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Notre Dame

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Notre Dame
vs. Baylor
What: Notre Dame Regional championship game
When: 7:30 p.m. today
TV: ESPN
Associated Press
Notre Dame’s Kayla McBride, left, and Natalie Achonwa expect to have their hands full with the challenge posed by Baylor and superstar Odyssey Sims.

Irish will test ways to control Baylor’s superstar

– Facing Odyssey Sims, arguably the best player in the country, Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw is approaching the challenge much like Franklin D. Roosevelt did the Great Depression.

“We’re going to try a little bit of everything and hopefully find something that works,” McGraw said. “No one has found a way to stop her yet.”

Nor has anyone found a way to beat top-seeded Notre Dame (35-0).

But Sims and No. 2 seed Baylor (32-4) present the threat that a star perimeter player at her absolute best could knock the Irish out of the NCAA tournament tonight at Purcell Pavilion.

With a trip to the Women’s Final Four in Nashville, Tenn., at stake, the Irish must deal with the nation’s second-leading scorer.

A senior point guard, Sims is averaging nearly five assists per game while averaging 28 points.

The Bears, champions of the Big 12, like to put Sims at the top of the floor and let her run high pick-and-rolls.

How Notre Dame’s help defense copes with that strategy will be a main point of interest.

“We know Odyssey’s really good coming off ball screens,” Irish guard Kayla McBride said. “I think the posts have done a good job all year when we have played players who like to come off ball screens.”

Notre Dame will defend the pick-and-roll game differently when it involves Sims.

“We’re going to switch it up a little bit and rely on our team defense and help-side rotations,” McBride said.

While the Irish acknowledge they can’t completely erase Sims, they are confident that Jewell Loyd can apply withering pressure on the perimeter.

“I think it is fun guarding players like her,” Loyd said. “I take pride in my defense. I give credit to my team. The confidence that they give me is great, saying, ‘We need you to stop this person.’”

Sims said she expects to see a physical defense.

“I am used to it now,” she said. “The main thing is to stay patient, no matter what defense they throw at us, don’t rush, don’t play into the defense’s hands and keep composure.”

Any discussion of defense, however, gives way to the fact that both sides are bracing for a lot of offense.

Notre Dame leads the nation in field goal percentage at 51.3 percent. The Irish score 87.8 points per game, good for second place, while Baylor comes in third at 84 points per game.

“Fans enjoy a lot of offense,” McGraw said. “There’s certainly going to be a lot of shots. I don’t think the shot clock will come into play at all. I think it will be a fun, up-tempo game.”

In the end, even if Sims is brilliant individually, the Irish won’t mind as long as they’re on the right side of the scoreboard.

“It’s Odyssey,” McBride said. “She’s done so much. I have all the respect in the world for her. I think it is just playing 40 minutes of Notre Dame basketball.”

cgoff@jg.net

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