Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said Wednesday her team refused to feel sorry for itself Monday once it became clear senior center Natalie Achonwa, its leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament, would be lost for the Final Four with a torn left ACL.
Achonwa was injured in Notre Dame’s 88-69 victory over Baylor. But McGraw says her 36-0 team is determined to finish the job for their post leader.
“Natalie sets the tone for this team in everything that we do,” McGraw said. “She’s been our vocal leader. And after she went down to the floor, she bounced back up and gave the team a very spirited talk [before heading to the locker room]. She came back to the bench. She helps us cut down the nets. She proved to her teammates that it’s not about her. It’s about the team.
“We talked about it in the locker room [Tuesday]. There was no crying, there was no mourning. We are ready to move on and Natalie is going to be on the sidelines [in Nashville] doing everything she can to help us win.
Notre Dame will face Maryland in Sunday’s first national semifinal. Achonwa was third on the team in scoring (14.9) and its leading rebounder (7.7) and McGraw said the third-team All-American was playing her best basketball when she was hurt.
Geno Auriemma, who has had many title runs interrupted by injuries in his career, expressed sympathy for Achonwa on his Twitter account.
“All other issues aside I was sick to my stomach when I heard about Natalie Achonwa tearing her ACL. I’ve been there and I feel for her,” Auriemma said.
Freshman Taya Reimer will most likely start in Achonwa’s place
“There is absolutely a win-one-for-Ace [mentality],” McGraw said. “I think it’s so important to really rally around this.”
Achonwa, considered a possible WNBA first-round pick and a player on the Canadian national team, will have surgery on the knee at a later date.