ND Women’s Basketball
South Carolina awaits Notre Dame in semifinal
Renee Griffin | Thursday, April 2, 2015
No. 2 Notre Dame faces No. 3 South Carolina on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. in Tampa, Florida, with the Irish making their fifth consecutive appearance in the Final Four while the matchup marks the first semifinal appearance for the Gamecocks.
Both teams are top seeds, as are the other two teams in the Final Four, No. 1 Connecticut and No. 4 Maryland. However, their victories to make it this far did not come easily.
Notre Dame (35-2, 15-1 ACC) was trailing second-seeded Baylor for a considerable amount of time in Sunday’s 77-68 Elite Eight win, while South Carolina (34-2, 15-1 SEC) had to come from behind to defeat No. 2 seed Florida State, 80-74.
“This is one of the best tournaments we’ve had in terms of parity,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “I feel like there were so many great games throughout the tournament, there were great games. The one seeds advanced, but we all had games, maybe three of us had games, where we were in a really good game, in a really good battle.”
South Carolina could cause the Irish trouble, McGraw said, due to its size in the post combined with the presence of All-American junior guard Tiffany Mitchell.
“They are so strong in the post and their depth – you can’t even think about getting them into foul trouble because they just have so many people they can bring in off the bench,” McGraw said. “And then they’ve got Tiffany Mitchell, obviously first-team All-American and one of the best guards in the country. They’ve got good shooters and great team speed. They play really hard defensively, they pressure so well, and again they don’t have to worry about foul trouble.”
McGraw said adjusting and adapting the defense to limit the strengths of the Gamecocks’ attack would be key to the Irish strategy.
“We’ve got a lot of different ideas of things we want to try to do. We have to try absolutely everything,” McGraw said. “If you saw the beginning of the Baylor game, I think we played six different defenses before halftime. So we’re going to throw everything we can at them and see how the matchups look.
“We are a man-to-man team so that is our primary defense. Offensively, we’re just going to run our stuff same as we do every other game. Defensively is where I think we’ll really be challenged.”
Freshman forward Brianna Turner has played a crucial role in keeping Notre Dame’s inside game competitive, leading the team in blocks and rebounds. She and sophomore forward Taya Reimer, who McGraw called “maybe our most consistent player,” will combat the Gamecocks’ frontcourt.
“Brianna … does a lot defensively just with her presence inside because of what she’s able to do,” McGraw said. “But to match up with South Carolina, they’ve got a lot more bulk than I think she does. They’re a little bit bigger. I think it’s going to be interesting. They have a little more experience.”
To reach this point in the tournament, South Carolina had to go through North Carolina and Florida State in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively. Notre Dame previously defeated both of those ACC teams this year, with an 89-79 victory over the Tar Heels on Jan. 15 and a 71-58 win over Florida State for the ACC title.
“[South Carolina is] a really difficult matchup for us. Obviously we played North Carolina and Florida State, two teams that they played, so we got a little bit of a look at how they match up with teams we’re familiar with, but I don’t know how much that helps with the scouting report,” McGraw said. “We’ve done a lot of homework on South Carolina, and I think then it comes time to step back and look at ourselves.”
McGraw said this Final Four feels far different from her first, or even the one five years ago. The experience Notre Dame has at this level could factor into the outcome of the game against newcomer South Carolina, she said.
“I think it helps to know what to expect, especially with all of the things that you have to do outside of your own practice and playing the games,” McGraw said. “It’s very time consuming and it’s a little draining mentally, I think sometimes too. But when it’s your first one, you’re so excited to be there and do all of it that it’s actually sometimes probably easier for the first-timers because everything’s different, everything’s fun, everything’s new.”
The Final Four showdown between the Irish and Gamecocks takes place at Amalie Arena in Tampa at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.