It's now all about winning it for Ace.
Notre Dame is headed back to the Final Four for the 4th straight season, but won't have senior and emotional leader Natalie Achonwa available to play.
Achonwa will miss the remainder of the 2013-14 women’s basketball season after injuring her left knee Monday night in the second half of Notre Dame’s 88-69 win over No. 5/6 Baylor in the NCAA Notre Dame Regional final (Elite Eight) at Purcell Pavilion.
Achonwa suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee, with that diagnosis confirmed by team orthopedist Dr. Michael Yergler after Achonwa underwent a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) exam on Tuesday morning. She will undergo surgery to repair the injury at a later date, and her rehabilitation timetable has not yet been established.
"Natalie has been an extremely valuable contributor to our success, not only this season but throughout her career, and that won’t change,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “While she may not be in uniform, her voice will be heard loud and clear in the locker room, on the bench and in the huddle. I know that our team is going to continue to feed off her energy, passion and leadership as we head into the Final Four.”
Achonwa left Monday night's Elite 8 win over Baylor with about 5:00 left. She screamed in agony and told teammates she was not alright as she sat on the ground.
Achonwa was able to get up and deliver a passionate plea to her teammates to win this game because "this is my court." She then walked to the locker room on her own power with a significant limp. She would return in warmup pants to celebrate with her teammates. Achonwa had tears in her eyes at one point but was also able to sport a big smile as she cut down the nets on home floor.
Freshman Taya Reimer will likely start in Achonwa's place, McGraw said Tuesday.
Achonwa started 33 games for the Fighting Irish this season, posting career-high averages in scoring (14.9 ppg.), field goal percentage (.611), assists (2.8 apg.) and blocked shots (1.2 bpg.), along with a team-high 7.7 rebounds per game and eight double-doubles. She also ranked among the top 15 in the ACC in scoring (15th), field goal percentage (2nd; also third in the nation and seventh on the Notre Dame single-season charts), rebounding (11th) and blocked shots (10th).
Earlier on Tuesday, Achonwa was named a third-team All-America selection by the Associated Press, adding to her earlier honors as a second-team All-ACC and second-team All-ACC Tournament choice, not to mention earning a spot on the NCAA Notre Dame Regional All-Tournament Team Monday night. In addition, she was a midseason candidate both for the Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award, as well as a member of the Wade Trophy preseason watch list (all three awards go to the national player of the year).
For her career, Achonwa ranks 12th in school history with 1,546 points, as well as top-10 rankings on the Fighting Irish all-time lists for rebounds (4th – 970), double-doubles (tied-5th – 28), field goal percentage (6th - .562) and games played (3rd – 145).
No. 2 Notre Dame (36-0) has advanced to the NCAA Women’s Final Four for the fourth consecutive season and the sixth time in program history. The Fighting Irish will play in the NCAA national semifinals Sunday night (either 6:30 or 9 p.m. ET) at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., against the winner of the Louisville Regional final (No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 11/9 Maryland, to be played Tuesday night in Louisville).