By TOM COYNE
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Rapper Lil Wayne showed up at Notre Dame to see Skylar Diggins play and watched as Brittney Griner and defending national champion Baylor put on a show.
Griner had 24 points and 14 rebounds, three other Baylor players scored in double figures and the third-ranked Lady Bears beat No. 5 Notre Dame 73-61 Wednesday night, just as they did in last season’s national championship game.
This time it was a little closer. The Lady Bears didn’t put the game away until a layup by Jordan Madden with seven minutes left sparked a 10-0 run.
“We just stayed in the flow, don’t change anything just because your shots aren’t falling,” the 6-8 Griner said. “They’re going to fall eventually.”
Notre Dame coach Muffet 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 Lady Bears (7-1), with all five starters back from the team that went 40-0 last season, dominated inside, outscoring the Irish 36-26 in the paint and outrebounding them 44-35. Baylor also held the Irish to 36-percent shooting while making 49 percent of its shots.
The Irish (5-1), with just two starters back, were simply no match, especially with All-America senior Diggins struggling on 4-of-19 shooting. But McGraw was encouraged that her young team looked a lot better in losing Wednesday than her veteran squad did in the 80-61 defeat in the title game in April.
“I think we maybe learned that we’re better than we think we are. That should have given us a little more confidence,”
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.
Freshman Jewell Loyd led Notre Dame with a season-high 24 points, Kayla McBride had 18 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.
Lil Wayne showed up at halftime to cheer for Diggins and her teammates, 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.