O’Neill offers an O-fer

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Her production from the field matched the number on her jersey.

Kentucky couldn’t have predicted the struggles for leading scorer Jennifer O’Neill.

The last time the Wildcats played Baylor, she finished with a school-record 43 points after four overtimes. By the end of Saturday’s 90-72 loss to Baylor in the NCAA Tournament, O’Neill scored just eight points all on free throws.

O’Neill missed all 12 of her field goal attempts.

“It’s really hard to understand,” Mitchell said. “She is an explosive scorer. It’s hard to figure out 0-for-12.”

O’Neill entered the game scoring slightly more than 12 points per game off the bench for the Wildcats. Her instant offense has typically provided sparks for Kentucky for stretches when she enters the game in the first half. The story couldn’t have been any more different on Saturday.

Mitchell stuck with O’Neill for 12 minutes in the first half despite an 0-for-9 start, hoping she could shoot through the slump.

“I don’t get a sense on those things,” Mitchell said. “I just try to coach them and just tell them to keep working at it and keep shooting.”

O’Neill hit two free throws in the second half and missed three more field goals.

“It’s really hard to fathom how a kid could go 0-for-12. I’m certain she didn’t try to do that. It was just a day where I thought she took some bad shots at times but some of them were really good and just didn’t go.”

Special run

A year after losing all-world center Brittney Griner, Baylor’s run to the Elite Eight has surpassed Griner’s final season. Last year, the Bears lost in an upset to Louisville in the Sweet 16.

Expecting a young Baylor team to push deeper into the tournament this year might not have been fair. Head coach Kim Mulkey didn’t place those kinds of expectations on the team.

“We didn’t talk about this being an Elite Eight team. I talked about the expectations I had that they definitely better be in the NCAA Tournament and let’s see how good we are throughout the course of the year.”

Senior guard Makenzie Robertson knows the highs and lows of the tournament with last year’s loss and a national championship the previous year.

“I’ve been blessed to be on teams that have gone far every year that I’ve been here. I don’t take any of them for granted,” said Robertson, who knocked down three 3-pointers Saturday. “I don’t really compare us to last year just because we’re so different. With what we lost, people didn’t know what to expect, but that gave us motivation to prove people wrong. It just means the world that we’ve been able to get this far. We’ve just taken it one game at a time.”

Milestone mark

With her third basket Saturday, Odyssey Sims became only the second player in Division I women’s basketball history to score at least 1,000 points in a season.

Sims entered the game with 996 points, but an 0-for-6 start from the field left her stuck behind the magic number. She eventually passed it midway through the first half and settled with 1,021 by game’s end.

“I had no idea (when it happened). I knew I was going to reach it, but I wasn’t keeping up with it,” Sims said. “I was just playing basketball. Records and awards don’t mean anything to me right now.”

Missouri State’s Jackie Stiles holds the record for most points in a season with 1,062 in 2001.

Irish await

Baylor knows what it’s like to be the hunted. On Monday, the Bears will take their turn as the hunter and look to beat undefeated Notre Dame.

“We don’t fear anybody. We respect everybody, but we don’t fear anybody,” Mulkey said. “If I had one thing I could change come Monday it would be [the game] wouldn’t be at Notre Dame playing them on their home floor in the regional final. That’s the way it is this year.”

The Irish have won 27 consecutive home games at Purcell Pavilion spanning back to Dec. 5, 2012. The loss? A 73-61 Baylor victory.

“Nobody likes to have any kind of advantage when you’re that close to a Final Four,” Mulkey said. “But we’re going to go out there and fight and claw and try to do the best that we can.”

TJames1@SBTinfo.com 574-235-6214 Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill looks for an open teammate between Syracuse defenders Shakeya Leary, left, and Rachel Coffey during the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/JAMES CRISP)