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Fighting Irish Take 31-0 Record into Title Game
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Notre Dame's statement entrance into its new league is nearly complete. One more win, and the No. 2 Fighting Irish will have an Atlantic Coast Conference championship trophy to go with their still-perfect record.
Jewell Loyd scored 16 points to help Notre Dame beat No. 14 North Carolina State 83-48 in Saturday's ACC tournament semifinals.
Kayla McBride was among four in double figures with 10 points for the top-seeded Fighting Irish (31-0), who had no trouble putting away the injury-depleted Wolfpack. Notre Dame scored the first 12 points, led by 28 at halftime and by 37 from there to continue their dominating run through the ACC.
"I thought actually we had a little bit of a slow start and initially missed a couple of shots early," coach Muffet McGraw said, "but then I thought we really got comfortable."
The Fighting Irish, who shot 60 percent in a 26-point win against Florida State in Friday's quarterfinals, shot 52 percent in the first half on the way to their second lopsided win against the fourth-seeded Wolfpack (25-7) in a week.
That sent Notre Dame to Sunday's championship game, where the Irish will try to become the first team to go 19-0 through ACC regular-season and tournament play since Duke in 2001-02 and 2002-03. Notre Dame will face the winner of Saturday's second semifinal between No. 10 Duke and No. 13 North Carolina.
And the Irish will be rested. No starter played more than 30 minutes against FSU, then none played more than 24 against the Wolfpack.
Notre Dame got 41 points from its bench, with 10 each from Michaela Mabrey and Madison Cable. McGraw said it's "the best bench we've ever had."
"It's great to be able to rest the starters and be confident in your bench," she said.
Loyd had 17 points in 30 minutes against FSU, then followed with 16 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes against NC State. The sophomore heads into Sunday's final a basket shy of reaching 1,000 career points.
"Personally I was just taking what the defense gave me," Loyd said. "I wasn't trying to force anything and just really trying to have fun with it."
Freshman Miah Spencer scored 11 points to lead the Wolfpack, who played without top scorer and rebounder Markeisha Gatling. The 6-foot-5 senior left Friday's quarterfinal win against Syracuse midway through the second half with a left knee injury.
X-rays revealed no fracture and an MRI showed no structural damage, but first-year coach Wes Moore said she had a painful bone bruise. The team decided to keep her out with NC State preparing for its first NCAA tournament trip since 2010.
"I just hate it that these kids have played so hard all year and so well all year," Moore said. "I hate that on this stage we had such a rough showing."
Gatling dressed out and stood under the basket while rebounding for her teammates during pregame warm-ups, but spent the rest of Saturday watching from the bench.
Gatling's absence was a tough blow for a team that was already down two seniors, guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman and forward Lakeesa Daniel, due to season-ending knee injuries suffered on consecutive days in mid-February.
And with Gatling gone, NC State lacked the focal point of its offense _ a player averaging 18 points and seven rebounds while shooting a national-best 67.6 percent.
Second-leading scorer Kody Burke managed just four points on 1-for-8 shooting as NC State shot 31 percent for the game, including 4 for 20 from 3-point range as it searched for a new flow.
"You can talk about running different stuff," Moore said. "But when you've ran four out and one in all year long, it's kind of hard to change when you find out less than an hour before tip that your one in is not playing."
As for Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish got a jumper from Lindsay Allen to cap its 12-0 run in the opening 5-plus minutes, then ran off an 11-0 burst midway through the opening half to blow the game open and take a 42-15 lead on Taya Reimer's layup at the 1:50 mark on the way to a 46-18 halftime lead.
NC State, which lost to Notre Dame by 24 at home last weekend, got no closer than 27 points in the second half.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at @aaronbeardap