Aug. 11, 2013
MADRID -- One of the highlights of the Notre Dame women's basketball team's 2013 European tour was a visit to La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, a majestic Roman Catholic basilica that began to take shape in the latter part of the 19th century, but remains unfinished and could continue in that form until at least 2026.
In much the same way, this year's version of the Fighting Irish is unfinished, although they took steps in a positive direction during their 10-day trip to Europe, capped off Sunday afternoon with a wire-to-wire 75-67 victory over the French All-Stars at Polideportivo Antonio Margarinos in Madrid. Notre Dame won all three games on this summer's European tour, the last two against the French side that is comprised of young professional players who also suit up for France's Under-20, Under-18 and 3x3 World Championship teams.
Senior guard Kayla McBride (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy) led all scorers with 21 points, while grabbing a team-high seven rebounds for Notre Dame. Senior forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary's Catholic) added 13 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots, while junior guard Madison Cable (Mt. Lebanon, Pa./Mt. Lebanon) dropped in 11 points for the Fighting Irish.
Playing in oppressive triple-digit heat in a gym that was not air-conditioned, Notre Dame worked hard to win the battle on the boards for the third time in as many games, owning a 42-29 rebounding edge against the French. The Fighting Irish also collected 18 assists on 25 field goals, led by freshman guard Lindsay Allen (Mitchellville, Md./St. John's College), who handed out a game-high six assists to go along with six points and a game-best three steals (part of Notre Dame's 13 steals on the afternoon).
Kadidia Minte led the French All-Stars with 17 points and a game-high nine rebounds, while Alex Tchangoue tallied 12 points and Maud Medenou chipped in 10 points.
"We had some ups and downs throughout all three games on this tour, but at the end of the day, we found ways to execute at critical times and came away with three wins," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "We're going to have a lot of film to look at when we get back to campus, and plenty of things we can work on between now and the start of our regular season, but this was encouraging for us to start getting everyone integrated into our system and playing against some quality competition. I think all of our players have areas that they'll be pleased with, and those they can improve on, and we now have the benefit of three months' time to work on those before the season begins."
"This was probably our toughest game of the three on this trip," McBride said. "It was really hot in the gym, the floor was slippery at times, and you have an opponent like the French team that saw us just a few days ago and knows us better than maybe another different opponent would on a trip like this. But that's part of the challenge of playing these games, and we got some big stops when it mattered, made the shots we had to, and got the win."
Several of those key stops came in the fourth quarter, when France trimmed the Notre Dame lead (which had reached as high as 15 points) to 68-65 with three minutes left. Senior forward Ariel Braker (Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich./Grosse Pointe North) then came up with two critical rebounds (one offensive) and a steal down the stretch, as the Fighting Irish withstood the rally, ending the game on a 7-2 run to preserve the win.
"My defense is very important to me, and I'm glad I was able to contribute at a time in the game when we really needed to lock them down," Braker said. "It definitely wasn't our cleanest game and I think we're still understanding each other's tendencies, which takes time. It's not something that we were expecting to happen overnight, but we're making progress and that's something we'll definitely look to build on when we get back home and start practicing for the upcoming season."
Notre Dame looked like it was going to run the French side right out of the gym in the first quarter, racing out to a 15-5 lead when junior forward Markisha Wright (Des Moines, Iowa/Des Moines East) knocked down two free throws with 3:46 left in the period. McBride had six points and freshman forward Taya Reimer (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern) added four points in the game-opening run.
The Fighting Irish kept the French All-Stars at arm's length into the second quarter, as Reimer's layup had the American side ahead, 27-17 with 7:15 remaining in the first half. However, France responded with an 8-0 run over the next 80 seconds before Achonwa put a stop to the spree with an old-fashioned three-point play at the 4:51 mark, helping Notre Dame take a 36-31 lead at halftime.
The French squad used some hot shooting from the three-point line early in the third quarter to completely erase their deficit, tying the game at 39-39 on Melissa Mendes' triple with 6:43 to go in the period.
Yet, that would be the only time France would draw level in the game, as the Fighting Irish countered with a 23-8 run during the next six minutes, punctuated by McBride's three-pointer from NBA range with 47 seconds remaining. However, the French All-Stars didn't go quietly, scoring the final five points of the quarter, the last on a half-court shot by Victoria Majekodunmi at the buzzer.
Cable's layup 52 seconds into the final quarter gave Notre Dame a 64-53 lead, but the Fighting Irish then went cold, while France strung together a 10-2 run to get within one possession midway through the period. The Notre Dame defense then rose up, with Achonwa getting a rebound and a block on the next two French possessions, followed by a layup. McBride then drove the dagger with a three-pointer from the right wing with three minutes to play.
France got as close as 71-67 moments later, but the European side couldn't get any closer and ultimately contributed to its own demise, earning a bench technical with 1:52 left. McBride and Cable then cemented the win by making four free throws in the closing moments.
The Notre Dame travel party will enjoy one more day of sightseeing in Madrid before returning to the United States on Tuesday afternoon. The Fighting Irish players then will have a few days off before coming back to campus for the start of fall classes, with their full 2013-14 schedule set to be released in early September once it has been approved by the University's Faculty Board on Athletics.
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