Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride (21) shoots against Arizona State during the second half in a second-round game in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament in Toledo, Ohio, Monday, March 24, 2014. Notre Dame defeated Arizona State 84-67. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)(ASSOCIATED PRESS) Arizona State guard Promise Amukamara (10) dribbles around Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd (32) during the first half in a second-round game in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament in Toledo, Ohio, Monday, March 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)(AP) Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw reacts Arizona State during the first half of the second-round game against Arizona in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament in Toledo, Ohio, Monday, March 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)(AP) Notre Dame guard Madison Cable (22) shoots over Arizona State forward Kelsey Moos (24) during the second half in a second-round game in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament in Toledo, Ohio, Monday, March 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)(ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Notre Dame's Kayla McBride fueled by competitive fire in team's tournament run
NOTRE DAME — The challenge rang out, and Kayla McBride knew she had to answer it.
McBride, 10 years old at the time, was at a basketball camp when a boy her age challenged her to a 1-on-1 game. Never one to say no to competition, McBride accepted.
"Don't take it easy on me," she thought. "I'm going to beat you."
A heated contest ensued, the two kids matching each other shot for shot. McBride sank the game-winning jumper, sending the boy's friends into a frenzy.
"Man, she can play," the boy resigned.
And that's when McBride realized, yeah, maybe she can play.
"It's my work ethic. It's me not wanting to let anyone beat me ever," she said. "It's being competitive."
It was that spirit that pushed her to the gym, that pushed her through hours of refining her jump shot in the backyard. It's what pushed her through high school and onto Notre Dame, where she spent three years in the shadow of Skylar Diggins. It's what pushed her from a role player to a team leader. It's what pushed her to All-American honors as a junior and the Atlantic Coast Conference's Player of the Year as a senior.
As she paced Notre Dame to a 34-0 record with 17.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, the world of women's college basketball began to see what Muffet McGraw had always seen.
"Even at the beginning of the year ... I kept saying I think she's the best player in the country and people kind of chuckled, 'Oh no, there are so many other people,'" Notre Dame's head coach said. "I think she's proved it during the year. I'm just so glad that she's finally getting that recognition."
McBride's competitive drive fueled Notre Dame through a rough patch against ninth-seeded Arizona State Monday, March 24. The Irish never trailed but only led the Sun Devils 32-26 at the half. Needing a spark to wrap up the game and send Notre Dame back home for the regional round, McBride could only think of one thing.
"If I lose, I go home," she thought. "What can I do to help this team? We weren't making shots, we turned the ball over. OK, I want the ball in my hands."
But McBride didn't need to fall back on her 49.6 percent field goal shooting to rope in the game. Instead, she dished out nine assists to Natalie Achonwa and Jewell Loyd, who combined for 44 of the team's 84 points.
"She feels a lot of responsibility for the team, I think she wants so much to be the one that can calm everybody down," McGraw said of McBride. "She did it with her passing, she doesn't have to score to make it happen."
Notre Dame landed back at home for a Sweet 16 match up with fifth-seeded Oklahoma State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 29. If they can knock off the Cowboys, the winner of second-seeded Baylor and third-seeded Kentucky await the Irish on Monday.
Though McBride is focused on Oklahoma State, her mind can't help but wander to Baylor. Notre Dame has more than a little recent history with the Bears, who were last team to beat the Irish on their home court Dec. 5, 2012.
As much as McBride would relish a rematch with Baylor, clinch another Final Four and move on to a national championship against rival Connecticut, she has to rein in her competitive nature. She's more than a role player now. She's a leader.
"As a competitor yeah, I think about it, as a captain I can't think about it," she said. "I have to think about these 40 minutes against Oklahoma State."