ND Women’s Basketball: Irish sport swagger heading to Iowa
Samantha Zuba | Friday, March 22, 2013
It’s that time of year again. Bracketology is back. But the speculation can end, at least when it comes to first-round tournament matchups.
Notre Dame is a No. 1 seed and will face No. 16 seed Tennessee-Martin on Sunday at 5:05 p.m.
With the game in Iowa City, Iowa, travel should be easy for the Irish (31-1, 16-0 Big East). Notre Dame will face plenty of other challenges, however, including living up to high expectations.
Before the season, many analysts pegged the Irish as a top-10 team, but not a No. 1 seed in the tournament. Going 31-1 and beating Connecticut three times, including in the Big East final, changed all that.
Notre Dame’s only loss came against the bane of its last season: Baylor. According to Irish coach Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame will need to maintain a healthy level of confidence to set the expectations aside.
“I think we’ve got the swagger,” McGraw said. “I don’t think that’s the problem. We’ve got to be loose. We’ve got to be just our usual selves, have a lot of fun out there. If we start thinking like we’re supposed to win, that’s not a good thing for us.”
Even though Notre Dame is heavily favored in its first round matchup, Tennessee-Martin (19-14, 11-5 Ohio Valley Conference) will make its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. The Skyhawks have two potent scoring threats in junior guards Jasmine Newsome and Heather Butler, who average 22.9 and 22.0 points per game, respectively. That bests Notre Dame’s top two in senior guard Skylar Diggins and junior guard Kayla McBride, who average 17.0 and 15.4 points per game, respectively.
The Irish have more scoring potential across the board from the rest of the starting five and the bench. Newsome and Butler, meanwhile are the only two Skyhawk players who average double figures in scoring. Notre Dame boasts four such players.
McGraw said the Irish will take the tournament one game at a time. The regular season is over, and now Notre Dame has to showcase its skills – and win.
“It’s all survive and advance,” McGraw said. “I felt like that during the Big East tournament. We got through South Florida, it was a rough game for us. I didn’t even watch the film. We had already moved on to Louisville. The regular season is a time to improve. It’s not about winning or losing, but once you get to the tournament, it’s one-and-done, so all we hear about is winning.”
After some time off over spring break, the Irish were back at practice Sunday to start gearing up for the tournament. Junior forward Natalie Achonwa said she was grateful for the opportunity to refocus for a tournament that represents a new beginning.
“We were very grateful that coach McGraw gave us some time to see our family, get some time off, to mentally get prepared for our second season starting,” Achonwa said. “I think we’re just really excited to get started.”
McGraw also expressed excitement about her team’s attitude and desire to hit the court to get the tournament rolling. The Irish, McGraw said, have experience on the tournament stage and will be looking to capitalize this year.
“I love where we are,” McGraw said. “I think for us, we’ve been there before, we know what we’ve got to do, so I think we’re anxious and ready to get down to business.”
Notre Dame will face Tennessee-Martin on Sunday at 5:05 p.m. in Iowa City, Iowa.
Contact Samantha Zuba at [email protected]