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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State's offense had run through Markeisha Gatling inside all season. It's no surprise then that the No. 14 Wolfpack would struggle without her.
The 6-foot-5 senior didn't play in Saturday's 83-48 loss to No. 2 Notre Dame in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals due to a knee injury suffered in Friday's quarterfinal win against Syracuse. Without her, N.C. State lacked its most efficient offensive player who was a reliable scorer and rebounder in the post.
"We've run quick hitters and we have other things that we can do offensively, but Keisha's a big part of what we try to do," first-year coach Wes Moore said. "We work inside out. These other kids obviously can do a lot of things on their own as well, but it runs through her. Obviously you take her out, that changes things."
Gatling was averaging 18 points and seven rebounds while shooting a national-best 67.6 percent. She had started all 31 games this season, so it was the first time N.C. State had to go without her.
With Gatling leading the way, the Wolfpack had ranked near the top of the league by shooting almost 46 percent. Without her Saturday, N.C. State shot 31 percent and managed just 18 points in the paint.
"It was difficult for North Carolina State without Gatling," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "They'll be fine. They just didn't have enough time to prepare. I know she'll be back for the NCAA tournament and we wish them luck."
For Notre Dame, Jewell Loyd scored 16 points while Kayla McBride was among four in double figures with 10 points.
The top-seeded Fighting Irish (31-0) had no trouble putting away the injury-depleted Wolfpack. Notre Dame scored the first 12 points, led by 28 at halftime and by 37 from there to continue their dominating run in their new league.
The Fighting Irish, who shot 60 percent in a 26-point win against Florida State in Friday's quarterfinals, shot 52 percent in the first half on the way to their second lopsided win against the fourth-seeded Wolfpack (25-7) in a week.
That sent Notre Dame to Sunday's championship game, where the Irish will try to become the first team to go 19-0 through ACC regular-season and tournament play since Duke in 2001-02 and 2002-03.
Notre Dame will face the winner of Saturday's second semifinal between No. 10 Duke and No. 13 North Carolina.
Freshman Miah Spencer scored 11 points to lead the Wolfpack, who will play in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.
Gatling dressed out and stood under the basket while rebounding for her teammates during pregame warm-ups, but spent the rest of the day on the bench.
Gatling's absence was a tough blow for a team that was already down two seniors, guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman and forward Lakeesa Daniel, due to season-ending knee injuries suffered on consecutive days in mid-February.
Second-leading scorer Kody Burke managed just four points on 1-for-8 shooting as N.C. State shot 31 percent for the game, including 4 for 20 from 3-point range as it searched for a new flow.
As for Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish got a jumper from Lindsay Allen to cap its 12-0 run in the opening 5-plus minutes, then ran off an 11-0 burst midway through the opening half to blow the game open and take a 42-15 lead on Taya Reimer's layup at the 1:50 mark on the way to a 46-18 halftime lead.
N.C. State, which lost to Notre Dame by 24 at home last weekend, got no closer than 27 points in the second half.
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