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ND Basketball: Mix of emotions on Selection Sunday

Joe Hettler | Tuesday, March 15, 2005

When Notre Dame’s name appeared as a No. 4 seed on Selection Sunday, the Irish players cheered – not for the seed itself, but for its location in Fresno, Calif.

“I thought we would be a three seed, but four’s not that far behind,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said from her house where team members and media watched the bracket’s unveiling. “We’re just happy to be playing in a nice, warm climate. We knew we were going to be traveling somewhere, so it’s kind of nice to go somewhere where the weather will be nice.”

The Irish (26-5) draw No. 13 seed University of California Santa Barbara (21-8) in the first round on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. (EST) on the ESPN network, while No. 5 Arizona State (22-9) opposes No. 12 Eastern Kentucky (23-7) in the other matchup with the two winners meeting Monday for a chance at the Sweet 16 in Tempe, Ariz.

After initially rejoicing at being in the Tempe region, the Irish players admitted frustration with not earning a higher seed. Notre Dame had seven wins against top-25 teams, went 13-3 in conference and had an RPI of 6. McGraw said her 2001 national championship squad had a six RPI and were the No. 1 seed in that tournament.

“I guess the number this year was 23-7,” Jacqueline Batteast said. “Maybe if we would have lost a couple more games, we would have gotten a higher seed. … This year we only had five losses and last year we had a 11 losses and we were a five seed.”

Batteast was referring to Minnesota (24-7), Connecticut (23-7) and Texas (21-8) – all teams that earned No. 3 seeds despite worse records than the Irish. Ohio State and Duke, two teams that had similar records to Notre Dame and who both lost to the Irish earlier this season, gained No. 2 seeds, while 19-10 Penn State got a No. 4 seed as well.

“We thought we’d be around a three, that was our prediction,” guard Megan Duffy said. “A four’s fine, we’re in good shape. We can’t control the seed, we can only control how we play.”

Three Notre Dame players have lived in California, including Courtney LaVere, Crystal Erwin and Tuylah Gaines. Those three were especially excited to return to their roots and play in front of family and friends.

“Fresno is in my backyard, even though it’s three hours away from my house,” LaVere said. “But it’s definitely going to be good to have some home court advantage for our team. A lot of my family would be able to come and it’ll be good for Crystal, [Breona Gray from Nevada] and Tuylah and all those on the West Coast.”

Once in Fresno, Notre Dame will face a strong Santa Barbara squad. Led by senior guard Kristen Mann, the Gauchos won the Big West regular season and tournament titles and haven’t lost since Feb. 3. They have faced Notre Dame just once before, an early November game in 1997, which the Irish won.

“Santa Barbara will be a very, very tough game,” McGraw said. “Kristen Mann is one of the best players in the country, and she’s up for a lot of the awards Jackie [Batteast] is up for. She’s very talented.”

The rest of the higher seeds in the Tempe bracket unfolded as follows: No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 Baylor, No. 3 Minnesota, No. 6 Virginia, No. 7 Texas Christian and No. 8 Mississippi.