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Women’s Basketball Capsules

Observer Sports Writers | Friday, March 22, 2013

 

 

 

X-FACTOR

Natalie Achonwa leads the Irish in rebounding and nearly averages a double-double per game. But as the last line of defense she is also prone to foul trouble, as she was in the Big East championship game when she played just 14 minutes. If Achonwa consistently plays big minutes, recent history says she will produce equally big numbers. Notre Dame will need a multifaceted offense to reach the Final Four again this year and Achonwa’s post presence supplies the perimeter-oriented Irish with an extra dimension.

KEY MATCHUP

The Irish perimeter defense will determine the outcome of this first round matchup. Junior guards Jasmine Newsome and Heather Butler both average more than 20 points per game to lead Tennessee-Martin. Notre Dame’s strength also lies in its backcourt trio of Skylar Diggins, Kayla McBride and Jewell Loyd. If Diggins and Co. pressure Newsome and Butler and create turnovers early, it could be a long night for the Skyhawks.

INTANGIBLES

The Irish have suffered two consecutive title game losses and are bent on finally getting over the hump this season. But in order to win the program’s second national title, Notre Dame must remain focused against underdog opponents. Though they will be heavily favored in the first three rounds of the tournament, the Irish cannot take for granted quality opponents starting in the Sweet 16. Notre Dame must put forth maximum effort even in early-round games to avoid being upset 

COMMON FOES

Notre Dame and Tennessee-Martin played three common opponents this season. The Irish defeated Louisville twice (93-64 at home Feb. 11 and 83-59 in Hartford, Conn., on March 11) and Purdue once (74-47 at home Dec. 29), but fell to fellow No. 1 seed  Baylor (73-61 at home Dec. 12). The Skyhawks lost once each to the Cardinals (79-61 at home Nov. 26), Boilermakers (68-60 at home Dec. 9) and Bears (82-67 in Honolulu on Nov. 17).

IMPROVEMENT

Notre Dame’s starting five is one of the best units in the country, with four starters averaging double-figure points per game. But consistent production drops precipitously when Muffet McGraw turns to her bench. Markisha Wright and Madison Cable have shown flashes, but must perform more consistently when the Irish face top competition in the NCAA tournament. Wright, in particular, must be ready to play extended minutes for a thin Irish front court.