Canadian Natalie Achonwa is out for the season with a knee injury after leading Notre Dame to the women’s basketball Final Four.
The 21-year-old from Guelph, Ont., suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament with about five minutes left in the team’s 88-69 victory over Baylor on Monday night.
The injury is a big blow to both the unbeaten Fighting Irish (36-0), and Canada’s women’s national team. Achonwa, a member of the 2012 London Olympic team, had planned to play for Canada at the FIBA world championships in the fall.
“Natalie has been an extremely valuable contributor to our success, not only this season but throughout her career, and that won’t change,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “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. I know that our team is going to continue to feed off her energy, passion and leadership as we head into the Final Four.”
Achonwa, a senior, had 19 points and 15 rebounds Monday before leaving what was her final college appearance.
McGraw said the six-foot-three forward was playing her best basketball of the season, but that it’s her leadership the Irish will miss most. Achonwa showed her leadership shortly after sustaining the injury. After being helped to her feet, she limped toward her teammates and exhorted them to protect the home court.
She climbed a ladder to cut down the net after the victory.
“She’s not feeling sorry for herself. She knows this is about the team,” McGraw said. “I think the team looked at her and instead of feeling sorry for her instead got a little more determined that we’re going to win this one for her.”
Notre Dame is the birthplace for the ‘Win one for the Gipper’ speech.
“There absolutely is a win-one-for-Ace,” McGraw said. “I think it’s so important to really rally around this.”
Achonwa, who will have surgery at a later date, started 33 games for the Fighting Irish this season, posting career-high averages in scoring (14.9 points a game), field goal percentage (.611), assists (2.8) and blocked shots (1.2). She also grabbed a team-high 7.7 rebounds a night and recorded eight double-doubles.
Earlier on Tuesday, Achonwa was named a third-team All-America selection by the Associated Press.
Achonwa led No. 2 Notre Dame to the Final Four for the four consecutive season and the sixth time in program history.