An unprecedented season for Notre Dame and coach Muffet McGraw has led the Fighting Irish to a familiar place.
Jewell Loyd scored 30 points and the unbeaten Irish defeated Baylor 88-69 on Monday night in South Bend, Ind., to earn a fourth straight trip to the Final Four.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this team,” coach Muffet McGraw said. “This senior class came in unheralded and set all kind of records. To win it at home, to celebrate with our fans, is special. Jewell Loyd, what a phenomenal game.”
Natalie Achonwa added 19 points and 15 rebounds for the Irish (36-0), who will bring a perfect record into the Final Four for the first time, facing either Louisville or Maryland on Sunday night in Nashville.
The Irish did get a scare Monday when Achonwa hurt her left knee with just under five minutes left. McGraw said her center would have an MRI exam today.
“It sucked the air right out of the room,” McGraw said. “I don’t know what it is yet. … You hate to see a player go down like that.”
It’s the fourth straight season that the Irish are in the national semifinals. Notre Dame became the sixth school to reach the Final Four in four straight seasons, joining UConn, LSU, Stanford, Louisiana Tech and Tennessee.
The loss ended the brilliant career of Baylor guard Odyssey Sims, who finished this season with 1,054 points — eight short of Jackie Stiles’ NCAA record for a single season. Sims scored 33 for Baylor (32-5), but had little help on offense. Her teammates were a combined 12 of 45 with no one else scoring in double digits.
“I had a great run. My four years, I’ve enjoyed it,” Sims said. “Not one moment have I been unhappy at Baylor. I got to play with a lot of great players. This season is probably my most enjoyable. I like the team I’ve been around.”
The win extended Notre Dame’s home winning streak to 28 games. Baylor was the last team to beat the Irish in South Bend – doing so on Dec. 5, 2012 – but that team had 6-foot-8 star Brittney Griner.
Despite the loss, it was another superb season for Baylor. The Lady Bears advanced to the regional final for the fourth time in five seasons, a year after they were eliminated in the regional semifinals with Griner by Louisville in one of the biggest upsets in women’s basketball history.
Tailing 21-17 midway through the first half, Loyd and Achonwa got the Irish going. Achonwa, who had a double-double in the first half, started a 14-0 run with a layup. Loyd then scored the next eight points.
Lincoln Regional final
(1) Connecticut 69,
(3) Texas A&M 54: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis continued her splendid run through the NCAA tournament with 17 points, and Connecticut advanced to the women’s Final Four for the seventh straight year.
The defending national champion Huskies (38-0) won their 44th straight game and will be going for their record ninth national championship in Nashville. Their semifinal opponent Sunday will be either Stanford or North Carolina.
Stefanie Dolson, who made her 150th career start to tie the NCAA record, had 14 points and 10 rebounds and blocked a career-high eight shots.
Bria Hartley had 14 points, Breanna Stewart added 13 and Moriah Jefferson 11.
Courtney Walker led Texas A&M (27-9) with 14 points.