SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Top-seeded Notre Dame moved one step closer Saturday to another Final Four, jumping to an early lead and knocking out fifth-seeded Oklahoma State 89-72. Here's how it went down at the Joyce Center:
KEY STAT: Notre Dame was able to make a difference in second-chance points (24-16) and points in the paint (42-34), receiving more of those chances and limiting Oklahoma State's, especially early on, thanks to a 46-36 rebounding margin.
TURNING POINT: It is probably not a huge exaggeration to say that this game was decided, in large part, in the first 3½ minutes. Notre Dame put together a huge run before the first media timeout, going up 14-0 at the 16:30 mark. The two teams then played to a standstill over the rest of the first half, with the Irish holding a 49-35 lead going into halftime. The Irish gained a bit more separation in the second half, stomping out any sniff of an Oklahoma State rally and outscoring the Cowgirls 40-37 over the final 20 minutes.
KEY PLAYER: Jewell Loyd was sensational for Notre Dame early on. The sophomore scored 14 points in the first half and finished the afternoon with 20 off 9-of-16 shooting, to go with game highs of 12 rebounds and three steals. She left to a standing ovation at the 1:56 mark.
HOW IT WAS WON: Notre Dame jumped to a ridiculously hot start and controlled the game the rest of the way, getting major contributions from faces young (Loyd) and old (Natalie Achonwa, Kayla McBride). Achonwa filled the stat sheet, scoring 23 points off 10-of-13 shooting, pulling down seven rebounds and dishing six assists. McBride overcame early shooting struggles to finish with 18 points and five boards. They were the only three Irish players in double figures.
WHAT'S NEXT: Notre Dame will try to advance to its fourth straight Final Four when it faces second-seeded Baylor in the comforts of Purcell Pavilion. The Lady Bears advanced to Monday's regional final with a 90-72 win over No. 3 seed Kentucky, helping to set up a rematch of the 2012 national title game, which Baylor won 80-61. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, closed the door on one of the best seasons in school history, as the Cowgirls reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in six years and just the third time in program history.