ND Women’s Basketball
Notre Dame tops Baylor to earn ‘incredibly satisfying’ trip back to Final Four
Mary Green | Monday, March 30, 2015
OKLAHOMA CITY — Add Tampa, Florida, to a growing list that includes Nashville, New Orleans, Denver and Indianapolis — the last four sites of the Women’s Final Four.
No. 1 seed Notre Dame booked its trip to the NCAA tournament’s final weekend for a fifth straight year with a 77-68 win over No. 2 seed Baylor on Sunday in Oklahoma City.
The Elite Eight matchup featured 15 lead changes and seven ties, and the Irish (35-2) led for just over 16 of the 40 minutes, including only the last 12 seconds of the first half.
“I think this was one of the best games in terms of our persistence, our relentless approach,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “We got down early, and we just never quit, and we kept coming back, kept coming at them, did what we had to do.”
Sophomore guard Lindsay Allen found her shooting touch for the second straight game at Chesapeake Energy Arena, putting up a team-leading 23 points, 17 of those in the second half. Allen preceded that by collecting a career-high 28 points in a win over Stanford on Friday and was named Oklahoma City regional MVP on Sunday for the combined effort.
“I think she’s the best point guard in college basketball, but I’ve been saying that throughtout the year,” McGraw said of Allen. “She really showed it throughout the night [Sunday].”
While Allen’s performance fueled the Irish in the second half, junior guard Michaela Mabrey completed a perfect 4-of-4 game from behind the arc in the first half, notching 14 total points.
Mabrey played just over a minute after the break before heading to the bench for good because of lightheadness, McGraw said.
Senior guard Madison Cable stepped in Mabrey at that point and was on the court for 18 minutes in the second half, when she picked up six points and five rebounds.
However, Cable’s biggest moment of the night came with a rejection of a layup by Lady Bears sophomore forward Nina Davis, when Baylor (33-4) was beginning to cut into Notre Dame’s single-digit lead. The block sent the ball flying into the Baylor band and brought the Irish bench to its feet.
“I thought she had two huge plays, the block on Nina Davis in transition, which was just a huge stop that we had to have at that point, and then she hit the 3 at the other end,” McGraw said of Cable. “I thought those two were really key for us down the stretch.”
Cable offered a different perspective on the defensive stop.
“I was probably one of the people supposed to be back, not letting them get down in transition, so I ran back and jumped in and got lucky and got the ball,” she said. “I think it was good for us that they didn’t score there.”
Davis led all players with 26 points and 13 rebounds, but she and two other starters for the Lady Bears — senior center Sune Agbuke and junior guard Niya Johnson — finished the 40 minutes with four fouls apiece. Agbuke was also charged with flagrant 1 foul in the first half after referees determined she intentionally elbowed Brianna Turner in the head.
However, Notre Dame was not able to fully capitalize on its trips to the free-throw line, converting just 12 of its 24 shots.
“I don’t know — like four fouls, you have to play smart at the end of the day,” Johnson said. “I guess we tried to stay off of them. They were calling it pretty tight at the end, and I don’t know, it was just difficult playing with four fouls.”
Irish freshman forward Brianna Turner totaled 12 points and 10 rebounds, and junior guard Jewell Loyd — who joined Allen on the all-region team — added 13 points. Sunday’s game marked the third consecutive in which four Irish players were in double-digit points.
Notre Dame next heads south to Tampa for a national-semifinal matchup next Sunday with South Carolina, the top seed in the Greensboro, North Carolina, region.
Though a trip to the Final Four has become something of a tradition for the Irish — no current player has experienced a season ending before the final weekend — McGraw said this one was especially sweet.
“I’ll tell you, this one was the hardest,” she said. “ … I think we played the toughest schedule in the country, so we learned a lot through it. I thought they came into practice every day, ready to learn, but I still felt we were going to take some lumps at some point, so when we kept on winning, it really built our confidence.
“ … But this one is incredibly satisfying, to see what this team was able to do together.”