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Women’s basketball team earns high seed in tournament

| Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Muffet McGraw admits her team complained earlier this year for playing such a difficult non-conference schedule. But on Selection Sunday, facing tough opponents translated into a surprising high seed.The Irish are the No. 5 seed in the East Regional and will face Southwest Missouri State in the first round Sunday at the Joyce Center. No. 4 seed North Carolina plays No. 13 seed Middle Tennessee State in the other first-round game of the bracket at noon. The winners face off Tuesday for a chance to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Hartford, Conn.”I think we complained about the schedule a little bit all year long and how tough it was,” McGraw said. “Now we’re finally seeing the benefits of it, which it took a long time for the benefits to come out. The committee this year really seemed to reward the teams that went out and played tough schedules.”Last season Notre Dame’s 19-10 record earned them a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But this season the Irish faced 10 ranked opponents and went 7-3 against that field. Notre Dame also posted an impressive second-place finish in the Big East regular season by going 12-4. The seven victories against ranked opponents represent the most by any Notre Dame team in the regular season, including the 2001 national championship team, which won five.Notre Dame’s faces a Southwest Missouri State team that went 28-3 in the regular season and won both the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles. The Bears lead the nation in 3-point attempts per game and 3-pointers made. Guard Kari Koch paces the Bears, averaging 17.8 points per game. But just stopping Koch will not be enough for the Irish defense, as Southwest Missouri State has six players shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc.”They’re a shooting team and when you look down their stat sheet everybody shoots 3s,” McGraw said. “You can’t even tell who the post players are and who the guards are because they all shoot 3s.”Southwest Missouri State reaches the NCAA tournament for the third time in the last four years. They reached the Final Four in 2001 – the same year the Irish won the national title – behind the play of All-American Jackie Stiles. “They’re a very tournament-savvy team,” McGraw said. Notre Dame will be playing in its 11th NCAA Tournament overall and ninth straight. The Irish reached the Sweet Sixteen last season, upsetting No. 6 Arizona and No. 3 Kansas State before losing to No. 2 Purdue. This season Notre Dame received one of 16 predetermined host sites for the tournament. The Irish 13-0 at home this season.”[Playing at home] is really incredible,” McGraw said. “To be undefeated at home, to know we have that streak going at home, to feel the confidence of playing at home, to know our fans are going to be there for us – that is the difference with this team.”If Notre Dame wins its first home game, they face North Carolina (24-6) or Middle Tennessee State (23-7). The Tar Hells received an at-large bid from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Raiders won the Sunbelt Conference.McGraw said that no team assumes easy wins in this year’s field because of the parity of the field.”I don’t think its hard for us to focus on one team at a time because we have tried to do that and we’ve been pretty good at that all year long,” McGraw said. “We can’t afford to overlook anybody and we know that. When we look at the record and we see them on film, we know can’t look past anyone.””The first game is the one we’re focusing on.”