March 24, 2014
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) – After a first half that fell short of Notre Dame’s lofty standards, coach Muffet McGraw told her team to settle down.
“We talked about trying to be a little more in control, and gave them a little different offense to run – that we thought might help that,” McGraw said. “In transition, we kept going through the middle of the floor where all the traffic was. We were just careless.”
It was a sloppier victory than McGraw would have liked, but the top-seeded Fighting Irish did pull away convincingly in the second half for an 84-67 win over ninth-seeded Arizona State on Monday night. Natalie Achonwa had 25 points and 11 rebounds, and Notre Dame advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 12th time in the last 18 years.
The Irish (34-0) are now two wins from their fourth straight Final Four – and they’re heading back home. The regional semifinals and final will be played at Notre Dame.
“Our fans, family and friends do so much for us,” Achonwa said. “To be able to go back and play in front of them, I know as a senior it means a lot to me.”
Notre Dame will face fifth-seeded Oklahoma State in the regional semifinals at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.
The Irish have won their last 15 games by double digits, although the Sun Devils (23-10) kept this one close until about midway through the second half. Deja Mann scored 16 points for Arizona State.
Notre Dame led 32-26 at halftime before scoring the first six points of the second. Led by the 6-foot-3 Achonwa, the Irish outscored Arizona State 46-34 in the paint.
Kayla McBride had 22 points and nine assists for Notre Dame.
The Sun Devils committed two early shot clock violations and fell behind 8-2, but Arizona State was able to avoid an early blowout. A 3-pointer by Mann started an 8-0 run that gave the Sun Devils a 15-12 lead and forced Notre Dame to take a timeout.
“We really tried to stick to our game plan and just play them aggressively,” said Arizona State’s Adrianne Thomas, who scored 14 points. “I feel like not a lot of other teams have really pressured them as much as we have.”
Arizona State beat Vanderbilt in the first round despite foul trouble and turnovers, and the Sun Devils put Notre Dame on the line a lot as well. They also committed 14 turnovers in the first half, but they forced 12 by the Irish to keep the game competitive.
Notre Dame’s six-point lead at halftime equaled its largest of the game to that point.
In the second half, Notre Dame shot 53 percent from the field to leave Arizona State behind. The Irish were whistled for seven fouls in the first 4:02 after halftime, putting the Sun Devils in the bonus early, but Arizona State still couldn’t keep up.
“With a team that is so aggressive and pressuring so much, the backdoor is what we were looking for,” Achonwa said. “We worked on it in practice, and Kayla and the rest of the guards did a great job of finding me.”
Jewell Loyd’s layup in transition made it 55-39, and when McBride added a 3-pointer from the left wing, it was 73-48.
In other words, another Notre Dame rout. Loyd finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. Achonwa shot 8 of 10 from the field and fell a point short of her career high, set Jan. 12 at Virginia.
Both teams finished with 22 turnovers, but the Irish had 19 assists to Arizona State’s five. Notre Dame made 25 of 32 free throws.
The deep, balanced Sun Devils had 11 players play at least six minutes but couldn’t wear down the Irish.
“We just didn’t execute as well as we needed to, and then when we did, unfortunately we missed some shots,” Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “Lots to build on in the offseason in terms of just little things that we didn’t do on both ends of the floor – because we want to be where Notre Dame is.”
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame advances to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the fifth consecutive season and 12th time in the past 18 years (one of just five teams in the country to make at least 12 Sweet 16s since 1997, along with Connecticut, Tennessee, Duke and Stanford) … the Fighting Irish have compiled the longest winning streak by any Notre Dame team (in any sport) since at least World War II, surpassing the 33-game run by the 2001 Notre Dame softball team … the Fighting Irish are 43-19 (.694) all-time in NCAA tournament play, including a 29-5 (.853) record as the higher seed and 17-2 (.895) record as a No. 1 seed … Monday’s result comes as little surprise, since Notre Dame’s second-round NCAA tournament games have tended to be a bit closer, with the average margin of victory in its last six second-round games (2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014) being 13.3 ppg. … Notre Dame has scored at least 70 points in 22 of its last 26 NCAA tournament games, going 19-3 (.864) in those contests … the Fighting Irish move to 27-20 (.574) all-time against current Pac-12 Conference schools, while evening their record away from home (road/neutral combined) against the Pac-12 at 16-16 — Notre Dame also has won 24 of its last 31 games against the current Pac-12 membership, including all three games this year (UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State) … the Fighting Irish even the all-time series with Arizona State at 2-2, in the teams’ first meeting since March 21, 2005, when ASU upset Notre Dame, 70-61 in an NCAA Championship second-round game in Fresno, Calif. … senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa took over sole possession of fifth place on Notre Dame’s career rebounding chart with 948 caroms, passing Devereaux Peters (937 from 2007-12) and moved into sixth place on the school’s career double-doubles list with 27 (and team-high seventh this year), breaking out of a tie with Shari Matvey (26 from 1979-83) … Achonwa (who finished one point shy of her career set on Jan. 12 at Virginia) also rose to 12th place on the Notre Dame career scoring list with 1,504 points, passing Ashley Barlow (1,492 from 2006-10) … senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride collected her team-high 12th 20-point game of the season … McBride dished out a career-high nine assists, the most by a Notre Dame player this year and fifth-most by a Fighting Irish player in the NCAA tournament (most since April 2, 2013, when Skylar Diggins also had nine assists against Duke in the NCAA Norfolk Regional final in Norfolk, Va.) … McBride had her team-high 10th “5-5-5” game this season (at least “5” in three of the five major statistical categories — points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals) … sophomore guard Jewell Loyd extended her streak of double-figure scoring games to 39 in a row (second-longest in school history) … Notre Dame narrowly missed having three players score at least 20 points in the same game for the first time since Jan. 7, 1999, vs. West Virginia (Danielle Green-28, Sheila McMillen-26, Ruth Riley-23) … the Fighting Irish will play host to Oklahoma State in an NCAA Notre Dame Regional semifinal game at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday at Purcell Pavilion, with the game televised live on ESPN and the WatchESPN platform, while the Notre Dame Radio Network broadcast can be heard live in Michiana on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), as well as online through the official Fighting Irish athletics multimedia platform, WatchND, with veteran broadcaster Bob Nagle on the call … fans wishing to purchase tickets for any of the NCAA regional games next weekend at Purcell Pavilion (Baylor and Kentucky will meet in the other semifinal at noon (ET) Saturday, with the two Sweet 16 winners advancing to the regional final next Monday, March 31) should contact Notre Dame’s Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office weekdays during normal business hours (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. ET) by calling (574) 631-7356, going online to UND.com/buytickets, or visiting the ticket windows inside Gate 9 (Rosenthal Atrium) at Purcell Pavilion.