Achonwa leads Notre Dame women past Miami

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND-After enduring a sluggish first half, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team slugged back in the second half, surging past Miami, 79-52, Thursday night in Atlantic Coast Conference action.

Natalie Achonwa, a 6-foot-3 senior post, shook off a slow start for 23 points and nine rebounds to help the No. 2-ranked Irish improve to 18-0 overall, 5-0 in the ACC. Miami is 11-8, 3-3.

Next up for the Irish is a trip to No. 6 Maryland (16-2, 4-1), which was upset by Virginia, 86-72, Thursday night. The Irish played Miami without leading scorer Jewell Loyd (16.9 points a game), who suffered a knee sprain on Monday in the Tennessee game. Loyd’s status is day-to-day.

Freshman point guard Lindsay Allen dazzled with a 16-point, five-assist performance. On a night when the Irish struggled to find their shooting touch, Allen hit 5-of-6 shots and was 5-of-5 free-throw shooting.

Kayla McBride scored 15 points for Notre Dame, and Michaela Mabrey and Madison Cable scored 10 points each.

Jassany Williams and Adrienne Motley led Miami with 10 points each.

“I think we have a lot of resolve, a lot of resilience,” McGraw said of the way her team came out and dominated in the second half. “I thought we came out at halftime and made a nice run and got up 20. Then, everybody relaxed and we started to play better. We’re going to be in some battles in this league. Everybody is good. We’ve really got to be ready.”

Allen’s effort impressed McGraw.

“I thought with Jewell out, we needed a little bit more from her scoring-wise, and she stepped up and did it,’’ McGraw said. “She ran the team … she was probably the only one on the team who played not just her game, but played really well. It was one of her best games.”

Allen said she tried to jumpstart the Irish out of their early shooting slump.

“I just tried to provide some energy in the first half when we weren’t making any shots,” Allen said. “We were missing easy layups, chippies we normally make. I tried to get some stuff in transition, some easy baskets, open layups, things like that to just try and get the team going a little bit.”

Achonwa scored 13 of her 23 points in the first half, including a 6-0 run that helped the Irish pull into a 13-13 tie.

“I think it was just going back to the basics,” Achonwa said of getting her shooting touch. “The ones that I was missing inside, I was shooting half floaters, half finger rolls. Coach (Carol Owens) said to just make sure that I was just using the backboard. I just tried to get a better angle to the basket and use the backboard when I was shooting the next three shots (the 6-0 run).”

Notre Dame opened up the second half with a 10-0 run for a 45-26 lead. The Irish hit four of their first six shots and stayed in charge.

It was a different story in the first half, even though the Irish pulled away late to gain a 35-26 halftime lead. The Irish entered the game leading the nation in field-goal shooting, at 51.6 percent. On Thursday, the Irish hit only one of their first 11 shots and were 11-of-32 in the first half (34.4 percent). Notre Dame also had trouble at the free-throw line in the first-half, hitting only 12-of-20 (60 percent).

“This is the first time in a while,” McGraw said of the slow start. “We generally score off the tip. We’ve been pretty effective scoring off the tip. You could just tell, after that first possession, we couldn’t score. I think everybody got a little tight then. That’s when we really needed our veterans to just step up and relax and make shots.”

Notre Dame ended up shooting 29-of-67 (43.3 percent), but was 28-of-56 (50 percent after its 1-of-11 start. The Irish owned a whopping 53-35 rebounding edge.

In its 86-70 victory at No. 12 Tennessee on Monday, Notre Dame committed only 12 turnovers the entire game. In the first half against Miami, the Irish threw the ball away 10 times and ended up with 18 turnovers.

“I was really disappointed in the turnovers,” McGraw said. “That was a lack of focus. It was really disappointing.”

Miami coach Katie Meier said the Hurricanes failed to take advantage of Notre Dame’s rough start.

“We caught Notre Dame on a night when they weren’t playing great in the first half,” Meier said. “We need to be a lot more opportunistic than that if we want to make some noise in this conference this year. I think it was an opportunity lost in the first half a little bit.”

A double-technical foul was called at the 15:04 mark of the second half on Notre Dame’s Natalie Achonwa and Miami’s Adrienne Motley after they got tangled up following a rebound.

MIAMI (11-8): Keyona Hayes 0-1 0-0 0, Maria Brown 1-6 2-2 4, Caprice Dennis 2-14 2-2 7, Krystal Saunders 0-3 2-2 2, Adrienne Motley 4-9 2-2 10, Jessica Thomas 2-5 3-3 7, Tara Schwitter 0-0 0-0 0, Necole Sterling 2-7 2-2 6, Jassany Williams 5-7 0-2 10, Suriya McGuire 3-10 0-0 6. Totals 19-62 13-15 52.

NOTRE DAME (18-0): Natalie Achonwa 7-15 9-15 23, Ariel Braker 1-3 1-2 3, Lindsay Allen 5-6 5-5 16, Kayla McBride 6-16 3-4 15, Michaela Mabrey 4-8 0-0 10, Whitney Holloway 0-1 0-0 0, Kristina Nelson 0-4 0-0 0, Taya Reimer 0-2 0-0 0, Madison Cable 5-8 0-1 10, Hannah Huffman 1-1 0-0 2, Markisha Wright 0-3 0-0 0, Diamond Thompson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-67 18-27 79.

Halftime — Notre Dame 35-26. 3-Point Goals — Miami 1-9 (Dennis 1-3, Thomas 0-1, Sterling 0-2, Saunders 0-3), Notre Dame 3-6 (Mabrey 2-5, Allen 1-1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Miami 35 (Hayes 7), Notre Dame 53 (Achonwa, Braker, McBride 9). Assists — Miami 6 (Thomas 3), Notre Dame 19 (Allen, McBride 5). Total Fouls — Miami 22, Notre Dame 16. Technicals — Motley, Achonwa. A — 8,304.

Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa (11) drives to the basket in front of Miami's Maria Brown during the Notre Dame-Miami women's basketball game Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN