NOTRE DAME — The whistle blew on Kayla McBride the second time, and the crowd drew a collective breath.
Notre Dame's senior guard headed toward the bench, hampered by two fouls in the first four minutes of the game.
Tasked with banishing Baylor, a team that has foiled Notre Dame all four times the programs have met since 2010, the Irish weren't off to a promising start. The second-seeded Bears took a four-point lead that it held onto for the first 10 minutes of the half.
Then Jewell Loyd took control.
In the wake of her destruction, Notre Dame finally moved past Baylor, 88-69, for a spot in its fourth straight Final Four.
Playing like a woman possessed, the sophomore point guard posted eight straight points to steer Notre Dame on a 16-2 scoring run. She scored a put-back layup, sliced down the lane like Michael Jordan and finished the 3-point play. She then hit another free throw and a layup, all in a 93-second span to give the Irish a six-point advantage.
Her scoring spree left Baylor flatfooted. Losing McBride was supposed to play to Baylor's advantage. Instead, the Bears lost their lead before they could even blink.
"We needed every single thing she gave," head coach Muffet McGraw said. "Jewell felt like she could score. She wanted the ball. A lot of the things that we try to run for Kayla, we ran for Jewell. And she just delivered on every possession."
McBride watched from the bench for most of the first half as Loyd put on a clinic against Baylor star Odyssey Sims, posting 21 points and grabbing three offensive rebounds. Collective jaws dropped as Loyd scored again and again, but McBride wasn't surprised that Loyd and Natalie Achonwa were doing what they were doing.
"It's something that I expect of them," McBride said. "I think they're talented players. When I am out, I don't have to worry about it because we have so many great players who are willing to step up."
Achonwa was creating her own brand of magic in the post, registering a double-double before the half. She finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds before going down after a hard foul and eventually limping the court. She will get an MRI on her knee Tuesday, April 1.
But Loyd stole the show, especially in the first half. Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey could only watch as she weaved around her team.
"I thought tonight her offense was special," Mulkey said. "She got to the offensive boards and put backs, she did back doors, she took us off the dribble."
Loyd capped her night when she raced Sims for a loose ball, scooped it up and dished it to teammate Ariel Braker on the fast break. Loyd couldn't stop the All-American — who finished with a game-high 33 points — but she could keep up with her.
Loyd finished with 30 points and five rebounds (four offensive), wrapping up the two-game regional stint at Notre Dame with 50 total points and 17 rebounds.
She was voted the MVP of the all-regional team, which also included McBride, Achonwa, Sims and Oklahoma State's Tiffany Bias.
Loyd emerged victorious from a brutal battle with a hardened senior.
She helped Notre Dame move past a demon it's failed four times to conquer. She kept Notre Dame undefeated and on its way to its fourth straight Final Four.
She's not a senior like McBride and Achonwa. But she played like a leader.
NOTRE DAME 88, BAYLOR 69
Sims 12-26 6-6 33, Johnson 1-6 2-2 4, Davis 3-12 1-2 7, Robertson 2-5 0-0 6, Agbuke 2-9 5-5 9, Fuqua’ 0-0 0-0 0, Chandler 0-0 0-0 0, Wright 1-3 0-0 3, Small 1-2 0-0 2, Higgins 0-0 0-0 0, Cave 2-8 1-3 5. Totals 24-71 15-18 69.
NOTRE DAME (36-0)
Achonwa 6-9 7-8 19, Allen 1-5 6-6 8, McBride 2-9 7-8 11, Loyd 12-27 4-5 30, Braker 4-4 2-2 10, Holloway 0-0 0-0 0, Nelson 0-0 0-0 0, Reimer 2-7 0-0 4, Cable 0-1 2-2 2, Mabrey 1-4 2-2 4, Huffman 0-0 0-0 0, Wright 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-66 30-33 88.
Halftime_Notre Dame 44-32. 3-Point Goals_Baylor 6-17 (Sims 3-8, Robertson 2-5, Wright 1-3, Small 0-1), Notre Dame 2-11 (Loyd 2-6, McBride 0-1, Allen 0-2, Mabrey 0-2). Fouled Out_Davis. Rebounds_Baylor 44 (Agbuke 12), Notre Dame 46 (Achonwa 15). Assists_Baylor 13 (Sims 6), Notre Dame 13 (McBride 5). Total Fouls_Baylor 27, Notre Dame 19. Technical_Baylor Bench. A_8,774.