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McGraw and her Irish head out to Utah to face Utah

Andrew Owens | Monday, March 14, 2011

After nearly a week of anticipation, No. 10 Notre Dame finally learned its destination for the first round of the NCAA tournament tonight. The Irish will travel to Salt Lake City, Utah as the No. 2 seed to face Utah Saturday.

“We’re excited about being a No. 2 seed in the tournament,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We knew there were six teams in contention for the No. 2 spot and we were rewarded for a great season.”

Despite the game being a de facto home contest for the Utes (18-16, 7-9 Mountain West), the Irish (26-7, 13-3 Big East) will be heavy favorites to advance to the second round of the bracket. Notre Dame finished near the top of one of the most difficult conferences in the country, while Utah finished with a sub-.500 record in a mediocre Mountain West Conference.

“They are hosting, so we get to play them on their home court in more of a tournament atmosphere,” McGraw said. “We like playing in front of a crowd, and they’re coming off a win. They’re going to be a challenge.”

If Notre Dame defeats Utah, it will face the winner of the matchup between No. 7-seed Arizona State and No. 10-seed Temple Monday.

The Irish finished the regular season third in the Big East following a one-point loss in the finale at DePaul. Notre Dame used that heartbreaking loss as motivation in the Big East tournament, as it advanced to the championship game – including a win over DePaul – for the first time in 10 years before falling 73-64 to top-ranked Connecticut.

Critical to the team’s success in the tournament is the play of its frontcourt. Senior forward Becca Bruszewski exited the 71-67 semifinal victory over DePaul with a rib injury and was limited by it in the championship game the next night. In the senior’s absence, freshman forward Natalie Achonwa elevated her play, scoring 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds against Connecticut.

Notre Dame begins NCAA tournament action Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2.