SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame have been on a journey all season to get back to the Final Four.
They’ve met every challenge, running through the season unbeaten.
With a victory over Baylor on Monday night, the Irish will join a select group of schools to make four straight Final Fours. Only UConn, LSU, Stanford, Louisiana Tech and Tennessee have accomplished that feat.
"If that happens that would be a great thing for our program," McGraw said. "It sets us apart from others. Having Skylar (Diggins) lead us to three was fun, but now to have a different team to do that. It’s a really great thing for our program."
Standing in the way is a plucky young Baylor team led by senior guard Odyssey Sims. Coach Kim Mulkey didn’t know what to expect from her team which lost two-time AP Player of the Year Brittney Griner and four other seniors. Sims, who helped guide Baylor to a national championship and 40-0 season as a sophomore, would love to get them to Nashville.
"It would mean a lot, seeing all year nobody expected us to be here" Sims said. "This team has grown faster than all of us really expected. The freshmen came a long way and stepped up to the plate. They learned their role and are giving us a lot of production. It would feel unbelievable."
But now the Lady Bears are back in the regional final for the fourth time in five seasons, a year after the team was eliminated in the regional semifinals by Louisville in one of the biggest upsets in women’s basketball history.
Mulkey knows it will be a tall task for her team to knock off the Irish at home. A place where they have won 27 straight games with the last loss coming against Baylor on Dec. 5, 2012.
"We don’t embrace it, we have no choice," Mulkey said.
Stanford beats Penn State, into own regional final
STANFORD, Calif. -- Chiney Ogwumike had 29 points and 15 rebounds, Mikaela Ruef produced a career performance on both ends, and second-seeded Stanford beat Penn State 82-57 on Sunday to reach the NCAA tournament regional final on its home floor.
The Cardinal (32-3) built a big first-half lead and rolled against the third-seeded Lady Lions to move into Tuesday night’s regional final against either No. 4 seed North Carolina or top-seeded South Carolina.
Ruef recovered from getting poked in the eye early to contribute 11 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals. She was cheered at every chance by the raucous home crowd at Maples Pavilion. Amber Orrange added 18 points in Stanford’s ninth straight NCAA tournament home win.
Ariel Edwards scored 22 points for the Lady Lions (24-8), while leading scorer Maggie Lucas was held scoreless in the second half and finished with six.
It hardly mattered that Hall of Fame Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer spent a day each of the past two summers at her New York home providing tips to Penn State coach Coquese Washington.
Stanford neutralized Penn State’s physical style, with Ogwumike far outmatching the Lady Lions’ athleticism in the paint.
The Cardinal figured they more than earned their home-court comforts, having traveled all the way to Iowa as a surprised No. 2 seed for a pair of 19-point NCAA victories and then home to the Bay Area -- rather than getting to play in West locales of Los Angeles or Seattle.
Ogwumike is determined to carry this team back to Final Four in her last hurrah after their streak ended last March at five consecutive Final Four berths. Stanford lost 61-59 to Georgia in the regional semifinals last year in Spokane, Wash.
No. 3 seed Louisville rolls No. 7 seed LSU, 73-47
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Shoni Schimmel scored 19 points, Tia Gibbs added five 3-pointers and third-seeded Louisville rolled seventh-seeded LSU 73-47 on Sunday to reach the regional final of the NCAA tournament.
Facing an injury-riddled Lady Tigers squad that dressed just eight players, the Cardinals (33-4) rung up another rout highlighted by a season-best 12 3-pointers with the two seniors leading the way. Schimmel was 3 of 5 from beyond the arc and three other Cardinals contributed.
LSU (21-13) on the other hand went 31 minutes with just Danielle Ballard (24 points), Jasmine Rhodes (eight) and Theresa Plaisance (seven) scoring before other players chipped in. By then the game was out of hand and the Lady Tigers shot just 24 percent from the field.
Maryland upsets Tennessee Lady Vols 73-62
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Maryland coach Brenda Frese wanted her Terrapins to send a reminder that they’re still playing too. They did just that by sending home an eight-time national champion and putting themselves a win away from a Final Four.
Alyssa Thomas scored a career-high 33 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as fourth-seeded Maryland upset No. 1 seed Tennessee 73-62 on Sunday in the Louisville Region semifinal.
Maryland celebrated with a brief message on a board in the locker room: "THEY KNOW OUR NAME NOW!"
"Maybe people will start talking about Maryland and what Maryland’s accomplished," Frese said. "We have a story too. We have tradition. I’m so proud of how these kids fought."
The Terrapins (27-6) reached their ninth regional final and first since 2012. They did it against a program the Terps had beaten only four times previously and never before in the NCAA tournament. Maryland improved to 5-10 against Tennessee (29-6) with a little revenge for their previous tournament loss in the 1989 Final Four.
Thomas scored the most points allowed to a single player by Tennessee this season, and she also extended her school record with her 65th career double-double. Lexie Brown added 14 points, Laurin Mincy had 11 and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough 10. But Warlick said Thomas hurt them the most with Tennessee unable to find a way to stop her.