been making recently.” A 27-4 run allowed the Irish to pull away from the Jackrabbits early as Notre Dame forged a 34-8 lead at the 10:38 mark of the first half. It was 59-24 at the break. Notre Dame is the highest-ranked opponent the Jackrabbits have faced in their 47-year program history.The Jackrabbits have been to the NCAA the past five seasons as Summit Conference Tournament champs and despite playing No. 12 Penn State and No. 5 Stanford (an 80-60 loss), they looked flustered early. Starter Mariah Clarin left in the first minute with two fouls and Steph Paluch left two minutes after that with a nose bleed. The Irish then hit the Jackrabbits with an early knockout punch, the 27-4 run. “We just got a little bit rattled early in that game and gave up too many easy baskets, and they were off and going,” South Dakota State coach Aaron Johnston. “They were very well prepared and played very well together.  The very first possession, I think we had three fouls, and then after that, picked up another one. That was definitely a body blow, there. Some of the early back-doors and layups we gave up got us frazzled. We just never got going.” S. DAKOTA ST. (9-7): Mariah Clarin 4-7 0-0 8, Chynna Stevens 3-6 0-0 7, Gabby Boever 3-7 1-4 9, Steph Paluch 1-5 5-5 7, Megan Waytashek 2-10 0-0 5, Megan Stuart 1-2 0-0 2, Kerri Young 1-5 0-0 2, Tara Heiser 0-2 1-2 1, Jessica Hart 0-1 0-0 0, Clarissa Ober 3-8 0-4 6, Chloe Cornemann 0-1 2-2 2, Rachel Walters 0-3 2-2 2. Totals 18-57 11-19 51. NOTRE DAME (12-0): Natalie Achonwa 6-9 1-1 13, Ariel Braker 2-4 2-3 6, Lindsay Allen 1-4 4-4 6, Kayla McBride 8-8 0-0 18, Jewell Loyd 6-13 2-2 14, Whitney Holloway 2-2 0-2 4, Kristina Nelson 3-4 2-3 8, Taya Reimer 4-7 0-0 8, Madison Cable 5-7 0-0 13, Michaela Mabrey 0-11 2-2 2, Hannah Huffman 0-0 2-4 2, Markisha Wright 0-0 0-1 0, Thompson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 37-69 15-22 94. Halftime — Notre Dame 59-24. 3-Point Goals — S. Dakota St. 4-18 (Boever 2-2, Stevens 1-2, Waytashek 1-4, Paluch 0-1, Stuart 0-1, Cornemann 0-1, Young 0-2, Ober 0-2, Walters 0-3), Notre Dame 5-16 (Cable 3-5, McBride 2-2, Loyd 0-1, Mabrey 0-8). Fouled Out — Heiser. Rebounds — S. Dakota St. 28 (Clarin, Ober 7), Notre Dame 53 (Achonwa 13). Assists — S. Dakota St. 11 (Heiser 5), Notre Dame 28 (Achonwa 6). Total Fouls — S. Dakota St. 22, Notre Dame 18. A — 8,867.

Notre Dame players cheer from the bench during the women's basketball game against South Dakota State on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN