ND Women’s Basketball
Notre Dame postseason rounds off year of firsts
Greg Hadley | Thursday, March 20, 2014
It has been a season of firsts for No. 2 Notre Dame.
It was the first season in a new conference, the first game against several new opponents, the first time in the ACC tournament, the first time not playing archrival Connecticut in the regular season, and the Irish (32-0, 16-0 ACC) also earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
So when the squad drew a first-round matchup on Saturday in Toledo, Ohio, against 16th-seeded Robert Morris, a team Notre Dame has never played before, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said she was not surprised.“We actually taped the game on Sunday,” McGraw said Monday. “They were playing in the final. I didn’t get to watch it, but we thought that might be a potential matchup, so we taped it, so I know I have one game to watch when I get home.”
If anything, all the new experiences have prepared the Irish for whatever the Colonials (21-11, 14-4 NEC) will offer, McGraw said.
“It really [helped joining the ACC] because we had all those chances to play against teams we’ve never played before, so this is another chance to continue to do that,” she said.
Irish senior forward Kayla McBride said the ACC tested Notre Dame for the road ahead.
“I think that coming into the ACC, we didn’t know anything about anybody, and even some teams that we played in non-conference scheduled games [were] like that,” McBride said. “It was good for us, definitely.”
The Colonials return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since consecutive berths in 2007 and 2008. The Colonials were seeded 13th in 2007 and 15th in 2008 and lost in the first round on both occasions.
The Irish enter the tournament on a roll after winning the ACC crown and are seeking a fourth-straight Final Four appearance. Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd was named the ACC tournament MVP and joined McBride and senior forward Natalie Achonwa on the all-ACC team.
The high-powered Notre Dame offense, which ranks first in the nation in field goal percentage, will go up against a Robert Morris defense that limits opponents to just 38.8 percent from the floor.
Robert Morris earned its bid to the NCAA tournament after winning the Northeast Conference title and is led by senior forward Artemis Spanou, who was named the Northeast Conference player of the year and tournament MVP. Spanou averages nearly 20 points a game, leads the team in rebounding and recorded 26 double-doubles throughout the season.
Earlier this season, the Colonials lost to Virginia Tech, 70-64 on Dec. 29. A month later, Notre Dame defeated the Hokies (14-16, 4-12 ACC) 74-48 on Jan. 30. Still, senior forward Kayla McBride said the Irish are not looking past Robert Morris.
“I think we had a lot of different places, a lot of different venues, a lot of different environments and a lot of different teams,” McBride said. “So Robert Morris, they’re in the tournament for a reason, and we can’t take that for granted.”
The Irish have won 16 of their last 18 NCAA openers, including the past four straight. If they advance past the first two rounds, they would return to Purcell Pavilion for the regional semifinals and finals.
The Irish begin their hunt for a national championship Saturday against Robert Morris in Toledo, Ohio at 1:30 p.m.