SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The Odyssey is over for Baylor.
An 88-69 victory by Notre Dame ended the surprising season by the Lady Bears that saw Odyssey Sims carry an inexperienced squad a round deeper in the NCAA tournament than veteran-laden squad led by two-time AP Player Brittney Griner advanced a year ago.
Sims did it by transforming herself from someone known primarily for throwing lob passes inside to Griner into a team leader and prolific scorer. She finished with 33 points on 12 of 26 shooting, the most points any player has scored against the Irish this season, but she fell eight points shy of the tying the NCAA single-season scoring record.
"I had a great run. My four years, I've enjoyed it," Sims said. "Not one moment have I been unhappy at Baylor. I got to play with a lot of great players. This season is probably my most enjoyable. I like the team I've been around."
Sims was able to lift her teammates most of the season, but didn't much help. No other Baylor player scored in double figures and the rest of the team shot just 27 percent. Freshman forward Nina Davis, Baylor's second leading scorer at 15.2 points a game, finished with seven points on 3-of-12 shooting.
"I felt I couldn't get any shot to go. I felt like I could have done something," Davis said. "I know my teammates, we all played hard. But I'll take most of the blame for it."
Although Sims showed signs of frustration at times, she praised their effort.
"It didn't end the way I wanted it to, but I'm very proud of my team. We made it to the Elite Eight. I thought everybody gave it their all," she said.
The Bears cut the lead to 65-60 after Sims stole the ball from Kayla McBride and threw a pass to Davis for a layup with 7:37 left, but she couldn't keep the rally going.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said the Irish knew they weren't going to stop Sims.
"We were trying to keep her under 40," McGraw said. "If we could keep her to a realistic number, I felt like the pressure to go to the Final Four on a young team, maybe they would crack with that. So we really tried to double up on Sims and make somebody else beat us."
Sims gave the Lady Bears the lead early against a Notre Dame team that hadn't been seriously challenged at home this season. She had an assist on the opening basket by Sune Agbuke, followed that up with a rebound on Notre Dame's first shot and turned that into a fastbreak basket and scored nine points as Baylor jumped to a quick 21-17 lead.
Sims scored all the points for the Bears in a 9-2 run to open the second half, cutting Notre Dame's lead to 46-41. The Bears cut the lead to 48-44 moments later when Maknzie Robertson hit a 3.
Sims, the only returning starter from last year's squad that was the prohibitive favorite to win a second straight title before being upset by Louisville in the NCAA regional semifinal, guided led the young Lady Bears to its fourth-straight Big 12 regular-season title and the league tournament championship. But she couldn't find a way to lead a young Baylor squad that had four new starters this season to a win over an unbeaten and more experienced Irish team.
The Irish players said they knew they had to contain Sims.
"We knew we weren't going to stop Odyssey from scoring. She's a great scorer, She's a great player," guard Lindsay Allen said. "We just tried to limit everybody else and make sure they didn't have their career night."
Sims, the Big 12 scoring leader, became just the second female player to score more than 1,000 points in a season. She finished with 1,054 points.
"She can score, she can defend, she can play the point, she can play off guard," Mulkey said. "She's just a competitor. ... She will have a great career and a long career because she loves the game."