Allen elevates game to guide Notre Dame past Baylor, into Final Four

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Notre Dame’s quietest player spoke the loudest Sunday night, and because sophomore point guard Lindsay Allen did, the second-ranked Irish are heading into familiar territory – their fifth straight Women’s Final Four.

When most people think about Notre Dame’s team, they think of junior All-American Jewell Loyd and freshman sensation Brianna Turner. But without Allen, the Irish wouldn’t be heading to Tampa’s Amalie Arena for a semifinal showdown with South Carolina.

The 5-foot-7 Allen scored 23 points, 17 in the second half, and had seven assists with no turnovers, and the Irish held off Baylor for the second straight year in the regional championship game, this time by a 77-68 count before 3,329 fans at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Notre Dame improved to 35-2 earning its 21st win in a row. Baylor closed out at 33-4.

“I think Lindsay is the best point guard in the country,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said after Allen, who totaled 51 points in the two games here to win regional most valuable player honors, outdueled Baylor’s Niya Johnson. Johnson,who had 10 assists and no turnovers, managed just six points on 3-of-13 shooting. “I’ve been saying that all year.”

Loyd, who was hounded again but managed to score 13 points while hitting just five of 18 shots, knows how special Allen can be.

“She’s like my twin sister,” Loyd said. “I think people underestimate her. I’m older than her but I consider her my big sister. I really look up to here. I know she’s my MVP.”

Allen typically passed all the credit off to her teammates when asked about her weekend performance in victories over Stanford and Baylor.

“This was a great weekend,” she said. “Our posts (Turner and Taya Reimer) set some great screens for us in both games, and the guards got really great free-throw line jumpers in both games.”

Turner finished 12 points with 10 rebounds and Reimer shook off foul trouble to total nine points with eight rebounds.

Junior wing Michaela Mabrey hit 4-of-4 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 14 points, and then sat out a lot of the second half with dizziness. McGraw said she should be ready for Notre Dame’s next game against South Carolina, which advanced with an 80-74 victory over Florida State in the Greensboro (N.C.) Regional.

This will be Notre Dame’s fifth straight trip to the Final Four and McGraw thinks it might be the best considering the team’s relative youth after losing seniors Kayla McBride, Natalie Achonwa and Ariel Braker.

“This one is incredibly satisfying to see what this team was able to do together,” she said.

And once again, Notre Dame got production from its bench, particularly from senior Madison Cable, who made a crucial 3-pointer during Notre Dame’s second-half run and finished with six points, six rebounds and two blocks. One of the blocks came just after Allen had given Notre Dame a 69-63 lead with 5:46 remaining. Baylor’s Nina Davis, who with a team-high 26 points and 13 rebounds, broke free behind the Irish defense on the inbounds and Cable ran down, leaped and blocked her shot away from the basket.

The Bears never got closer than four points the rest of the way. Sune Agbuke finished with 12 points and 10 boards for the Bears, while Allen’s counterpart for Baylor, junior Niya Johnson, had 10 assists, no turnovers but just six points on 3-of-13 shooting as she was hounded by Allen and Cable. Allen and Loyd made the all-tournament team while Baylor was represented by Davis and Johnson. The fifth player honored was Samantha Logic of Iowa, who had a triple-double in the loss Friday night to Baylor.

“I think there were three things that really were critical in the difference of the game,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “Notre Dame got several offensive rebounds (in the second half) that gave them another opportunity. I thought their role players absolutely killed us (Mabrey and Cable, who were a combined 5-for-5 on 3-pointers) and the third is we didn’t get to the foul line enough.”

Baylor made 7 of 9 free throws but Notre Dame made just 12 of its 24, going just 9 of 20 in the final 20 minutes. The Irish shot 47.6 percent (30 of 63) and held Baylor to 42 percent (29 of 69) and Notre Dame won the board battle 43-38, with a 16-14 edge on offensive boards after trailing 9-6 in that department after the first 20 minutes. Notre Dame had trouble early in the frontcourt and trailed by as many as nine points in the first half but the 3-point shooting of Mabrey and a flagrant foul by Agbuke ignited an Irish comeback and 39-37 halftime lead.

Baylor opened up a nine-point lead with 11:50 left in the first half on Agbuke’s easy layup but Allen cut into the margin with a pair of baskets.

It was 27-21 Baylor when Agbuke was caught throwing an elbow for the second straight game. On Friday Agbuke, a first-year law student, broke the nose of Iowa’s Bethany Doolittle swinging her elbows in the second half of Baylor’s 81-66 win and pleaded innocent.

This time, she swung an elbow in Turner’s direction and was called for a flagrant foul after officials Denise Katner, Brenda Pantoja and Douglas Knight huddled over replay monitors at the officials’ desk. Turner was given two free throws, made both and Notre Dame was energized. Mabrey hit a 3-pointer the next time down the floor and then Loyd fed Turner to pull the Irish within one, 29-28, with 7:25 left.

Baylor then turned over the ball and Allen raced after it, got it and then missed a breakaway layup. But she reclaimed the ball on a steal and then fed Mabrey, who made a 3-pointer from the top and the game was tied, 31-31, and Mulkey called for a timeout.

The teams traded buckets the rest of the way, with Reimer getting hot at the end with three baskets, the last forging a 37-37 tie with 54 seconds left in the half. Allen then forced a Baylor turnover by tying up Davis and the clock was off with the Irish bringing the ball downcourt. Allen pulled up for a successful jumper from the right shoulder of the key and Notre Dame was ahead for the first time since Mabrey’s 3-pointer started the Irish scoring for the night at the 19:23 mark.

Notre Dame took a 39-37 lead to the locker room but had a scare just before the halftime buzzer when Agbuke got in Loyd’s way and the Irish player fell hard to the floor.

Baylor regained the lead quickly at 40-39 on a three-point play by Davis and the teams traded the lead seven times in the first five minutes of the second half. Notre Dame led 49-48 and the lead could have been more if the Irish had made some free throws. Loyd missed a pair at 18:07 and then Turner missed a pair at 16:51. Davis made one of two free throws to tie the game at 49-49 and the Irish were looking for someone to cool her off. Reimer drew her third foul when Johnson found Davis underneath for a basket at 13:56 and her free throw made it 52-51 before Allen answered with another jumper to beat the clock.

But Davis got loose again, Johnson found her and it was 54-53 as McGraw called her third timeout of the game with 13:12 remaining.

The Irish came out of the timeout with extra energy provided by Cable and Huffman. Loyd made a basket but missed a free throw to put the Irish back on top 55-54 and then Allen hit again for 57-54 lead with 11 minutes left. Cable then got free, lined up a 3-pointer and swished it for a 60-56 Irish lead. Loyd then was fouled but made both free throws for a 62-56 lead that Agbuke cut into with a short jumper. But Allen got a nifty pass from Huffman, threw in a layup, was fouled by Agbuke and missed the free throw – Notre Dame’s sixth miss of the second half – but the Irish were up 64-58 with 7:29 to go.

NOTRE DAME 77, BAYLOR 68

BAYLOR (33-4)

Johnson 3-13 0-0 6, Prince 4-9 0-0 9, Davis 11-19 4-5 26, Wright 4-7 0-0 9, Agbuke 5-12 2-2 12, Cohen 0-0 0-0 0, Wallace 2-8 1-2 6, Cave 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-69 7-9 68.

NOTRE DAME (35-2)

Turner 4-9 4-7 12, Reimer 4-10 1-4 9, Allen 10-16 3-4 23, Mabrey 5-6 0-0 14, Loyd 5-18 3-7 13, Cable 2-2 1-2 6, Huffman 0-1 0-0 0, Westbeld 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 30-63 12-24 77.

Halftime--Notre Dame 39-37. 3-Point Goals--Baylor 3-9 (Wright 1-2, Wallace 1-3, Prince 1-4), Notre Dame 5-7 (Mabrey 4-4, Cable 1-1, Allen 0-1, Loyd 0-1). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Baylor 38 (Davis 13), Notre Dame 43 (Turner 10). Assists--Baylor 19 (Johnson 10), Notre Dame 16 (Allen 7). Total Fouls--Baylor 18, Notre Dame 12. A--3,329.

Notre Dame guard Lindsay Allen (15) reacts during the second half of a regional final against Baylor in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 29, 2015, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Notre Dame guard Lindsay Allen (15) shoots over Baylor forward Sune Agbuke (22) during the second half of a regional final in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 29, 2015, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Notre Dame guard Lindsay Allen, center moves forward during the net-cutting ceremony after Notre Dame defeated Baylor 77-68 in a regional final in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 29, 2015, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)