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Women’s Basketball: Notre Dame to take on Minnesota in NCAAs

Bill Brink | Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It took a long wait and a lower seed than expected, but the Irish are in the NCAA Tournament.

Notre Dame got the No. 7 seed in the Trenton, N.J. regional and will face No. 10 seed Minnesota in the first round Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Joyce Center.

The players and coaches gathered at coach Muffet McGraw’s house to watch the selection show, televised on ESPN, and had to wait for the second-to-last game in the last bracket before hearing their name called.

“You kind of know that you’re going to be in, based on the way you’ve played and the way people talk you up, but when there’s only four spots left, we’re getting a little nervous,” junior guard Melissa Lechlitner said. “Me and [sophomore forward] Becca [Bruszewski] were like, ‘Oh my gosh, what if we didn’t get in?’ It was a little scary.”

The Irish (22-8) got the No. 5 seed in the Big East tournament last weekend, earned a first-round bye and defeated St. John’s in the second round before falling in the quarterfinals to Villanova.

“I really thought we’d be a four, five or six and when that had all come out I couldn’t remember whether the seven seed had already appeared or not,” McGraw said. “We’re playing at home, that’s the important thing to me. I don’t think seeds are that important.

The Irish play the winner of No. 2-seed Texas A&M and No. 15 seed Evansville if they win.

The bracket brings family and former teammates together. While at St. Joseph High School, Lechlitner played with current Minnesota forward Kristen Dockery. Lechlitner said their parents talk, but the girls don’t talk basketball, and that she hopes local St. Joseph fans come to watch.

“Hopefully get a few more St. Joe fans, parents maybe bringing some of the kids to the game,” she said.

Should Evansville upset Texas A&M, the Irish, if they win, could have a rematch between freshman guard Natalie Novosel and her sister Shannon, a senior at Evansville. The Irish beat Evansville 96-61 on Nov. 19 at the Joyce Center.

The matchup presents a scary case of déjà vu. In 1994, No. 10 seed Minnesota defeated the No. 7 seed Irish, 81-76, at the Joyce Center.

The Irish have a week to rest and practice. McGraw said practice will intensify and the coaches need to keep an eye on it.

“Tomorrow will be really physical and intense,” she said. “We’ll probably have to slow them down a little because they’re so ready right now, and they want to play right now. I think we’ll have to gauge that and determine how long we want to practice.”

Junior guard Ashley Barlow agreed.

“We’re going to be working hard,” she said. “It’s not like we’re going to try to injure each other or injure the practice players, we’re just going hard, trying to be amped up, ready to play.”

Since the games are at home, the Irish will have a different atmosphere entering an NCAA Tournament game, McGraw said.

“We’re in the dorm, going to class on Friday, we’re going to practice regular time, we’re in our locker room,” McGraw said. “I think a lot of things there are the same. Sometimes you wonder about the whole tournament feel, you know, being in the dorm and playing in the NCAA tournament. We might stay in the hotel Saturday night to get a good night’s rest, just to make it feel a little more like a tournament atmosphere.”