March 07, 2014
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) – Notre Dame made its Atlantic Coast Conference tournament debut look a lot like nearly every other game it played in the league this season.
Jewell Loyd scored 17 points to lead the No. 2 Fighting Irish past Florida State 83-57 in the quarterfinals Friday, keeping them unbeaten with yet another lopsided win in their new league.
Notre Dame (30-0) ran off 21 straight points in the first half, led by 22 at halftime and never let the Seminoles flirt with any sort of a comeback.
The closest thing to a hiccup? Missing their first six shots and falling behind 6-0 shortly before that 21-0 burst.
“I thought we looked a little rusty at the beginning of the game,” coach Muffet McGraw said. “But I thought we pulled ourselves together pretty quickly, had a nice run at the end of the half.”
It marked the 13th time in 17 games that the Irish have beaten an ACC opponent by at least 20 points this season, according to STATS LLC. The Irish beat league opponents by an average of 23 points in the regular season.
Next up is No. 14 North Carolina State, which lost by 24 points at home to the Fighting Irish less than a week ago and could be without top player Markeisha Gatling due to a knee injury suffered in Friday’s quarterfinal win over Syracuse.
The Fighting Irish are the first team since North Carolina in 2007-08 to go unbeaten in the ACC regular season. Notre Dame was so dominant that it also became the first team to win the league race by at least four games since Duke did it in 2001-02.
Senior Natalie Achonwa said her team doesn’t feel pressure to keep the unbeaten streak going.
“I think we took that accomplishment of being undefeated in the regular season and we put it on the backburner, celebrated for a little bit,” she said. “But we have further goals to accomplish so that’s what we’re looking at, and we’re looking forward.”
Kayla McBride added 13 for the top-seeded Fighting Irish, who shot 65 percent before halftime and finished at 60 percent. Notre Dame also had 24 assists on 32 baskets while getting the chance to rest its starters, none of whom played more than 30 minutes.
FSU coach Sue Semrau, now in her 17th season, has been in the league long enough to see those ACC squads that last accomplished what the Fighting Irish are doing.
“They’re, I would say, up there,” Semrau said. “The thing great ACC teams of the past have been able to do was to pass the ball. When you have 24 assists, that’s pretty incredible. Then you’ve got some great scorers on the other side that can knock it down. And then they don’t want to just play up and down, … they want to defend, too.”
Natasha Howard followed up her big second-round performance with 29 points to lead ninth-seeded Florida State (20-11), which led 12-11 before Notre Dame took over.
Howard went for 30 points and 16 rebounds in Thursday’s overtime win against Miami, then made 14 of 22 shots with five rebounds and two blocks in 36 minutes. No other Seminoles player reached double figures, with Cheetah Delgado – who scored 20 against the Hurricanes – going scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting with six turnovers.
The Fighting Irish didn’t need long to put their dominant form on display. After missing their first six shots, Notre Dame made 17 of 20 shots for the rest of the first half, with Loyd going 5 for 6.
Michaela Mabrey (12 points) hit consecutive 3-pointers to start the 21-0 run, while Achonwa followed a short time later with a three-point play.
The Seminoles got as close as 15 four times in the second half, the last coming at 66-51 on Howard’s layup with 6:18 left. But Achonwa answered with a score, McBride hit two free throws and Ariel Braker followed with a layup to push the lead back up to 72-51 with 4:07 to go.
Notre Dame scored 23 points off turnovers and made 7 of 14 3-pointers.
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame has tied the school record with its 30th consecutive win, matching last year’s winning streak, as well as tying the second-longest success string by any Fighting Irish team (regardless of sport) since 1950 … Notre Dame’s senior class of forwards Natalie Achonwa and Ariel Braker, and guard Kayla McBride improves to 131-14 (.903) in its four-year career, setting a school record for wins by one class, surpassing last year’s seniors (Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner), who went 130-20 (.857) during their tenure under the Golden Dome … the Fighting Irish post their fourth consecutive 30-win season (they had two in the first 33 years of the program’s existence) … Notre Dame advances to the semifinals of its conference tournament for the fifth consecutive season and 15th time in the past 26 years, dating back to 1988-89 and the program’s first year in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League (as well as head coach Muffet McGraw’s second season with the Fighting Irish) … since 1988-89, the Fighting Irish are 15-3 (.833) as the No. 1 seed in conference tournament play … Friday’s margin of victory was Notre Dame’s largest in a conference tournament game since March 5, 2012, when it defeated 25th-ranked West Virginia, 73-45 in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. … the Fighting Irish had a 21-0 first-half run, their longest since a similar 21-0 spree at Marquette on Feb. 17, 2013 … Notre Dame improves to 31-5 (.861) all-time against teams from the state of Florida (including an active 12-game winning streak), including a 19-2 (.905) record away from home (road/neutral combined), including seven in a row against Sunshine State schools away from home … the Fighting Irish are 2-0 all-time against Florida State, with both wins coming this season … Notre Dame shot better than 60 percent from the field for the seventh time this season, and first since Feb. 2 (.618 at third-ranked Duke) … the Fighting Irish shot better than 60 percent in a single half for the 19th time this year (.654 in the first half) … for the second game in a row, Notre Dame started slowly with its shooting percentage, but finished on fire, making 32 of its final 47 shots (.681) after missing its first six (the Fighting Irish shot .692 over the final 27 minutes at North Carolina State on March 2) … Notre Dame shot better than 55 percent in both halves for the first time since the Feb. 2 win at Duke (.594 in first, .652 in second) … the Fighting Irish topped 55 percent from the field for the second consecutive game, the second time they’ve done that this year and first since a three-game stretch from Dec. 7-22 vs. UCLA, Michigan and Central Michigan … Notre Dame had at least 20 assists for the 18th time this season … the Fighting Irish had four double-figure scorers for the 21st time this year, improving to 96-5 (.950) in such games during the past five seasons, and wins in 66 of their last 67 outings … Florida State’s 22 rebounds tied a Fighting Irish opponent season low (also by Valparaiso on Nov. 16) … with sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey’s 12 points, Notre Dame had a double-figure scorer off the bench for the 21st time this season … Mabrey had four three-pointers in a game for the sixth time this year, and has 61 treys this season (tied for sixth-most in program history and most since Alicia Ratay’s 81 triples in 2000-01) … freshman guard Lindsay Allen has tied the 29-year-old Notre Dame record for assists by a rookie, matching Mary Gavin’s mark of 116 helpers in 1984-85 … Allen posted her 12th five-assist game of the season, and 21st outing with 0-2 turnovers in a game … sophomore guard Jewell Loyd scored in double figures for the 35th consecutive game, extending the second-longest streak in program history … Achonwa moved into 14th place on the Notre Dame all-time scoring list with 1,448 points, passing Sheila McMillen (1,439 from 1995-99) … sophomore guard Hannah Huffman tied her season high with four points (also vs. Valparaiso on Nov. 16) … junior forward Markisha Wright had six points, her best scoring output since Jan. 16 at Pittsburgh (also six points) … Notre Dame will face No. 14/17 (and fourth-seeded) North Carolina State in the ACC Championship semifinals at 5 p.m. (ET) Saturday at the Greensboro Coliseum — the game will be televised live on ESPNU, while the Notre Dame Radio Network broadcast can be heard live and free of charge on South Bend’s Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) and online at WatchND.