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ND Women’s Basketball

Green: Irish still have much to celebrate

| Wednesday, April 8, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. — As the Irish walked off the court, immersed in the difficult here and now with confetti falling and ladders being pulled out for the wrong team, at least one player didn’t want to dwell on the present.

“Offseason starts now,” sophomore forward Taya Reimer said. “So we’re using it as motivation, because we want to get back to this moment, and we want to be the ones out there holding the trophy.”

There’s no doubt the Irish seemed sad after Tuesday’s loss, but even more than that, they seemed frustrated, like they had come so close only to walk away empty-handed yet again.

They don’t pass out shirts and hats after the game that read, “National Runners-Up,” and if they did, this group wouldn’t want to wear them anyway. The team came to Tampa for a title, and just one trophy will remain in the case after this weekend.

Last weekend, Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said she wanted her team to celebrate advancing to a fifth straight Final Four appearance. Her players said throughout the week that they were doing just that, playing with a new looseness, and had even seen McGraw more laid-back.

Before they can move on to the future and the next season, the Irish should make sure they keep that mentality because with that comes the ability to celebrate, not just dwell.

She had said it over and over again during the past couple weeks, but McGraw repeated Tuesday night that Notre Dame’s return to the final game was an accomplishment.

The Irish need to celebrate that. Nobody — McGraw included — foresaw that, and many eliminated the possibility of making this deep of a run in the tournament after their Jan. 8 loss to Miami.

But there they were Tuesday, on the same court as the team everyone expected to be the last one standing, and they had earned their place just as much.

They learned from the Miami loss and came out a different team that won 22 straight games.

Reimer experienced a midseason renaissance and led the transition in Notre Dame’s post players to becoming what McGraw praised as a much tougher unit, one that was outrebounded in just one postseason contest.

Junior guard Jewell Loyd shot her game up to a whole new level this year, earning praise along the way from coaching legends like Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and Baylor’s Kim Mulkey.

Sophomore guard Lindsay Allen matured into a more vocal point guard and learned how to serve as more than a facilitator, scoring 51 combined points in Notre Dame’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight wins.

In the next round, the Irish found something within themselves to pull out a late-game comeback against South Carolina on Sunday in the national semifinal, and they did it by relying on a total-team effort, led by senior guard Madison Cable and junior guard Hannah Huffman.

Freshman forward Brianna Turner joined Loyd on the all-tournament team after nearly single-handedly fueling an Irish comeback against the Huskies after she missed the teams’ first matchup in December.

Each of those points, and many others, are what the Irish need to look at when examining this year. When they take a look at the past, they should see that nearly everyone counted them out, but they still rose to the occasion and came out with another trip to the final game — and they didn’t need an undefeated season or two WNBA first-round picks to do it.

And when they finally turn towards the future, the Irish have a lot to look forward to.

Unlike last year, when they lost three starters, Notre Dame will keep its entire starting lineup for next season.

Adding to that, the team will bring in three new guards with McDonald’s All-American distinctions.

“I think those guards can really help us, so I’ve got really optimistic, high hopes for next year,” McGraw said Tuesday.

At the very least, the Irish built a firm foundation for the future with this run and should take away a new confidence, and that’s a lot to celebrate.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Mary Green

Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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