Natalie Achonwa has been knocked out of the Final Four with a knee injury that could also be the decisive blow to unbeaten Notre Dame’s NCAA title hopes.
It leaves the Irish (36-0) without one of the country’s best low post players – and its only steady offensive threat in the paint.
The 6-3 inch senior from Guelph, Ontario, a member of Canada’s 2012 Olympic team, hurt her left knee with 4 minutes, 51 seconds to play in Monday’s regional final win over Baylor at Notre Dame. An MRI Tuesday showed she had torn the anterior cruciate ligament and will need surgery.
The rehab period could affect her position in the April 14 WNBA draft and keep her from playing in the league this season.
Achonwa had been at peak form in the last three games.
She began with 25 points and 11 rebounds in the second round, followed that with a game-high 23 points, seven rebounds and 6 assists in the 89-72 win over Oklahoma State in the regional semifinal, then added 19 points and 15 rebounds in just 27 minutes of the 88-69 win over Baylor.
She made the NCAA regional all-tournament team and earlier Tuesday was named third team All-America by the Associated Press.
Achonwa missed the season’s first three games after late October surgery to repair a small meniscus tear in the right knee. She went on to average a career-high 14.9 points and 7.7 rebounds.
The Irish meet Maryland in Sunday’s NCAA semifinals at Nashville, Tenn.
Achonwa’s absence will put more rebounding and defensive pressure on 5-11 Kayla McBride and 5-10 Jewell Loyd - especially against 6-2 Alyssa Thomas, the leading scorer in Maryland history.
Her primary replacement will likely be 6-3 freshman Taya Reimer, who lacks the quickness and passing ability that made Achonwa such a multiple threat.
Achonwa, the team's vocal leader, screamed encouragement to her teammates as she went to the locker room Monday after the injury. She was back on the floor for the trophy presentation and was able to stand on a ladder to cut down a piece of the net.
“While she may not be in uniform, her voice will be heard loud and clear in the locker room, on the bench and in the huddle," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said in a statement. "I know that our team is going to continue to feed off her energy, passion and leadership as we head into the Final Four.”
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