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ND Women’s Basketball

Green: Forecast looks good for Irish

| Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Here’s a warning for the northern Indiana area — don’t open up the weather app on your phone any time soon.

It’s currently 34 degrees outside in Notre Dame, but it feels like 21 with the wind chill. The permacloud looks like it is here to stay for a little while longer, vitamin D deficiency is starting to set in, and there’s an 80 percent chance it will snow today. In fact, the forecast says South Bend will get snowfall on five of the next seven days.

Irish sophomore Lindsay Allen attempts a free throw against Wake Forest on Feb. 1. Notre Dame has beaten their last five conference opponents by an average score of 29 points.Rosie LoVoi | The Observer

Irish sophomore Lindsay Allen attempts a free throw against Wake Forest on Feb. 1. Notre Dame has beaten their last five conference opponents by an average score of 29 points.

Meanwhile, the forecast in Tampa, Florida, is looking pretty good. It’s 68 degrees, and there are six little suns in a row on the forecast until rain is supposed to come next Wednesday.

The situations in Florida and Indiana are about as different as you can get around the country this time of year, and Tampa seems like another world away.

For the Irish, Tampa — the host site of this year’s Final Four — is still a far-off thought as well.

That being said, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said at the beginning of the season that the team’s goal was to reach the Final Four for a fifth consecutive year, and I’m sure taking a trip down to Florida over Easter weekend is still on its mind.

One hiccup aside, Notre Dame (23-2, 9-1 ACC) has been on a roll since its eye-opening loss to unranked Miami (Florida) on Jan. 8.

Immediately after that defeat came a 104-58 victory over Boston College, followed by two tough wins over then-No. 12 North Carolina and then-No. 6 Tennessee (the same program that won the national championship the last time it was held in Tampa, for what it’s worth).

Then came a 13-point win over Georgia Tech that never quite looked out of hand but was also a little too close for comfort for a supposed title contender, especially to kick off a stretch of 11 consecutive ACC games before the conference tournament.

Irish junior guard Jewell Loyd dribbles upcourt during Notre Dame's 92-63 win over Wake Forest on Feb. 1.Emily McConville | The Observer

Irish junior guard Jewell Loyd dribbles upcourt during Notre Dame’s 92-63 win over Wake Forest on Feb. 1.

McGraw certainly didn’t let her team shake that one off. She didn’t enter her postgame press conference with a smile, and she didn’t throw out a generic, “We didn’t have our best game today, but we’ll be better tomorrow” response.

Instead, she ripped into her team’s performance as a whole and warned her players that a repeat disappointment like the one against Miami was still a very real possibility.

The only other Irish loss up until that point had come against No. 2 Connecticut, and they had dominated their competitors in almost every other game.

But a coach who has made it to the final weekend of March Madness four straight times only to leave empty-handed after each one wasn’t about to let her team think it was invulnerable.

Since that point, Notre Dame has seemed like a new squad. Maybe it took a harsh scolding from McGraw, or maybe it took a moment to step back and realize how difficult it is to collect any win in the ACC, but something has kicked the Irish into high gear as of late.

Following the Georgia Tech win, Notre Dame has beaten — no, dismantled — five conference opponents by an average margin of 29 points.

Junior guard Jewell Loyd, who leads the team with 20.7 points per game, and freshman forward Brianna Turner, who has the most double-doubles for the Irish with six, were both named to midseason top-30-player list for the Naismith College Player of the Year award yesterday. The NCAA tournament selection committee also released its first ever list of projected No. 1 seeds, and Notre Dame was one of them.

That being said, the flights to Tampa can’t be booked just yet.

The Irish have five regular-season games left, two of which are against top competition — No. 11 Duke on Monday and No. 9 Louisville on Feb. 23. A second matchup against Georgia Tech on Feb. 19 will serve as a measuring stick to see how much their mindset has changed in less than a month.

Then comes the ACC and NCAA tournaments, in which we are annually reminded why postseason play is called March Madness.

If they keep this focus up, the Irish better start to stock up on sunscreen for an April trip down south. But if they can’t, their money is better spent on rock salt for those late-spring snowfalls.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Mary Green

Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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