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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish bound for Toledo

| Monday, March 17, 2014

The Irish finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the country, earned the ACC regular season title, won the ACC tournament and now prepare for their next challenge in the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed in the Notre Dame region.

Senior forward Natalie Achonwa acknowledged the long tournament road ahead but said her team was happy with the announcement.

“We have a lot to accomplish before we get to that national championship, but at the end of the day, that’s what we wanted,” Achonwa said.

Members of the Notre Dame women's basketball team react to the announcement of their No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament Monday.Jodi Lo

Members of the Notre Dame women’s basketball team react to the announcement of their No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament Monday.

Notre Dame (32-0, 16-0 ACC) will play No. 16 seed Robert Morris in its first-round tournament matchup Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Toledo, Ohio, and ESPN will broadcast the game. This will be the first tournament appearance for the Colonials (21-11, 14-3 NEC) since 2008, when they lost to Rutgers.

“It’s good for women’s basketball, good for the program, but we have a long way to go, and it starts with Robert Morris,” senior guard Kayla McBride said.

Baylor and Kentucky were announced as the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, respectively, in the Notre Dame region. In 2012, Brittney Griner led Baylor (29-4, 16-2 Big XII) to an 80-61 victory over the Irish in the national championship game.

In addition to Notre Dame, Connecticut (34-0, 18-0 AAC), Tennessee and South Carolina also earned No. 1 seeds.

Connecticut and Tennessee (27-5, 13-3 SEC) have more Final Four appearances than any other teams over the past 20 seasons and last year, Connecticut knocked off Louisville in the national championship game, 93-60. Connecticut’s part of the bracket, the Lincoln region, includes Duke, Texas A&M and Nebraska as the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, respectively.

The Huskies earned the overall No. 1 ranking, despite the RPI rankings that listed Notre Dame first and Connecticut second.

“We absolutely had a strong case for it [the overall No. 1],” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I’m sure that last year came into play, and I’m not sure it’s supposed to, but I think as defending national champs, they had the No. 1 seed all locked up.”

After years playing as Big East rivals, the Irish and Huskies did not meet during the regular season, in which both teams went undefeated. Notre Dame and Connecticut have played 12 times over the last three years, and the two teams could compete head-to-head in the tournament if both make it to the championship game.

Achonwa said the Irish don’t mind being called the “other” undefeated team.

“It takes the light off of us,” Achonwa said. “If we’re not put in that spotlight, that’s fine by us. … We will get on the floor, anything that we have to do to get there, we will do, so if that doesn’t mean we get all the glory, so be it. At the end of the day, if we have the national championship, that’s all we want.”

McGraw said she was looking forward to tomorrow’s practice, now that Notre Dame knows who its opponent will be.

“I think the intensity level is going to be ratcheted up tomorrow from them [the players], so I think that’ll be interesting: to get to practice and see how physical it becomes tomorrow,” McGraw said.

According to Achonwa, Notre Dame’s first energy source is McGraw.

“Our energy level, our competitiveness, our drive all comes from the top down, starting with Coach McGraw and the fire that she brings,” Achonwa said. “It inspires us and motivates us to compete much harder, to give that much more energy and to work that much harder.”

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