March 09, 2014
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) – Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd pulled an Atlantic Coast Conference championship cap over her head.
It fit just as well as that old BIG EAST gear did.
Make it two tournament titles in two leagues and two years for the second-ranked Fighting Irish, who capped their perfect first run through the ACC by beating No. 10 Duke 69-53 in the final Sunday night.
“It’s definitely exciting coming into a new conference and having this impact,” Loyd said. “But it’s just another game. You’re trying to stay focused and not get too caught up … but having fun with it.”
Loyd, the tournament MVP, scored 18 of her 26 points in the second half and Kayla McBride finished with 25.
“I thought Jewell and Kayla McBride were just unstoppable,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
The top-seeded Fighting Irish (32-0) – last year’s BIG EAST champions – claimed their second consecutive conference tournament crown and extended the best start in school history with their third victory over the Blue Devils in five weeks.
Haley Peters had 18 points and Elizabeth Williams finished with 17 points and a season-best 16 rebounds for the second-seeded Blue Devils (27-6).
They shot 44 percent but were just 3 of 12 from the free-throw line and had 20 turnovers that Notre Dame turned into 23 points.
Leading scorer Tricia Liston – who averages nearly 18 points – was held to four on 2-of-11 shooting while being hounded by Loyd.
Duke reached the ACC title game for the sixth time in seven years under coach Joanne P. McCallie, but was denied its second straight championship and fell to 1-9 in the series.
“There’s no limit to what we can do. We just have to own up on some things,” McCallie said. “The turnovers cannot happen. … I don’t think this is a team that wants to be patted on the back. I think this is a team that is a good team, a great team that wants to be even better. And that’s going to come with a little bit of self-reflection.”
Duke’s best chance to claw back into the game came when Ka’lia Johnson went to the line with her team down 10 with 2:23 left.
But she missed the front end of a one-and-one, McBride followed with two free throws, and after a turnover, Loyd hit a fast-break layup to put Notre Dame up 65-51 and send the Irish on their way to their seventh tournament title in their third different league.
They won what’s now known as the Horizon League five times before beating Connecticut in an epic BIG EAST final last March on their way out of that conference.
The Irish and top-ranked Huskies are the last remaining unbeatens this year, and McGraw promised that there’s no way her team will look too far ahead in the NCAA bracket to a possible renewal of that rivalry.
“I don’t think they’ll put us against each other in the first round,” McGraw deadpanned, “so I think we’ll be pretty focused on our opponent – whoever that turns out to be.”
Ultimately, the two Blue Devils most capable of keeping up with Loyd – guards Chelsea Gray and Alexis Jones – were on the bench with season-ending knee injuries.
Loyd, who averaged 19 points in the two previous wins over Duke, had a hand in six of the nine baskets during a 19-4 run early in the second half that put Notre Dame in control.
“I don’t think there’s any question that Jewell’s the best athlete we’ve ever had,” McGraw said. “She does everything.”
She hit two 3s and knocked down a jumper from the free-throw line before her quick pass set up McBride’s jumper in the lane that put the Irish up 38-32 and drew a timeout from Duke with 16:19 left.
Loyd also had a highlight-reel layup off a half-court pass from Lindsay Allen, and her three-point play with 12:05 left pushed the lead to 49-36.
Duke pulled within eight with just under 9 minutes left before Michaela Mabrey swished a deep 3-pointer that restored Notre Dame’s double-figure lead.
By that point, the Irish were well on their way to yet another double-digit win: 30 of their 32 victories were decided by at least 10 points.
They beat Florida State by 26 in the quarterfinals before their 35-point semifinal romp against No. 14 North Carolina State.
“It’s good for us going into the NCAAs. It’s a good momentum boost,” McBride said. “But we know what our goals are; we know what our expectations are, and this was one of them.”
The Irish became the first school to go 19-0 through ACC regular-season and tournament play since Duke in 2001-02 and 2002-03, and all but two of their games were decided by double figures.
That included three one-sided wins over the league’s preseason favorite, Duke.
Notre Dame won the previous two by a combined 32 points, including a 21-point drubbing on Feb. 2 that marked Duke’s first ACC loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 2008 and an 11-point defeat in South Bend two weeks earlier.
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame wins its seventh conference tournament title, and the first Atlantic Coast Conference postseason championship for the school in any sport … the Fighting Irish win back-to-back conference tournament championships for the first time since they won four consecutive Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now Horizon League) titles from 1989-92 … Notre Dame completes a unblemished 19-0 record (regular season and tournament) against ACC opponents, becoming the first ACC school outside the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area (aka “The Triangle”) to pull off that feat since the conference began sponsoring women’s basketball in 1977-78 … the Fighting Irish are the first ACC team to run the table in conference play (regular season and tournament) since Duke in 2002-03 … this is the third time Notre Dame has gone undefeated against conference opposition, doing so in three different conferences (1989-90 MCC; 2012-13 BIG EAST; 2013-14 ACC) … during this year’s 19-0 mark against ACC teams, Notre Dame never trailed at halftime and never trailed by more than six points at any time in those 19 games … Sunday’s 28-28 halftime tie was just the third “non-lead” at the break in any game for the Fighting Irish all season, and first since Jan. 20 at Tennessee, when they trailed 46-41, but came back to win, 86-70 … since making its MCC debut in 1988-89, Notre Dame is 31-9 (.775) in conference tournament games as a higher seed, including a 17-3 (.850) record as a No. 1 seed, with a 7-6 (.538) record in conference championship games … the Fighting Irish were the top seed in the conference tournament for the eighth time since 1988-89, going on to win their fifth postseason crown from the post position … Notre Dame improves to 11-0 this season against ranked opponents (6-0 against top-10 teams) and has won 10 of those 11 games by double digits, the lone exception being an 87-83 victory at No. 8/6 Maryland on Jan. 27 (a game in which the Fighting Irish led by 22 points late in the first half) … in the past three seasons, Notre Dame is 38-5 (.884) against ranked teams … the Fighting Irish extend their school-record winning streak to 32 games, one short of the longest success string by any Notre Dame team in the modern era of Fighting Irish athletics (since 1950) — the softball team won 33 in a row in 2001 … the Fighting Irish were held to a season-low 69 points, one fewer than their output at Oregon State on Dec. 29 … conversely, Notre Dame picked the perfect time to raise its defensive effort, holding all three of its ACC tournament opponents to fewer than 60 points (52.7 ppg. allowed) while improving to 13-0 in such games this season, as well as 291-15 (.951) since 1995-96 when it limits the opposition to fewer than 60 points … the Fighting Irish held Duke, the nation’s leading three-point shooting team entering the game, without a three-point field goal in the contest, the first time Notre Dame has done so since March 26, 2013, at Iowa, when it kept the Hawkeyes without a triple in a 74-57 victory in the second round of the NCAA Championship … Notre Dame committed just 10 turnovers, their second consecutive game with 10 giveaways or fewer, something it last did on Jan. 17 & 21, 2012, against Pittsburgh (9) and Villanova (9) … Duke’s .250 free throw percentage was the lowest by a Fighting Irish opponent since Nov. 20, 2012, when Mercer had a similar performance (on 1-for-4 shooting) in a 93-36 Notre Dame win at Purcell Pavilion … the Fighting Irish improve to 9-1 all-time against Duke, and have won the past seven games against the Blue Devils, including all three this season by double figures … Notre Dame rises to 22-2 (.917) all-time against North Carolina schools, including an active 12-game winning streak … the Fighting Irish are 11-1 (.917) all-time when playing in the state of North Carolina … this weekend’s ACC Championship marked the second and third times this season Notre Dame had to play multiple games with a short one-day break (or less) between contests — since the start of the 2008-09 season, the Fighting Irish are now 44-9 (.830) in the back half of these two-game (or more) blitzes … Notre Dame tied its season low with 12 assists, having also registered that total on Jan. 12 in a 79-72 win at Virginia … for the first time all season, the Fighting Irish did not have at least three players score in double figures … sophomore guard Jewell Loyd became the 33rd player in program history to score 1,000 career points, reaching the milestone on a jumper with 12:12 left in the first half … Loyd (who now ranks 31st in school history with 1,024 points) is the third-fastest Fighting Irish player to 1,000 points, doing so in just 67 games to trail only Beth Morgan (56 games from 1993-97) and Shari Matvey (66 games from 1979-83) … Loyd is only the third Notre Dame player to score 1,000 points before the end of her sophomore season, joining Morgan (who did so in 1994-95) and Skylar Diggins (2010-11) in that elite company … Loyd and senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride both registered their team-leading 11th 20-point games of the season … Notre Dame had two players score at least 25 points in the same game for the first time since March 4, 2013, when Diggins (29) and McBride (26) did so in a 96-87 triple-overtime victory over Connecticut at Purcell Pavilion … McBride moved into sixth place on the Fighting Irish all-time scoring list with 1,767 points, passing Alicia Ratay (1,763 from 1999-2003) … senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa rose to 13th place on the program’s career scoring list with 1,464 points, easing by Sandy Botham (1,460 from 1984-88) … Loyd scored in double figures for the 37th consecutive game (second all-time at Notre Dame), while McBride posted her 23rd consecutive double-digit scoring game, good for the fifth-longest run in school history … McBride also logged her 95th career double-figure scoring game, tying Ratay for sixth on the Notre Dame all-time list in that category … Loyd was named the ACC Tournament MVP, the fifth player in school history to earn top honors in any conference tournament and just the second Fighting Irish sophomore to do so (first since Krissi Davis was the 1989 MCC Tournament MVP, an honor she would repeat in 1991, the program’s only double recipient of such an award) … Loyd also joined McBride on the ACC All-Tournament First Team, the second honor of Loyd’s career (also 2013 BIG EAST) and third of McBride’s tenure (2012 and 2013 BIG EAST, MVP of the latter) … Achonwa was chosen for the ACC All-Tournament Second Team, the first time she has received a conference all-tournament team award … with Sunday’s victory, Notre Dame has earned the ACC’s automatic berth to the 2014 NCAA Championship, with the full 64-team field for this year’s tournament to be announced at 7 p.m. (ET) March 17 live on ESPN.