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Notre Dame

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Associated Press
Notre Dame forward Natalie Achonwa is double teamed by Oklahoma State’s Brittney Martin, left, and Tiffany Bias during the second half Saturday. Achonwa scored 23 points to lead the Irish.

Irish let loose shock and awe

Achonwa, McBride, Loyd lead way in 35th straight win

– Kayla McBride gathered the opening tip and in almost the same motion drove immediately into the teeth of the Oklahoma State defense.

The shot was blocked, but the bold, quick play embodied the early mindset of the Notre Dame women’s basketball team in Saturday’s regional semifinal at Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish intended to throw a massive opening punch. Did they ever.

Racing to a 14-0 lead, top-seeded Notre Dame advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament with an 89-72 rout that was never in doubt.

“Trying to get that attack mentality we needed,” McBride said. “It’s taking it right at them.”

McBride’s teammates followed her lead, holding No. 5 seed Oklahoma State scoreless on its first seven possessions.

The Irish, meanwhile, scored on six of their first nine trips.

“We really built momentum early,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “They looked a little jittery. Our adrenaline was pumping.”

Irish forward Natalie Achonwa was seemingly everywhere and doing everything at all times. She finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists and a career-high five blocked shots.

“She looked so determined,” McGraw said. “She was demanding the ball. We were willing to give it to her. Our guards were so unselfish.”

For Notre Dame, now 35-0 and riding a 27-game home winning streak, Monday’s scene is set.

One final home game. A trip to a fourth straight Final Four on the line. And the opponent is No. 2 seed Baylor, the last visitor to win in South Bend, the team that beat the Irish in the 2012 national championship game.

“It’s not the same teams,” McGraw said. “Certainly, we had that on our minds. You’d like to have a chance to get that team back. We’ll definitely be motivated.”

McGraw hopes the noise level is as loud as Saturday’s, which she called the best ever.

“I thought the roof was going to come off the building,” McGraw said. “The crowd set the tone. Incredible. The fans were awesome.”

The Irish made sure to give them a reason to cheer.

Achonwa’s putbacks opened the scoring before Jewell Loyd snared a rebound and led her own fast break, completing a three-point play.

When Loyd’s second rebound-and-transition bucket combination made it 9-0, Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell scrambled for a timeout.

“I don’t know if we were in awe, but we were a step behind in everything we did the first five minutes,” Littell said. “We were sending two back in transition and they were just blowing by us.”

The Irish never let up.

Loyd had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and McBride scored 18 for Notre Dame, which shot 51 percent from the field.

“Our whole team felt so ready,” Achonwa said. “We were full speed ahead.”

cgoff@jg.net

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