Notre Dame’s Taya Reimer drives past Robert Morris’ Artemis Spanou, left, and keeps the ball out of reach of Kelly Hartwell. Nationally ranked No. 2, the University of Notre Dame (32-0, 16-0 ACC) plays Robert Morris University (21-11, 14-4 NEC) in the fi
The majority of a crowd in excess of 4,000 showed up to watch unbeaten Notre Dame and its marquee backcourt tandem.
They saw just as much of the team’s bench.
Nobody on the top-seeded Irish needed to play major minutes Saturday in a 93-42 thumping of Robert Morris in an NCAA women’s tournament first-round game at the University of Toledo’s Savage Arena.
Ten players logged 12 or more minutes, a statistic that speaks to the surplus of talent housed by the No. 1 seed in the South Bend region.
The Irish, on a championship collision course with fellow unbeaten Connecticut, will keep their act in town for two more nights and face Arizona State on Monday. Tip-off is 6:30 p.m.
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It stands to reason standout guards Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride will see more court time against the ninth-seeded Sun Devils. The All-Atlantic Coast Conference honorees each logged just 20 minutes, giving way to a bench that matched up favorably to the starters of 16th-seeded Robert Morris.
League player of the year McBride avoided the limelight with nine points. Loyd, one of five double-digit scorers for the Irish, delivered a nifty crowd-pleasing layup and finished with 15 points and seven rebounds. The bench, headed by Michaela Mabrey’s game-high 16 points, accounted for 42 points.
“I think we have six to seven people who could start, and probably would start, on different teams,” coach Muffet McGraw said.
McGraw’s practices are a basketball purist’s dream. Three or four times a week she forms two teams, splitting up Loyd and McBride, as well as forwards Natalie Achonwa and Taya Reimer, and orders her assistants to not call fouls because “we want to make them tougher.”
“It’s always competitive,” Mabrey said. “I think that’s what makes our bench really good.”
Mabrey, who shoots a stunning 65 percent from beyond the arc, banked in a 3-pointer at the 5:43 mark for the game’s first 50-point lead — 83-33. Mabrey glanced at her bench with a smile and got one in return.
“They enjoy the journey,” McGraw said. “I think they enjoy banking in a 3 and looking at the bench with a big smile. If they want to have fun it should be fun. It’s not a business for us.”
Only once did Notre Dame not score a bucket over three straight possessions — the first two to close the first half. The Irish grabbed more offensive rebounds in the opening period (11) than RMU’s 10 total rebounds at the time.
The Irish focused their defensive efforts on the Colonials’ top threat, double and sometimes triple-teaming two-time Northeast Conference player of the year Artemis Spanou. Spanou, who had 28 double-doubles in her senior season, managed just four shot attempts and finished with seven points and six rebounds. The Irish turned her over eight times.
With 51 seconds remaining, RMU coach Sal Buscaglia subbed Spanou out of the game, allowing the senior from Greece to receive a warm reception from a couple hundred Colonial fans who made the trip.
“Artemis is irreplaceable,” Buscaglia said. “In a mid-major program, it’s hard to get players like that. We didn’t really expect Notre Dame to double and triple-team her.”
Buscaglia was emotional to begin the postgame news conference, saddened he was saying farewell to Spanou and senior reserves Britta Emberg and Kelly Hartwell. He said he’ll miss sitting in his office late at night and hearing a ball bouncing on the court, knowing Spanou is putting in extra work.
“Notre Dame’s great,” Buscaglia said. “They’re elite. But just because we’re not Notre Dame, because we’re Robert Morris, doesn’t mean these ladies don’t do everything (he repeated the word everything with even more conviction) Notre Dame’s players do.”