Notre Dame forward Natalie Achonwa (11) blocks a shot by Oklahoma State guard Tiffany Bias (3) as guard Jewell Loyd, at rear, helps to defend during their regional semifinal in the NCAA basketball tournament at the Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, March 29, 2014.Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Natalie Achonwa and Notre Dame put a quick end to Oklahoma State's hopes of winning its first NCAA Tournament semifinal regional game.
Achonwa got the Fighting Irish going early and never let up as she finished with 23 and Jewell Loyd added 20 to lead the Fighting Irish to an 89-72 victory over the Cowgirls on Saturday, matching Oklahoma State's second biggest loss of the season.
Notre Dame (35-0) is a victory away from its fifth straight Final Four berth, while the Cowgirls (25-9) fell to 0-3 in regional semifinals.
The Irish jumped to a 14-0 lead in the opening 3:31, capped by a three-point play by Achonwa, as the Cowgirls missed their first six shots. The Cowgirls later used a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 24-14, but that was as close as they got.
Achonwa was 10-of-13 shooting with seven rebounds, six assists, five blocks and two steals, although she also had eight of Notre Dame's 12 turnovers. The Irish outscored the Cowgirls 42-34 in the paint and had a 46-36 advantage in rebounds.
Tiffany Bias wasn't slowed by an ankle injury suffered against Purdue, hitting a pair of 3-pointers early to end Oklahoma State's scoreless streak and finishing with 17 points and 11 assists. LaShawn Jones added 16 points and three blocked shots and Brittany Atkins had 13 points.
Kayla McBride added 18 points as the top-seeded Irish won at home for the 27th straight game. They will seek to extend that streak Monday against Baylor (32-4), which is 4-0 all-time against the Irish and the last opponent to win at Purcell Pavilion on Dec. 5, 2012.
Achonwa hit the first two baskets of the game and Loyd drove through the heart of the Oklahoma State defense for a fastbreak layup and added a free throw after being fouled as the pair had seven points apiece as the Irish jumped to a 16-3 lead.
She outscored the entire Oklahoma State team in the opening seven minutes, 13-7, as she was 6-of-7 from the floor with a three-point play, helping the Irish open a 24-7 lead. She had 15 points at halftime with four blocks, four assists and two steals. The most impressive play, though, was a behind-the-back pass around the back of an Oklahoma State defender for an easy basket inside by Madison Cable to give the Irish a 40-24 lead.
With time running out in the first half, the Notre Dame crowd chanting "We are ND" and the Cowgirls playing for the last shot, Achonwa capped the half by blocking a shot by Jones and slamming her hands emphatically together as the buzzer sounded and the Irish ahead 49-35.
The Cowgirls cut the lead to 12 points twice early in the second half, but never really threatened as the Irish responded the second time with a 6-0 spurt to take move ahead 57-39 on a basket inside by Achonwa. The Irish opened an 82-62 lead later in the half on a 3-pointer by McBride.
The Irish shot 51 percent for the game, while Oklahoma State shot 41 percent.
For the Cowgirls it was a disappointing end to the best three-year stretch in school history, winning 69 games that included a WNIT title in 2012 and back-to-back berths in the NCAA tournament. All that came after the program was devastated 2 1/2 years ago by a fatal plane crash that killed coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna during a recruiting trip.