Feb. 23, 2014
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Kayla McBride got No. 2 Notre Dame going early by hitting her first four shots and stopped seventh-ranked Duke's rally late by hitting back-to-back baskets.
In between, McBride did a lot of little things right, such as grabbing seven rebounds, handing out four assists and jumping out of the way when Haley Peters, trapped in the corner, tried to get out of trouble by bouncing the ball off of McBride out of bounds, forcing another Duke turnover.
McBride finished with a career-high 31 points to pace Notre Dame to an 81-70 victory Sunday, giving the Fighting Irish the Atlantic Coast Conference title in its inaugural season in the league.
"We definitely enjoyed that," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said of beating the defending conference champion Blue Devils.
McBride is a huge reason why the Irish (27-0, 14-0 ACC) are still unbeaten.
"Kayla McBride was outstanding again today," McGraw said. "She's had a phenomenal year, but 31 points, she was just amazing. She was unstoppable."
McBride was 6-of-9 shooting in the first half and finished 13-of-25 for the game. The Irish (27-0, 14-0 ACC), who never trailed in beating the Blue Devils 88-67 earlier this month, giving the Blue Devils their first ACC loss at home since 2008, opened a 20-2 lead early on Sunday.
The Irish started the game by making 8-of-13 shots while holding Duke to 1-of-10 shooting with eight turnovers and eventually extended the lead 46-26 on a jumper by McBride with 32 seconds left in the first half.
McBride said the Irish had a lot of energy at the start.
"We were hitting shots. We were getting stops on defense. We were getting in transition," she said. "I think we were just having fun."
Elizabeth Williams, who led Duke with 20, said Duke made too many mistakes at the start.
"We took some bad shots, some quick shots, which fueled their transition," she said. "We just need to learn to be more patient early."
The Blue Devils scored six points in the final 7 seconds of the first half and eventually cut the lead to seven points on a driving layup by Alexis Jones with 11:50 left, but Jones injured her left knee and didn't return. Coach Joanne P. McCallie said the initial diagnosis is a sprained knee, but said more tests are needed.
She said losing Jones hurt.
"Notre Dame is a great team. You don't know what would have happened from there. But I guess I wish I could have seen it," McCallie said. "She's an All-American candidate, a super sophomore and obviously we were a different team when she was gone."
The Blue Devils (24-4, 11-3) cut the lead to seven points twice more, the final time when Kendall McCravey-Cooper hit a jumper to make it 66-59. But McBride answered with back-to-back baskets, one inside, the other a 3-pointer to spark an 8-0 run that put the game away.
McGraw said what makes McBride so impressive is her ability to play every position.
"She's so versatile, she can do so many things and she's so incredibly coachable," McGraw said.
Jewell Loyd, who added 21 points Notre Dame, said the Irish expect McBride to hit her shots.
"She's money. Kayla McBride is money," she said. "Every time she shoots, I think it's going in. So it's fun to be right."
Jones finished with 15 and Richa Jackson added 11. Williams and Jackson had six rebounds each.
McGraw was pleased with the way Loyd defended Duke's leading scorer Tricia Liston, holding her to nine points, less than half her average of 18.4 points a game.
"I was focused on defense and not letting her get any easy touches," Loyd said.
POST GAME NOTES: In its inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference season, Notre Dame clinches the outright ACC regular season title, its third consecutive outright conference regular season crown following back-to-back titles in its final two years as a BIG EAST member (2011-12 and 2012-13) ... Notre Dame is the first new ACC member to win the conference's regular season title in its debut season since the ACC first sponsored women's basketball as a sport in 1977-78 (not counting that inaugural '77-78 season when all programs were "new" for women's basketball and N.C. State won the conference title) ... this marks the first time the Fighting Irish have ever won three consecutive outright conference titles, and just the second time they have won three straight league crowns overall (Notre Dame and Loyola-Chicago shared the 1988-89 Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League title in Notre Dame's inaugural MCC season before winning the next two outright regular season championships in 1989-90 and 1990-91) ... according to STATS, Notre Dame is the first Division I women's basketball program to win consecutive regular season titles in different conferences since 2000-01, when both TCU (WAC and Conference USA) and Louisiana Tech (Sun Belt and WAC) did so ... Notre Dame improves to 7-0 this season against ranked opponents, including a 5-0 record against top-10 teams ... the Fighting Irish have won six of those seven games against Top 25 opponents by double digits, the lone exception being an 87-83 win at No. 8/6 Maryland on Jan. 27 (a game Notre Dame led by 22 points late in the first half) ... in the past three seasons (2011-12 to present), the Fighting Irish are 34-5 (.872) against ranked opponents ... the Fighting Irish post their 25th consecutive home win, tying for the second-longest home winning streak in school history (also from Feb. 1, 2003-Nov. 22, 2004) ... Notre Dame continues its best start to a season (27-0) in program history, and extends the second-longest winning streak in school annals, behind last year's 30-game run ... the Fighting Irish have won 50 consecutive regular season games, as well as 34 consecutive conference games (and 17 straight league home contests) ... Notre Dame moves to 8-1 all-time against Duke (3-0 at home), having won the past six series games against the Blue Devils (and leading from tip to buzzer in both matchups this year) ... the Fighting Irish are 18-2 (.900) all-time against North Carolina schools (6-0 at home) and have won their last eight games against teams from the Old North State ... Notre Dame tops the 80-point mark for the seventh consecutive game and 20th time this season ... Notre Dame handed out at least 20 assists in a game for the 17th time this year ... since 1995-96, the Fighting Irish are 113-28 (.801) in the month of February (62-6, .912, at home), including an active 18-game winning streak in February games ... Notre Dame's senior class of forwards Natalie Achonwa and Ariel Braker, and guard Kayla McBride earns its 128th career win, two shy of the program record held by last year's seniors (Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner, both of whom were in attendance on Sunday) ... McBride scored a career-high 31 points, eclipsing her previous best of 28 points at Iowa on March 26, 2013, in the second round of the NCAA Championship ... McBride is the second Notre Dame player to top 30 points this season, following sophomore Jewell Loyd's two 30-point efforts (30 vs. Central Michigan on Dec. 22; 31 at Maryland on Jan. 27) ... Loyd collected her team-high 10th 20-point game of the season ... Achonwa grabbed the 900th rebound of her career (she has exactly 900), making her the sixth Fighting Irish player to reach that mark ... freshman guard Lindsay Allen now has 102 assists this year, becoming just the second Notre Dame rookie in the past 20 seasons to register 100 assists as a freshman (Diggins had 112 in 2009-10) ... Allen and McBride (104 assists) give Notre Dame two players with 100 assists in the same season for the first time since 2010-11 when Diggins (186) and Brittany Mallory (101) pulled off the feat ... head coach Muffet McGraw coached the 999th game of her career, now owning a 741-258 (.742) record in 32 seasons on the sidelines, including a 653-217 (.751) mark in 27 years at Notre Dame ... the Fighting Irish drew their second sellout crowd of the season (9,149), as well as their 32nd in the past five years and 38th all-time, while also attracting at least 8,000 fans for the 47th consecutive home game.