Notre Dame women's basketball: Irish roll after slow start

Curt Rallo
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- It started with a turnaround jumper by Kayla McBride from the left elbow, about 12 feet from the rim.

Then, Natalie Achonwa swished a hook shot from the right block.

Seconds later, Lindsay Allen went coast-to-coast after snaring a rebound in traffic, deftly switching the ball from left-to-right hand for the scoop layup.

Notre Dame shook off a frigid first-half shooting performance by hitting nine of their first 13 shots of the second half to break away from Clemson for a 71-51 victory in the inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference women’s basketball game for the Fighting Irish. About 4,000 fans braved blizzard conditions to attend the ACC opener for the Irish.

No. 2 Notre Dame (13-0) hosts Boston College (10-5) on Thursday. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. EST. Clemson (8-7) returns home as soon as it can dig its way out of snowbound South Bend to play Georgia Tech on Wednesday. Shortly after the game, Clemson was informed that their flight out of South Bend on Sunday was canceled.

“I think that was a good preview for us of knowing that there is not going to be an easy game in the ACC,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “It’s a great conference, and every team is going to come in and be ready to play us.

“I didn’t think we were as energized as we normally are, and our pace was a little bit off. I think we practiced that way in the last couple of days, and I think we continued to play that way, a little lethargic.”

McBride and Loyd finished with 16 points each after scoring a combined nine points in the first half.

Achonwa had 15 points and 13 rebounds. Lindsay Allen helped with 11 points and four assists. Kelly Gramlich led Clemson with 13 points.

Notre Dame opened the second half with an 18-6 run to forge a 16-point lead, 45-29. Clemson, which lost 74-41 to an Oregon State team that Notre Dame beat 70-58, hung around with a scrappy effort.

Notre Dame struggled in the first half but led 27-23. The Irish, who entered the game leading the nation in field-goal percentage (51.4), hit only 28.6 percent of their shots in the first half (8-of-28). Notre Dame’s top three scorers for the season, Loyd, McBride and Achonwa, were a combined 4-of-19 in the first half (21 percent).

“Halftime was frustrating, and I think we were all frustrated,” McGraw said. “You looked at the stats and you saw a lot of one-for-something on the shooting column. Everyone missed some easy shots they normally make. We settled for a couple of jumpers but just really couldn’t convert, so I think everyone was frustrated.”

Loyd said the Irish locked in on defense to try to turn the offense around in the second half.

“We were definitely trying to focus in defensively and find some energy somewhere,” Loyd said. “I think definitely (Natalie Achonwa) was the one to energize us. Personally, I was just trying to get it done on defense. Offense for me was kind of slow and I wasn’t making shots, so I thought if I locked down on defense it would motivate our offense.”

Notre Dame finished at 45.5 percent after shooting 17-of-27 in the second half (63.0 percent).

Although Clemson worked to take away the Irish transition game, Notre Dame still managed a 12-2 edge in fastbreak points, and a 20-0 advantage in points off of turnovers. The Irish had just seven turnovers, while forcing 15.

Notre Dame had a 36-27 margin on the boards. The Irish had an 18-17 edge in the first half.

Clemson’s game plan of working it deep into the clock and sagging back on defense to take away the back-door option in Notre Dame’s Princeton offense threw the Irish off their stride.

“Well, the game plan going in was to slow the ball, take some air out of the basketball, and slow them down in transition, because we knew we weren’t going to be able to run with them in transition, mainly because of our numbers and obviously this is an outstanding basketball team,” Clemson coach Audra Smith said. “We knew they wanted to get a lot of points in transition. Our goal was to run our offensive sets and not look to score until as late into the shot clock as possible, and we were able to do that.”

CLEMSON (8-7): Nyilah Jamison-Myers 3-6 0-0 6, Chelsea Lindsay 1-5 2-2 4, Kelly Gramlich 5-9 0-0 13, Nikki Dixon 2-5 1-2 5, Chancie Dunn 5-10 0-0 10, Charmaine Tay 4-10 0-0 8, Quinyotta Pettaway 2-4 1-2 5, Jordan Gaillard 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-49 4-6 51.

NOTRE DAME (13-0): Natalie Achonwa 4-9 7-9 15, Ariel Braker 3-4 3-5 9, Lindsay Allen 4-6 3-3 11, Kayla McBride 7-17 1-1 16, Jewell Loyd 6-14 3-3 16, Whitney Holloway 0-0 0-0 0, Kristina Nelson 0-0 0-0 0, Taya Reimer 0-3 2-6 2, Madison Cable 0-0 0-0 0, Michaela Mabrey 0-1 0-0 0, Hannah Huffman 1-1 0-0 2, Markisha Wright 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-55 19-27 71.

Halftime — Notre Dame 27-23. 3-Point Goals — Clemson 3-6 (Gramlich 3-5, Dixon 0-1), Notre Dame 2-10 (Loyd 1-3, McBride 1-5, Allen 0-1, Mabrey 0-1). Fouled Out — Dixon, Pettaway. Rebounds — Clemson 27 (Pettaway 8), Notre Dame 36 (Achonwa 13). Assists — Clemson 8 (Lindsay 5), Notre Dame 15 (Allen 4). Total Fouls — Clemson 22, Notre Dame 12. A — 8,599.

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw watches the action from the bench during a women's NCAA college basketball on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, at the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER