Notre Dame women's team targets Baylor point guard

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — All eyes will be on Baylor All-American point guard Odyssey Sims Monday night in an NCAA women’s basketball tournament Elite Eight game — and that’s the problem.

Too much focus on Sims runs the risk of losing complete track of Baylor’s other players.

“I think that (Sims) creates so many problems for you because when she attacks and gets in the lane, you focus on her, which is what a lot of people did last year with Skylar (Diggins),” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think the problem is that you focus on her and you forget about the other people and they put themselves in great positions to score.”

No. 1 seed Notre Dame (35-0) plays Sims and No. 2 seed Baylor (32-4) at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Monday at Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion. The winner advances to the Final Four.

Sims, a 5-8 senior, is second in the nation in scoring at 28.4 points a game. She also averages 4.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds. Sims has 1,021 points this season, second only to Missouri State’s Jackie Stiles for most points scored in a season. Sims is 41 points behind Stiles’ record of 1,062.

This season, Sims has faced the box-and-one defense, the triangle-and-two, face guards, double teams, hedging and traps, among other containment defenses.

“She’s seen it all, and for her to average the number of points that she has this year is pretty phenomenal,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “I don’t know that I’ve coached a kid who has seen the amount of attention defensively that Odyssey has seen.”

That’s saying something considering the attention graduated 6-foot-8 Player of the Year Brittney Griner received in her four years.

Owner of a 4-0 record against Notre Dame, Sims has had significant numbers against the Fighting Irish. Her best game was in the 2011-2012 regular-season match, when she scored 25 points and had six steals and six assists.

Sims is averaging 17.8 points, 4.0 assists, 3.5 steals and 3.8 turnovers against the Irish. She is shooting 38 percent (17-of-45), including 33 percent from 3-point range (5-of-15). The Irish have never come within double figures of Sims and the Bears, losing by 11, 13, 19 and 12 points.

Where Sims has hurt the Irish is from the free-throw line. Notre Dame’s defense had trouble keeping up with the extremely quick and shifty Sims, and Irish fouls led to Sims hitting 32-of-36 free throws (89 percent) in the four meetings, including 10-of-10 last season.

Irish stopper Jewell Loyd, a 5-10 sophomore guard will get the call against Sims, but the Irish will rely on a frequent rotation and switching of defenses to try to limit Sims.

“Odyssey is a phenomenal point guard, so I don’t think there is any one way to guard her,” Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey said. “I feel like you just have to mix it up against her and rely on your help, because she can score in a variety of ways, and she’s so confident.”

Ivey said that ideally, the Irish would wear Sims down with team defense and fresh defenders.

Sims said that she’s used to seeing switching defenses during a game.

“Coach Mulkey has done a great job with helping me attack defenses, and my teammates have done a great job of defending me in practice and helping me get better,” Sims said. “The main thing is to stay patient on offense, no matter what defense they throw at us, don’t rush, don’t play into the defense’s hands, and to keep composure.”

Loyd said the keys for the Irish in dealing with Sims is to find her in transition and try to keep her from driving in the half-court. She said that guarding an All-American last season in practice, Skylar Diggins, and guarding an All-American this season in practice, Kayla McBride, has prepared her for the challenge.

“I think it is fun guarding players like her,” Loyd said of defending Sims.

Notre Dame will also have to deal with 5-11 freshman forward Nina Davis, who averages 15.2 points and 8.9 rebounds a game.

Baylor has to contend with a Notre Dame attack centered on its big three – Loyd (18.5 points a game), McBride (17.4) and Natalie Achonwa (14.8).

Each team is anticipating a high-scoring, transition-fueled game. Notre Dame is second in the country in scoring (86.8), and Baylor is third (84.0).

“I think the fans enjoy a lot of offense, and I think there’s going to be a lot of offense – there’s certainly going to be a lot of shots,” McGraw said. “I don’t think the shot clock will come into play at all.”

Baylor guard Odyssey Sims drives against Kentucky guard Bria Goss during the first half of an NCAA women's college basketball tournament regional semifinal at the Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, March 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey winds up to greet Odyssey Sims after pulling her late in the second half of Monday's NCAA Tournament game against California. Playing her final home game, Sims scored 27 points in the win. (AP Photo/TONY GUTIERREZ)

WHO: No. 1 seed Notre Dame (35-0) vs. No. 2 seed Baylor (32-4)

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (8,774), South Bend

WHEN: Monday, 7:30 p.m. EDT


RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1)

ONLINE: www.und.com

TICKETS: Sellout. Check on returned tickets at UND.com/buytickets or by calling the ticket office at 574-631-7356, or by visiting the ticket windows at Gate 9 of Purcell Pavilion.