Before Monday night, You had to go back to late January—when Notre Dame blew a substantial lead on the road at Maryland before ultimately winning--for the last time the Irish women’s basketball team was truly challenged and had their backs against the wall for a period of time.
Of course, this past Monday Notre Dame pulled away in the 2nd half to beat Arizona State by 17 points in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament in Toledo. The undefeated Irish will now host 5th seeded Oklahoma State Saturday at 2:30 at Purcell Pavilion.
But the margin of victory from Monday is not reflective of how close the game was early on. At points late in the 1st half, Arizona State was not only in the lead—but they had the momentum. Their fans were loud and Notre Dame’s usually very loud crowd was quiet—and worried.
But the Irish never panicked. They were calm, they made their run and took a 6-point lead into halftime. From there, they dominated in the 2nd half to pull out the win.
Looking back on it, that early game battle is a positive now for a team that is used to blowing out its opponents.
“I think it’s really good for us,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "You saw who stepped up, the seniors: Natalie Achonwa, Kayla McBride. Jewell Loyd of course had a good game but I think Ariel Braker gave us very good minutes. Madison Cable gave us good minutes off the bench.”
McGraw’s seniors agree that the experience was a good thing for the long run of this team, which is shooting for the school’s 2nd national championship in history.
“Most definitely because if we can’t stay together in games like these—as you go further in the tournament—teams are better, teams are more physical like you can’t stay together in games like that,” Senior Ariel Braker says. "So I think this is a good test to get us to the next step.”
“To have a competitive and exciting game like that is always good but I think we know what’s at stake,” senior Natalie Achonwa says. "We know that each game can be our last game and from the seniors all the way down to the freshmen, we are instilling that in them and they are really supporting us and understand that.”
If Notre Dame wins Saturday over Oklahoma State, they will host either Baylor or Kentucky on Monday for a spot in the Final Four.