SOUTH BEND — When Notre Dame and Indiana’s women’s basketball teams clash Monday night at Purcell Pavilion, a berth in the Sweet Sixteen at Lexington, Ky., next weekend will be the winner’s prize.
The Irish are thoroughbreds, having reached five straight Final Fours, while the recently-resurrected Hoosiers are the fledgling and know they will have their hands full with the 32-1 Irish.
Indiana coach Teri Moren led her team to IU’s first 20-victory season in history this year (21-11) and coached them to their first NCAA tournament victory since 1983.
But she realizes how monumental the task against the Irish will be.
“They are so efficient offensively,” said Moren. “They have a tremendous point guard (Lindsay Allen), they share the ball and take high percentage shots. Their transition game is tremendous.”
Knowing her team could indeed fashion a stunning upset, she nonetheless was open and honest about the chances.
“We are not ready for Notre Dame, Connecticut or South Carolina,” she said of the country's top three teams. “We need a few more recruiting classes.”
So it will be perennial national power Notre Dame against the upstart Hoosiers. Coach Muffet McGraw’s Irish have won 21 straight games against in-state rivals, yet it was Indiana to last beat them in the intrastate clash, in 2006, when the Hoosiers won at Notre Dame, 54-51. Notre Dame will be shooting for its 14th berth in the Sweet Sixteen in the last 20 years, and has posted its sixth straight 30-win season (32-1).
The Irish won their NCAA opener for the 19th time in the past 21 years with its Saturday victory over North Carolina A&T.
“We need to play a great game,'' Moren said. "We can’t dig a hole. Once Notre Dame has its foot on the pedal, it doesn’t come off.''
The Irish feature an attack with many weapons. Four players score in double figures and others have the capability to lead Notre Dame in scoring on any given night. Sophomore Brianna Turner leads the Irish with her 14.4 scoring average, with Madison Cable at 13.7.
But sophomore Kathryn Westbeld has increased her productivity, scoring 10 in the ACC championship and 12 Saturday night against North Carolina A&T.
“She played fantastic,” said McGraw. “I think it was her best game of the year. She is rebounding really well.”
Westbeld averages 5.7 rebounds per game and her emergence as a scorer compounds opponents’ ability to double down on Turner.
Indiana leans heavily on 5-foot-8 sophomore Tyra Buss, who averages 19 points a game and runs the Hoosiers’ offense. The Hoosiers have two other double-figure scorers in Amanda Cahill at 15.5 and Alexis Gassion at 10.6.
“Buss gets to the free-throw line 256 times, which is amazing,” said McGraw. “The leader on our team is about 120 (Turner actually has shot 130 free throws for Notre Dame and Ogunbwale 128). She really drives the ball well. She’s in attack mode all the time.”
Moren knows the Irish will try to limit the touches Buss gets, and she has charged the rest of her team with recognizing that and running the offense on their own.
There is one face on the Indiana roster very familiar to Irish fans. That is 5-10 junior Karlee McBride, sister of former Notre Dame All-American Kayla McBride. Karlee averages 7.3 points a game and scored 10 in the Hoosiers' first-round victory over Georgia.
The Irish have won 25 straight games and are aiming for a sixth consecutive trip to the Final Four.