McBride steps up in clincher for Notre Dame women's basketball
SOUTH BEND — Former Notre Dame All-American Skylar Diggins went to an Irish women’s basketball practice and delivered a point-blank message to senior guard Kayla McBride.
“It’s time to step up,” she said.
McBride has, and in doing so helped lift the Irish to the ACC title in their first season in the league. She scored a career-high 31 points to lead the Irish to an 81-70 victory against Duke on Sunday.
No. 2 Notre Dame (27-0, 14-0) has to continue to step up from here on out. The game against No. 7 Duke was the first in a series of key showdowns. The Irish host No. 11 North Carolina on Thursday and play at No. 14 North Carolina State on March 2.
After that, it’s off to the ACC Tournament, in Greensboro, N.C., which starts on March 7 for the Irish, and then the NCAA Tournament.
McBride savored the conference crown, which is Notre Dame’s third straight after capturing the Big East regular-season title the previous two seasons.
“It feels great, especially to win it here at Notre Dame, with the best fans in the country, in my opinion,” McBride said. “It’s definitely really special, to do it for Coach. As a senior, this is amazing.”
After Duke pulled within seven points, 62-55, McBride delivered. She hit six points in a row and helped the Irish gain a 70-59 lead with 6:30 left, and a later 3 pushed the lead to 77-59.
Irish coach Muffet McGraw called the shot a game-winner.
“We see that all week in practice,” said sophomore teammate Jewell Loyd. “She’s money. Kayla McBride is money. That’s cash. Every time she shoots that thing, it’s going in.”
McBride dished the credit for her efforts to her teammates.
“I contribute to my team,” McBride said. “Each day, we come into practice, and I’m pushed and challenged, whether it’s by Jewell (Loyd), Lindsay (Allen), or Ace (Natalie Achonwa), and we’re ready for every single game.
“I think that’s why we’ve been able to step up to these types of challenges; especially with the ACC being such a tough conference, you have to be ready. I give all the credit to my teammates and coaches for having me ready.”
Notre Dame sophomore Jewell Loyd was named both the espnW national player of the week and the ACC player of the week.
Loyd averaged 25.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in three games and hit 51 percent of her shots.
Loyd scored 27 points (on 11-of-17 shooting) and grabbed nine rebounds in Monday’s 87-72 win over Georgia Tech. She had 29 points and 10 rebounds in Thursday’s 86-61 win at Wake Forest. Against Duke, Loyd scored 21 points, hitting seven of her last 13 shots.
Loyd is averaging 18.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 steals this season.
Duke’s Jones out for season
Duke point guard Alexis Jones, who suffered a knee injury Sunday, is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. She is scheduled to have surgery Thursday.
Jones is the second Duke point guard to suffer a season-ending knee injury this season. Chelsea Gray was injured on Jan. 12.
Jones averaged 13.1 points, 5.3 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 steals. In 11 games since replacing Gray, she was averaging 14.4 points, 7.2 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
As the regular season champ, Notre Dame earned the No. 1 seed and a double-bye in the ACC Tournament. The Irish open play in the quarterfinal round on Friday, March 7, at 2 p.m. against either the No. 8 or 9 seed.
“It’s good to get the double-bye,” McGraw said. “That’s important. But this league is so good, that no matter who you’re playing, the 4-5 game, that’s going to be a battle, too. There are no easy games.
“Eight-nine ... Virginia could be a team that we have to face, and we struggled against them earlier. I don’t think there’s any easy road to the ACC championship.”
Notre Dame bolted to a 20-2 lead to open Sunday’s game. The Irish built a 20-point lead, but saw Duke score six points in the final seven seconds of the first half. That cut the Irish lead to 46-32 at halftime.
Richa Jackson highlighted the run when she stole the ball and connected on a half-court heave at the buzzer.
“It was incredibly frustrating, because we were making so many mental mistakes, particularly the last play of the half, just the mental breakdowns,” McGraw said. “They got the momentum. We probably thought about the end of the half a little too much and carried it over to the second half. Scoring became a problem. We missed some shots.”
Notre Dame forced 14 turnovers in the first half that led to a decisive 13-4 edge in points off of turnovers. Duke ended up with 23 turnovers, but the Blue Devils narrowed that particular scoring gap to 19-16.
“Lindsay (Allen) did a really good job on the ball,” McGraw said. “We forced them into crowds. The thing we didn’t do last time we played them was helping on the dribble. We worked on that more and were able to get some tips and control the ball. I think our help defense inside was better. I thought, defensively, we were more aware of where the ball is.”
- Notre Dame is 7-0 against ranked opponents, and 5-0 against Top 10 teams. The Irish have won six of those seven games against Top 25 opponents by double digits. The exception was an 87-83 win against No. 8 Maryland.
- Notre Dame has won 27 games in a row, the second-best winning streak in program history, three games short of last season’s record 30-game streak.
- Notre Dame has won 50 consecutive regular-season games and 34 straight conference games.
- Notre Dame’s senior class — Natalie Achonwa, Ariel Braker and Kayla McBride — has won 128 games, two shy of the program record of 130 set by last season’s seniors — Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner.
- Achonwa became the sixth Irish player to amass 900 rebounds in her career.
- McGraw has now coached in 999 games in her career (741-258, .742 winning percentage).
- Sunday’s game was a sellout (9,149), the second of the season. The Irish have drawn at least 8,000 fans for 47 consecutive home games.
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