Rachel Terlep
Rachel Terlep
Notre Dame beat writer Rachel Terlep offers scribbles and stories about Fighting Irish sports.

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Notre Dame has "every piece to the puzzle" says Oklahoma State coach

Notre Dame sailed past fifth-seeded Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16. The Irish now face Baylor.

Posted on March 29, 2014 at 11:19 p.m.

The Notre Dame women's basketball team dispatched Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament Saturday, March 28.

After Notre Dame got out to a 14-0 start, Oklahoma State woke up and played the Irish relatively evenly through the rest of the contest. Notre Dame won 89-72.

Familiar ground, familiar foe

The Irish get a chance at revenge Monday, when they play second-seeded Baylor for a shot at the Final Four. Since Notre Dame's trip to the National Championship in 2012, it has lost only three times. Baylor accounts for two of those losses, including Notre Dame's last loss on its home court (Dec. 5, 2012).

The Irish have never beaten Baylor, which holds a 4-0 advantage in the series.

Monday's game marks Notre Dame's fourth trip to the Elite Eight in four years and sixth time in program history.

Jewell a gem on the boards

While Natalie Achonwa pieced together a complete game, sophomore point guard Jewell Loyd posted her sixth career double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

"Right from the get-go, she was really looking to get on the boards and start the break to get us going in transition," head coach Muffet McGraw said of Loyd. "She is such a good rebounder. We are never surprised when she gets a double-double."

Loyd's 20 points puts her at 628 for the year, sixth place in all-time, single-season scoring in program history.

Irish thrive on second-chance points

During the week leading up to the game, Achonwa stressed Notre Dame's increased focus on rebounding — an area the team has struggled in all season.

Not only did the Irish win the board battle 46-36, but Notre Dame scored 24 second-chance points with the help of 15 offensive rebounds.

Rowdy home crowd jars Cowgirl start

While most of Notre Dame's 14-0 run out of the gate can be attributed to Achonwa's smooth play in transition offense, both McGraw and Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell nod to Notre Dame's rambunctious home crowd.

"I thought the crowd set the tone today," McGraw said. "There was no question when we came out to see the sea of green — to hear the excitement, to feel the electricity — that was a phenomenal atmosphere for a game. I thought the roof might come off it was so loud at times."

The sold-out crowd of 8,774 overwhelmingly wore lime green for the Irish and stayed loud the entire contest.

"I don't know if we were in a little bit of awe or not, but it did seem like we were a step behind in everything we did in the first five or six minutes," Littell said. "Sometimes when you're a little tense and a little awestruck, it kind of slows you down a little bit."

Is this team better than the 2013 squad?

While Skylar Diggins ruled Notre Dame for four years, Littell thinks this year's Notre Dame squad is better than last year's.

"I think there are two teams who have separated themselves from the rest of the country, and they are UConn and Notre Dame," he said. "They have every piece to the puzzle — they've got athletes, they've got shooters, they've got post players. They understand the game and they're very efficient about what they do."

McGraw won't commit to either side of the debate, but she does recognize a different team dynamic following Diggins's departure.

"I think we knew when we lost Skylar, every one was going to have to step up and do a little bit more," McGraw said. "She is still sort of here in spirit. I think she has left a legacy of that intensity and competitiveness. I think you see that in Jewell, Ace (Natalie Achonwa) and Kayla (McBride)."

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