Boards key in Terrapins' loss to Irish
NASHVILLE - She was their third-leading scorer. She was their third-best passer. She was their leading scorer. The Irish were supposed to miss Natalie Achonwa Sunday night, but their 87-61 win over Maryland showed no signs of slowing down.
Early in the game, Notre Dame struggled inside, giving the Terps all of their first eight points in the paint. But eventually they found their usual stride. From there, they were head-and-shoulders above the competition.
Rebounding, coach Muffet McGraw said Saturday, would be the key to this national semifinal. Each of her players would have to grab one or two more than usual to fill the hole Achonwa left when she tore her ACL in the Elite Eight.
They did more than that.
The Irish won the rebounding battle 50-21. They limited Maryland to just four offensive boards and three second-chance points.
"They were determined this was not going to slow them down," coach Muffet McGraw said.
To make matters worse for the Terps, every time their three-time All-American, Alyssa Thomas, touched the ball she was swarmed. As a result, she was almost completely ineffective.
A senior who averaged 19.1 points, 11 rebounds and 4.2 assists finished her career on a night that she found foul trouble and managed just 14, six and two.
For a while, Maryland's ancillary players were able to keep the ship afloat - Brionna Jones finished the first half with 12 points, Laurin Mincy with nine. But that could only last so long.
Notre Dame outscored the Terps 31-14 over the final 12 minutes of the first half to open up a 17-point lead. Frankly, it was the kind of run folks have come to expect out of UConn - explosive and dominant, stifling on defense and lethal on offense.
And they did it all without one of their best players, and their emotional leader, on the floor. Perhaps that's how the Irish most resembled the Huskies on Sunday night - they were interchangeable.
"Everyone really got together and we knew what we needed to do in order to make up [for missing Achonwa]," senior Ariel Braker said. "Everyone really wanted to play for her and we all came out and just clicked on every level."
Fans often love to fall back on clichÃ©s; that "no player is above the team" is a common one. At least on Sunday, the Irish proved it true.
They were supposed to miss Achonwa. They didn't.
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