Notre Dame commands Oklahoma
Fighting Irish finish with a 48-25 edge in rebounds
DAYTON, Ohio -- No overtime this time. Notre Dame's defense needed less than a half to end the drama.
Brittany Mallory scored a season-high 20 points Saturday, and Notre Dame's defensive pressure took its toll in a 78-53 win against Oklahoma that sent the second-seeded Fighting Irish to the regional final.
Notre Dame (29-7) will play top-seeded Tennessee on Monday. The Lady Vols (34-2) pulled away from Ohio State in the second half for an 85-75 win - their 25th consecutive - in the other semifinal.
Nicole Griffin scored 18 points for Oklahoma (23-12), which reached the Final Four each of the last two years. Notre Dame's go-for-the-ball pressure crumpled the Sooners' guard-driven offense, which had only eight field goals and 14 turnovers in the decisive first half.
It was the third time in the last four years that the Sooners and Fighting Irish met in the NCAA tournament. The first two games dripped with drama and went to overtime. Notre Dame won the first time, 79-75 in the second round in 2008. Oklahoma got the rematch, 77-72 last year in a regional semifinal in Kansas City.
Add a blowout to the budding rivalry.
Oklahoma (23-12) reached the Final Four each of the last two seasons. Their guard-driven offense led by Danielle Robinson (18.4 points per game) and freshman Aaryn Ellenberg (16.4) got rolling late in the season and pulled them through the first two rounds of the tournament.
They were under constant pressure from a defense that ranks third in the country in steals. There was a hand with green fingernail polish - a Notre Dame tournament tradition - reaching for every pass and every dribble. Robinson finished with 16 points on 6 of 16 shooting. Ellenberg had nine on 4 of 13 shooting.
Natalie Novosel added 15 points, and Devereaux Peters had 17 points and 13 rebounds for Notre Dame, which got the better of a turnover-filled, uptempo game. Each team had 24 turnovers.
Notre Dame opened with a 9-4 run that included three 3s by Mallory, who hadn't made more than three in any game this season. The senior guard was 0 for 10 from behind the arc in her last three games. She finished with a career-high six 3s.
Notre Dame closed the first half with a 21-4 run set up by the incessant defensive pressure. Notre Dame had nine steals and forced 14 turnovers in the first half.
The Fighting Irish suffered a setback when senior forward Becca Bruszewski twisted her left knee in a pileup under the basket early in the half. She tried to play but left the game a few minutes later and reared back in pain when a trainer checked the knee. She got up and limped to the locker room.
Bruszewski is Notre Dame's second-leading rebounder, nicknamed "Bruiser'' for her physical play under the basket. She missed most of the first half, returning with a brace on her knee in the closing minutes. She didn't return until the closing minutes of the half and finished with four points and two rebounds in 16 minutes.
Didn't matter. Even with that front-line loss, Notre Dame dominated the boards and pulled away. The Fighting Irish finished with a 48-25 edge in rebounds.