Notre Dame women begin title quest in Iowa City
Notre Dame came into the season with a few goals. Now with two
of the main ones accomplished, the Irish can turn their attention
to the NCAA tournament.
Top-seeded Notre Dame (31-1) starts its quest to return to the
Final Four on Sunday against Ohio Valley Conference champion
Tennessee Martin (19-14) in the first-round of the NCAAs at Iowa’s
Carver-Hawkeye Arena. In the other first-round game, eighth-seeded
Miami (21-10) takes on host Iowa (20-12), one of 13 schools in the
nation to play in its sixth straight NCAA tournament.
The Irish, who are riding a school record 26-game winning
streak, have made the NCAA title game the past two seasons falling
both times. Now the Irish hope to get back there again and get the
school’s second national championship.
McGraw said her team’s resiliency and chronic state of
dissatisfaction has fueled their success. The Fighting Irish never
stop searching for ways to improve.
”They come in after a win and we’re going to watch what we did
wrong,” McGraw said. ”We don’t really look at what we’re doing
well so much as how we can get better, and this team relishes that.
They love to be challenged. They want to get better.”
Notre Dame swept the Big East Conference regular season and
tournament titles, becoming the first school other than Connecticut
to accomplish the feat since 1993.
The Fighting Irish’s lone loss this season came at home to
top-ranked Baylor back on Dec. 5. Notre Dame hasn’t lost since
despite being tested with three wins against UConn, two against
Louisville and others against Tennessee and Purdue.
”We understand what it takes to get there,” senior Skylar
Diggins said. ”The conference schedule that we play is so tough.
I’ve said this before – you’re playing elite level Final Four,
Sweet 16 games all the time. I think ultimately that’s what really
prepared us for the tournament.”
Notre Dame averages 80.8 points per game and boasts a balanced
offense. Ten of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double
figures at least once, including five with 20-point games.
The three-time All-American Diggins leads the Fighting Irish
with 17 points and almost six assists per game. The senior guard is
52 points shy of the school’s career scoring mark.
Notre Dame shouldn’t intimidate Tennessee Martin.
The Skyhawks played Baylor, Stanford, Louisville and Purdue
during their nonconference schedule.
Tennessee Martin is the only team in the nation with two top-10
scorers. Jasmine Newsome (22.9 points per game) and Health Butler
(22) account for more than 60 percent of the scoring by the
The guards weren’t heavily recruited, perhaps because of their
”They look more like cheerleaders than basketball players,”
Tennessee Martin coach Kevin McMillan said.
The 5-foot-5 Butler played for McMillan in high school. The 5-6
Newsome’s dad reached out to McMillan after paying close attention
to his career path from nearby Millington, Tenn.
Iowa and Miami have a lot of similarities. Both teams have
registered big wins and weathered tough stretches, and they both
have the flexibility to score inside and outside.
The Hawkeyes once had more wins against ranked opponents than
any other team in the country. Iowa lost six of seven games later
in the season before pulling a few wins out at the end to secure
the NCAA bid.
The Hurricanes knocked off top 10 teams Penn State and Duke.
Miami also dropped five games in January.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder was savoring the opportunity to play at
home, where the Hawkeyes ranked in the top 20 in attendance this
season. She planned to have the team over to her house for lasagna
”This afternoon was kind of weird,” Bluder said. ”I’m at home
cleaning my kitchen. Not sure if that’s what most coaches are doing
during NCAA tournament time.”
Miami coach Katie Meier once dreamed of playing for the Hawkeyes
as a high school guard in Wheaton, Ill., after two of her sisters
and a brother attended school at Iowa.
Meier ended up at Duke after then-Iowa coach Vivian Stringer
didn’t offer a scholarship. Meier admitted she probably wasn’t good
”I’m not bitter,” Meier joked. ”I still have the letter – no,
just kidding, I don’t.”