That it was Achonwa on the other end of the silent communication is no surprise. She is the one who always knows what to say, or in this case, signal. She was a force in the post in the first half, pursuing rebounds, altering shots and proving far too quick for inexperienced defenders. She was also just a force in the arena, exhorting fans to get on their feet and make some noise or making sure Loyd was ready to roll. So of course she refused help when she limped to the locker room after sustaining an apparent knee injury in the closing minutes -- limped off the court only after turning to her teammates and screaming at them to protect their house and finish the job.
"She means so much to us," Ivey said. "She is our post player, she is our leader. She is literally the smartest player on the team. Not taking anything away from Lindsay Allen, but Ace is basically a point guard in a post body. She's very cerebral. She's the one who knows where everybody is supposed to be. ... She's the one who will tell people and has no filter on what needs to be said."
To a person, Notre Dame players feigned certainty that Achonwa will be with them on the court in Nashville, although it felt as if they were trying to convince themselves as much as those asking questions without answers. McGraw offered only the news that the senior will have an MRI on Tuesday.
Notre Dame's coach said she wanted to see a replay of the play that led to the injury. "It looked like a rough play," McGraw said. It certainly wasn't the only question about the officiating on a night that saw more than 40 total fouls and double-digit offensive fouls. Notre Dame got hit hard with the early fouls on McBride and the second-half woes for Achonwa, but Baylor had it at least as bad as it sent the Fighting Irish to the free throw line 33 times.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, who served a one-game suspension in Baylor's first-round win as a result of critical comments she made about the officiating in her team's Sweet 16 loss a season ago, wouldn't comment on the same topic Monday. But at least on arguably the two biggest momentum-swinging calls -- Mulkey's technical after an offensive foul was whistled on Sims in front of the Baylor bench, and the intentional foul on Sims when she wrapped both arms around Notre Dame's Allen on a breakaway after the Baylor star had turned over the ball -- it would have been difficult to argue the merits.
It was an unfortunate element on a night when Sims fought valiantly to prolong her career, Loyd made her mark and both teams played with a frantic energy, but it cut both ways.
"It was really hard to get the rhythm going with fouls, and a lot of offensive fouls both ways," McGraw said. "They have to call the game like they see it, and they wanted to keep it in check, but for us, we need a little bit more of a flow. Especially when Ace is out and K-Mac is out. So really for us, our rhythm was a little suspect anyway."
So here we are one more time, wondering if Notre Dame can prosper without one of its most important players.
But wondering it as the Irish get ready for their fourth consecutive Final Four.