Indiana, Georgia, Aggies overcame adversity to get to NCAA
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) North Carolina A&T didn't look much like an NCAA Tournament team when it started the season 0-4. Things didn't look much brighter after a loss at Coppin State in late January dropped the Aggies to 9-10.
That's when coach Tarrell Robinson realized he might have been putting too much pressure on his squad, the preseason pick to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title. He called a meeting to tell his players it was time to relax.
''I told them that we needed to have fun. It doesn't need to be business. It needs to be fun, and if the wins come with it then that's what happens,'' he said. ''Then the next thing you know you're winning one, two, three, four games in a row, five games in a row. Then they're starting to believe in themselves and believe in what we're trying to get done. That's when the magic starts.''
The Aggies (19-11) won five in a row and 10 of their last 11 to earn the third NCAA Tournament berth in the program's history. As the 16th-seed, they will face top-seeded Notre Dame (31-1) on Saturday night.
Finding ways to overcome adversity is a common theme among three of the four teams in the South Bend bracket.
Eighth-seeded Georgia (21-9), which saw its string of 20 straight NCAA appearances snapped last season, started 2-5 in the Southeastern Conference under first-year coach Joni Taylor before winning seven of its last nine regular-season games. Ninth-seeded Indiana (20-11), making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002, lost five of seven games from late December to mid-January.
The Lady Bulldogs' tough stretch included three losses to ranked opponents with both wins coming against ranked teams. Taylor said she talked to her players before conference play began about what could happen if things didn't go as they hoped.
''So, yes, we were very disappointed in how we started. But I don't think it was a shock either. Because they were prepared for a tough start. We knew we had to stay the course and trust ourselves and trust the work we had put in all summer, all preseason, all non-conference to know we were a good team and if we continued to fight and stay together we could crawl ourselves out of that hole,'' Taylor said.
Both Georgia, who lost second-leading scorer Shacobia Barbee to a season-ending ankle injury on Feb. 21, and Indiana were knocked out in the opening games of their conference tournaments. Lady Bulldogs coach Marjorie Butler said the overtime loss to Vanderbilt gives the team motivation.
''It almost like we have a little more left to prove,'' she said.
Second-year Indiana coach Teri Moren said the Hoosiers being in the tournament for the first time in 14 years is special.
''You've got to get a taste of it first before you know what it's all about,'' she said.
Notre Dame, seeking its sixth straight Final Four appearance, is the only team in South Bend that looked like a tournament team all season long. Coach Muffet McGraw didn't view it like that, though.
''We've always been a team that takes care of business at hand one game at a time throughout the season. We've played ranked teams, we've played unranked teams and we've focused on them the same way each game,'' she said.
North Carolina A&T coach Tarrell Robinson was an assistant coach at VCU from 2009-12 when Notre Dame associate coach Beth Cunningham was the head coach there. When Robinson took that job at North Carolina A&T in 2012, April McRae and Christina Carter followed. McRae is the leading scorer for the Aggies at 13.3 points and Carter averages 7.4 points. ... Notre Dame is 5-0 all-time as a top-seed in first round games, winning by average margin of 39.6 points. The most lopsided win was 93-42 over Robert Morris two seasons ago. ... Georgia's 32 NCAA Tournament appearances trail only Tennessee at 35. ... Georgia beat Indiana 86-70 in South Bend in the Sweet 16 in 1983 before losing to USC in the tournament semifinal. ... Indiana's 20 victories are the most in the program's history. ... Freshman Arike Ogunbowale practiced with the Irish for the first time since Sunday after spending time ill in the infirmary. McGraw said Ogunbowale's fever reached 104 degrees.