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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish arrive in Oklahoma City for Sweet 16

| Friday, March 27, 2015

In the program’s sixth-consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, No. 2 Notre Dame meets No. 14 Stanford tonight in Oklahoma City at 10 p.m.

Both teams had the benefit of hosting the first two rounds inside their home arenas and now will play at a neutral location. The Cardinal (26-9, 13-5 Pac-12) are a No. 4 seed in the tournament and defeated California State Northridge and Oklahoma last weekend. The top-seeded Irish (33-2, 15-1 ACC), meanwhile, are coming off wins over Montana and DePaul.

Notre Dame and Stanford have not met since 1991 and Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said in her Thursday press conference the Cardinal’s intelligence on the court could be difficult to adjust to without much prior experience.

Junior guard Jewell Loyd attempts a three-pointer during Sunday night’s win against DePaul in the  second round of the NCAA tournament. Loyd had ten points in the 79-62 victory at Purcell Pavilion.Wei Lin | The Observer

Junior guard Jewell Loyd attempts a three-pointer during Sunday night’s win against DePaul in the
second round of the NCAA tournament. Loyd had ten points in the 79-62 victory at Purcell Pavilion.

“You know, I think the biggest concern is how smart they are,” McGraw said. “They’re just a really disciplined team that — they run their offense, but they’re also really good at recognizing personnel and seeing some mismatches and weaknesses and really exploiting them. So they’re not a team that you can say they’re actually going to run this when I think they’re very flexible in what they do.”

Sophomore guard Lindsay Allen said the newness of the Cardinal as an opponent was a factor in the way the team prepared.

“Some teams we’ve seen before like DePaul and then the ACC schedule,” Allen said. “We’ve seen Stanford play before on TV and things like that, but just learning what they’re about and what plays they actually run is a little difficult.”

Through its first two tourney games, Notre Dame has depended on a balanced attack and contributions from a variety of players. Junior guard Jewell Loyd, the team’s leading scored, netted 10 points against DePaul and 18 against Montana — fairly modest compared to her season average of 20.1 points per game.

The play of freshmen forwards Brianna Turner and Kathryn Westbeld has also been key — the two tournament rookies combined for 42 points between them in the first two rounds.

McGraw praised the ability of the freshmen to step up in a high-stakes environment like the NCAA tournament.

“You know, I think when you come into a program, the expectation level is set pretty high, and so I think everybody coming in knew that there was going to be a lot expected of [the freshmen],” McGraw said. “We talked to the freshmen early on that they weren’t going to be able to play like freshmen. We were going to need them right away. … I think our posts, all three of them, [sophomore forward] Taya [Reimer], Bri, and Kathryn, have really played well of late and have just continued to get better.”

Similarly, Stanford’s offense has a number of different scoring threats, and McGraw said the Irish have worked to defend all of them in practice this week.

“We’ve got to figure out how we can stop the penetration and the kick-outs, which is very difficult for us just having played DePaul which was a five-out team,” McGraw said. “I think we came away with a lot of things we need to do better.

“It’s a difficult challenge for us. I think that defensively, man-to-man, containing the ball, has been somewhat of an issue for us this year, so I think that’s something that we hopefully have fixed this week.”

Irish freshman forward Kathryn Westbeld goes up for a shot during Notre Dame's 79-67 win over Depaul on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.Wei Lin | The Observer

Irish freshman forward Kathryn Westbeld goes up for a shot during Notre Dame’s 79-67 win over DePaul on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.

Though Notre Dame breezed through the first two rounds with double-digit margin wins, its trip to Oklahoma City was a little more troublesome. The team’s plane was diverted to an airport in Lawton, Oklahoma, due to severe weather, waiting there until buses picked them up to finish out the journey.

“We hung out, we ordered pizza,” McGraw said. “It was a very small airport. We were the only ones there, and we had about 95 with the band and cheerleaders and our whole party. We made the most of it, and our condolences to the people that were seriously affected by the storm.”

Eventually, Notre Dame arrived safely in Oklahoma City where it will face Stanford at Chesapeake Energy Area in a Sweet 16 showdown tonight at 10 p.m.

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About Renee Griffin

Notre Dame senior, formerly of Farley Hall. Originally from Lake Zurich, IL, majoring in American Studies with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. Enjoys talkin' about practice.

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