Aug. 8, 2013
BARCELONA, Spain -- It may be Notre Dame's first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but one could hardly blame Natalie Achonwa for getting on the phone to ACC commissioner John Swofford and lobbying for France to be added to the conference before the 2013-14 season tips off in November.
Achonwa scored six of her team-high 13 points in a 12-4 third-quarter run as the Fighting Irish collected their second win in three days on their European tour, pulling away in the second half to defeat the French All-Stars, 75-57 on Thursday night at Pavelo El Moli in Lloret de Mar, Spain (located about 50 miles northeast of Barcelona).
Achonwa also shared team-high honors with nine rebounds in an outing that came slightly more than one year after the senior forward from Guelph, Ontario, posted her best performance for Canada at the 2012 London Olympics with 14 points and eight rebounds in a narrow loss to eventual Olympic silver medalist France.
Senior guard Kayla McBride (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy) added 12 points and nine rebounds, while freshman forward Taya Reimer (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern) nearly came up with her second double-double in as many games, finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds off the bench. Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan) rounded out a quartet of Notre Dame players in double figures, hitting the mark for the second game in a row with 10 points to complement a game-high four steals.
The Fighting Irish used strong defense to push past a determined French side, outrebounding the Europeans, 56-31, including 26 offensive boards. Notre Dame also forced 28 French turnovers, with 21 of those coming courtesy of Fighting Irish steals.
Maud Medenou scored a game-high 14 points, while Kadidia Minte added 11 points and six rebounds for the French All-Stars, a squad that is comprised of professional players (from France's top division) who also compete for their country's Under-18 and Under-20 national teams.
"We're getting exactly what we hoped for and expected out of this tour," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "We're learning a lot about ourselves, what we need to work on and teach as coaches, and how different combinations look on the floor. I've been really pleased with the play of our freshmen so far and I thought Natalie (Achonwa) and Kayla (McBride) looked good out there tonight, too."
"France is such a crafty team," Achonwa said. "They adjust to different defensive looks and are very unpredictable and that makes them hard to guard at times. They also play off each other very well and it challenges you to remain focused and stay sharp out there.
"We saw some glimpses of what we can do in the early part of the second half," she added. "We just need to work on maintaining that effort and focus for the full 40 minutes. Our freshmen are also bringing a lot to the floor and we're getting some good contributions from a lot of different people."
McBride did much of the heavy lifting for Notre Dame in the first quarter, making four of her first six shots, including a three-pointer and an old-fashioned three-point play, as the Fighting Irish took a 12-7 lead midway through the period. The teams then traded runs, with France going on a 9-2 spree, only to be countered by Notre Dame's 10-0 run that carried into the second quarter and was highlighted by Reimer's putback basket just before the end of the first period.
France battled back once again and when Leslie Fournier knocked down a runner in the lane with 1:44 to go in the first half, the Europeans had a 27-26 advantage. However, the Fighting Irish offered a preview of things to come, scoring five of the final seven points in the half to take a 31-29 lead at the break.
Notre Dame then opened the third quarter with their decisive run, as Achonwa hit three layups, senior forward Ariel Braker (Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich./Grosse Pointe North) converted a traditional three-point play and freshman guard Lindsay Allen (Mitchellville, Md./St. John's College) buried a three-pointer from the right wing in the first 3:19 of the second half.
France never got closer than nine points the rest of the way, while the Fighting Irish methodically stretched their lead out to a game-high 24 points on three occasions, the last on Mabrey's two foul shots with 2:29 remaining.
"The French players are really athletic and physical and it was a test for us to match that level of intensity, but I thought we did a good job, especially in the second half," McBride said. "There's a lot we can work on, and that's the point of this tour to see what we need to fix, but it's exciting to see our freshmen picking things up and contributing along with all the veterans we have coming back."
After one more day along the sunny shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Barcelona, the Notre Dame travel party will board a train for the two-hour ride west to the capital city of Madrid on Saturday. The Fighting Irish then will play the final game of their European tour at 10 a.m. ET (4 p.m. local) Sunday against the French All-Stars at the Polideportivo Antonio Magarinos in Madrid. That game will be closed to the public, with no live coverage, but a full recap and statistics will be available following the contest at the official Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com.
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