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ND Women’s Basketball

Squad tops region filled with dangerous foes

| Thursday, March 19, 2015

In pursuit of a fifth straight Final Four, top-seeded Notre Dame sits atop a region filled with dangerous opponents.

From No. 2 seed Baylor, which has topped the Irish in a national title game before, to fourth-seeded Stanford, the only squad to beat No. 1 Connecticut this year, to 11th seed Miami, who upset Notre Dame on Jan. 8, any number of difficult matchups loom for the Irish.

Irish sophomore guard Lindsay Allen surveys the court during Notre Dame's win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 23.Kat Robinson | The Observer

Irish sophomore guard Lindsay Allen surveys the court during Notre Dame’s win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 23.

In Muffet McGraw’s mind, though, there is a much more immediate challenge facing her squad — 16th-seeded Montana. Notre Dame’s first round opponent has the most wins of all four low seeds, and McGraw said after the selection show she did not expect the Grizzlies to be rated so low.

“Montana really surprised me,” McGraw said. “I think they’re a much better team than that.”

McGraw’s focus on the first round has rubbed off on her players, who all said they are taking a one-game-at-a-time mentality towards the tourney.

“Definitely intensity, intensity, intensity,” sophomore guard Lindsay Allen said when asked to characterize the team’s preparation this week. “It’s going to pick up in practice, no matter who we’re playing. We got to ready for the NCAA tournament because from now on it’s one-and-done. So we take every game one game at a time.”

The Grizzlies allow just 56.8 points per game, good for 29th in the country. They are led by redshirt seniors Carly Selvig and Kellie Rubel, who pace the team in blocks and steals, respectively. Selvig, a forward, is 26th in the NCAA in blocked shots per game. Rubel also led Montana in scoring and assists.

“We’re … not going to overlook anyone,” Irish junior guard Jewell Loyd said. “We don’t want to take anything for granted, so we’re excited to get the opportunity to have a chance.”

If the Irish beat Montana, they will take on the winner of No. 8 Minnesota and No. 9 DePaul. The team has only faced the Gophers twice, each time losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, the Blue Demons pushed Notre Dame to its only overtime game of the year Dec. 10, before falling, 94-93.

“Minnesota’s got an All-American [sophomore center Amanda Zahui B.]. DePaul [is] another great team,” McGraw said. “I think this pod, whoever advances, they’re gonna be tough games.

“ … We’re very familiar with DePaul, of course. That was one of the games that really could have turned our season around, had we lost that game.”

The Irish will not be looking for revenge against DePaul, though. At this point in the season, the team is more focused on simply advancing than making up for any past games, Loyd and Allen said.

“Whoever we play is going to be a tough game,” Loyd said when asked about possible rematches. “It’s the tournament, so everyone’s playing with more passion, more desire, so we’re just taking it one game at a time.”

“If [the Blue Demons] happen to win, and we happen to win, then we’ll see them again,” Allen said. “They’re a great team, but there are so many great teams in this tournament.”

These two first rounds will take place at Purcell Pavilion, as the tournament’s top 16 seeds overall earned home-court advantage. After hosting a regional last year, McGraw said the importance of a friendly crowd will be key against Montana.

“We really need our crowd,” she said. “They just know exactly when we need them to stand up and cheer because we haven’t scored in a while or we need a big defensive stop. They’re such an intelligent crowd. They are a big key for us in this game.”

Although the Irish are younger and enter the tournament with more defeats than last year’s squad, McGraw said she expects the team’s upperclassmen to ease the freshmen’s transition to tourney play.

“We’re excited to see how [the freshmen] do. They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now, so I think that’s the important thing for us. Certainly, the veterans are the ones that have to lead us,” McGraw said.
“Having Jewell Loyd helps you in every situation. But having a veteran point guard [Allen] — even though she’s just a sophomore — so steady, took us to the national championship last year as a freshman. She has ice water in her veins. She is someone who can really handle any kind of pressure situation.”
Until Friday, the Irish will wait, prepare and let the excitement build.
“We’re all just excited to get to the tournament and get started,” sophomore forward Taya Reimer said. “This is the most fun time of year.”
“I think we’re all going to be a little excited, a little antsy to finally get to that first game,” Allen said.
The Irish start the NCAA tournament against No. 16 Montana on Friday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.
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About Greg Hadley

Greg Hadley is a senior from Rockville, Maryland, majoring in political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He served as The Observer's Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-2016 term and currently covers Notre Dame baseball and women's basketball.

Contact Greg