Andrew Owens | Friday, March 25, 2011
For the ninth time in the last 15 seasons, the Irish have advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16. To advance even deeper, they will have to defeat a familiar opponent in the process.
No. 2-seed Notre Dame (28-7, 13-3 Big East) will face No. 6-seed Oklahoma in the third round for the second consecutive season. In 2010, the Sooners (23-11, 10-6 Big 12) defeated the Irish to advance to the Elite Eight with a 77-72 overtime victory.
“I think we’re two different teams this year compared to last year,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We’ve both graduated players since then and injured players have come back. It’s the third time we’ve seen them in the tournament in four years. It should be interesting.”
The Irish met and beat the Sooners in the second round of the 2008 NCAA tournament, a game that also went to overtime.
Oklahoma knocked off No. 3-seed Miami over the weekend to advance to the second weekend of play. Sophomore guard Whitney Hand powered the Sooners with 27 points, five rebounds and four assists in the winning effort. Hand, senior forward Carlee Roethlisberger and freshman guard Aaryn Ellenberg contributed 11 made 3-pointers in the game.
Senior guard Danielle Robinson, who scored 18 points in the matchup against the Hurricanes, leads the team with an average of 18.4 points per game.
“We need to challenge them on the perimeter,” McGraw said. “We’ve been defending the perimeter better lately. It should be a great matchup.”
Frontcourt domination is key for the Irish to get to the Final Four.
The emergence of freshman forward Natalie Achonwa during the past few weeks, along with powerful play from senior forwards Devereaux Peters and Becca Bruszewski, have highlighted Notre Dame’s frontcourt capabilities this tournament.
“Rebounding is key,” McGraw said.
The Irish and the Sooners will hit the court in Dayton, Ohio, at 2 p.m. Saturday. The winner will advance to play either No. 1-seed Tennessee or No. 4-seed Ohio State Monday, with a trip to the Final Four on the line.