— The Notre Dame women's basketball team sent a quick message to its wannabe Cinderella opponent in Sunday's NCAA tournament game at PNC Arena: Glass slippers are for fairy tales, not for the Sweet 16.
The top-seeded Irish bullied their way through ball screens on defense, holding St.Bonaventure's leading scorer without a point and leaving the rest of the Bonnies — including their coach, Jim Crowley — hopeless in a 79-35 victory.
The win sent Notre Dame (33-3) into Tuesday's regional final against second-seeded Maryland (31-4), which came from 18 points down in the first half and 11 behind in the second to beat defending national champion Texas A&M, 81-74, in the first semifinal.
While the Irish rebounded voraciously (holding a 45-28 edge) and shot decently (32-for-61 from the field), it was Notre Dame's suffocating defense — particularly on senior forward Jessica Jenkins — that left St. Bonaventure (31-4) trying to make the rest of its breakout season more memorable than the last 40 minutes.
Notre Dame scored 16 of the game's first 18 points, led 35-13 at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half before the Bonnies could score more than three points in a row. With her team leading 58-17 with 11:28 left, Irish coach Muffet McGraw took out her starters. So did Crowley.
"I'm really pleased with our defense today," McGraw said. "Our goal was to shut down Jenkins and Brittany Mallory, Frederick [Miller] and everybody else who guarded her did a great job holding her to just six attempts and a scoreless night."
Said Mallory (McDonogh): "There was an emphasis of being away wherever she was on the court at all times. It was a really big team effort. If I got hit on screens, somebody was there to switch out. We just wanted to make her uncomfortable and to be there on the catch and get a hand up."
Junior guard Kaila Turner had spent the week playing the role of Jenkins in practice — "She took a lot of shots," McGraw said — and it wound up helping her team at both ends. Turner finished with 14 points on 5-for-6 5 of 6 shooting, including 4-for-5 4 of 5 on 3s. Senior guard Natalie Novosel led the Irish with 16 points.
Not only did the Irish hold Jenkins scoreless, but they also held the Bonnies to just two assists.
"We take a lot of pride in that, and it's something that we like to work on," McGraw said. "They are an interesting team that scores a lot off the dribble. Just two assists to 21 turnovers is a stat that we take pride in."
St. Bonaventure's 18.8 percent shooting was the lowest total ever in a Sweet 16 game and the sixth-lowest ever in an NCAA women's tournament game.
"They don't get enough credit for their defense," Crowley said. "They are so much better than they are on film, and I thought they were pretty good on film. What gets me is how good they are sensing you're not ready or that you're frustrated. Once they sensed we had hung our heads, they put their foot down on the pedal."
The Irish don't plan on taking their collective foot off the gas until they reach Denver later this week for the Final Four. While some might have privately hoped to get another chance at Texas A&M after losing in the title game in Indianapolis, McGraw and her players are not disappointed.
The Irish are not looking past a Maryland team that plays sloppy and wins ugly.
"I thought we were in a tough bracket," McGraw said. "We knew Maryland would be a strong team, and Texas A&M is a strong team as well. I haven't seen much film on Maryland yet. They are a strong rebounding team with great size. They like to play four guards and are much more physical inside than we are. It's going to be a difficult matchup for us."
Said junior guard Skylar Diggins: "We really need to commit to boxing out. We have played the No. 1 and No. 2 rebounding teams in the nation this season. Everyone needs to help out and do their part; Maryland does a great job of going to the glass collectively, and it is something we will have to manage."
Crowley and his Bonnies probably think the Irish will manage just fine.
A glass slipper that had been smashed to smithereens is certainly proof of that.
No. 1 Connecticut 77, No. 4 Penn State 59: The Huskies (32-4) used 20 points from Bria Hartley to advance to the final with a win over the Nittany Lions (26-7), who had averaged 87.5 points in the first two games of the tournament. It is the seventh straight season that the Huskies have advanced to the regional finals.
No. 2 Kentucky 79, No. 11 Gonzaga 62: A'dia Mathies, Bria Gross, Keyla Snowden and Samarie Walker all scored in double figures as the Wildcats (28-6) defeated the Bulldogs (28-6).
Sun staff reports contributed to this article.
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