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Irish focused on Vikings

Jared Jedick | Friday, March 19, 2010

The postseason is about to begin for the No. 7 Irish, who earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and are set to take on No. 15 seed Cleveland State on their home turf in the Purcell Pavilion.

“We had a great season,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “But the second season starts now, and we want to have a great second season.”

The invitation marks the 17th time in school history that Notre Dame (27-5, 12-4 Big East) has been included in the NCAA tournament and is the team’s 15th consecutive appearance.

The Irish were upset by Minnesota in the first round last year, putting an early end to their tournament hopes.

“I think after last year, we’re going to really concentrate on Cleveland State,” McGraw said. “I don’t think there’s any question that this team knows what can happen.

“Hopefully we’ll play a little better than we did last year if we make it to that second round, because Cleveland State’s a pretty good team too. You know, everyone’s good. And at this time of year, you’ve got nothing to lose, you just go out and play.

The Irish have the advantage of playing in their home gym for the first two games of the tournament, an advantage not lost on freshman guard Skylar Diggins.

“It is always good to have the crowd on your side, and this crowd is so electric,” Diggins said. “They know that the crowd is not going to be on their side, so they are going to come in and we expect them to come out with a chip on their shoulders.”

The Vikings (19-13, 11-7 Horizon) finished the regular season fourth in the Horizon League, but managed to put together a run in the conference tournament, defeating favored Butler 66-57 to earn the automatic bid. McGraw said that the Cleveland State might come in with a lot of momentum.

“They are coming off of a win,” McGraw said. “They are coming in with a lot of confidence.”
Cleveland State is led by senior guard Kailey Klein, who paces the team in scoring with 18.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

“Klein is their best player; she is a really good player,” McGraw said. “I think she shot about 168 3s on the season.”

Pairing with Klein is junior guard Shawnita Garland, who posts impressive numbers across the board with 13 points, five rebounds, 3.3 assists and three steals per game.

“They are a much faster-paced team, with those kinds of screens and cuts that are going to be really hard to guard,” McGraw said.

McGraw said that the team has really been focusing on defense this week, finding ways to cover the Vikings’ fast-paced motion offense.

Beyond working on defense, Notre Dame plans to mix things up in the tournament, developing both its offense and defense to give teams something they have never seen before.

“We’re putting a lot of new wrinkles in, a lot of nuances to the offense, a couple of different looks on defense,” McGraw said. “You can’t do the same thing.”

If the Irish advance, they will play the winner of the match between No. 7-seed Wisconsin (21-10, 10-8 Big East) and No. 10-seed Vermont (26-6, 13-3 America East). That matchup would be Tuesday at the Purcell Pavilion.

Wisconsin and Vermont will tip off at noon Sunday at the Purcell Pavilion, with Notre Dame and Cleveland State slated to follow a half an hour after the conclusion of that game.