SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw took solace in her team's effort in another loss to No. 3 Baylor.
Even though her young yet fifth-ranked Fighting Irish were beaten by the Lady Bears – just as they were in the national title game last season – McGraw thinks her squad offered more of a challenge this time.
The game was tied with seven minutes to go when the Lady Bears (7-1) used a 10-0 run to pull away en route to a 73-61 victory Wednesday night over Notre Dame, which has only two starters back from last year's team.
"We were much better than we were last year with a much younger team and they have the same team. So I was pleased. I think we've gotten better," she said. "I think when we watch the tape we're going to see so many growing mistakes."
Brittney Griner had 24 points and 14 rebounds, three other Baylor players scored in double figures and the Lady Bears dominated inside. They outscored the Irish 36-26 in the paint and outrebounding them 44-35.
The bright spot for the Irish was freshman Jewell Loyd scoring a season-high 24 points. Loyd said she felt comfortable playing in her first big game.
"I just came to the game thinking it was just another home game and I got into a rhythm early," she said.
McGraw knew the Irish were in trouble when Griner, who was 10 of 16 from the floor, started hitting a couple of shots from 15 feet.
"That's what we wanted her to take," she said.
Griner said she let the game come to her.
"Last year I guess I started getting even more patient. I couldn't get my hands on the ball, keep moving. Whatever I can do, I will do. I took it a play at a time, post up strong when I had to. Did whatever I could to help my team out."
The Irish were simply no match for the Bears, especially with All-America senior Skylar Diggins struggling on 4-of-19 shooting and scoring eight points.
McGraw said the loss could give the Irish confidence.
"I think we maybe learned that we're better than we think we are," she said.
Odyssey Sims returned after missing four games with a hamstring injury and added 16 points for Baylor. Coach Kim Mulkey said she thought Sims' play proved she's the best point guard in the country.
"She's played Skylar four times and won every ball game. She's won a national championship," Mulkey said. "Odyssey didn't have one of her best games, either, but she never stopped being tough on the floor and she never stopped guarding people."
McGraw said Sims makes Baylor tougher to play.
"When she's not in the game you don't really have to guard them very much from the perimeter. So just having her on the court stretches the defense to her side a little bit more," she said.
Brooklyn Pope added 14 points for Baylor and Jordan Madden had 12.
Diggins was frustrated by her bad shooting.
"I don't think I hesitated on my shot. It just wasn't going in," she said.
Kayla McBride had 18 points for Notre Dame and Natalie Achonwa 11. No one else scored for the Irish. Mulkey said she was impressed by Loyd.
"She's a tremendous jump shooter. Not many can take it off the dribble and shoot a jump shot. She's a special talent," she said.
Rapper Lil Wayne showed up at halftime, with Diggins walking over to shake his hand at his front-row seat after a timeout. In the front row at the other end were members of the top-ranked Fighting Irish football team, who cheered loudly throughout.
Despite the celebrities and a sellout crowd of 9,149, the Irish couldn't knock off the defending national champions as the men did six days earlier against Kentucky on the same floor.
Diggins said she was happy to see Lil Wayne at the game.
"I think it's great for our sport. Anything that can draw attention to women's basketball is great," she said.