Baylor 34, Notre Dame 28
DENVER -- A look at the first half of Tuesday's national championship game between Baylor and Notre Dame.
First-half analysis: Baylor 34, Notre Dame 28
HOW THE HALF WAS WON: Baylor was just physically better than the Irish in the first half. The Lady Bears made the Irish work for everything they did. Baylor got to the line 11 times to Notre Dame's six and outrebounded the Irish 25-17. Baylor is bigger than Notre Dame and used that to its advantage well in the first half.
PLAYER OF THE HALF: Brittney Griner. Once again, it wasn't a great Griner performance, but she occupied enough of the Irish's attention to allow some of the other Lady Bears, such as Destiny Williams (3-for-4 shooting for eight points) and Brooklyn Pope (2-for-3 shooting for six points), to get free near the basket. Griner finished with a team-high nine points and eight rebounds.
PLAYER OF THE HALF 2: Skylar Diggins. Despite playing most of the first half with a sense of frustration and being harassed by Odyssey Sims, Diggins had an Irish-best nine points on 4-of-7 shooting. She also didn't turn over the ball. Her scoring became even more important because Natalie Novosel had only three points, all from the line.
TURNING POINT: When Devereaux Peters picked up her second foul at the 17:22 mark, Notre Dame had to change its defensive approach. Coach Muffet McGraw went to a zone the rest of the half. Baylor didn't explode immediately after Peters' exit from the game, but during the nearly seven minutes she was out, Baylor took its biggest lead, 27-15.
KEY STAT: Baylor won the rebounding battle 25-17, but more importantly, 11 of those rebounds came on the offensive end. Getting to the glass was really Baylor's best offensive weapon.
THREE THINGS BAYLOR HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Keep up the intensity. The Lady Bears' defense was better for most of the half than it was against Stanford. Notre Dame got loose for a couple of backdoor layups, but otherwise, Baylor made Notre Dame really work on every possession.
2. Shoot better. It took a half for Baylor to find some kind of outside stroke against Stanford, and the Lady Bears might need it tonight. They shot just 38.7 percent in the first half overall and made just the one 3-pointer (Kimetria Hayden).
3. Turn Sims loose. Sims' defense clearly had an impact in the first half, especially early. If she can maintain that kind of pressure as the Notre Dame guards get tired, the turnovers could pile up. Notre Dame had only four first-half turnovers.
THREE THINGS NOTRE DAME HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Settle down. The Irish looked uncomfortable on offense for the first 10 minutes of the half, hurrying the release of shots even when Griner wasn't nearby. That improved as the half went on, but Novosel and Brittany Mallory still shot only a combined 1-for-10 in the first 20 minutes.
2. Keep Peters on the floor. The senior committed her second foul just 2:38 into the game and sat on the bench for about 10 minutes. It seemed to hurt the Fighting Irish more on offense, where they couldn't employ their high-low post game. Subsequently, their biggest advantage against Griner was gone and the offense lacked its usual rhythm as a result. She came back at the 7-minute mark, and not so coincidentally, Notre Dame had its best surge of the half, a 6-0 run in which Peters had a basket and an assist. But at the 4:39 mark, she picked up her third foul and sat for the rest of the half.
3. Keep making Baylor shoot from the outside. The zone defense worked fairly well for the Irish. If they had done a better job on the boards, it would have looked much more effective. The Lady Bears made only one of their eight 3-point attempts, but they were able to grab too many of the misses.
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