ND Women’s Basketball
Insider: ND opens tournament atop Lexington region
Greg Hadley | Friday, March 18, 2016
For the third straight season, No. 1 seed Notre Dame will have a home-court advantage as it seeks yet another Final Four berth.
As the top seed in the NCAA tournament’s Lexington, Kentucky, region, the Irish will host the first and second rounds of the tourney this weekend at Purcell Pavilion, seeking its seventh straight Sweet 16 berth, and for the third straight year, they will face a No. 16 seed to kick things off.
This year’s bottom seed is North Carolina A&T, who made the field of 64 after capturing the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) title. The Aggies (19-11, 12-4 MEAC) have won of nine of their last 10 games, but their one mutual opponent with Notre Dame, Ohio State, crushed them earlier in the year, 89-56.
“We’ve got to be all business when we come on out, and I’m sure our seniors will take care of that, but we’re gonna focus on North Carolina and see what’s gonna happen in that game before we even look forward,” McGraw said on Selection Monday.
Beyond the first round, the road becomes significantly more difficult for the Irish. They will meet either No. 8 seed Georgia or No. 9 seed Indiana in the second round, both of whom have posted 20-win seasons.
The Bulldogs (21-9, 9-7 SEC) are three seasons removed from an Elite Eight run but missed the tourney last season. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers (20-11, 12-6 Big Ten) are back in the tournament for the first time in 14 years and have become a winning program under head coach Teri Moren, who was named Big Ten Coach of the Year this season.
After the second round, the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight might provide Notre Dame with the most daunting challenges of any No. 1 seed, but McGraw insisted her team will not allow itself to think too far ahead.
“I think everybody’s probably gonna be looking at their bracket and going, ‘We’re in the toughest region,’” McGraw said. “We’re excited to be going to Lexington, but right now, we’ve got to focus on our first two games. We’ve got great teams coming in here, and we’ve got to do the job on them.”
Indiana and Georgia have found success this season with wildly different strategies. The Hoosiers boast a top-50 offense and shooting percentage centered around sophomores Tyra Buss (guard) and Amanda Cahill (forward), while the Bulldogs feature a top-20 defense that has limited their opponents to 53.8 points per game this season. In particular, the Bulldogs shut down their opponents from 3-point territory; they rank second in the nation in 3-point percentage defense at 24.2, while the Irish rank second in the NCAA in 3-point percentage.
Starting the tourney within the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion is an advantage that cannot be overstated, McGraw said.
“I think that the best thing is having our fans at home — more comfort here,” McGraw said. “We know this arena. Our fans are gonna make it special for these seniors going out. They want it to be a really great first round.”
But even assuming the Irish do advance to the Sweet 16, they will have their hands full.
No. 2 seed Maryland has made the past two Final Fours and won the Big Ten this season. No. 3 Kentucky features three all-SEC players and would be playing on its home court in Lexington. No. 4 Stanford is the last team to beat Connecticut and ranks second in the nation in field goal percentage defense. No. 5 Miami (Fla.) is the only ACC team to beat Notre Dame in the past two years. Even No. 6 Oklahoma has played another No. 1 seed, Baylor, to within 10 points twice this season.
And of course, even if Notre Dame makes it back to the Final Four, the big question on everyone’s minds will be if McGraw’s team can finally take down UConn. It’s a question she received as soon as the bracket was announced this past Monday.
“I think what we try to do is just play well enough every game to beat the best team on our schedule. And certainly everybody knows who the best team on our schedule is,” McGraw responded. “So I think we’re trying to do this every single day to prepare for that game.”
Before the Irish can play the Huskies, however, they must first get through the Aggies of North Carolina A&T. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. Should they win, the Irish would play in the second round Monday.