Rachel Terlep
Rachel Terlep
Notre Dame beat writer Rachel Terlep offers scribbles and stories about Fighting Irish sports.

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Irish will miss Achonwa, but they have a Final Four plan

The Irish lose a big presence in Natalie Achonwa, but Notre Dame has won without her before.

Posted on April 2, 2014 at 5:20 p.m.

Natalie Achonwa went down and with her plummeted Notre Dame's chances to win the national championship.

Achonwa, who averages 14.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, tore her ACL in the Elite Eight dogfight against second-seeded Baylor on Monday, March 31. Not only will the Irish have to get past No. 4 seed Maryland in the Final Four, but they will likely face undefeated, overall No. 1 UConn in the national championship.

But as heartbreaking as this is for Achonwa and the rest of her team, Notre Dame has been here before. 

Achonwa missed the first three games of the season after suffering a small meniscus tear in her knee. The Irish toppled UNC Wilmington 99-50, No. 20 Michigan State 81-62 and Valparaiso 96-46. 

Sure, it's one thing to beat UNC Wilmington, but what about against a high-level opponent like Maryland, which stars All-American Alyssa Thomas?

Notre Dame has been there before, too — albeit to a lesser degree.

When the No. 2 Irish and No. 11 Maryland met during a regular-season matchup in January, Achonwa got into early foul trouble and rode the bench through the first half. She finished with seven points and three rebounds, well below both of her averages.

"We did looked at the stats, we watched the game film, we noticed that Natalie played half the game," McGraw said. "We were able to get a good look of what the team was like without her in there."

In her absence, freshman Taya Reimer — who will likely replace Achonwa in the Final Four — struggled to score and rebound (finishing with two of each). But sophomore guard Jewell Loyd dominated in the paint, totaling a team-high 31 points and seven rebounds. The Irish went on to win 87-83.

Loyd runs the point, so she won't be spending much time posting up, but McGraw has already considered a four-guard lineup that will make it easier for Loyd to get in the lane.

Beating UConn will be a whole different animal, but Notre Dame has already proved that it can win — and win big — without its star post.

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