With the loss of Natalie Achonwa and a matchup against their toughest opponent all year, there seemed to be no guarantees for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (37-0) heading into their 4th consecutive Final Four.
But behind one of the best games in senior All-American Kayla McBride's career, the Irish absolutely dominated the Maryland Terrapins (28-7) by an 87-61 score, securing Notre Dame's berth in yet another national championship game.
McBride was sensational all night until an early exit with the game well in hand. Her 28 points, including 16 in the first half, gave her a game high as she scored from everywhere on a 12 of 21 shooting night. For someone who had struggled somewhat in the run-up to the Final Four, this performance goes down as one of the finest in program tournament history.
To compensate for the injury to Achonwa, the Irish also turned in an unexpectedly incredible effort on the boards, winning the battle over the usually-stout Terrapins with a 50 to 21 margin including 19(!) on the offensive end. Markisha Wright was great off the bench, turning in her best performance to date with 12 points and 9 rebounds in a near double-double to lead the Irish frontcourt.
Notre Dame also did a great job frustrating Maryland's All-American Alyssa Thomas, who absolutely lit them up for 29 and 12 in College Park back in January's close affair. She never was quite right Sunday night, as foul trouble and some untimely turnovers flustered her en route to a subpar 14 point effort on 5 of 13 shooting.
Notre Dame was simply dominant in this one, rarely in danger of falling to the Terrapins. The game seemed all but over at the halftime buzzer, as a wide-open Madison Cable buried a three-pointer as time expired, pushing the lead to 17 to cap off an 11 to 4 run from which the Terps never really recovered.
The other Irish All-American, Jewell Loyd, played second-fiddle to McBride for most of the evening, scoring a "quiet" 16 points on 6 of 11 shooting while also tying Wright for the team-lead with 9 rebounds. She always finds ways to make an impact even when not taking over the scoring duties like she did last week against Baylor.
With the win, Notre Dame advances to the national title game, its third in the last four years. They will, as expected, take on the Connecticut Huskies (39-0) in what will be the first championship matchup between undefeateds in the history of the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies were also dominant in the second half of their victory over the Stanford Cardinal, and the Irish, still without Achonwa, will need to find an answer for National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart.
The much-anticipated championship game tips off at 8:30pm Tuesday night on ESPN and figures to be one of, if not the most, watched event in women's college basketball history.