Perfect semi keeps perfect run alive


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- All appearances to the contrary Sunday night, it really isn't that difficult to beat Kayla McBride on a basketball court. All you have to do is convince her to play the game as a southpaw.

All right, it doesn't hurt if the person challenging her to do so also happens to be an ambidextrous All-American.

"To beat her, I shoot lefty," Notre Dame sophomore Jewell Loyd revealed of the ultracompetitive H-O-R-S-E games the two engage in from time to time. "She's not a great lefty shooter -- I mean, most people aren't ambidextrous, but I have that luxury of shooting lefty sometimes."

Maryland, unfortunately, had to face McBride when she used her right hand Sunday night. It didn't go so well.

And on a night when the Fighting Irish owned the boards to such a degree that they should get rent from Stanford and Connecticut for using them in the nightcap, the Terrapins weren't going to get any do-overs.

If a team is going to make a run at a perfection, it might as well play a perfect game. What Notre Dame did in dismantling Maryland 87-61 was as close as a team is likely to come at this stage of the season.

"We look at the players individually and say if everybody played well on the same night, imagine how good we would be," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "We were pretty darn close tonight."

McBride scored 28 points on 12-of-21 shooting and could have had more if needed in the second half.

McGraw said her team as a whole hasn't painted its masterpiece yet. One of the game's great masters, McBride nonetheless produced a piece of performance art worth admiring.

The senior and newly minted WBCA All-American also had seven rebounds, part of a team effort that saw the Irish beat the Terrapins 50-21 on the boards. It was the kind of advantage you would expect in an NCAA tournament first-round mismatch.

Come to think of it, Robert Morris lost the battle of the boards by only 23 rebounds in the first round against the Irish.

The game was a feast of midrange jumpers and hesitation dribbles from McBride and boxouts from her teammates. It was nothing fancy and something special because of it.

And all against Maryland, the team that pushed Notre Dame as much as any team pushed it this season when they played in January. The team that erased a halftime deficit in that first encounter and actually led the Fighting Irish with 10 minutes to play at a time when Notre Dame had a healthy Natalie Achonwa.

A Maryland team that entered the Final Four ranked third in the nation in rebounding margin.

On the first possession Sunday, Taya Reimer drove aggressively, albeit recklessly, at two Maryland players. The freshman starting in place of Achonwa missed a forced shot, but Ariel Braker was in position for the rebound. Braker missed an attempted follow, but nobody from Maryland bothered to box out Reimer, who got another offensive rebound and promptly missed the third attempt of the sequence. That left Loyd to claim the offensive rebound and score the game's opening points -- nine seconds after the original miss.

Things didn't improve much for Maryland. Notre Dame scored 12 second-chance points in the first half. Maryland scored none. For the game, the edge was 20-3 for the Irish.

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