The Irish and top-ranked Huskies are the last remaining unbeatens this year, and McGraw promised that there’s no way her team will look too far ahead in the NCAA bracket to a possible renewal of that rivalry.
“I don’t think they’ll put us against each other in the first round,” McGraw deadpanned, “so I think we’ll be pretty focused on our opponent - whoever that turns out to be.”
Ultimately, the two Blue Devils most capable of keeping up with Loyd - guards Chelsea Gray and Alexis Jones - were on the bench with season-ending knee injuries.
Loyd, who averaged 19 points in the two previous wins over Duke, had a hand in six of the nine baskets during a 19-4 run early in the second half that put Notre Dame in control.
She hit two 3s and knocked down a jumper from the free-throw line before her quick pass set up McBride’s jumper in the lane that put the Irish up 38-32 and drew a timeout from Duke with 16:19 left.
Loyd also had a highlight-reel layup off a half-court pass from Lindsay Allen, and her three-point play with 12:05 left pushed the lead to 49-36.
Duke pulled within eight with just under 9 minutes left before Michaela Mabrey swished a deep 3-pointer that restored Notre Dame’s double-figure lead.
By that point, the Irish were well on their way to yet another double-digit win: 30 of their 32 victories were decided by at least 10 points.
They beat Florida State by 26 in the quarterfinals before their 35-point semifinal romp against No. 14 North Carolina State.
“It’s good for us going into the NCAAs, it’s a good momentum” boost, McBride said. “But we know what our goals are, we know what our expectations are, and this was one of them.”
The Irish became the first school to go 19-0 through ACC regular-season and tournament play since Duke in 2001-02 and 2002-03, and all but two of their games were decided by double figures.
That included three one-sided wins over the league’s preseason favorite, Duke.
Notre Dame won the previous two by a combined 32 points, including a 21-point drubbing on Feb. 2 that marked Duke’s first ACC loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 2008 and an 11-point defeat in South Bend two weeks ago.