RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Notre Dame guard Brittany Mallory has heard it from her coach’s husband for the past year. He keeps reminding her of last year’s loss in the national title game and how it can propel the Fighting Irish forward this time.
The halfway point of their march toward redemption gave them a place in history — and came with no drama.
The Irish routed St. Bonaventure 79-35 Sunday in the Raleigh Regional semifinals, with their 44-point romp matching the 22-year-old record for scoring margin at the regional stage of the women’s NCAA tournament.
“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘Chip on the shoulder,'” Mallory said. “I think we’ve all been playing with that. It’s been a big emphasis. The last game last year, we didn’t accomplish what we wanted, so we’ve just been using that as our main … emphasis this year.”
Natalie Novosel scored 16 points, Kalia Turner scored 14 points, Kayla McBride added 10 points and Devereaux Peters had 10 rebounds for the top-seeded Irish (33-3).
They shot 52.5 percent, never trailed and led by 45 in advancing to face second-seeded Maryland (31-4) on Tuesday night with a spot in the Final Four on the line.
“They’re a strong, strong rebounding team,” coach Muffet McGraw said of the Terrapins. “They have great size. We’re a team that plays four guards. We don’t match up well. They’re much more physical and so much bigger inside than we are.”
CeCe Dixon had 13 points and Doris Ortega added 11 for the fifth-seeded Bonnies (31-4), who shot a season-low 19 percent, allowed a season-high point total and finished with a season-worst 21 turnovers. They missed 11 of 12 attempts from 3-point range and had just two assists on their nine field goals.
Leading scorer Jessica Jenkins was scoreless — she entered averaging 14 points — and missed all six of her shots with Mallory leading the defensive effort that blanketed her.
“They’re really physical with you on cuts,” Jenkins said. “They don’t even let you set them up or anything. … They’re just really physical and they’re really, really good at blowing up screens and running you off the 3-point line.”
The best season in school history — and the Bonnies’ first NCAA tournament berth — ended in abrupt, decisive fashion after they couldn’t recover from a disastrous start in which they went scoreless for more than 10 minutes.
“Forty minutes isn’t going to define our season,” coach Joe Crowley said. “It didn’t earlier in the year. It doesn’t right now.”
The Irish have won all three games in this tournament by double figures. This one equaled the 91-47 beating Louisiana Tech gave Purdue in the 1990 Midwest semifinals, and it was another convincing step toward the national championship that slipped away a year ago.
Calling it unfinished business, they’ve been fueled by their loss in the 2011 title game to Texas A&M. They would’ve had another crack at those Aggies in the regional final, had the Terrapins not rallied to beat them 81-74 in the first semifinal.
“This is a really competitive group,” McGraw said. “When you go down through the team, you kind of realize that they’re all the type of player that just hates to lose. So when we lost the last game last year, I think the whole summer workout for them was about getting back, and kind of had that motivation, that extra motivation, to try to get back to that.”
Notre Dame made it to a regional final for the fourth time — they’ve advanced to the Final Four in each of the previous three — and did it by bringing a quick end to St. Bonaventure’s dream season.
The Bonnies simply couldn’t have started much worse: After Ortega’s layup 30 seconds in, they didn’t score again until Ortega’s three-point play pulled them within 16-5 with 9:32 left in the half. At its nadir, St. Bonaventure missed 20 of its first 23 shots and didn’t get into double figures until the final minute of the half when Jennie Ashton’s free throw with 52.2 seconds left made it 33-10.
The Irish pushed their lead into the 30s when Novosel’s layup with 17 minutes remaining made it 43-13 — and it only got worse from there.
“My biggest worry the whole time was if we could score,” Crowley said. “And, obviously, that came to fruition.”
Copyright 2012 The National Memo