Gilbert scores 24 to lead Notre Dame past Loyola

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Katlyn Gilbert’s rough road to her first career start for Notre Dame stretched through a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery that cost her most of last season, then an ankle sprain and a pulled calf muscle before the start of this season that each cost her chunks of practice time.

None of it showed Friday night, though, as the sophomore guard scored a career-high 24 points in that first start to help power the No. 16-ranked Irish to an 84-60 victory over Loyola of Maryland in their women’s basketball home opener at Purcell Pavilion.

“It’s been a hard start to my career, but I was just glad to go out there and play with my teammates,” Gilbert said. “They just all feel comfortable, nothing forced, and everybody’s working hard for each other.”

Gilbert, who declared herself feeling 100 percent healthy, hit 9-of-15 shots from the field and 6-of-7 at the line to go with six rebounds.

“Just attacking,” the Indianapolis native said of what was working for her. “All our guards can drive and attack, so we just gotta take what they’re giving us.”

Graduate transfer guard Destinee Walker and freshman guard Anaya Peoples each added 19 points for Notre Dame to go with a combined 13 rebounds, seven assists and four steals against just one turnover apiece.

Freshman forward Sam Brunelle finished with 12 points, a game-high nine rebounds and two blocked shots.

“I thought Destinee did some nice things on offense and Katlyn Gilbert is finally finding where she can get her shots from,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought those two really kind of stepped up a little bit. Rebounding-wise we did a pretty good job (a 50-41 advantage on the glass.”

Asked what the negatives were, McGraw responded, “Everything else.”

“I mean, transition defense, we just have complete lack of awareness,” the coach said. “We are not good communicators.”

The Irish (2-0) entered the contest with just seven healthy scholarship players after sophomore guard Abby Prohaska announced Monday that she’s out indefinitely with blood clots in her lungs and junior center Mikayla Vaughn suffered a sprained knee in Tuesday’s opening win at Fordham that is expected to sideline her four to six weeks.

“I thought a couple of them looked tired,” McGraw said of the seven still standing. “I gotta do a better job using the bench, but it’s hard to figure out what the rotation is going to look like, but we’ll get better at that.”

Walker played 37 minutes, Brunelle 34, Gilbert 33 and Peoples 32.

The Irish won their 25th straight home opener.

They jumped to a 19-7 lead through one quarter, were up 40-22 by halftime and stretched the gap to 56-32 by midway through the third period.

The Greyhounds (0-1) completed that quarter with an 11-4 run to get to within 60-43, but got no closer the rest of the way.

Gilbert appreciated the victory, but agreed with her coach that there’s much to work on before Tennessee (2-0) comes to town Monday.

“We don’t compare ourselves to other teams or to wins,” Gilbert said. “We just know what we are capable of, and tonight we didn’t show our full capability. We just have to go back and practice and work.”

Notre Dame finished 33-of-68 from the field for 49 percent, though just 1-of-12 outside the arc, to go with 17-of-24 at the line. The Irish outscored Loyola 15-8 on fast-break points.

McGraw said the effort to push the pace at times was “because we struggle to score, so if we can get easy baskets, that’s great.”

“The offense needs a lot of work,” said McGraw, who was coaching her 1,200th career game and captured her 925th win. “We really are not executing what we are trying to do yet. They don’t remember to set the screens.”

Loyola, which went 7-24 season, was paced by 5-7 senior forward Ashley Hunter with 16 points in just 12 minutes off the bench. She scored 13 of those points in the second half.

The Greyhounds finished 24-of-76 from the field for 32 percent, including 6-of-24 on 3-pointers, and 6-of-12 at the line.

Irish point guard Marta Sniezek had no field goal attempts, scoring both her points from the line, to go with six assists and six turnovers in 29 minutes.

Danielle Cosgrove added eight rebounds and six points in 20 minutes off the bench.

Achonwa in the Ring

Prior to the game, Natalie Achonwa became the sixth former Irish women’s player inducted into the program’s Ring of Honor.

“Coach, thanks for believing in and taking a chance on a little girl from Canada,” Achonwa told McGraw over the public address during pregame ceremonies that included the unveiling of a banner in the rafters to salute the former All-American.

“I gotta look this way,” an emotional Achonwa said at one point, spinning away from some of her supporters, “because my family’s crying behind me.”

The native of Ontario helped the Irish to four straight Final Four appearances, including three national title games, during her career from 2010 to 2014.

“I was able to show you don’t have to score the most points, you don’t have to be the best player on the court or on your team,” said Achonwa, a strong-willed and resolute player renowned for her passing. “You can be a superstar (by) working hard, being competitive. You can be a team player and you can make an impact beyond the stat sheet.”

“It was sad I couldn’t put her in the game,” McGraw said of Achonwa after Friday’s win.

Achonwa, who recently completed her fifth season with the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, joins Ruth Riley-Hunter, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Niele Ivey, Beth (Morgan) Cunningham and Kayla McBride as Ring of Honor inductees.

Notre Dame’s Destinee Walker drives to the basket as Loyola Maryland’s Bri Rozzi defends during Friday night’s game at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center.
Notre Dame’s Anaya Peoples dribbles the ball up court as Loyola Maryland’s Ava Therien defends during Friday’s game at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center.