OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Notre Dame star Jewell Loyd struggled with her shot for the second straight game. Lindsay Allen was there again to help the Fighting Irish advance.
Allen scored 23 points and top-seeded Notre Dame beat Baylor 77-68 in the Oklahoma City regional final Sunday night to reach its fifth consecutive Final Four.
Allen, who scored a career-high 28 points in the regional semifinal win over Stanford on Friday, followed that by making 10 of 16 shots and adding seven assists. The sophomore point guard was selected the Most Outstanding Player in the regional.
“Well, she’s like my twin, and really, and she’s unstoppable,” Loyd said. “I think people have underestimated her, and she’s been awesome all year. It’s been awesome to see how talented she is.”
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said Loyd, a top candidate for national Player of the Year honors, still made her mark.
“The truth is, Jewell Loyd makes all those players get those points, and we don’t have that player, so we’ve got to get it from a bunch of different places,” Mulkey said.
Michaela Mabrey scored 14 points and Loyd added 13 points for the Fighting Irish (35-2), who won their 21st straight game. Notre Dame will play South Carolina next Sunday.
“We’re just excited to be in this moment,” Allen said. “When we’re looking back, we’re just excited to be making it to another Final Four.”
Nina Davis had 26 points and 13 rebounds, Sune Agbuke had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Niya Johnson added 10 assists for second-seeded Baylor (33-4), which had hoped to avenge an 88-69 loss to Notre Dame in last year’s regional final.
A 3-pointer by Madison Cable gave Notre Dame a 60-56 lead, and a pair of free throws by Loyd pushed the advantage to six with just under 10 minutes to play.
Agbuke, Baylor’s 6-foot-4 center, picked up her fourth foul with just over 9 minutes to play, and Notre Dame continued to attack the basket. Cable’s runner with just under a minute to go put Notre Dame up 74-68, and the Fighting Irish held on at the free-throw line.
Baylor made 12 of its first 18 shots to take a 26-17 lead. Baylor led 27-21 when Agbuke was called for a flagrant foul. Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner hit two free throws, then Mabrey made a 3-pointer to cut Baylor’s lead to a point.
“I don’t throw elbows,” Agbuke said. “I just felt like the rest of the game, the refs kept telling me don’t give us something to look at, don’t give us something to look at, like I was doing it on purpose, and I wasn’t.”
Mabrey made another 3-pointer to make it 31-all with just over 6 minutes left in the first half, and Notre Dame finally took the lead on a jumper by Allen with 12 seconds left in the first half that gave the Fighting Irish a 39-37 lead at the break.
Baylor was in foul trouble throughout the second half. Davis, Agbuke and Johnson each finished with four.
“You have to play smart at the end of the day,” Johnson said. “I guess we tried to stay off of them. They were calling it pretty tight at the end, and I don’t know — it was just difficult playing with four fouls.”
Baylor: The Lady Bears shot 49 percent in the first half. … Agbuke, a senior, played a career-high 35 minutes. Her previous high was 32 minutes against Iowa on Friday. She never played more than 26 minutes in a game this season until the Sweet 16. … Johnson had 46 assists and two turnovers in the NCAA Tournament.
Notre Dame: Loyd got hit hard on a screen in the closing seconds of the first half and remained seated on the court as time expired. She appeared a bit woozy when she got up and was helped to the locker room. She started the second half. … Loyd made just 2 of 9 shots in the first half and just 5 for 18 for the game.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
Agbuke, on dealing with the aftermath of the flagrant: “You know, I didn’t understand what I could do different, and it happened, and I don’t know, it rattled me for a minute. But I was just trying to play and just trying to get where I was going.”
Mabrey played just two minutes in the second half after scoring 14 points in the first because she felt light headed. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said Mabrey should be able to play in the Final Four.
“I think she’s going to be fine, probably didn’t eat enough before the game,” McGraw said. “I think she’s going to be fine. She sure looked good in the first half.”
Baylor: Season over.
Notre Dame: Plays South Carolina in the Final Four on Sunday.
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