SOUTH BEND, Ind. – To beat perfect, you've got to play perfect. Unfortunately for Oklahoma State, the first four minutes Saturday were as far from perfect as Stillwater is from South Bend.
The fifth-seeded Cowgirls want a do-over or a reset button. After falling behind by 14 in the first four minutes, they played top-seeded Notre Dame even the rest of the way. The early deficit led to a season-ending 89-72 defeat for Oklahoma State in the semifinals of the Notre Dame Regional.
"I don't know if we were awe struck a little bit or not, but it did seem like we were a step behind in everything we did in the first five or six minutes," Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said. "We were sending two back in transition and they were just blowing past us.
"We haven't been on this stage and sometimes you've got to live it and go through it to really understand what it's like."
Oklahoma State was facing Notre Dame (35-0) on its home court. A sellout crowd – there were ticket scalpers doing a brisk business in chilly conditions - most wearing lime green t-shirts supporting the Fighting Irish, sat through the first game conserving their cheering energy.
They were rewarded when Notre Dame made four of its first six shots. At the 16:30 mark, Notre Dame had a 14-0 lead. Three minutes and 20 seconds later, the lead was 24-7.
That's not how upsets happen.
"I think early on the crowd got to them a little bit because they missed some easy shots they normally would make," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I think getting out to that big lead was really key for us."
Natalie Achonwa, a 6-3 senior, bedeviled the Cowgirls from the start. She finished with 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting and added seven rebounds, six assists, a career-high five blocked shots and two steals.
Notre Dame's balanced attack – Jewell Loyd had 20 points and 12 rebounds while Kayla McBride added 18 points – kept the Cowgirls from mounting a serious rally. They trimmed the Irish lead to 24-14 midway through the first half but never got within single digits.
"After probably the first five to seven minutes, I thought our kids played somewhat even with them," Littell said. "But sometimes you've just got to say someone's pretty darn good. And that team is really, really good and well coached. We got beat today by a better team."
Notre Dame had a season-high 10 blocked shots, outscored the Cowgirls 42-34 in the paint and had a 46-36 advantage in rebounds.
"Their transition really killed us," Oklahoma State senior Tiffany Bias said.
Bias closed out her marvelous career playing 39 minutes. She scored 17 and had 11 assists. She injured her left ankle in the second-round victory over Purdue but said Friday that there was no doubt she would play.
"I knew it could be one and done," Bias said. "Coach (Littell) always tells me 'Have no regrets.' This is what we worked for, playing teams like this, so we came out here and gave it all we could."