Natalie Achonwa and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish remained unbeaten with an 89-72 dismantling of the Oklahoma St. Cowgirls in an NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinal game on Saturday in South Bend.
The game was never really in doubt, as Achonwa and the Irish scored the first 14 points of the game, and the Cowgirls were unable to get closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
The 21-year old Achonwa was spectacular; scoring 23 points along with a career-high five blocked shots and two steals. It was yet another impressive showing for a Notre Dame squad that improved their record to 35-0 on the season. The Irish now find themselves three wins away from an NCAA national title.
Achonwa, who is a co-captain for the Irish, had everyone talking about her performance after the game, including Oklahoma St. head coach Jim Littell, who was most enamored with the passing ability displayed by Achonwa as opposed to all of the points:
“You turn your head and she’s going to zip one right by your ear and hit somebody for an open layup or a two-footer. When you have the ability to score on the box but you also have the ability to beat people with the pass, it makes you a special player.”
The Canadian born Achonwa is the first international player to ever suit up for the Notre Dame women’s team. Achonwa was very highly regarded, having already played internationally in Canada, and chose Notre Dame over a number of prestigious programs, including Kentucky, Louisville and Michigan State. Fighting Irish head coach Ann McGraw was certainly pleased with Achonwa’s choice:
“She was one of the most mature kids I’ve ever recruited. She had versatility and an ability to pass the ball as a good size player at 6-foot-3, but she still had guard-like skills in the way she moved and passed, which was very intriguing. Now, she’s our vocal leader, everything on the floor goes through her.”
Achonwa was the youngest member of the 2012 Canadian Olympic team and will continue to play internationally for Canada, but is now focused on bringing a championship to South Bend. The Fighting Irish have been to three consecutive women’s Final Fours without a championship, and are now one win against Baylor away from a fourth straight Final Four trip. Achonwa would like to get the Irish their first title since 2001:
“We’ve always been the bridesmaids, but we want the big ring this year,” Achonwa explained. “You have some great programs in Tennessee and UConn [Connecticut] who keep winning, but we want one now.”
These will be Achonwa’s final games at Notre Dame, as she is expected to be chosen relatively high in April’s WNBA draft.
[Video courtesy of Notre Dame Women's Basketball]