Notre Dame women's basketball: McBride lauded for her efforts

South Bend Tribune

Through November, through December, through January, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team racked up victories.

Through that same stretch, no Irish players picked up Player of the Week honors.

After Notre Dame’s Kayla McBride averaged 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists in taking down No. 8 Maryland and No. 3 Duke on the road, and Virginia Tech at home, the 5-foot-11 senior guard couldn’t be ignored.

McBride was named the espnW National Player of the Week and the ACC Player of the Week. She was 21-of-35 (60 percent) shooting in leading the No. 2 Irish to three league wins last week.

“We haven’t had a player of the week until this week, the first of February,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “We joke about it, but we really don’t care about individual awards. We have great balance. Every game, it’s somebody different, and that’s fine with us.

“The award for Kayla is so well deserved. She has played so consistently well all season. It’s great that she’s been honored with these accolades.”

Against Duke, McBride scored 23 points and had 11 rebounds for her first double-double of the season. She also had five assists in helping the Irish hand Duke its first home-court ACC loss in 42 games.

McBride scored 20 points (on 7-of-11 shooting) against Maryland and connected on a deep jumper with 11 seconds left to seal the Irish victory. She scored 18 points in Thursday’s win against Virginia Tech.

For the season, McBride is averaging 17.1 points.

“Kayla has really stepped it up this season,” McGraw said. “Last year, she made a lot of big shots in big games, and has always played well in the big games. This year, she’s just doing it so consistently. Her leadership has really grown. The team respects and listens to her. She’s a great leader by example.”

“She has ice water in her veins. She’s a competitor. She loves a challenge. She loves to compete in big games and play against the other great players.”

According to McGraw, McBride’s ball-handling and passing have made a big difference in Notre Dame starting the season 21-0 (8-0 ACC).

“Kayla was somebody that we looked at in the off-season and wondered, ‘Could she play some point when (starting point guard Lindsay Allen) went out. We have a freshman point guard, is there a time when we want somebody else with the ball in their hands at times.’ We wondered if she could improve her ball-handling to the level that she could play the point, and she really did. She’s very comfortable there.

“She’s gotten in a lot of minutes at the point. She’s handling the ball with confidence. She’s making good passes and good decisions, and it hasn’t affected her scoring.”

McBride and the Irish will be back on the court Thursday when they play at Florida State. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. EST.

Defensive gem

Notre Dame limited Duke to a season-low 39.1 shooting (25-of-64), in beating the Blue Devils 88-67 on Sunday. Duke entered the game second in the nation in shooting (.511).

For comparison, Duke was 41.5 percent (27-of-65) in its 83-61 loss to No. 1 Connecticut on Dec. 17.

“They play hard, play really aggressive, and there’s no lull in it,” Duke’s Tricia Liston said of the Notre Dame defense. “They always have that constant pressure, and are really physical on defense. They are pretty good on the defensive side.”

Lockdown in the lane

Natalie Achonwa’s effort on Duke center Elizabeth Williams spearheaded the Irish defensive effort.

Williams, a 6-3 junior, entered Sunday’s game averaging 14.2 points. She was limited to two points on 0-of-4 shooting and 2-of-4 free throws.

“I thought Natalie Achonwa did a phenomenal job on (Williams),” McGraw said. “(Achonwa) kept her from getting the ball early, kept her off the glass, and then we were able to go at her and try to get a couple fouls, and she got two, so I was really pleased.”

Board battle

Early in the game, Notre Dame was outscored 8-1 in second-chance points. But the Irish turned things around and ended up outrebounding Duke, 41-30.

“It’s just effort on the boards, just the block out, that is all it is, and we just weren’t doing it in the first half,” McGraw said. “They had 10 offensive rebounds at halftime and we talked about that. It was probably the most disappointing stat on the sheet. I thought we got a little better, but still they had a flurry at times where they would get two or three in a row. That’s disappointing.”

Bench production

Irish post Markisha Wright had a phenomenal possession in which she rebounded three Irish misses, and on the third powered to the hoop for a putback. The physical play highlighted a powerful performance by the Irish bench, which outscored Duke, 27-12.

“(Wright) gives a great spark, she came in and got two offensive rebounds back to back and she kicked it out, and then was finally able to finish on her own, so I was pleased with her,” McGraw said. “I thought Taya (Reimer) did a nice job off the bench. The bench really was ready. (Michaela Mabrey) ... hit the 3 and then the shot fake, one-dribble pull-up. I thought those two baskets were really big for us, and she has been doing that for us all year long.”

Finding the 3

In her last two games, Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd is 4-of-7 from 3-point range. In the eight previous games, she was 5-of-17.

Before last week, Loyd had hit multiple 3s only two other times (against Michigan State and Central Michigan).

“I haven’t been really shooting well this year, but if you’re a shooter, you have to let it fly,” Loyd said. “I just try to let my defense lead to my offense. I’m not sure why I haven’t been shooting the 3, but I think I’m playing well. I’m scoring different ways. That always helps.”

Notre Dame’s Taya Reimer, left, and Jewell Loyd react following a 3-pointer by Loyd against Duke on Sunday. (AP Photo/GERRY BROOME)