March 02, 2014
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Notre Dame's first run through the Atlantic Coast Conference couldn't have gone any better.
The second-ranked Fighting Irish polished off a perfect debut season in the ACC by beating No. 13 North Carolina State 84-60 on Sunday.
They shot 56 percent and led by 30 after an overwhelming second-half run helped them cap the first undefeated regular season for an ACC school since the 2006-07 Duke team.
In the second half, Notre Dame scored 48 points and shot 64.5 percent.
"It wasn't easy - every game was a battle," Achonwa said. "It's definitely great to be part of the ACC, and I think we just took it in stride and are really excited to be at this point and to be undefeated going into the postseason.
"The season ends now," she added, "and now we're about to start a new one."
Freshman Miah Spencer had a season-high 18 points for the Wolfpack (24-6, 11-5), who missed 10 consecutive shots shortly after halftime and went scoreless for 7 1/2 minutes while the Irish turned a tight game into yet another blowout.
"They're very well-coached, they play hard, and, man, can they shoot the ball," N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. "That's what sets them apart. There's really no weakness, no one that you can cheat off of."
Kayla McBride added 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting for Notre Dame, which in an 11-day span beat each of the four of the North Carolina-based ACC schools by double figures - and three were in the top 15 at the time.
Now the Irish hope to keep rolling through Tobacco Road: They're the top seed in the ACC tournament that starts Wednesday in Greensboro, and with a victory in the quarterfinals they will match a school record with their 30th straight victory.
"I'm so proud of my team and what they've accomplished this year," coach Muffet McGraw said. "Just couldn't be happier with where we are right now. We've still got a long road ahead of us, but I think we need to sit back for a moment and reflect on what we have accomplished."
Ariel Braker added 12 points for Notre Dame, which also became the ACC's first team to go unbeaten in league play since North Carolina in 2007-08, and the first team with 16 ACC wins since Duke in 2002-03.
They finally gave themselves some separation late in the first half, then really broke it open early in the second by reeling off 17 straight points during the transition-fueled 23-4 run that effectively ended it.
Each of the Irish's key players got involved: They led by 10 before Loyd scored on back-to-back drives. Achonwa hit a layup before Loyd hit the first of her two 3-pointers during the burst.
McBride hit consecutive shots, and after Loyd's second 3, Achonwa converted a three-point play to make it 64-35 with 8 1/2 minutes left.
"Once we got down the floor, I was more in the trailer spot, and I just ended up cutting to the basket when they overplayed us," Achonwa said. "It led to easy layups."
Kody Burke finished with 15 points and Markeisha Gatling added 12 for the Wolfpack. As the No. 4 seed in the ACC tournament, they'll earn a rematch with the Irish in the semifinals if the seeds hold.
N.C. State was picked in the preseason to finish 10th in the league.
"I couldn't be more proud," Burke said. "Obviously, we're not first in the ACC but we just exceeded all expectations, and we have a brand new season coming up and a chance to make a statement in the postseason."
After Burke's jumper with 17 minutes left, N.C. State missed 10 straight shots before Spencer finally ended the drought with a jump shot.
That cold spell undid a strong first half for the Wolfpack, who were denied their biggest victory since they knocked off then-No. 1 and undefeated Duke in the 2007 ACC tournament semifinals during their remarkable Kay Yow-led postseason run.
They gave Notre Dame fits up until the final moments of the first half.
With 90 seconds left before the break, the Irish were up just 32-28. They pushed their lead to 36-28 at halftime - just the third time in the past month that their opponent was within single digits of them at the break.
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame completes the first undefeated regular season in the program's 37-year history ... also for the first time in school history, Notre Dame goes undefeated in conference play for a second consecutive season, while this year's 16-0 ACC record is just the third unblemished league mark in program annals (besides last season, the other was in 1989-90, when the Fighting Irish ran the table in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, now known as the Horizon League) ... Notre Dame is the eighth team in ACC women's basketball history (1977-78 to present) to go undefeated in conference play and the first since 2007-08, when North Carolina went 14-0 ... the Fighting Irish are just the fourth ACC women's basketball program ever to go 16-0 in a conference season, and the first since Duke in 2002-03 ... in the past three seasons, Notre Dame has won 36 consecutive conference games (between the BIG EAST and ACC) and is a combined 47-1 in league play during that three-year span, the lone loss being a last-second 65-63 setback to former BIG EAST foe West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion (the game was decided on two free throws by WVU's Brooke Hampton with 4.6 seconds left after she was fouled rebounding a missed Fighting Irish shot) ... for the first time in program history, Notre Dame has won three consecutive games against AP Top 25 opponents (let alone three in a row against top-15 teams) -- the Fighting Irish did defeat three straight ranked teams from Jan. 24-31, 2004 (No. 23/25 Villanova, No. 17/16 Miami and No. RV/23 Boston College), but the last of those (Boston College) was only ranked in the WBCA/USA Today coaches' poll ... Notre Dame improves to 9-0 this season against ranked opponents (5-0 on the road), winning eight times by double-digit margins (average margin of victory against Top 25 is 17.3 points per game) ... in the past three seasons, Notre Dame is 36-5 (.878) against Top 25 teams, including a 14-2 (.875) record on the road ... the Fighting Irish extend the best start in school history (29-0) and the second-longest winning streak in program annals, not to mention tying the third-longest success string by a Notre Dame athletics program since 1950 (the 1965-67 Fighting Irish men's tennis team also won 29 in a row) ... Notre Dame earns its school-record 26th consecutive road win, tying for the fourth-longest run in NCAA Division I history (Texas won 26 in a row on the road from 1985-86 through 1987-88); the Fighting Irish also have won 35 consecutive regular season road games and 42 of their last 47 road games overall ... the Fighting Irish also have won a school-record 24 consecutive conference road games, having gone undefeated on the road the past three league seasons since a last-second 70-69 loss at No. 12/11 DePaul in the BIG EAST regular season finale on Feb. 28, 2011 (the Blue Demons scored the winning basket on a Felicia Chester layup with less than 10 seconds remaining) ... Notre Dame's senior class of forwards Natalie Achonwa and Ariel Braker, and guard Kayla McBride (all tri-captains) has tied the program record for most wins by a senior class, improving to 130-14 (.903) during their four-year career to match the win total of last year's seniors (Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner), who went 130-20 (.867) from 2009-13 ... Notre Dame is 2-0 all-time against North Carolina State in the teams' first meeting since the 1996 Preseason WNIT third-place game (won by the Fighting Irish, 64-53 in Ruston, La.) ... the Fighting Irish are 20-2 (.909) all-time against teams from the state of North Carolina (7-1 on the road), including an active 10-game winning streak ... Notre Dame is 9-1 (.900) all-time when playing in the state of North Carolina (3-0 in the city of Raleigh, following wins over St. Bonaventure and Maryland in the 2012 NCAA Raleigh Regional) ... the Fighting Irish shot .645 from the floor in the second half, the 18th time in 58 halves this season they have topped 60 percent shooting in a single half ... Notre Dame shot .565 for the game, the 19th time this year it has shot better than 50 percent in a game ... Sunday's shooting numbers were even more remarkable considering the Fighting Irish began the game making just 5-of-18 shots (they finished by making 27 of their final 39 attempts, a .692 field goal percentage) ... Notre Dame's 17-0 run in the second half was its longest of the season, topping the 16-0 second-half run against UNC Wilmington in the season opener on Nov. 9 at Purcell Pavilion ... the Fighting Irish shot a season-best .947 from the free throw line (making their first 18 from the stripe before a miss on their final attempt), the fifth-best mark in school history and just missing the program record for free throw efficiency (18-for-18 at Valparaiso on Nov. 30, 2004) ... Notre Dame had four players score in double figures for the 20th time this season, improving to 95-5 (.950) in such games during the past five years, including wins in 65 of their last 66 outings ... Achonwa moved up two spots to 15th place on the Fighting Irish all-time scoring list with 1,437 points, passing both Lindsay Schrader (1,429 from 2005-10) and current Notre Dame assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Niele Ivey (1,430 from 1996-2001) ... sophomore guard Jewell Loyd scored in double figures for the 34th consecutive game, continuing the second-longest streak in school history ... Braker scored a season-high 12 points, including a personal-best 6-of-6 from the foul line ... McBride collected her team-high ninth "5-5-5" game of the season (at least "5" in three of the five major statistical categories -- points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals) ... Notre Dame has earned the No. 1 seed and a double-bye for the ACC Championship, which gets underway later this week -- the Fighting Irish will make their ACC postseason debut at 2 p.m. (ET) Friday at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum with a quarterfinal game against the winner of Thursday's second-round contest between eighth-seeded Miami and No. 9 seed Florida State; Notre Dame's quarterfinal will be televised live on the ACC-Regional Sports Networks (check local listings or theacc.com for presenting affiliates) as well as online at ESPN3 and the WatchESPN mobile app.