Notre Dame, Louisville overcome challenges before advancing in afternoon quarterfinals of Big East tournament

Hartford, Conn – It took 20 points and 20 rebounds from Natalie Achonwa, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish held off a determined South Florida team to advance to the semifinals of the Big East tournament, 75-66.

With Kayla McBride in foul trouble and Skylar Diggins struggling from the floor (5-of-21 shooting), Achonwa carried the load on both ends, with help from Ariel Braker, who contributed a career-high 12 rebounds along with eight points.

“She didn’t miss much in the second half,” said Muffet McGraw of Achonwa. “When we were down four we felt it was important to go inside and she responded well.”

South Florida was led by sisters Andrell and Andrea Smith who combined for 45 points (Andrell 27, Andrea 18), nine rebounds and five assists. The Connecticut crowd was firmly behind the Bulls, and the issue of foul shots for Notre Dame again reared its head.

“We didn’t defend the foul line well,” coach Jose Fernandez half-joked. The Irish made 26 of 35 foul shots, compared to 10 of 14 for the Bulls.

The Irish will take on Louisville on Monday evening at 6 p.m. ET.

Louisville opened fast against St. John’s opening a 13-2 lead before giving that back and having to hold on 62-55.

Known for fast-paced play led by guards Shoni Schimmel, Bria Smith and Antonita Slaughter, the Cardinals relied on forward Sara Hammond inside. Hammond responded with 22 points and 11 rebounds.

“Coach preached all week about toughness and physical contact tha we can’t shy away from it,” said Hammond. “We have to use our strength and advantage and it worked out good for us today.”

St. John’s made their first half run behind senior Shennika Smith’s shooting, as she led all scorers with 14 at the break. However, in the second half the Louisville defense adjusted and with Schimmel defending most of the half, Smith was held to only five more points.

Nadirah McKenith also added 18 for St. John’s while Bria Smith contributed 14 for Lousiville.

In the first meeting between Louisville and Notre Dame, the Irish won comfortably at home, 93-64.

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