As one nears the end of her freshman season and the other continues to make strides in her game as a sophomore, "Keesh" and "Ace" provide much needed depth to the Irish post game.
Freshman forward Markisha Wright and sophomore forward Natalie Achonwa have combined to provide meaningful minutes off the bench and have taken on the important role of backing up graduate student forward Devereaux Peters.
Averaging 10.4 minutes per game, Wright nears the end of what has been an educational freshman season under the tutelage of Peters and Achonwa.
"The season has been really exciting," the Des Moines, Iowa, product said. "I have learned a lot from all the players, I would say especially from somebody I look up to — Ace, Natalie Achonwa. It has just been a great learning experience for me."
Wright has racked up averages of 3.7 points and 2.4 rebounds per game during her rookie campaign, the highlight of which came in a 128-42 away win over Mercer on Dec. 30. In the game, Wright shot 10-12 from the field, scored 24 points and collected four rebounds in only 20 minutes of action.
While Wright has benefited from Achonwa's guidance, the sophomore said she struggled at times last year to adapt to the college game before impressing in the postseason. During last season's 73-64 loss to Connecticut in the Big East championships title game, Achonwa recorded her first career double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
"I think I found my role by the end of the year," Achonwa said. "I think it might have taken me a little [time], but I had great players to challenge me in practice and great opponents to challenge me in games. I think just the experience of getting to know the college game really contributed to the postseason."
This season, Achonwa has continued her upward trend in securing averages of 7.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in 16.6 minutes of action per game as the first player off the bench.
"I think she's the best sixth man in the Big East," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "She has had a really solid season. I think I trust her. I'm comfortable with her in any situation of the game."
On Dec. 4, 2011, Achonwa scored a career-high 20 points in only 18 minutes in No. 3 Notre Dame's 76-48 win at Creighton. The second year player has been efficient all season with her team-leading field goal percentage of .566.
"I think something I have learned is to value the time I get," Achonwa said. "The efficiency just comes with having the mentality [that] when I come in, it is to give the starters a breather, so we don't want to have a lapse from the bench."
Although both Achonwa and Wright have shown the ability to score in bunches, the players understand their primary task is to help Notre Dame's rebounding effort.
"[The team] had a little trouble at the beginning of the season … Coming in with four guards and one post, we had a different look [from last year] and we had to get used to it," Achonwa said. "At practice coach said, ‘Get back to the basics, remember how to box out, push them back and get the rebound.'"
Despite their early season struggles on the boards, Notre Dame's 10.4 rebounding margin per game is good enough for second-best in the Big East, only slightly behind league-leading Connecticut's average margin of 10.4.
"It is a big deal for us because we play a lot of teams that are really good at rebounding, so we emphasize boxing out first and then crashing the boards," Wright said.
As Wright prepares to see her first postseason action, the Irish expect her to put into effect everything she has learned thus far.
"She is a really good listener, knows what we're trying to do, works hard and is continuing to get better," McGraw said. "I expect big things from her in the future. She's played in big games, won a state tournament, was the MVP of a state tournament in Iowa; so she's had the opportunity to play big-time games."
For now, though, Wright prefers to keep it simple.
"I just go my hardest and I do my role," she said. "I go out there and I do what I am supposed to do, what I am expected to do."
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