Notre Dame, UConn women advance to Final Four

Posted March 31, 2014, at 10:41 p.m.
Last modified April 01, 2014, at 1:15 a.m.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Jewell Loyd scored a team-high 30 points and Natalie Achonwa added 19 to go with a game-high 15 rebounds as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Baylor Lady Bears 88-69 in an NCAA women’s basketball tourney Elite Eight matchup Monday night.

Kayla McBride contributed 11 points and five assists for top-seeded Notre Dame (36-0), which became just the sixth team all-time to make four consecutive Final Four appearances. Ariel Braker tallied 10 points, six rebounds and four steals for the Fighting Irish, who will take on either a four-seed in Maryland or third-seeded Louisville in Nashville, Tenn. on Sunday.

Odyssey Sims notched a game-high 33 points to lead the offense for Baylor (32-5), which lost to Notre Dame for the first time in five tries. Sune Agbuke grabbed a team-best 12 rebounds to go with nine points for the second-seeded Lady Bears, who shot just 33.8 percent from the field.

Sims scored Baylor’s first nine points of the second half as the Lady Bears used a 12-4 run to pull to within 48-44 with 15:21 to play. Leading by five with 7:19 remaining, the Fighting Irish ran off eight unanswered points to neutralize the Baylor threat and, after a pair of free throws from Agbuke cut the lead to 11, Notre Dame scored 11 of the game’s final 14 points to wrap up the win.

Baylor held a 21-17 edge just past the midway point of the first half before Notre Dame began to impose its will with a 14-0 run that featured eight straight points from Loyd to take command of the game 31-21 with 5:44 left until halftime. Sims shrank the deficit to single digits, pulling the Lady Bears to within nine with a 3-pointer late in the frame but the Fighting Irish carried a 44-32 advantage into the break.

Connecticut 69, Texas A&M 54

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 17 points and all five starters reached double figures as the defending champion Huskies moved past the Aggies in an NCAA tournament Elite Eight matchup in Lincoln, Neb.

Stefanie Dolson added 14 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high eight blocks for top-seeded Connecticut (38-0), which advanced to the Final Four for the seventh consecutive season and will face either a two-seed in Stanford or fourth-seeded North Carolina on Sunday. Bria Hartley contributed 14 points, Breanna Stewart notched 13 and Moriah Jefferson turned in 11 to go with a team-high seven assists for the Huskies, who totaled 20 assists versus 10 turnovers while plucking away five steals.

Courtney Walker finished with 14 points and five rebounds to lead Texas A&M (27-9), which had won its previous three tournament contests by at least 15 points. Courtney Williams compiled 13 points and six boards for the third-seeded Aggies, who also got 12 points and seven rebounds from Jordan Jones.

Texas A&M jumped out to an early advantage, leading 11-4 just over six minutes into the opening half before a 23-6 run put Connecticut in control. Mosqueda-Lewis led the Huskies with 12 points at halftime as Connecticut shot 50 percent from the field in the opening stanza — compared to 28.9 percent for the Aggies — en route to a 34-23 lead at intermission.

After the break, a jumper by Jones capped a 14-6 surge that pulled Texas A&M to within 40-37 just under five minutes into the second half. The Huskies countered with 10 unanswered points to regain control and, after Tori Scott’s basket got the Aggies back to within 10 points with just under nine minutes to play, Connecticut put the game away as Stewart and Dolson scored four points apiece during a 10-3 burst.

Two regional finals set Tuesday night

In the 2005-06 season, when the University of Maryland women’s basketball team won the national championship, coach Brenda Frese’s top assistant was Jeff Walz. He proved an invaluable resource on the bench, in the locker room and on the recruiting trail. The two routinely discussed strategy, and in those sessions, Frese foresaw a bright future for her coaching disciple wherever his career would lead.

Two seasons after helping the Terrapins to their first and only NCAA title, Walz moved on to become head coach at the University of Louisville. And in that time he has catapulted the Cardinals onto the national stage with two appearances in the championship game. Included in Walz’s Louisville resume is an 82-81 victory last season over reigning national champion Baylor University in the regional semifinals that is considered among the most improbable upsets in the sport’s history.

Tuesday night, Frese and Walz meet for a third time as adversaries in the NCAA tournament’s round of eight in the Louisville Region, but both coaches indicated the showdown will be more about the players than the dynamic between teacher and mentor. The Stanford Regional final will also be held with Stanford taking on North Carolina.

The fourth-seeded Terrapins advanced to their second regional final in three years by beating No. 1 seed University of Tennessee, 73-62, Sunday afternoon. In the second regional semifinal, third-seeded Louisville defeated No. 7 Louisiana State University, 73-47.

“I knew when we worked together that he would be a star,” Frese said of Walz. “We went through a lot obviously in our four years together. I can think back to our first season when we went down and played Duke and got drilled by them by 51 points, and four years later we were standing on the podium to be able to win a national championship. That whole staff, including Jeff, was a very important part of our success, and it was a really fun time for us as a program.”

Maryland (27-6) and Louisville (33-4) have split their two games since Walz left College Park, Md.

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