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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame secures No. 1 seed in Oklahoma City region

| Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The road to a fifth consecutive Final Four for Notre Dame began Monday, when the Irish earned a No. 1 seed in the Oklahoma City region of the upcoming NCAA tournament.

With a top seed locked up, Notre Dame (31-2, 15-1 ACC) will kick off tournament play with a matchup Friday at Purcell Pavilion against No. 16 seed Montana, the Big Sky regular-season and tournament champion.

The Irish bring their own hardware into the game, having collected an ACC regular-season title and a tournament championship with a 71-58 victory over Florida State on March 8.

“I think this team’s capable of anything,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think we showed this year what our potential could be. We still haven’t painted our masterpiece. I’m still waiting for the game when we play the best we’ve ever played.

“We’re starting to get there. You can see that it’s coming, so that’s what I’m hoping for in the tournament.”

The Irish and Grizzlies (24-8, 14-4) have faced off just once before, a 50-48 Montana win in December 1986.

That game took place on a neutral court in Seattle. The teams’ second matchup will be held at Purcell Pavilion as the tournament’s top 16 teams all earned home-court advantage for the first two rounds.

“I think the first game is always the toughest game, so for us to be starting at home in front of our fans — we hope we have a sellout crowd — is going to be really, really important for us to get off to a good start,” McGraw said.

Notre Dame enters the game looking for its 18th consecutive victory. The last Irish loss came on the road against Miami (Fla.), a 78-63 defeat in which they shot just 35.9 percent from the field and 8.3 percent from behind the arc.

The Hurricanes are the No. 11 seed in Notre Dame’s region, which also features Baylor (No. 2), Iowa (No. 3), Stanford (No. 4) and Oklahoma (No. 5).

If the Irish advance past the Grizzlies, they will take on the winner of No. 8 Minnesota and No. 9 DePaul. DePaul gave Notre Dame a tough test on the road Dec. 10, with the Blue Demons leading for much of the overtime game before junior guard Jewell Loyd and her program-record 41 points led the Irish to a 94-93 win.

“I think every coach looks at it that way, and I’m going to say the same thing,” McGraw said. “We definitely have the toughest bracket. … I think all the teams in the bracket are capable of winning.”

However, McGraw said coming away with an opening-round victory is not a guarantee against a team she believed should have earned a higher seed.

“We play a 16-seed with a great record, 21 times in the NCAA tournament,” she said. “It’s probably the best 16-seed that’s ever been in the tournament.”

Connecticut, which bested the Irish, 76-58, on Dec. 6 at Purcell Pavilion, earned the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed and will compete in the Albany, New York, region. The Huskies beat Notre Dame in the last two Final Fours, including a 79-58 dismantling in the 2014 title game.

The other two No. 1 seeds are Maryland — which Notre Dame topped, 92-72, on Dec. 3 — in the Spokane, Washington, region and South Carolina in the Greensboro, North Carolina, region.

However, McGraw said she and her team are not looking past this weekend, to either the regional in Oklahoma City or the Final Four in Tampa, Florida.

“You just don’t know what’s going to happen, but for me, I’m going to focus on the first games,” she said. “Boy, those first two games both look very difficult.”

The top-seeded Irish open NCAA tournament action Friday, with a 7:30 p.m. matchup against No. 16 seed Montana at Purcell Pavilion.

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