SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame’s quest for perfection will continue at the Final Four.
Jewell Loyd scored 30 points and unbeaten Notre Dame advanced to the Final Four for a fourth straight season with an 88-69 win over Baylor on Monday night.
Natalie Achonwa added 19 points and 15 rebounds for the Irish (36-0), who will face either Louisville or Maryland in the national semifinals on Sunday night in Nashville.
Notre Dame became the sixth school to reach the Final Four in four straight seasons, joining UConn, LSU, Stanford, Louisiana Tech and Tennessee.
The loss ended the brilliant career of Baylor guard Odyssey Sims, who finished this season with 1,054 points — eight short of Jackie Stiles’ NCAA record for a single season. Sims scored 33 points for Baylor (32-5), but had little help on offense.
The win extended Notre Dame’s home winning streak to 28 games. Baylor was the last team to beat the Irish in South Bend — doing so on Dec. 5, 2012 — but that team had 6-foot-8 star Brittney Griner.
The loss ended another superb season for Baylor. The Bears advanced to the regional final for the fourth time in five seasons, a year after they — with Griner — were eliminated in the regional semifinals by Louisville in one of the biggest upsets in women’s basketball history.
The Irish took control in the first half with senior Kayla McBride on the bench with early foul trouble. Trailing 21-17 midway through the first half, Loyd and Achonwa got the Irish going. Achonwa, who had a double-double in the first half, started a 14-0 run with a layup. Loyd then scored the next eight points, including a highlight reel three-point play that made it 24-21 and whipped up the sellout home crowd, which included former Irish star Skylar Diggins.
By the time Sims hit a pullup in the lane with 5:32 left the Lady Bears trailed 31-24. The Irish led 44-32 at the half as Loyd finished with 21 points in the first 20 minutes.
Sims rallied the Lady Bears scoring the first nine points of the second half to cut the deficit to 46-41. After a Notre Dame basket Baylor was called for back-to-back offensive fouls — the eighth and ninth called in the game — and coach Kim Mulkey had seen enough, letting the officials know her displeasure. That earned her a technical foul.
The teams traded baskets over the next few minutes and Baylor closed to within 65-60 before Notre Dame took over scoring 16 of the next 20 points, including eight from the free throw line. The Irish were 30 for 33 from the foul line in the game.
The Irish had a scary moment when Achonwa went down holding her left knee after getting fouled with just under five minutes left. After a few moments she got up with help and pointed to her teammates telling them to get it done before heading to the locker room.
They followed their senior leaders advice coming away with the victory. And Achonwa joined her team for the celebration, wearing sweats.
The win was Notre Dame’s first against Baylor, which had won the previous four meetings — including a victory in the 2012 national championship game that completed a 40-0 season for the Lady Bears.
Now Notre Dame is two wins away from becoming the eighth team to go through the season unbeaten.