Four years after she was leading the Villa Maria Academy Victors to their second straight state championship in basketball, Kayla McBride was back in another championship game last night. This time, however, the game was a much bigger than the state championship game, being played out on a national stage. McBride helped lead the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to the 2014 NCAA Women’s National Championship game in Nashville, Tennessee.
McBride was one of the leaders of the Fighting Irish the entire year. She helped overall number two Notre Dame get to an unprecedented 37-0 going into the championship game against the top seed and 39-0 Connecticut Huskies.
Notre Dame breezed through their first three games against 16 seed James Madison, 9 seed Arizona State, and 5 seed Oklahoma State. In the Elite 8 the Fighting Irish met their toughest opponent yet, the 2 seed Baylor Bears.
Notre Dame looked relieved not to have to go up against Brittney Griner, who graduated from Baylor in 2012. McBride did not have her best game against Baylor, but other players from Notre Dame, namely Jewell Loyd, stepped up and knocked out the Bears 88-69. Notre Dame lost one of their leaders during the game, however, when Natalie Achonwa went down with a knee injury.
Losing Achonwa fueled Notre Dame to compete even harder to win the championship. It was evident in the Final 4 game against the 4 seed Maryland Terapins. The Fighting Irish played an emotion-filled game, led by McBride’s 28 points in one of the best games of her career. Notre Dame looked like a national champion against Maryland and continued on to the championship game convincingly, winning 87-61 over Maryland.
After rolling through their tournament, Notre Dame came up against the Connecticut Huskies in the finals. It was the first time in history for both men and women that two undefeated teams were in the championship game. Notre Dame felt the hole that Achonwa left as UConn crushed them on the boards and in the paint with their duo of 6’5” Stefanie Dolson and 6’4” Breanna Stewart.
Connecticut controlled the game from the opening tip, overpowering Notre Dame in every facet of the game. Notre Dame was able to get within 5 points before halftime but that was the closest they got the rest of the game. The Huskies surged ahead and kept a comfortable lead the entire second half and claimed the championship 79-58. Breanna Stewart led Connecticut in points, and Kayla McBride led Notre Dame, each scoring 21.
It was an emotional game for both teams, and tears were flowing when the final buzzer sounded. Even Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was teary-eyed in his post-game interview after winning his ninth women’s championship.
Connecticut celebrated twice as much after winning the men’s championship the night before, a 60-54 win over the Kentucky Wildcats. The Huskies dominated the tournament and became the first ever 7 seed to win the championship. The feat of both men and women’s basketball teams winning the championship has been done only two other times in college basketball, and only once before in Division 1, when UConn did it in 2004.
Notre Dame was heart-broken after getting so close to a championship, losing in the finals in 2011 and 2012 and in the Final 4 in 2013. Despite no championships, Kayla McBride has made Villa proud with her achievements as a part of the Fighting Irish. She rose to stardom this season as one of the best players in the country and finished in the running for player of the year. There is no doubt she will continue her career in the pros and become what Bob Sanders has become at Prep: a legend.