Irish survive 1st-half slump to win
Notre Dame’s Natalie Achonwa pulls down an offensive rebound in front of Arizona State’s Joy Burke, left, teammate Ariel Braker, and ASU’s Eliza Norman, in the first half. Achomwa had 25 points.
Notre Dame’s Big 3 was a big tease in the first half Monday.
Foul trouble cut forward Natalie Achonwa’s participation to 11 minutes. Kayla McBride, the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, had five turnovers. Jewell Loyd, the team’s leading scorer, needed 15 minutes before making a field goal.
The second half in Notre Dame’s second-round game of the NCAA women’s tournament was more representative of their true talents.
The Fighting Irish’s All-ACC triumvirate combined for 66 points to nearly outscore Arizona State in a 84-67 rout at University of Toledo’s Savage Arena.
Achonwa finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds in just 27 minutes, while fellow senior McBride came one assist shy of a double double with 22 points. Loyd added 19 points and three steals, helping the undefeated and second-ranked Irish to a berth in the Sweet 16 back home in South Bend, Ind.
“Normally someone else on the bench would step up,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said, adding later, “in a pressure game like this you have to rely on your big three.”
Notre Dame (34-0) will play fifth-seed Oklahoma State.
That game will take place Saturday.
It’s a stretch to say Notre Dame was on the ropes after 20 minutes, but the Irish were struggling to create separation between them an opponent whom Las Vegas suggested was 26.5 points weaker than the region’s top seed.
Twelve turnovers curtailed ND’s transition attack. Starters Ariel Braker and Lindsay Allen went scoreless over 30 combined minutes, making them about as helpful as Achonwa with two fouls. The 6-foot-3 Achonwa had 12 of her team’s first 16 points and went to the bench for the rest of the period. Without her patrolling the paint, ASU held a 17 to 14 advantage on the boards.
ND led at the break 32-26, and Loyd was thinking, “woosa.” It’s a slang term that apparently means to relax.
ND scored the first six points after the break, the first two by Achonwa, the last four by Loyd. Soon, McBride erupted for seven straight ND points.
“They’re capable of doing that,” McGraw said. “That’s why we never worried at halftime. We know if they’re in a shooting slump they’ll pull their way out of it.”
ND went up by 25, its largest lead, on a McBride 3-pointer with 6:24 left. The Irish went without a field goal the rest of the way.
Surviving and advancing is most important this time of year, but the game was not pretty for either team. There were 41 turnovers — ND 22, ASU 19 — as well as 50 fouls called. The Sun Devils didn’t shoot well either, converting just 37 percent. Deja Mann led the way with 16 points.
ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said “obviously we needed to play better to win today” and was pleased with her team’s efforts defending ND’s three stars.
“We needed to execute, take a little better care of the ball, we gave them too many offensive rebounds. Yada, yada, yada,” Turner Thorne said.