Notre Dame women's hoops team starts tourney journey in Toledo

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – As Baton Rouge, La., Iowa City, Iowa, and Ames, Iowa, vanished from the NCAA women’s basketball tournament board, the wider the smile grew on Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw’s face.

Notre Dame will begin its NCAA journey in Toledo, Ohio — right where the Irish wanted to start. The Irish, awarded a No. 1 seed for their 32-0 record and sweep of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament crowns, play No. 16 seed Robert Morris (21-11) at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. ESPN will have the telecast in the South Bend market.

A win would have Notre Dame going up against the winner of the 8-9 game between Vanderbilt (18-12) and Arizona State (22-9). The time for Monday’s game at Toledo’s Savage Arena will be determined later.

Notre Dame hosts the regional. The No. 2 seed in the South Bend bracket is Baylor (29-4), with Kentucky (24-8) grabbing the No. 3 seed. In-state rival Purdue (21-8) is the No. 4 seed.

A quick peek at the bracket reveals that the Irish have some potential payback games. Notre Dame lost the 2012 national title game to Baylor, and its last loss on the Purcell Pavilion court was last season to the Bears. Purdue dropped Notre Dame from its schedule this season.

Overall No. 1 seed Connecticut, which has a lower RPI rating than Notre Dame, dropped the Irish this season, although Connecticut is picking up Notre Dame next season.

“Well, they did,” McGraw said when asked if Connecticut ducked the Irish this season.

Notre Dame’s potential payback games appeal to McGraw, who wants her team to play with some extra emotion.

“I think this is a team that doesn’t forget,” McGraw said. “They have long memories, they know what’s happened in the past, and there are certain teams they are looking forward to playing.”

Irish senior guard Kayla McBride also likes the fact that Notre Dame can deal out some payback.

“We’re already (ticked off) in general,” McBride said. “We feel like we’re still the underdogs, no matter what we do.”

McBride said that the Irish turn anger into a positive energy force.

“We play angry, and I think that’s good,” McBride said. “It’s something that definitely makes me happy as a senior, because we have a chance to settle some scores, and as a senior, you want revenge, but we have to focus on Robert Morris right now.”

McGraw said her team knows how to handle the hype and the temptation to look at future match-ups.

Irish star Jewell Loyd said she will turn off Twitter and the Internet.

“We’re going to go over to the locker room right now, and making sure we’re focused on Robert Morris,” Loyd said. “I’m not listening to anything outside of that room.”

McGraw is expecting a large pro-Notre Dame crowd with Toledo just a couple hours away.

But having a powerful Baylor club as the No. 2 seed in the bracket didn’t please McGraw.

“Baylor is the No. 2 seed. I would say they are the highest No. 2 seed,” McGraw said. “I wouldn’t have thought we’d meet in the same bracket; I would have thought they would go west.”

Tourney bits

Notre Dame is in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament for the 19th consecutive season and the 21st time overall. The Irish have reached the Final Four the past three seasons and five times in program history (1997, 2001, 2011, 2012, 2013). Notre Dame won the national title in 2001. … The Irish posted the program’s first unbeaten regular-season record – 32-0. ... Notre Dame is 11-0 against ranked teams this season, including 7-0 in games away from home. The Irish are 6-0 against Top 10 teams this season. … Notre Dame finished No. 1 in the nation in the NCAA RPI ratings, which takes into account strength of schedule. Defending national champion Connecticut, which is ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Poll, is second in the RPI ratings.

Notre Dame's Ariel Braker, left, Kayla McBride, center, and Natalie Achonwa celebrate as the team's NCAA No. 1 tournament seeding is announced on ESPN's selection show Monday night inside Club Namoli at Notre Dame in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

Nickname: Colonials

Conference: Northeast Conference

Record: 21-11

Coach: Sal Buscaglia

Location: Moon Twp., Pa.

Common opponents: Duquesne (Notre Dame won 100-61; Robert Morris lost 79-63); Virginia Tech (Notre Dame won 74-48; Robert Morris lost 70-64).

Notes: Robert Morris is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. … Artemis Spanou, a 6-foot-2 senior forward, was the Northeast Conference player of the year. … Spanou scored 30 points and had 20 rebounds to lead the Colonials to a 78-64 victory over St. Francis in the NEC Tournament championship game. … Spanou averages 19.8 points and 14.8 rebounds a game.