Notre Dame blows out Oklahoma to set date with Tennessee

DAYTON, Ohio -- Hands with green fingernail polish -- Notre Dame's NCAA tournament tradition -- seemed to swipe at every dribble and reach for every pass.

Brittany Mallory scored a season-high 20 points, and Notre Dame's defensive pressure forced 24 turnovers and quickly took its toll in a 78-53 win over Oklahoma on Saturday that sent the Fighting Irish to the regional final.

Those green-painted fingers were everywhere.

"Maybe they don't get enough credit for their defense because their offense is so salty," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.

Notre Dame (29-7) will play top-seeded Tennessee on Monday. The Lady Vols (34-2) pulled away from Ohio State in the second half for an 85-75 win -- their 25th straight -- in the other semifinal.

Nicole Griffin scored 18 points for Oklahoma (23-12), which reached the Final Four each of the last two years. Notre Dame's go-for-the-ball pressure crumpled the Sooners' guard-driven offense, which had only eight field goals and 14 turnovers in the decisive first half.

"They were really prepared, really physical," Oklahoma guard Whitney Hand said. "I thought we got scatterbrained and tight."

It was the third time in the last four years that the Sooners and Fighting Irish met in the NCAA tournament. The first two games dripped with drama and went to overtime. Notre Dame won the first time, 79-75 in the second round in 2008. Oklahoma got the rematch, 77-72 last year in a regional semifinal in Kansas City.

No overtime needed this time. Notre Dame's defense ended all the drama right away.

"Last year's game was in the front of my mind the whole 40 minutes," said Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins, who had 12 assists.

Oklahoma's guard-driven offense led by Danielle Robinson (18.4 points per game) and freshman Aaryn Ellenberg (16.4) got rolling late in the season and pulled them through the first two rounds of the tournament. They were under constant pressure from a defense that ranks third in the country in steals. Robinson finished with 16 points on 6 of 16 shooting with seven turnovers. Ellenberg had nine points on 4 of 13 shooting.

Notre Dame had a 47-24 edge in rebounding, limiting the Sooners to two offensive rebounds.

"Unfortunately, we didn't give them much of a fight," Coale said. "We got absolutely demoralized on the boards."

Natalie Novosel added 15 points, and Devereaux Peters had 17 points and 13 rebounds for Notre Dame, which got the better of a turnover-filled, uptempo game.

Notre Dame opened with a 9-4 run that included three 3s by Mallory, who hadn't made more than three in any game this season. The senior guard was 0 for 10 from behind the arc in her last three games. She finished with a career-high six 3s.

"I had to forget about that," Mallory said of her recent shooting slump. "I had to keep shooting and know they would eventually come. I'm just glad they fell today."

Notre Dame closed the first half with a 21-4 run set up by the incessant defensive pressure. Notre Dame had nine steals and forced 14 turnovers in the first half.

The Fighting Irish suffered a setback when senior forward Becca Bruszewski twisted her left knee in a pileup under the basket early in the half. She tried to play but quickly left the game and reared back in pain when a trainer checked the knee. She got up and limped to the locker room.

Bruszewski is Notre Dame's second-leading rebounder, nicknamed "Bruiser" for her physical play under the basket. She missed most of the first half, returning with a brace on her knee in the closing minutes. She played sparingly and finished with four points and two rebounds in 16 minutes.

Coach Muffet McGraw said Bruszewski was questionable for the game against Tennessee.

"It would be huge in so many ways," McGraw said, referring to the possibility she won't be available. "She's our leader, the one that gets us ready for the game."