Nashville, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - Notre Dame, despite being without its
leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, did its part to reach the women's
NCAA Tournament final on Sunday and will face fellow unbeaten Connecticut.
Kayla McBride poured in 28 points on 12-of-21 shooting and the Fighting Irish cruised past Maryland, 87-61, in a one-sided national semifinal at Bridgestone Arena.
Natalie Achonwa watched from the sideline in street clothes having torn her ACL in Notre Dame's regional final victory over Baylor.
Even with the senior forward relegated to cheerleader, the top-seeded Irish (37-0) owned a 50-21 rebounding advantage, with Jewell Loyd and Markisha Wright each pulling down nine.
"I thought Kayla McBride got us off to a phenomenal start; put the team on her back, made shots early and loosened everybody up and everybody else contributed throughout the rest of the game," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said.
Loyd chipped in 16 points and Wright added 12 off the bench as Notre Dame advanced to its third title game in the last four seasons.
Connecticut, which ousted the Irish in last year's Final Four, improved to 39-0 later Sunday with a 75-56 victory over Stanford to set up the highly anticipated showdown between undefeated programs.
Brionna Jones scored 16 points while three-time All-American Alyssa Thomas had 14 on 13 shots for Maryland (28-7), which as a No. 4 seed made it to Nashville by knocking off top-seeded Tennessee and last season's national runner-up Louisville in the Louisville Region.
McBride made eight of her 12 shots during a 19-point eruption in the first half, with five points coming during a 10-0 run that gave the Irish a 33-21 lead with under six minutes left in the half.
The Irish, who were playing in their fourth consecutive Final Four, took advantage of nine Maryland turnovers and 12 offensive rebounds in the opening 20 minutes, which ended with Madison Cable beating the buzzer with a 3-pointer for a healthy 48-31 lead.
Back on Jan. 27, Maryland erased a 22-point deficit against the Irish, who needed a late run to pull out an 87-83 victory over their ACC foe.
There was no comeback Sunday, as Loyd cleaned up McBride's airball on the first possession of the second half for a 19-point lead, and the Terrapins did not get any closer.
"They just wanted it more. They beat us at our own game and we just never seemed to get on the boards," Thomas said.