TOLEDO – In the opener, it was depth.
On Monday night, it was star power.
The Notre Dame women’s basketball team has each component, and together they booked the Irish a fifth-straight ticket to the Sweet 16.
Dominant performances from Kayla McBride, Jewell Loyd and Natalie Achonwa allowed top-seeded Notre Dame to overcome a sluggish first half and cruise past No. 9 seed Arizona State 84-67 in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Savage Arena.
Achonwa had 25 points and 11 rebounds, Loyd had 19 points and seven rebounds, and McBride, the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, racked up 22 points, nine assists and five boards.
On a night the Irish battled turnovers, foul trouble, nerves and deficits of energy, those three were needed to keep an undefeated season alive.
Notre Dame (34-0) will play on its own campus for the regional rounds, beginning Saturday against No. 5 seed Oklahoma State, which defeated No. 4 seed Purdue 73-66 on Monday night at Mackey Arena.
Irish coach Muffet McGraw learned she has a number of cards to play – including three aces in McBride, Loyd and Achonwa.
They’re capable of doing that, McGraw said. That’s why we never worry at halftime. We know they’ll pull themselves out of it. Normally, somebody else on the bench would step up, but in a pressure game like this you have to rely on your Big Three.
When Notre Dame led only 32-26 at intermission – a minor crisis for a team that hasn’t played a game decided by single digits since Jan. 27 – McGraw discovered the reason.
Of the Sun Devils’ 26 points, 17 resulted from second shots or Notre Dame turnovers, McGraw said.
We talked about trying to be a little more in control, McGraw said. We were just careless. We didn’t really play as well as we normally do. I don’t think it was worrisome. We wanted to calm them down.
That happened right away, when McBride found Achonwa for the score McGraw so badly wanted on the first possession of the second half.
From there, Notre Dame created the result everyone expected, and wound up shooting 49 percent for the game to Arizona State’s 38 percent.
The second half, our shooters came out and did exactly what they’re supposed to do: hit some, Achonwa said. Arizona State from the beginning was really competitive and physical. We refocused, and it was great for the three of us to help out our team.
The Irish are the 10th team to carry an unbeaten record into the Sweet 16, and being pushed for a while by Arizona State might keep them sharp.
It’s always good, Loyd said. People are going to bring their A game every night. We expect that. It’s win or go home.