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ND Women’s Basketball

Edmonds: ND has already shown its tenacity

| Wednesday, November 28, 2018

With five Final Four appearances in the past seven years, four of which saw Notre Dame finish as runner-up, the pieces have been in place for a while. Yet a fade-away 3-pointer in the corner as time expired on Easter Sunday solidified it. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw has built a championship women’s basketball program defined by its hustle and refusal to be intimidated.

Michelle Mehelas | The Observer

Irish senior guard Arike Ogunbowale drives into the paint during Notre Dame’s 84-74 win over Oregon on March 26 in the Elite Eight matchup in Spokane.

Women’s basketball has long been ridiculed by sports fans for lacking competition and employing offensive schemes that settle for 3-pointers. Although these are fair criticisms, this Notre Dame team (6-0) has proven that there’s a lot more to intrigue fans.

It’s true that women’s basketball has long been dominated by familiar faces — Tennessee, UConn, Stanford, Duke, Baylor and Notre Dame, to name a few. In part due to the significantly smaller potential earnings in the WNBA compared to other professional leagues, with the average player not eclipsing six figures, athletes often elect to attend prestigious schools with tight alumni networks, setting themselves up for other opportunities beyond basketball, leaving mid-tier programs on the outside of the elite recruiting scene looking in.

This has created a lopsided league, with only 15 teams owning at least one national title. UConn alone has 11. Look no further than last year’s Final Four, where all four teams were the top seed in their respective regions.

Simply put, there’s little room for Cinderella stories in women’s basketball. Notre Dame’s championship didn’t change that. However, it did bring disenchanted fans back to the game, enthralled by a team that was never truly out of it. Of course, those back-to-back buzzer beaters by senior guard Arike Ogunbowale didn’t hurt.

Things are changing, though, and it started in January. Still reeling from a 100-67 thrashing by Louisville the week before, Notre Dame clawed back from a 23-point deficit to beat then-No. 6 Tennessee by 14 points. The resiliency the Irish displayed then went on to define their championship season.

Six game into this season, that tenacity has continued to lead this team in its undefeated start.

This past week alone, Notre Dame (6-0) travelled north to compete in the Vancouver Showcase, facing off against Gonzaga, Drake and Oregon State — the latter two of which are ranked opponents, currently at No. 24 and No. 9, respectively. Three games in three days on the road can wear any team down. In each matchup, the Irish struggled to separate early on, even finding themselves down 12 to the Beavers (5-1) at the end of the first quarter.

However, regardless of the scoreboard or shooting percentage, the Irish always managed to rally, winning each game by double digits. This team has the edge in composure. The Irish no longer get rattled when the bigwigs of the league roll in, perhaps because they too have become bigwigs. Nonetheless, despite hosting two top-15 teams this week, including the No. 2 Huskies (5-0), McGraw and her team have never been more prepared.

Although Connecticut has dominated this series, winning 36 of the 48 total matchups, the Irish have matched the Huskies in recent history, splitting the last 16 meetings since 2011, including the overtime win to reach the national championship last season.

Despite the numerous frustrations McGraw has expressed with the team’s lack of defense, the Irish are too talented, too mature to crumble. Fans might have to grin and bear it through some ugly wins, but just like that win over the Volunteers sparked a historic run to claim the national title, this team has no ceiling on its potential and will reward you with its hustle and dedication.

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

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