The Notre Dame women’s basketball team will not be boasting a full deck come Sunday night in the Final Four.
The undefeated and No. 2 Irish are not ready to throw in the cards though that’s for sure.
Notre Dame will face ACC foe No. 11 Maryland in the Final Four at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Sunday night. The top-seeded Irish (36-0) meet the fourth-seeded Terrapins (28-6) at 6:30 p.m. with the game on ESPN.
The Irish earned the program’s fourth straight trip to the Final Four with an 88-69 home win over Baylor Monday night. The victory proved to be a costly one as star forward Natalie Achonwa suffered a torn ACL in her left knee with 4:51 left in the game.
Achonwa, a 6-3 senior who is nicknamed “Ace”, is out for the Final Four. The try-captain and third team All-American was averaging 14.9 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds per game this season. Achonwa had played outstanding in her team’s four NCAA tournament wins, including posting 19 points and 15 rebounds Monday night before being injured on a drive to the basket.
The Irish like the fact that many people are now counting them out without star Achonwa.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who guided the program to a national title in 2001, is one of those.
“It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand,” McGraw tweeted Thursday. “Just cause we don’t have an ace up our sleeve doesn’t mean we’re gonna fold.”
Notre Dame still has plenty of firepower to face Maryland. The Irish have boasted a deep and reliable bench all season. Taya Reimer, a 6-3 freshman, is expected to replace Achonwa in the starting lineup. Reimer, who was runner-up for Miss Basketball honors in Indiana last year at Hamilton Southeastern High School, is averaging 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Reimer’s father Ben Davis played in the NBA, CBA and ABA.
The Irish, who may use more of a four-guard lineup now with Achonwa out, is 13-0 versus ranked opponents this season. Notre Dame has won 12 of those games by double figures, the only exception being the first meeting with Maryland. The Irish senior class of Achonwa, McBride and Ariel Braker are 137-14 in their careers, the most wins by any class in program history.
The Irish meet a familiar foe in the Terps. Notre Dame beat Maryland 87-83 in an ACC contest Jan. 27 in College Park. The Irish led 41-19 in that one before host Maryland stormed back to take a 64-63 lead midway through the second half. Notre Dame answered to pull away to its closest win of the season.
Irish star guard Jewell Loyd led the way in the first win over Maryland. She had a career-high 31 points in the victory. Loyd poured in 30 points Monday night in the regional title game win over Baylor and earned Most Outstanding Player honors in the Notre Dame Regional. Senior guard and All-American Kayla McBride had 20 points in the first meeting with the Terps. The Irish also won the first meeting with Achonwa playing limited minutes due to foul trouble.
Loyd leads the Irish in scoring at 18.2 points-per-game. The explosive scorer and tenacious defender already had scored 1,108 points in her first two years, surpassing the 1,069 of Skylar Diggins as most in program history. McBride averages 17.2 ppg.
Maryland is making its first Final Four appearance since winning a national title in 2006. The Terps are led by senior All-American Alyssa Thomas. The 6-2 senior averages 19.1 points and 11 rebounds per game and had 29 points and 12 rebounds in the loss to the Irish in January. Thomas had 22 points and 13 rebounds Tuesday night as Maryland edged host Louisville 76-73.
The Terps have eight players averaging between five and 10 points-per-game. Their second leading scorer is freshman Lexie Brown, who averages 10.1 ppg. and had 20 in the regional title game win at Louisville Tuesday night. Brown, a 5-9 guard, is the daughter of former NBA player Dee Brown. The elder Brown is now an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings.
Maryland, which finished 12-4 in the ACC this season, is coached by Brenda Freese. Freese, who has been at Maryland since 2002, coached at Ball State from 1999-2001.
The second semifinal Sunday at approximately 8:30 pits No. 1 and defending national champion UConn (38-0) versus Stanford (33-3). UConn is making its seventh straight Final Four appearance. The Huskies beat Notre Dame in the semifinals a year ago en route to their eighth national championship. The No. 2 seed Cardinal are in the Final Four for the sixth time in the last seven years.
The Irish have played UConn more times than other school. The Huskies lead the all-time series 30-11, although Notre Dame has won seven of the last nine meetings. The Irish are 0-2 all-time versus Stanford.
The national championship game is set for Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.