Hindsight is always 20/20 … but an even better 20-20 was Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa’s effort in Big East Championship quarterfinal action Sunday afternoon at Hartford, Conn.
The 6-3 Achonwa scored 20 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the 75-66 victory Sunday versus South Florida.
Achonwa scored a team high 20 points and grabbed a career high 20 rebounds (seven on offense) while Notre Dame held off a game, competitive South Florida team, 75-66, in Big East Championship action.
The Irish play No. 13 Louisville Monday evening at 6 p.m., a semifinal contest that will be telecast by ESPNU. The Irish were nearly flawless against the Cardinals in their Feb. 11 meeting at Notre Dame, a 93-64 victory.
Head coach Muffet McGraw’s squad recorded a school-record 24th consecutive victory, eclipsing the 23 they had shared with the 2001 national champs. The No. 2-ranked Irish improved to 29-1 overall, while South Florida — which took Notre Dame to overtime on Jan. 8 before losing 75-71 — dropped to 21-10 but maintained its hopes for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
Achonwa’s 20-20 was the first such effort by a Notre Dame player since January, 1988, when Heidi Bunek had 25 points and 20 rebounds in an 80-77 loss to DePaul. It also was the first 20-20 in Big East Championship action since Connecticut’s Rebecca Lobo had 23 points and 24 rebounds in a March, 1993 contest.
Two-time Big East Player of The Year Skylar Diggins tallied 11 of Notre Dame’s first 16 points but struggled with her shot most of the afternoon, finishing 5-of-21 from the floor for 15 points while also dishing out five assists. Second-leading scorer Kayla McBride sat the last nine minutes of the first half with foul trouble and had converted only one of her first eight shots. She finished with 10 points and helped lead a second-half surge before fouling out.
Big East Freshman of the Year Jewell Loyd had 14 points and four assists, but the unsung star of the game was junior forward Ariel Braker. In 30 minutes, she scored eight points, grabbed a career high 12 rebounds, handed out three assists and blocked three shots.
USF’s Smith twins — Andrell and Andrea — spearheaded an upset alert effort while combining for 45 points. Andrea had 33 points in the first meeting against Notre Dame, but this time it was Andrell who excelled, drilling 10 of her 16 field goal attempts, including five of eight from three-point range, for a game-high 27 points. Andrea chipped in 18 (three of six from beyond the arc).
Notre Dame fell behind 19-13 in the first half against the confident Bulls, but a 14-0 spurt helped put the Irish ahead at halftime, 37-31. USF went up 51-47 on its ninth three-pointer of the game (it would convert 10 of 21 attempts) before a 15-foot jumper by Braker regained the lead for Notre Dame at 53-51, one it would not relinquish. McBride’s back-to-back buckets extended the cushion to 65-57 en route to surviving and advancing.