Tough First Half Leads To Sweet 16 Loss

Sometimes the story of the game is determined in the first few minutes and that was the case at the Purcell Pavilion on the Notre Dame campus Saturday in the NCAA Women's Tournament Sweet 16. Notre Dame started the game on a 14-0 run, led at halftime by that same margin 49-35, and extended it some in the second half to win 89-72 and continue their unbeaten run (36-0) to the Elite Eight.

The Oklahoma State Cowgirls finish their season 25-8.

With just 17 seconds left on the clock, head coach Jim Littell substituted for Cowgirls standout senior point guard Tiffany Bias. Playing on a sprained ankle from the win at Purdue on Monday night, Bias delivered her usual clutch and team-oriented performance with 17 points and 11 assists.

Bias got a hug from her head coach after leaving the floor, a polite salute from the sold out crowd, and then when she took her seat on the bench the tears began to flow for the face of the Oklahoma State program.

That was the toughest part of the season-ending loss because making the Sweet 16 was a landmark for the Cowgirls.

There is a reason Notre Dame came into the game 35-0 and 15-0 at home in the Purcell Pavilion. Oklahoma State was one and done on the offensive trips that is if the Cowgirls shot wasn't blocked or the ball stolen or a pass throw away.

On the other end Notre Dame was on fire. After a blocked shot attempted by Elizabeth Donohoe, Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa on the other end hit a lay up. Later, Achonwa; who led the Irish with 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots; came up with a steal, hit a teammate with the outlet, but on the other end the ball found itt way back for a lay in. That was the bucket that actually made it 14-0.

Bias, whose 11 first half points led the Cowgirls, hit a 3-pointer to break the ice and the Cowgirls had some success. A 5-0 run narrowed the score to 24-14 and forced Irish head coach Muffet McGraw to call a time out. Out of the time out Notre Dame settled the game with a 7-2 run.

For Oklahoma State, besides Bias, LaShawn Jones had 16 points and several blocked shots. Jones scored a couple of times while fouled, but could not hit her free throws.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Olympian Achonwa was also outstanding with her passing as she made a no-look, wrap-around pass underneath the basket to set up Jewell Loyd for two of her 14 first-half points, and she finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Notre Dame shot 56 percent and out-rebounded the Cowgirls in the first half 24-15. The Cowgirls shot 43 percent in the first half, but without Bias and Jones that percentage would have been around 20 percent.

One aspect that really hurt was Notre Dame taking Brittney Martin out of the game. Martin had 20 points and 20 rebounds in the Cowgirls win at Purdue to make the Sweet 16. Martin did not score her first basket in the game Saturday until there was 1:20 left in the first half.

The second half was a case of the Cowgirls desperately trying to play catch up, and Notre Dame taking advantage of the effort that took and always keeping the Cowgirls at bay.

Notre Dame will now host Baylor, the lone remaining team from the Big 12 and the last team to beat the Irish on their home floor, with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

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