March 22, 2014
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TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Every now and then, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw will let her team practice without any fouls being called.
"We want to make them tougher. We don't want them listening to the whistle, we don't want them complaining to the referees," McGraw said. "We do that pretty frequently."
It's not easy for a team like the Fighting Irish to stay sharp when so many of their games turn quickly into routs, but top-seeded Notre Dame showed no sign of any real weakness Saturday in its NCAA tournament opener, beating 16th-seeded Robert Morris 93-42. The unbeaten Irish led 50-15 at halftime.
Michaela Mabrey scored 11 of her 16 points in the first half for Notre Dame (33-0), and Jewell Loyd and Natalie Achonwa finished with 15 each. The Irish are trying for their fourth straight Final Four appearance this year. They'll take on ninth-seeded Arizona State in the second round Monday.
"In the tournament, you can't take anyone lightly," said Ariel Braker, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. "Upsets happen all the time."
Maybe so, but the Irish will have to wait at least one more game - and possibly longer - for a significant challenge in this tournament.
Notre Dame won its previous two first-round games at the NCAA tournament by 31 and 33 points. The margin was wider than that at halftime of this one, with the Irish up by 35. Mabrey made back-to-back 3-pointers during a 25-4 run that made the score 32-8.
"In the tournament, you can't take anyone lightly, upsets happen all the time."
Robert Morris (21-12) shot 27 percent from the field. Greek star Artemis Spanou, one of the top players in Northeast Conference history, was held to seven points and attempted only four shots from the field.
After the game, coach Sal Buscaglia let loose with an emotional opening statement at his news conference, his voice choking up as he went on for about three minutes about his team.
"Notre Dame's great, and all these other people are great, but they do the same thing that they do. They work their tail off for me," Buscaglia said. "Just because we're not Notre Dame - and they're great - because we're Robert Morris doesn't mean that these young ladies don't do everything that they do. Everything they do! Did you ever go and work so hard for two-and-a-half hours, and then have to take an ice bath? Try it. That's what they do. That's what they do for me, and they do for their school."
Spanou became the third player in NEC history to earn player of the year honors in back-to-back seasons, but Notre Dame was ready for her. She played 39 minutes and finished with six rebounds and four assists. But she also turned the ball over eight times.
With less than a minute to play, she came out of the game and went down the line of coaches and teammates on the Robert Morris sideline, receiving hugs.
The Irish did not have any player exceed Mabrey's total of 23 minutes. She shot 6 of 7 from the field and made four 3-pointers.
The Irish outscored Robert Morris 50-8 in the paint.
Anna Niki Stamolamprou led the Colonials with 12 points.
Five Notre Dame players reached double figures in scoring, and 10 played at least 12 minutes.
Any hope Robert Morris had of keeping this game close was pretty much dashed by Notre Dame's outside shooting. The Irish, who came in shooting 40.6 percent from 3-point range, went 10 of 18 from beyond the arc.
Cable went 3 of 4 from long distance, part of an efficient overall performance for the heavy favorites. Loyd shot 7 of 11 from the field and had seven rebounds. Freshman Lindsay Allen had seven assists in 20 minutes.
"You never know with the first NCAA tournament, how the freshmen are going to respond," McGraw said. "Lindsay, she has that poise and that personality of just a steady demeanor the whole game."
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame has matched the longest winning streak by any Fighting Irish team (in any sport) since at least World War II, duplicating the 33-game run by the 2001 Notre Dame softball team ... the Fighting Irish now have won their NCAA Championship first-round game in 17 of the past 19 seasons (1996-2014) ... Saturday's 51-point margin was the largest ever posted by Notre Dame in an NCAA tournament game, surpassing the 98-49 win over Alcorn State in a first-round game on March 17, 2001, at Purcell Pavilion ... the Fighting Irish allowed just 15 first-half points and 42 total points, both the fewest by Notre Dame in an NCAA tournament contest since March 25, 2012, when it limited St. Bonaventure to 13 first-half points on the way to a 79-35 victory in the NCAA Raleigh Regional semifinals at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. ... the 15 first-half points allowed also were a season best for the Fighting Irish, topping the 18 points yielded to North Carolina State in the ACC Championship semifinals on March 8 in Greensboro, N.C. ... Notre Dame's .594 field goal percentage was its second-best ever in an NCAA postseason contest, and highest since March 17, 2000, when it shot .636 (28-44) in an 87-61 first-round win over San Diego at Purcell Pavilion ... Notre Dame set a school record for three-pointers in an NCAA tournament game with 10 treys, topping the nine triples it made twice before (most recently on April 2, 2013, against Duke in the NCAA Norfolk Regional final in Norfolk, Va.) ... Notre Dame's 38 field goals also were the most it has ever made in an NCAA tournament contest, surpassing the 36 baskets against Alcorn State in its 2001 first-round game ... sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey's four three-pointers were the most for a Fighting Irish player in the NCAA tournament since last year's NCAA Norfolk Regional final against Duke, when Skylar Diggins canned four triples ... Mabrey's .857 field goal percentage (6-of-7) was fourth-best ever for a Notre Dame player in the NCAA tournament (minimum of six made field goals) and best since Ruth Riley made all six of her shots in that 2001 first-round win over Alcorn State ... Mabrey's .800 three-point percentage (4-of-5) tied the third-best by a Fighting Irish player in the NCAA tournament (minimum three made) and best since Kaila Turner also went 4-for-5 against St. Bonaventure in the 2012 Raleigh Regional semifinals ... Notre Dame tied its season high with 10 made three-pointers, repeating its previous totals against UCLA (Dec. 7), at Tennessee (Jan. 20) and against Syracuse (Feb. 9) ... Notre Dame's 173 three-pointers this year are tied for second-most in one season in school history and most since 2000-01 (also 173; 178 in 1998-99) ... Mabrey had 69 three-pointers this season, good for fifth-most in one campaign in program history and most since 2000-01 (81 by Alicia Ratay) ... Notre Dame shot better than 50 percent from the field for the 21st time this season, and topped the 60-percent mark in a half (.630 in the second) for the 20th time in 66 halves this year ... the Fighting Irish held Robert Morris to opponent season lows of 42 points and a .269 field goal percentage (Valparaiso scored 46 on Nov. 16; Virginia Tech shot .274 on Jan. 30 )... RMU's 22 rebounds also tied the fewest allowed by Notre Dame this season, done twice before (most recently vs. Florida State in the ACC Championship quarterfinals on March 7 in Greensboro, N.C.) ... the Fighting Irish are 23-2 (.920) all-time in NCAA Championship play when allowing 60 points or fewer, including a nine-game winning streak dating back to the 2010 tournament ... conversely, Notre Dame has reached the 70-point mark in 21 of its last 25 NCAA tournament contests, going 18-3 (.857) in those outings ... the Fighting Irish are 16-2 (.889) all-time as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Championship, as well as 28-5 (.848) all-time as a higher seed in the tournament ... Notre Dame now has won 18 consecutive games against first-time opponents and is 42-3 (.933) against new foes since 2000-01, including an 11-0 record in the NCAA Championship ... the Fighting Irish have won 16 consecutive games against Pennsylvania schools, including all five this season, each of which was played away from home (Penn, Duquesne, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Robert Morris) ... Notre Dame dished out at least 20 assists for the 19th time this season ... the Fighting Irish had at least four double-figure scorers for the 23rd time this year and are 98-5 (.951) in such games dating back to the start of the 2009-10 season, including wins in 68 of their last 69 outings ... sophomore guard Jewell Loyd extended her streak of double-figure scoring games to 38 in a row (second-longest in school history), and moved into 30th place on the Notre Dame career scoring list with 1,039 points, passing Mollie Peirick (1,034 from 1994-98) ... at the same time, senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride had her streak of double-digit scoring games end at 23 consecutive games, the fifth-longest string in program history ... senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa moved into a tie for fifth place on Notre Dame's career rebounding chart with 937 caroms, matching the total by Devereaux Peters from 2007-12 ... Notre Dame's bench outscored its opponent for the 24th time this year, reaching the 40-point mark for the seventh time ... Mabrey and junior guard Madison Cable gave the Fighting Irish at least one reserve scoring in double figures in 23 games this season (total of 28 double-digit games by Notre Dame bench players, including career highs for Mabrey (16) and Cable (6) ... Mabrey's game-high 16 points marked the third time this year a Fighting Irish reserve led all players in scoring, and first since Cable's career-high 21 points vs. UCLA on Dec. 7 at Purcell Pavilion ... freshman guard Lindsay Allen's seven assists tied for the second-most ever by a Notre Dame rookie in an NCAA Championship contest and most since March 21, 2010, when Skylar Diggins had eight assists in her NCAA postseason debut against Cleveland State (an 86-58 win at Purcell Pavilion) ... the Fighting Irish will take on Arizona State in an NCAA second-round game at 6:30 p.m. (ET) Monday at Savage Arena in Toledo, Ohio, with the game televised live on ESPN2 and the WatchESPN platform, while the Notre Dame Radio Network broadcast can be heard live in Michiana on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), as well as online through the official Fighting Irish athletics multimedia platform, WatchND, with veteran broadcaster Bob Nagle on the call ... fans wishing to purchase tickets for Monday's second-round game in Toledo ($20 lower bowl reserved/$14 adult upper bowl reserved/$7 youth and college student upper bowl reserved) should contact the University of Toledo athletics ticket office -- no tickets will be sold through Notre Dame -- either by calling (419) 530-4653 or going on-line to the Toledo athletics ticketing web site (utrockets.com).