Irish bring homecourt advantage to Final Four

Irish bring homecourt advantage to Final Four

Published Apr. 4, 2011 6:44 a.m. ET

Last year, Butler's men had a virtual homecourt advantage when they played in the Final Four just a few miles from their Indianapolis campus.

This year, the Notre Dame women took advantage of a similar situation in Sunday night's semifinal against Connecticut. The Fighting Irish had plenty of boisterous fan support to fuel their 72-63 upset victory.

Green T-shirts were plentiful around Conseco Fieldhouse, which is about a three-hour drive from Notre Dame's South Bend, Ind., campus.

''Words cannot explain it all,'' forward Devereaux Peters said. ''It's a great feeling to have all your fans there, and it's the most fans we've had anywhere all year cheering for us.''


Now, they hope for similar support on Tuesday, when they play Texas A&M for the national championship.

Notre Dame's Becca Bruszewski, an Indiana native, was hoping the relatively short trip would offset Connecticut's tendency to draw fans away from home, and it did. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said the fact that the Final Four would be close to home was in the back of her players' minds all season.

The players had noticed a spike in support leading up to the game. They have made new friends since arriving in Indianapolis on Thursday.

''There is tremendous support for us. I think Indiana is an amazing basketball state, and they support their basketball and athletics a lot, and it's great to have a great fan base here for us,'' freshman Natalie Achonwa said.


AURIEMMA SUPPORTS IRISH: After Connecticut lost to Notre Dame, UConn coach Geno Auriemma was asked who he would pick to win the title game.

He said he knew little about Texas A&M other than that their style of play and their defensive intensity bothered teams.

Then, he stopped analyzing.

''I'll be rooting for Notre Dame because they're in our league, and I know them and I like a lot of their kids and their coaching staff,'' he said.

He started to correct himself out of respect for Texas A&M coach Gary Blair, but didn't quite get there.

''Not to say I don't like Gary. I don't. I don't like Gary as much as I like Muffet,'' Auriemma said, ending the press conference by drawing laughter from the media.


BLAIR FOR BUTLER: Texas A&M coach Gary Blair's recruiting helped the Aggies reach the national title game.

He might as well recruit the local fans.

After Texas A&M's victory over Stanford, Blair announced that he has jumped on the Butler bandwagon in an effort to drum up support. Butler is playing in the men's title game Monday night against Connecticut.

''I hope they win the whole doggone thing,'' Blair said. ''Right now we need the fans from Indianapolis to come out and support us.''

Blair was unhappy to see so many empty seats in the arena for the early game. He hopes Butler's fans can prevent that from happening again in Tuesday's final.

''It's a little embarrassing we have 3,000 empty seats out there,'' he said. ''This is the best basketball in the world. Let's fill this thing up.''


RICE ATTENDS: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in the Stanford locker room after the Cardinal lost 63-62 to Texas A&M.

Rice, the former provost at Stanford, wanted to see seniors Jeanette Pohlen and Kayla Pedersen win at least one championship. She said the loss takes nothing away from their overall success.

''It was a terrific season,'' Rice said. ''They fell one point short. Everyone would have loved to see the two seniors go out by getting to the title game. I think they had a magnificent season.''


HIGH PRAISE: Connecticut's Maya Moore is the career scoring leader at one of the nation's strongest programs. She's a four-time All-American and twice has been The Associated Press national player of the year.

Small wonder, then, that some are calling her one of the best to play the game.

So Maya, what do you think of that talk?

''Well,'' she replied as she turned to look at coach Geno Auriemma, ''I don't get to hear it a whole lot.''

Auriemma pretended not to hear, though he has praised his star eloquently through the years.

While trying to have fun with the question, Moore also was making a point that Auriemma's prodding, criticism and needling made her a better player.

''I think our coaching staff and just our program as a whole does a really good job of making sure that we're always staying hungry, always aware of the shortcomings in our team and as players individually, always striving to be better at something in practice,'' Moore said.

''That's been my mindset for the last few years. And it's great that other people think highly of me and my team.''


FUTURE COACHES? Former Purdue players Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and FahKara Malone were among the participants in the ''So You Want to be a Coach'' program that concluded on Sunday.

LaChina Robinson, who has facilitated the program since 2005, said the goal is not just to help women land coaching jobs but to succeed when they do. Indiana's Felisha Legette-Jack, Sylvia Crawley of Boston College and Saint Louis coach Shimmy Gray-Miller are among the coaches who were involved.

''It's really an in-depth look into what it's like to be a coach,'' Robinson said. ''We bring in panels of head and assistant coaches at some of the best programs in the country.''

The seminars are for players who have exhausted their eligibility or graduated within the past year.


AP freelancer Chuck Schoffner contributed to this report.