Liberty women can't catch up after early burst

RICK GANO AP Sports Writer Published:

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Any remote possibility of Liberty upsetting top-seeded Notre Dame on its home floor in the NCAA tournament was erased early.

Kayla McBride and the Irish startled the Flames by scoring the game's first 11 points in less than two minutes, ran off another 11-0 spurt later in the first half and rolled to a 74-43 victory in the opening round Sunday.

Big South champion Liberty, the 16th seed, put forth great effort, but the talent gap was too wide.

"I think we were a little shell-shocked and didn't really execute what we needed to do against a very talented team. I'm very pleased that we didn't just lay down," Liberty coach Carey Green said.

"We came back and fought a little harder in the second half. The way that Notre Dame started off and shooting the ball, they maybe made their first five, six, seven shots, really put us on a defensive-type of mode and we had to re-gather ourselves."

Liberty, averaging 20 turnovers, had 23 -- 17 in the first half. Known for their tough rebounding, the Flames were beaten on the boards 38-29, including 15-9 on the offensive glass.

"I though they did an excellent job rebounding. I thought they did an excellent job scoring in the paint all day long," Green said. "That was a major difference."

The Irish (31-3), the national runner-up last year, will face California (25-9) on Tuesday at the Purcell Pavilion, where Notre Dame is 16-1 this season. The Golden Bears beat Iowa 84-74 in the first game and they will most certainly provide a stronger test.

In the Irish's opening burst, Natalie Novosel and Brittany Mallory hit 3-pointers. McBride converted a three-point play and Devereaux Peters made a jumper for an 11-0 lead with 18:24 left in the half.

Playing in her first NCAA tournament game, McBride had 13 of her team-high 15 points in the first half.

"I came out with a sense of urgency to try and get into the flow of the game and try to get good shots," McBride said.

Coach Muffet McGraw was impressed.

"I thought she might be a little bit nervous but she was fine right from the start," she said. "She got a good look at an inside layup early and that got her off to a really good start. ... She is so important to our success."

Novosel finished with 12 points and Peters 10. Skylar Diggins, the Irish's leading scorer at 17 points a game, attempted only six shots and finished with seven points to go with nine rebounds and six assists.

McBride's performance didn't surprise Green.

"She was one that our coaching staff said was the wild card and the difference maker because she was difficult to match up," he said. "She has both the outside and the inside game."

Notre Dame shot 48.5 percent to 31 percent for the Flames, who managed only 42 shots. Devon Brown scored 16 for Liberty (24-9). Danika Dale added 12 points and Avery Warley had 10 rebounds.

"We worked to encourage each other as much as possible and change the mindset that the game was not over," Warley said of dealing with Notre Dame's initial outburst. "They shot well from the beginning."