NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Notre Dame pulled off the fourth-largest margin of victory in the history of the Women's Final Four.
An 87-61 rout of No. 4 seed Maryland sent an unmistakable message. The Irish can compete at a high level without Natalie Achonwa.
Let's dive in to three other storylines that made Sunday's victory so impressive.
1.) Kayla McBride loves the big moment.
Talk about a lot on her plate. The senior knew she was down to the final two games of her college career, carried the emotional burden of classmate Achonwa's injury and realized that she represented Notre Dame's best combination of skill, talent and experience.
All that responsibility, and she had 28 points and seven rebounds in a performance she called one of the three-best of her career.
“A lot of adrenaline and motivation,” McBride said. “I felt it was my job to instill confidence. It was contagious. People were more comfortable because I was hitting shots early. I was trying to be that person.”
She was, indeed, with 19 of her points coming before halftime, when the result was pretty much decided. McBride lives for big games.
“I do,” she said. “I love it. As a senior, it's special. I usually get nervous. But I just want to go out and play. It's a lot easier than it looks.”
2.) Notre Dame punched its third ticket to the championship game in a four-year span.
“I'm really excited,” senior Ariel Braker said. “It means a lot. My third one. We couldn't get it right the last times so everyone is really excited to be going back.”
Freshman Taya Reimer wants it even more for those three seniors: Braker, McBride and Achonwa.
“The past three years they came up short,” Reimer said. “Our goal was to get back there for them and to win one for them. We've pulled together as a team.”
3.) Notre Dame's plus-29 rebounding margin broke an all-time Women's Final Four record.
The previous best was plus-27 by Old Dominion in 1985 against Georgia.
On its face, that's enough to get your attention, but Notre Dame produced that performance against Maryland, which entered third nationally in rebounding.
“They beat us at our own game,” Terrapins center Alicia DeVaughn said. “They came out ready, punched first and we couldn't bounce back.”
Terps star Alyssa Thomas said the rebounding difference indicated that Notre Dame simply played harder and had more desire.
Irish coach Muffet McGraw viewed it differently. She said her team was just doing its job.
“We thought the game would be won on the boards,” McGraw said. “It was. To hold them to four offensive rebounds for the game is an amazing accomplishment. When you look at our rebounds, everybody had a few. We did a great job boxing out. We really worked hard at it. It was such a great team effort.”