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Notre Dame

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Associated Press
Notre Dame’s Natalie Achonwa, left, shoots over North Carolina’s Stephanie Mavunga on Thursday in South Bend.

Irish take backdoor to victory

No. 2 women use patented Princeton play to rout Heels

– Notre Dame seniors Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa gave the younger North Carolina squad a lesson on how dangerous the Princeton offense can be.

The second-ranked Irish continually beat the Tar Heels with backdoor 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 paint 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.

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 was a big factor 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.”

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