Feb. 27, 2014
The second-ranked Fighting Irish continually beat the Tar Heels with back-door plays, shooting 61 percent in the first half and 51 percent for the game en route to a 100-75 victory Thursday night to finish the regular season unbeaten at home.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said the Irish thought the backdoor would be successful against the Tar Heels because they tend to overplay the ball.
“I thought we could have got a couple of more, but I thought we did a pretty good job,” she said. “I thought we kept up our tempo.”
McBride finished with 28 points, just three shy of the career-high she set against Duke on Sunday, and Achonwa added 24 points and eight rebounds.
“They were just really in sync,” McGraw said. “They had a good rhythm going.”
North Carolina associate head coach Andrew Calder said Notre Dame’s speed gave the Tar Heels trouble.
“They’re so good at cutting with speed, a lot like UConn,” he 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.”
Just like against Duke on Sunday, when Notre Dame opened with a 20-2 run, the Irish took control from the start. The Irish (28-0, 15-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) forced four turnovers in two minutes to quickly take a 10-2 lead. Achonwa later scored nine points during an 11-0 run that gave Notre Dame a 31-15 lead. The Irish extended the lead to 22 when Michaela Mabrey hit a 3 late and led 55-38 at intermission.
The Tar Heels (21-8, 9-6) rallied in the second half with a 10-4 run, highlighted by a three-point play by Xylina McDaniel, to cut the lead to 61-51.
McBride hit a jumper to spark a 6-0 spurt as the Irish regained control and eventually led by 28.
“They just come off their screens so fast. That’s just hard to guard,” said McDaniel, who led UNC with 18 points.
Notre Dame had a 46-36 advantage in the paints and scored 28 points from the foul line while North Carolina had just 14.
McBride said the Irish, who already clinched the league title their first season in the ACC, have been more relaxed the past two games.
“We’re just coming out and we’re getting stops on defense and not letting transition baskets and we’re hitting shots early. It was a lot of fun being out there with them today,” McBride said.
The power went out on campus minutes after the game ended, just as Calder was about to address the media.
“We shot the lights out, literally,” McGraw later joked.
Notre Dame shot 52 percent against the Tar Heels, which had been holding opponents to 35-percent shooting. Notre Dame improved to 8-0 against ranked opponents, winning seven of those by double figures.
Diamond DeShields had 17.
The game pitted two of Indiana’s top high school players from last season, with North Carolina’s Stephanie Mavunga of Brownsburg edging Notre Dame’s Taya Reimer of Hamilton Southeastern by five votes to win the IndyStar’s Miss Basketball Award. Neither were big factors on Thursday. Mavunga finished with eight points and four rebounds, while Reimer had six points and five rebounds.
The game was McGraw’s 1,000th as a head coach, improving her overall record to 742-258 and her record with the Irish to 654-217.
“That’s a lot of games,” McGraw said. “It would be really nice if we won 1,000. So talk to me then.”
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame extends the best start in school history (28-0), as well as the second-longest winning streak in program annals (and the fourth-longest by any Fighting Irish athletics team in any sport since 1950) … the Fighting Irish have won 51 consecutive regular season games, as well as 35 consecutive conference games … Notre Dame earns its 26th consecutive home win, the second-longest streak in school history, surpassing the 25-game run from 2003-04 (and now the second-longest active run in the nation following East Carolina’s loss to Middle Tennessee on Wednesday night) … Notre Dame finishes the regular season unbeaten at home for the first time since 2003-04, when it went 13-0 (then added two more wins in the opening rounds of the NCAA Championship) … the Fighting Irish are 8-0 against ranked teams this year, and have won seven of those eight games by double digits … in the past three seasons, Notre Dame is 35-5 (.875) against Top 25 teams … the Fighting Irish were playing back-to-back ranked opponents in the regular season for the first time since Dec. 21 & 29, 2012, when they defeated No. 22 Texas A&M (83-74 in Las Vegas) and No. 11 Purdue (74-47 at Purcell Pavilion) … Thursday’s 25-point margin was Notre Dame’s largest winning spread against a ranked team since Feb. 11, 2013, when it defeated No. 10/11 Louisville, 93-64 at Purcell Pavilion … the Fighting Irish posted their fifth 100-point game of the season (third in ACC play), extending the school record in that category (Notre Dame has 10 triple-digit games in the past three years after compiling 13 in the program’s first 34 seasons combined) … the Fighting Irish scored 100 points against a ranked team for the second time in school history and first since Nov. 24, 1998, when they defeated No. 25/23 Illinois, 101-93 at Purcell Pavilion … Notre Dame improves to 3-1 all-time against North Carolina in the first series game played on the campus of either school … the Fighting Irish are 19-2 (.905) all-time (7-0 at home) against schools from the state of North Carolina, including an active nine-game winning streak … Notre Dame closes out the month of February undefeated for the second consecutive season and moves to 114-28 (.803) in February games (63-6, .913, at home) since 1995-96, with an active 19-game winning streak in the year’s second month … the Fighting Irish shot .606 in the first half on Thursday, the 17th time in 56 halves this year Notre Dame has topped 60 percent from the field in a single half … for the game, the Fighting Irish shot better than 50 percent for the 18th time … Notre Dame scored at least 50 points in a half for the 12th time, including seven times in the first half … the Fighting Irish posted season highs for free throws made (28) and attempted (34), while topping 80 percent at the foul line for the 12th time this season … Notre Dame’s senior class of tri-captains Natalie Achonwa, Ariel Braker and Kayla McBride earned its 129th career win, one shy of the school record set by last year’s seniors (Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner) … McBride narrowly missed becoming the first Fighting Irish player ever to post consecutive 30-point games (she had a career-high 31 on Sunday vs. No. 7 Duke), finishing with her team-high-tying 10th 20-point game of the year … Achonwa logged her sixth 20-point outing this season, winding up two points off her career best (26 at Virginia on Jan. 12) … sophomore guard Jewell Loyd collected her fourth double-double of the season, and second in the past three games … Loyd also extended her streak of consecutive double-figure scoring games to 33 in a row, the second-longest string in school history … forward Taya Reimer became the fourth Notre Dame freshman ever to post 40 blocked shots in her rookie season, and first since 2007-08, when Devereaux Peters had 45 swats … freshman guard Lindsay Allen dished out at least five assists for the 11th time this season … Notre Dame registered its 399th all-time win at Purcell Pavilion, improving to 399-90 (.816) at the facility, including a 76-5 (.938) record since the arena was renovated prior to the 2009-10 season … head coach Muffet McGraw coached her 1,000th game on Thursday, moving to 742-258 (.742) in 32 seasons on the sidelines, including a 654-217 (.751) mark in 27 years at Notre Dame … the Fighting Irish recorded their third sellout crowd of the season (9,149) and second in as many games.