Notre Dame women teach UNC a lesson

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Moments after the final buzzer sounded on the Notre Dame women’s basketball game against North Carolina, a campus-wide power outage darkened Purcell Pavilion.

There was certainly no power outage during Thursday’s game, as the No. 2-ranked Irish lit up the scoreboard for a 100-75 victory against No. 14 North Carolina in Atlantic Coast Conference action.

“We shot the lights out — literally — all over campus,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw joked.

Notre Dame seniors Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa scored 28 and 24 points respectively. The game was the 1,000th of McGraw’s coaching career. She is 742-258 in 32 seasons overall, and 654-217 in 27 seasons at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame (28-0 overall, 15-0 ACC) travels to Raleigh, N.C., to play at No. 13 North Carolina State (24-5, 11-4) on Sunday in the regular-season finale. No. 14 North Carolina (21-8, 9-6), hopes to rebound against No. 7 Duke (25-4, 14-3) on Sunday.

Notre Dame, which has already locked up the ACC championship and the No. 1 seed in the conference Tournament, opens play in the league tourney on Friday, March 7, at 2 p.m., in Greensboro, N.C. The loss to the Irish will keep the Tar Heels from gaining the double-bye in the ACC Tournament. UNC will play its first game in the ACC Tournament on Thursday, March 6.

McBride, who hit for a career-high 31 points on Sunday against Duke, scored her 28 points against UNC on a sizzling 10-of-15 shooting and 7-of-8 free throws. McBride hit a fastbreak 3 that capped an 18-4 second-half Irish run to put the Tar Heels away.

Achonwa finished with 7-of-12 shooting and 10-of-14 free throws. She also had eight rebounds.

Jewell Loyd scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds for the Irish, and Lindsay Allen scored nine.

“I was so impressed with Kayla McBride,” McGraw said. “She was phenomenal, yet again, and so was Natalie Achonwa. I thought the two of them were just, really, really in sync. They had a good rhythm going. And on a day when Jewell Loyd didn’t have her best game, she comes up with a double-double. That was great for her.

“I was really impressed with Lindsay Allen’s performance. Her floor game was fantastic. She had a couple of turnovers that were a little uncharacteristic, but she really handled the press well and made some great passes. I thought we got some back-doors when we needed to, and I thought her defense was good, too.”

Xylina McDaniel scored 18 points for UNC.

North Carolina’s heralded freshman class got taken to school by the Irish, who tormented the Tar Heels with back-door layup after back-door layup.

Ranked as the No. 1-ranked freshmen class in the nation, Diamond DeShields, Stephanie Mavunga and Allisha Gray all average in double figures. Against Notre Dame, only DeShields hit her average with 17 points. Mavunga averages 11.2 a game and finished with nine, and Gray averages 14.7 and scored nine. The freshmen were a combined 14-of-36 (39 percent).

McBride said that the Irish took advantage of Notre Carolina over-playing the ball with its pressure defense.

“We knew they were going to switch up the defense a lot, and they like to pressure,” McBride explained. “They’re so athletic in the passing lanes. We knew we could do some dribble action with the back-doors and get some easy buckets.”

Notre Dame’s offense ran through Achonwa, who either made a power move to the hoop and took a lob for the basket, or dished to trigger the back-door.

“There was a lot of aggressiveness in denying the ball,” Achonwa said. “Our plan was to get in the high post and get some back-door cuts. We were throwing off the post to make them think about their defense and how much pressure they were applying to us, to make them step back, and then we got some open shots.

North Carolina chipped away at Notre Dame’s 17-point halftime lead, 55-38, and closed to 61-51. The Irish went on a 6-0 run in span of 51 seconds to gain a 67-51 lead with 13:23 left in the game and rolled from there.

Achonwa and McBride combined for 12-of-16 shooting in the first half as Achonwa scored 16 and McBride scored 15. The Irish opened up with a lightning strike fastbreak off the opening tip, with Loyd taking the tip from Achonwa and dishing off to McBride for the hoop. The Tar Heels were rocked back on their heels by the play, as the Irish bolted to a 14-2 lead.

“We got off to a great start,” McGraw said. “You know eventually they’re going to make shots and things are going to come back into balance, but I thought we did a better job of holding on to the lead.”

North Carolina interim head coach Andrew Calder said that the Irish ran their Princeton offense with precision.

“They’re so good at cutting with speed, a lot like UConn,” Calder said. “They’ll cut with speed and just slip and go. They do a great job reading that. They just do an outstanding job of taking advantage of your mistakes defensively.

“They have an outstanding basketball team. They took us out of everything we wanted to do and tried to do.”

Notre Dame's Kayla McBride moves by North Carolina's Latifah Coleman during Thursday's game at Purcell Pavilion. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

NORTH CAROLINA (21-8): Stephanie Mavunga 3 2-4 8, Xylina McDaniel 5 6-7 18, Latifah Coleman 2 1-2 5, Allisha Gray 3 2-2 9, Diamond DeShields 8 0-0 17, Danielle Butts 1 0-1 2, Brittany Rountree 3 0-0 7, Hillary Fuller 0 0-0 0, N’Dea Bryant 2 0-0 4, Jessica Washington 1 3-4 5, Hillary Summers 0 0-0 0, Erika Johnson 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 28 14-20 75.

NOTRE DAME (28-0): Natalie Achonwa 7 10-14 24, Ariel Braker 1 5-6 7, Lindsay Allen 4 0-0 9, Kayla McBride 10 7-8 28, Jewell Loyd 4 4-4 12, Whitney Holloway 1 0-0 2, Kristina Nelson 1 0-0 2, Taya Reimer 3 0-0 6, Madison Cable 2 2-2 7, Michaela Mabrey 1 0-0 3, Hannah Huffman 0 0-0 0, Markisha Wright 0 0-0 0, Diamond Thompson 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 34 28-34 100.

Halftime: Notre Dame 55, North Carolina 38.

Shooting: North Carolina 28 of 71 (39 percent), Notre Dame 34 of 66 (52 percent); 3-point goals: North Carolina 5 (McDaniel 2, Gray 1, DeShields 1, Rountree 1), Notre Dame 4 (Allen 1, McBride 1, Cable 1, Mabrey 1); Total fouls (fouled out): North Carolina 29 (Rountree), Notre Dame 18 (none); Rebounds: North Carolina 36 (DeShields 9), Notre Dame 45 (Loyd 10); Turnovers: North Carolina 20, Notre Dame 19; Assists: North Carolina 15 (Coleman 3), Notre Dame 19 (Allen 5); Steals: North Carolina 11 (McDaniel 3), Notre Dame 11 (Braker 3, Allen 3, McBride 3); Blocks: North Carolina 5 (Mavunga 3), Notre Dame 5 (Reimer 3).