Notre Dame tops Duke 69-53 for first ACC women’s championship

CorrespondentMarch 9, 2014 

— Duke won the inside game in the final of the ACC women’s basketball tournament, but Notre Dame’s 1-2 outside punch was just too powerful.

Tournament MVP Jewell Loyd poured in 26 points and fellow all-tournament selection Kayla McBride added 25, leading the Irish to a 69-53 victory over the defending champion Blue Devils on Sunday night at Greensboro Coliseum.

Notre Dame, the first team to win the tournament that didn’t belong to the conference in the 1950s, earned the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament where it will take its 32-0 record.

Duke (27-6) got 18 points from senior forward Haley Peters and 17 from center Elizabeth Williams, who also added a season-high 16 rebounds.

“I thought Jewell and Kayla McBride were just unstoppable,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We got some stops, and we got the break going in the second half.

“Our team really has played well, and it’s a credit to our senior leadership. They have had this team ready every single practice. It would have been easy to pat ourselves on the back and watch a little game film and talk about how good we are.”

Notre Dame, ranked No. 2 nationally behind Connecticut, won both regular-season meetings with Duke: 88-67 on Feb. 2 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and 81-70 on Feb. 23 in South Bend, Ind. The Irish had also eliminated Duke from last season’s NCAA tournament 87-76 in the regional final in Norfolk, Va.

Tenth-ranked and second seeded Duke did not hit a 3-pointer (0-for-5) and was 3-for-12 from the free-throw line including 3-for-6 from Williams.

“This was a really good basketball game,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I was really, really proud of our players and their fight. I thought Elizabeth was absolutely outstanding in a really dominant performance and Haley was a fierce competitor as she always is.

“We just didn’t do much with McBride and Loyd. It would be hard to find a better pair.”

Duke shot 43.9 percent to Notre Dame’s 42.9 and won the rebound battle 40-36, but committed 20 turnovers to the Irish’s 10. Duke outscored the Irish 36-26 in the paint.

Williams and Tricia Liston made the all-tournament team for Duke along with North Carolina’s Diamond DeShields.

Peters was on the second team along with Notre Dame post Natalie Achonwa, Wake Forest’s Dearica Hamby, Florida State’s Natasha Howard and Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas.

“Our overall tournament performance was good,” Peters said. “We need to play as much as we can play together, and we earned all three games. In every game we took a step forward in being as good as we can be. I think we did that a little bit tonight. We just didn’t stay with it the whole game.”

The score was tied at 28 at halftime after Duke guard Ka’lia Johnson’s layup at the buzzer.

Williams and Peters had 10 points apiece for Duke at the break, and McBride had 15 for Notre Dame.

The Irish shot 44.4 percent in the half to 42.4 for Duke, which led the rebound battle 18-16 on the strength of eight from Williams.

“I think it was a matter of focus and concentration and getting the ball inside,” Williams said. “As coach P said, we bugged out of some of our offenses in the second half. And defensively we started cheating out the shooters and that left the paint a little more open.”

There were seven lead changes and six ties in the first half, during which neither team led by more than six points.

Duke was up 32-28 after a Peters layup with 19:06 left in the game before the Irish responded with 14 straight points, including eight from Loyd.

Duke will host first- and second-round games in the NCAA tournament March 22 and 24 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

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