By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Baylor's Avenging Tour has completed three stops.
The Lady Bears lost four games this season – to Kansas, West Virginia, Kentucky and Connecticut. Baylor has beaten the first three on the list in rematches, with Saturday's 90-72 triumph over third-seeded Kentucky moving the Big 12's lone remaining post-season team into the final of the Notre Dame Regional.
To get that shot at evening the score with the Huskies, the Lady Bears will face a team that has its own get-even reasons. Top-seeded Notre Dame (35-0) has lost all four times it has faced Baylor, including the 2012 national championship and the last time it lost on its home court.
"It's always difficult when you go to somebody's home court," Lady Bears senior guard Makenzie Robertson said. "We see these kind of crowds throughout Big 12 play. We embrace it and take it as a challenge and we'll do our best."
Robertson was then interrupted by her mom, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey.
"I wouldn't say we embrace it," she said with a rueful smile. "We don't have any choice."
Asked later about playing a game with the Final Four on the line on another team's home court, Mulkey pump faked.
"You want me suspended again? I won't answer that either," she said, before continuing. "I think it's a fair question. Look, nobody wants to be on a regional tournament on somebody's home floor. That's about the extent of what I will say."
The NCAA women's tournament format will change (again) next season, but for now the Lady Bears face a significant challenge. The Fighting Irish have been to three consecutive Final Fours. Baylor has one player (Odyssey Sims) with significant Final Four experience.
"It would mean a lot (getting to the Final Four), especially since nobody really expected us to be here," said Sims, who has scored 1,021 points and is 62 points from the NCAA single-season record. "This team has grown faster than all of us expected."
Notre Dame is averaging 89 points in three NCAA Tournament victories, is making 53 percent of its shots and dominating the boards by 14 per game. The Fighting Irish jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first four minutes of their semifinal victory over Oklahoma State.
"They get a lot of their points in transition and we're going to have to make sure we do a great job of getting back and not letting them get into it early," Sims said.
Sims is averaging 27.7 points, five rebounds and five assists per game in the NCAA Tournament. Freshmen post players Nina Davis and Khadijiah Cave are combining to 33 points and 14 rebounds.
"I don't think anybody has come up with a defense to stop or slow down Odyssey," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "The problem with a great guard like her, everybody watches her when she's got the ball. You concentrate on stopping her and she finds somebody open for a layup."
Notre Dame Regional final
6:30 p.m. Monday, South Bend, Ind., ESPN.
No. 2 Baylor (32-4) vs. No. 1 Notre Dame (35-0)
How the Lady Bears got here: Baylor won the automatic bid from the Big 12 Conference and defeated No. 15 Western Kentucky, 87-74, in the first round, No. 7 California, 75-56, in the second round and No. 3 Kentucky, 90-72, in the regional semifinal.
How the Fighting Irish got here: Notre Dame won the Atlantic Coast Conference's automatic bid. The Irish defeated No. 16 seed Robert Morris, 93-42, in the first round, No. 9 seed Arizona State, 84-67, in the second round and No. 5 Oklahoma State, 89-72, in the regional semifinal.
Baylor update: Odyssey Sims with 1,021 points this season is the second player in NCAA Division I history to score 1,000 in a season. She needs 42 points to pass Jackie Stiles, who had 1,062 points for Missouri State in 2000-01. … The last team to beat the Fighting Irish at Purcell Pavilion was Baylor, on Dec. 5, 2012. … Baylor sophomore guard Niya Johnson has 31 points and three turnovers in three NCAA games. She leads Division I in assist/turnover ratio at 4.17. … In her last six games, freshman Khadijiah Cave is averaging 8.8 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Notre Dame update: In Baylor's last 289 games, only two opponents (Stanford and West Virginia) have been able to make 50 percent of their shots. Notre Dame leads the nation in field goal shooting (51.3 percent) and has made 53 percent of its shots in three NCAA victories. … A victory would send the Fighting Irish to the Final Four for the fourth consecutive season. Notre Dame played in the national championship game in 2011 and 2012 and lost to Big 12 teams each time (Texas A&M and Baylor).
What's next: The winner of Baylor-Notre Dame advances to the Final Four semifinals in Nashville and will take on the winner of the Louisville Regional.