SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Oklahoma State couldn't keep up.
Before they knew it, the Cowgirls trailed Notre Dame by 14 points before lighting up their own side of the scoreboard. The undefeated Irish kept Oklahoma State at a distance throughout for a 89-72 victory Saturday in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA women’s tournament.
The fifth-seeded Cowgirls (25-9) started with six straight misses before senior guard Tiffany Bias knocked down a 3-pointer nearly four minutes into the game. Oklahoma State looked stunned by the fast start by the 35-0 Irish who haven't lost a home game at Purcell Pavilion since December 2012.
“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 the first five or six minutes,” said Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell.”We were sending two back in transition and they were just blowing by us. We haven’t been on this stage, and sometimes you’ve got to live it and go through it to really understand what it is.”
Consider it a quick lesson. Only after the first media timeout did Oklahoma State start to look comfortable enough to trade baskets with Notre Dame. Bias scored seven of the first nine points for the Cowgirls to settle into the game.
“They had that quick start and they had the momentum on their side,” Bias said. “We weren’t stopping the ball, and that transition really killed us. It (stinks) that it was at the beginning of the game that started like that.”
After sorting out the offensive struggles, Oklahoma State finished the half shooting nearly 43 percent from the field but still trailed 49-35 with the Irish knocking down 20 of their 36 shots.
“We knew they were going to score,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “We knew we weren’t going to shut them out. They have a really good player in Tiffany Bias. She is really hard to guard and she is so fast. I think early on the crowd got to them a little bit because they missed some easy shots they normally would make.”
Eventually, Oklahoma State started to work the ball inside with success through center LaShawn Jones. She finished with 16 points and six rebounds for the Cowgirls, who scored 34 points in the paint.
Notre Dame seemed to match anything and everything the Cowgirls could throw at them and never relinquished the lead. The Irish led by as many as 20 points twice in the second half with the lead shrinking no smaller than 12-point halftime margin.
“After probably the first five to seven minutes, I thought our kids played somewhat even with them, but sometimes you’ve just got to say someone’s pretty darn good,” Littell said. “And that team is really, really good and well coached.”
The Irish simply outdueled the Cowgirls, who reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008. Notre Dame forward Natalie Achonwa scored a game-high 23 points, guard Jewel Loyd added 20 points and 12 rebounds and guard Kayla McBride notched 18.
“We told our team afterwards, ‘This is what we are striving to be, this is how we are trying to build our program,’” Littell said. “Sometimes you’ve got to see what it’s like. You’ve got to play the best to know what it takes, and we’ll take this as a learning experience and hopefully our program will continue to grow by experiencing this situation.”