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ND Women’s Basketball

ND hosts Montana in first round of NCAA tournament

| Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday’s game against Montana at Purcell Pavilion marks 20 straight NCAA tournament appearances for the No. 2 Irish, and it’s still something special.

“So many people wish they could be in our shoes and just have a chance at the tournament,” Irish junior guard Jewell Loyd said at a press conference Thursday.

Both programs won their conference tournaments to receive automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, and both have strong histories of reaching the tournament.

This is the 22nd all-time tournament bid for the No. 1-seeded Irish (31-2, 15-1 ACC). The No. 16-seeded Grizzlies (24-8, 14-4 Big Sky) have made the tournament 21 times, with a 6-20 record in those appearances.

Both teams also are helmed by long-tenured and successful coaches. Grizzlies head coach Robin Selvig is in his 37th year coaching Montana, and Irish head coach Muffet McGraw is in her 28th season with Notre Dame. McGraw has over 700 wins, and Selvig is the sixth winningest active Division I women’s basketball coach with over 800 victories.

“He’s a phenomenal coach,” McGraw said. “I don’t think there’s probably another first-round matchup that the coaches can combine for about 1,500 wins, and he’s got a lot more than I do. He is so well-known and so well-respected in the coaching community, just does a great job every single year.”

The Grizzlies players are veterans as well. Only one of the five Montana starters is an underclassman.

“Montana’s really experienced, and they’re a very disciplined team,” sophomore guard Lindsay Allen said. “They move around on offense, and they set really good screens on offense.”

Loyd said the Grizzlies’ guards in particular stood out on film. Montana redshirt senior guard Kellie Rubel (14.0 points per game) and junior guard McCalle Feller (11.0) were the No. 1 and No. 3 leading scorers for the Grizzlies, respectively.

“They’re really crafty,” Loyd said of Montana’s guards. “They shoot 3s, they move the ball really well, they set good screens, so we definitely have to make sure we communicate well enough.”

Sophomore forward Kayleigh Valley was the No. 2 leading scorer for the Grizzlies at 11.5 points per game.

For the Irish, Loyd led the way with an ACC-best 20.5 points per game. Freshman forward Brianna Turner averaged 13.8 points per game, and sophomore forward Taya Reimer post 10.1. Turner and Reimer were also Notre Dame’s rebounding leaders.

“I definitely see us on an upward trajectory,” McGraw said. “I think the underclassmen, in particular our post players, have really, really come on strong since probably mid-January. I think that’s been our strength. The three in the post — Taya Reimer, Brianna Turner and [freshman forward] Kathryn Westbeld — really have been the difference in why we ended so strong.”

The Irish enter the tournament coming off a regular-season ACC title and an ACC tournament championship.

“I think the ACC is the best league in women’s basketball,” McGraw said. “It really prepares us for the NCAA tournament. We’re going to see things that we’ve seen throughout the year with different teams. I think playing in that [ACC] tournament atmosphere really prepares us for this tournament as well.”

Notre Dame won the tournament March 8 with a 71-58 victory over No. 7 Florida State, a performance McGraw hopes her team will build on.

“I think we’re playing really well right now,” McGraw said. “We came off our best game of the year against Florida State in the tournament, and that’s what I want to see. I want to see sharp execution, not a lot of turnovers. I want to see us playing great defense, rebounding, really all the fundamentals.”

The Irish and Grizzlies tip off at Purcell Pavilion at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPN3-WatchESPN.

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