NOTRE DAME, Ind. - No. 1 seed Notre Dame got off to an extremely fast start in its NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship first-round matchup with No. 16 seed Liberty, Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish jumped out to an 11-0 lead during the first 1:40 of the game and never relinquished the advantage, advancing to the second round with a 74-43 victory.
Seven Notre Dame (31-3) players scored seven or more points, led by Kayla McBride's 15 markers. The Fighting Irish's offensive balance and 25 assists helped them move on to Tuesday evening's NCAA second-round matchup with No. 8 seed California, also at Purcell Pavilion.
Liberty's season ends at 24-9, despite several strong individual performances. Devon Brown led all players with 16 points. Both of the Lady Flames' seniors also played well, with Danika Dale scoring 12 points and Avery Warley grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds.
Notre Dame raced out to an 11-0 lead in the first 1:40 of the game, getting points from four of its five starters.
Blue-clad Liberty scored the next five points, cutting the deficit to 11-5 on Dale's fast break layup with 17:40 left in the first half.
Another basket, this one a three-pointer by Dale, had the Lady Flames within eight (16-8), 15:45 before halftime. The Fighting Irish then exploded for another 11-0 burst. Natalie Achonwa's layup capped off the surge, giving the home team a 27-8 cushion at the 10:42 mark.
The Lady Flames scored twice in the next 25 seconds, trimming the deficit to 27-12 at 10:17 when Liberty converted a Notre Dame turnover into a fast break layup by Dale.
The Fighting Irish outscored Liberty 15-3 over the next 6:26, bolstering their advantage to 42-15 when McBride swished a three-pointer in transition, 3:51 before the intermission.
The Lady Flames held Notre Dame to only two points during the remainder of the half, pulling to within 44-19 at the break.
During the first half, Notre Dame shot 48.7 percent (19-of-39) from the field, as compared with 42.1 percent (8-of-19) for Liberty.
The Fighting Irish scored 17 points off of 17 Lady Flame turnovers and also owned advantages in points in the paint (24-8) and rebounding (19-14) before halftime.
Individually, Dale led the Lady Flames with seven points in the first half, while Warley grabbed six rebounds.
McBride's 13 first-half points for Notre Dame led all players, while Skylar Diggins totaled six rebounds and five assists for the Fighting Irish.
Both teams got off to a slow start at the offensive end in the second half, scoring just four points apiece before the under-16:00 media timeout.
Notre Dame used a 6-0 run, punctuated by Diggins' layup at 14:23, to take its first 30-point lead, 54-24.
Shortly thereafter, Liberty fashioned a 6-0 surge of its own. Warley split a pair of free throws with 10:39 left, making the score 56-32 in favor of the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame then sealed its victory with an ensuing 11-1 run. Fraderica Miller's jumper posted the homestanding Fighting Irish to a 67-33 cushion with just 5:24 remaining in the contest.
Liberty outscored its host by a 10-7 margin during the game's last five minutes, making the final score 74-43.
Notre Dame finished the game with an advantage in nearly every statistical category. The Fighting Irish shot 48.5 percent (32-of-66) from the field, while Liberty finished at 31 percent (13-of-42).
The Lady Flames did a good job of getting to the foul line, getting there twice as many times (20-10) as the Fighting Irish. Liberty ended the contest at 65 percent (13-of-20) from the charity stripe.
Notre Dame became just the second team to outrebound the Lady Flames this season, closing the contest with a 38-29 edge on the grass. Despite that, Liberty finishes the year with a new program and Big South-record rebound margin of +15.6.
The Fighting Irish scored 44 points in the paint to Liberty's 14 and converted the Lady Flames' 23 turnovers into 27 points.
Brown scored 11 of her 16 points during the second half, including a 5-of-6 effort from the free throw line. Meanwhile, Dale's dozen points featured a pair of three-pointers.
Warley not only topped all players in rebounds with 10 but also blocked a game-high three shots. She finishes her stellar career as the Liberty and Big South Conference's all-time leading rebounder with 1,282 boards. Warley also tied the Big South career record with her 132nd game played.
For Notre Dame, McBride was joined in double digits by Natalie Novosel (12 points) and Devereaux Peters (10). Diggins was limited to seven points, but the All-American point guard paced her team with nine rebounds and distributed six of her team's 25 assists.