DAYTON, Ohio -- The smiles weren't confined to Irish eyes on Saturday. Then again, there was plenty to grin about.
AP Photo/Al BehrmanBrittany Mallory put on a clinic in Notre Dame's Sweet 16 rout of Oklahoma.
Playing well enough on both ends of the court to build a double-digit lead in the first half and maintain it throughout the second half, Notre Dame cruised to a 78-53 win against Oklahoma in the day's second regional semifinal.
Senior Brittany Mallory, one of the many Fighting Irish players who couldn't contain an occasional smile as the game unfolded in almost perfect fashion for the No. 2 seed, led all scorers with 20 points. Skylar Diggins set a career high with 12 assists and Devereaux Peters finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds, her second consecutive double-double.
Some quick thoughts on the action from Dayton:
Turning point: It wasn't quite a return to the Dust Bowl, but all that was missing from Oklahoma's first-half scoring drought were tumbleweeds blowing across the court. When Oklahoma's Joanna McFarland stepped to the line with a chance to complete a three-point play with a little more than 12 minutes left in the first half, the score was tied 13-13. McFarland missed the free throw and the Sooners missed just about everything else the rest of the half (with plenty of help from Notre Dame's defense). They scored just two field goals the rest of the period, and even that only with the assistance of Danielle Robinson's runner with five seconds remaining before halftime.
Key player: Devereaux Peters. When you can block a shot on the baseline, give the ball up to a guard and still beat everyone down the court to get fouled shooting a layup on the ensuing fast break, you may just have a special skill set. Or for that matter, when you're a 6-foot-2 post who can pick Robinson's pocket at the top of your team's full-court pressure, as Peters did at one point. Peters was a player for whom Oklahoma just didn't have a counter.
Key stat: 6. Mallory's 3-pointers were more than she totaled in Notre Dame's past eight games, including an 0-for-6 dry spell against Utah and Temple in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. She is the Fighting Irish's most prolific long-range shooter, and even with the recent drought, one of its most accurate at nearly 41 percent. Notre Dame is not a team that relies on the 3-pointer, but Mallory's hot hand made the team's inside game -- be it from the post players or penetration from Diggins and Natalie Novosel -- that much more difficult to defend.
Fond farewell: It wasn't a fitting ending for either player, but Ohio State senior Jantel Lavender and Oklahoma senior Danielle Robinson both exited the college game doing all they could to prolong their careers. Lavender battled Tennessee's rotating big bodies to the point of exhaustion and finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four blocks in the first game. Stymied by a good defensive effort from Notre Dame, Robinson still managed to go out with 16 points and five assists.
What's next: Notre Dame advances to Monday's regional final against Tennessee and will play for its first trip to the Final Four since winning the national championship in 2001.