ND Women’s Basketball
Notre Dame readies itself for rematch with Stanford in Elite Eight
Renee Griffin | Saturday, March 25, 2017
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Top-seeded Notre Dame proved it could win without star junior forward Brianna Turner with a 99-76 win over No. 5 seed Ohio State on Friday night, but Sunday’s Elite Eight matchup will bring a daunting challenge as the Irish face No. 2 seed Stanford — the same squad that eliminated Notre Dame from last year’s tournament.
However, senior guard Lindsay Allen said redemption is secondary in the minds of her teammates and herself.
“I don’t see it as revenge, I don’t think, because, I mean, we beat them two years ago, and they beat us last year — I guess this game could technically be a tiebreaker-type of game,” Allen said. “I think the real motivation is to get to the Final Four and continue to play.”
At the same time, junior forward Kathryn Westbeld said she remembers the agony the Irish (33-3, 15-1 ACC) felt, especially the seniors, after the Cardinal (31-5, 15-3 Pac-12) eliminated them in the Sweet 16 with a 90-84 win in 2016. In 2017, every game could be the last for the dependable Allen, who passed the 4,000-minute mark and broke the Irish record for career assists earlier this season.
“Something that really sticks out to me is the feeling in the locker room afterwards,” Westbeld said of the 2016 defeat. “Our seniors were heartbroken. I think for me that just kind of stuck. It’s something I don’t want any of our seniors to have to go through, especially Sunday.”
Continuing onto the Final Four in Dallas will not be easy, even after a resounding 99-76 victory over the Buckeyes (28-7, 15-1 Big Ten) in which six different Notre Dame players reached double-digit points, led by sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale’s 32.
Irish head coach Muffet McGraw called Stanford “a very, very difficult team to beat.”
“They definitely scored the ball a lot better than they did last year, but just their game experience — they never get rattled, never lose their poise,” McGraw said of the Cardinal. “They have a lot of different weapons, a lot of different people that can hurt you. Everybody plays their role exactly. Nobody tries to do too much. So they’re a really tough matchup for us.”
Stanford will likely look to take control of the paint more successfully than Ohio State did with Turner’s torn ACL keeping her out for the rest of the tournament. Cardinal senior center Erica McCall, who stands at 6-foot-3, leads her team in scoring. Fellow starter and sophomore forward Alanna Smith is averaging 8.8 points per game, better than the marks of both Irish starters in the post, Westbeld and freshman forward Erin Boley.
Still, the Irish as a group were able to make up for Turner’s absence Friday night, shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc and also managing to outscore the Buckeyes in the paint, feeding not only to Westbeld, but also to Ogunbowale and freshman guard Jackie Young at times.
So while the Cardinal pose a challenge, Allen expressed optimism that Notre Dame would be able to play its game and carry its “confidence and swagger” into Sunday.
“Obviously, I think it’s tough to go over everything that Stanford does in one day,” Allen said. “I think with this team, it’s just kind of refining things, looking at mismatches we have and making sure we’re exploiting those and just remembering those and having that muscle memory to continue through this game.”
The Irish tip off against Stanford in the Elite Eight at noon Sunday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.