Notre Dame bench comes up big in win over Baylor
SOUTH BEND –Only three minutes and 52 seconds into the game, Kayla McBride headed to the bench.
Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer picked up her second foul and took a seat with zero points and two turnovers. She wouldn’t return for the remainder of the first half.
The bench needed to step up and it did.
After an 88-69 victory, in which McBride played only 18 minutes, head coach Muffet McGraw couldn’t stop naming players that rose to the occasion.
It started with Lindsay Allen, a starting guard that had to help run the offense in McBride’s absence.
“I was probably most proud of Lindsay Allen,” McGraw said. “She had the ball in her hands the whole game.”
Allen finished with eight points, three assists and just one turnover with Odyssey Sims guarding her for much of the night.
Madison Cable stepped up in a pinch. She drained two free throws in place of Natalie Achonwa, who left the game with a knee injury with 4:51 remaining.
“There was some pressure on those free throws,” McGraw said. “She did a nice job defensively. She’s in the right spots trying to take charges, getting rebounds. She really helped us tonight.”
On the interior, Ariel Braker gathered loose balls and ran the floor to convert transitions baskets.
“She was the ‘X’ factor today,” McGraw said. “She was able to convert on some breakaways. In the two-on-one they left her open a little bit. … What she does defensively and rebounding-wise, it sometimes gets overlooked. She was a big contributor tonight.”
Braker finished perfect from the field with four field goals and two free throws for 10 points in addition to her six rebounds and four steals.
McBride, watching much of the game from the bench, may have been the least surprised by the team’s success filling roles.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” McBride said. “It’s something that I expect of them. They’re talented players. It says a lot about this entire team that when I am out, I don’t really have to worry about it because we have so many great players who are willing to step up.”
Stopping all-star guard Odyssey Sims proved to be a monumental task Monday night. Sims, who played nearly the entire game, scored 33 points, the most allowed to a single player by Notre Dame all season.
“She’s good,” said Jewell Loyd, who frequently matched up on Sims defensively. “She knows how to split the defense. It was a team effort tonight to stop her. I think we did a pretty good job.”
The thought of a pretty good job resulting in 33 points allowed brought laughter from McGraw and McBride, sitting next to Loyd in the postgame press conference.
“Our goal was to hold her to 40,” McGraw added with a smile.
Sims finishes her Baylor career with 2,533 points after accumulating 1,054 as a senior. Sims is only the second Division 1 women’s basketball player to score more than 1,000 points in a season. She finished just shy of Jackie Stiles’ record of 1,062 for Missouri State in 2001.
Losing on road
After the regional semifinal victory, Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey lamented the idea of having to play on Notre Dame’s home floor for a trip to the Final Four. A raucous crowd of Irish supporters proved to be a factor in Monday’s victory.
“To win it at home, that was really amazing to be able to celebrate with our fans,” McGraw said. “They were so loud and so important to that win today. We definitely could not have done it without them.”
Mulkey, upset with the officiating, drew a technical foul in the second half. Only the cheers of the Irish crowd could muffle her displeasure. Asked after the game if the Irish were given a home-team advantage with the officials, Mulkey asked for the next question.
The Purcell Pavilion crowd of 8,774 didn’t welcome Baylor warmly. Clearly frustrated by the noise generated by the green-clad Irish fans, Odyssey Sims put her finger to her mouth as if to silence the crowd after making a basket in the first half that cut the Notre Dame lead to eight.
Later in the second half, Sims was greeted with a round of boos when she re-entered the game between free throw attempts. In return, she looked around and applauded the crowd.
“It’s really unfortunate that you have to play such a big game on a home court,” said Baylor guard Makenzie Robertson. “I’d love to have faced them on a neutral court, but we can’t get that. The crowd was loud, but we still just didn’t do what we needed to do.”
TJames1@SBTinfo.com 574-235-6214 Twitter: @TJamesNDI