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ND Women’s Basketball: Coach prepared for tough game at Mackey

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Just because Notre Dame is playing in familiar territory doesn’t mean that it is comfortable there.

The Irish drew the 5-12 game in the Oklahoma City regional, a game that will be played at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind., on Purdue’s campus.

At first glance, this home-state advantage sounds like a huge boon for the Irish.

But more important than the game being in Indiana, it is being held in Mackey Arena – where the Irish have struggled mightily in the past.

Before this season, Notre Dame was winless at Mackey in eight tries, including a previous trip in the NCAA Tournament. The Irish lost 78-61 in the first round of the big dance in West Lafayette two years ago against Boston College, when then-freshman guard Lindsay Schrader netted a career-high 29 points.

The Irish did get their first win in Purdue this season, a 61-48 victory on Dec. 8. Muffet McGraw said she was happy to get that first win in Mackey Arena just to know she can go down there and win.

“Well we won our last game there, so we’re one in a row, we’re undefeated this season, so that’s the way we’re going to approach it from now on,” she said.

McGraw also said that her team’s youth helps slightly because of its inexperience in Mackey since they have not lost in Mackey.

“I think that gives us a little more confidence going back. Plus most our players have only played there once, so freshmen and sophomores are undefeated at Mackey Arena,” she said.

Irish guard Charel Allen, who lost at Purdue her sophomore year during the NCAA Tournament and during the regular season (65-54 on Dec. 7, 2005), said she feels more confident winning there than before.

“That’s what I was just discussing with [senior guard] Tulyah [Gaines], I was like ‘At least we won there so that feels good.’ But it’s a new season, so we’ll see how it goes,” she said.

Even though the Irish have not had a great deal of success at Mackey Arena, it still presents a clear advantage for the Irish.

They have a very winnable first two games (against No. 12 Southern Methodist and possibly No. 4 Oklahoma) before a likely showdown with Tennessee – the top-seed in the region.

And the location seems ideal. Instead of being shuttled off to Des Moines, Iowa, or Albuquerque, N.M. – two places not known as bastions of Notre Dame women’s basketball fans – the Irish are playing instate where South Benders can easily support their team in person.

When they first heard the bracket pairings on ESPN’s selection show, Irish coach Muffet McGraw and her players unanimously said they were glad to be close to home because of the support their fans can give.

“Our fans are great at the home games and I feel they will make the trip to Purdue and that will be so helpful for us,” Irish guard Charel Allen said.

Many Irish players are also from the Midwest, meaning that their families will be able to see them play. Sophomore guard Ashley Barlow, and Indianapolis native, said she received three or four text messages only minutes after the pairing was announced.

“I’ve already gotten a couple phone calls from my family…. It’s about a 45 minute drive so they will all be there – all of them,” she said.

Irish forward Becca Bruszewski, who hails from Valparaiso, Ind., said she received five or six texts in the first 10 minutes after the Irish game was set.

Notre Dame got lucky this time. They limped into the NCAA Tournament with a couple bad losses, but still got precious home-state advantage -something that could prove to be a big factor in these opening rounds. And even with the bad karma they have in the Mackey Arena, the Irish look poised to keep dancing for at least a few more games.