Notre Dame women's team at home on the road?

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

Call it the NCAA women’s basketball tournament’s version of double jeopardy.

No. 5 seed Oklahoma State won its second-round game on No. 4 seed Purdue’s home court.

The reward for the Cowgirls? A Sweet 16 game on No. 1 seed Notre Dame’s home court.

Oklahoma State (25-8) tips off against Notre Dame (34-0) at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. The winner plays the survivor of the noon game between No. 2 seed Baylor and No. 3 Kentucky on Monday night at 7:30 p.m. for the right at ad-vance to the Final Four.

Unique situation

When the NCAA moved away from neutral courts for regionals for the first time since 2004, it created the rarity of Oklahoma State playing back-to-back games on an opponent’s home court in NCAA play.

“I’m not real thrilled about it to be quite honest,” Oklahoma State Jim Littell said. “We don’t talk to our team about it.”

Oklahoma State has faced roaring crowds in Big XII play, at Baylor, at Oklahoma, at Texas. Littell said it requires efficient and intelligent play to take the home crowd out of the game.

Brittney Martin, who had 20 points and 20 rebounds in the 73-66 victory at Purdue on Monday, said she loves the challenge of playing in hostile territory.

“I think it’s fun to play with the other team’s fan base,” Martin said. “You silence them when you score.”

According to Cowgirls’ point guard Tiffany Bias, Oklahoma State has plenty of

experience dealing with deafening road environments, and doesn’t think the Cowgirls will be rattled.

“We’ve had a lot of games where it’s been 11,000 people and you couldn’t hear and it was crazy in there, and we had a hard time relaying back to each other,” Bias said. “I think we’re ready for that since we’ve experienced it this year, so I don’t think it’s be that much of a big problem with us.”

Irish edge

Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant game-planned against both Notre Dame and Oklahoma State this season. The Spartans lost to Notre Dame, 81-62, and lost to Oklahoma State, 63-57.

According to Merchant, structure will take on creativity on Saturday when the Irish play the Cowgirls.

Oklahoma State’s roles are clearly defined. Bias is the speedy point guard, Liz Donohoe is the shooter, Brittney Martin is the combo-player, LaShawn Jones is the back-to-the-basket player, Kendra Suttles is the power forward.

Merchant thinks that what makes Notre Dame so challenging to deal with is its ability to have a fluid, changing attack. Everybody Notre Dame puts on the court can play multiple positions.

“It’s not like guarding Kayla McBride off the same ball screen all the time,” Merchant said. “She might be getting a shuffle cut, the ball screen, and the back screen all on the same possession.”

Merchant gives Notre Dame the upperhand because of the Irish transition game, and Notre Dame’s ability to score in so many different ways, with so many different players.

“That’s not to say anything negative about Oklahoma State,” Merchant said. “I just think, overall, Notre Dame comes at you a lot of different ways, and that makes them a lot harder to guard.”

Oklahoma State can cause the Irish a lot of trouble, according to Merchant. Bias (13.8 points, 6.1 assists a game) is quick, has great athletic ability, and can create shots for her teammates. Murphy knocked out Purdue with 20 points and 20 rebounds. Jones is a solid post who averages 9.2 points a game.

Notre Dame has had trouble with powerful posts this season, giving up 29 points and 12 rebounds to Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas, and 17 points and 16 rebounds to Duke’s Elizabeth Williams. Merchant thinks the Irish will be pre-pared for Jones.

“I know Notre Dame isn’t really big inside, and it doesn’t affect them as much on offense, but it could affect them defensively,” Merchant said. “Notre Dame is used to guarding against those kind of players, because the Big East had a lot of great back-to-the-basket players, and the ACC has a lot of great back-to-the-basket players.”

Bias’ status

Bias suffered an ankle injury in the Purdue game on Monday, and according to Littell, she didn’t practice until Friday.

Littell said that he and his staff would evaluate Bias’ status after seeing how well she did at Friday’s practice.

“She’s been an All-American for us,” Littell said. “She’s a very athletic young lady who has run the show for four years, so it would be a blow to us and it would be a huge challenge (to play without Bias).

Bias, who appeared to handle running and taking jump shots well during the 15 minutes in which the media was allowed access to the Cowgirls’ practice, is confident that she will play against Notre Dame.

“My ankle’s better and I’ve been practicing on it,” Bias said. “I’m planning on playing.”

Bias, a 5-foot-6 speedster, will be a player that the Irish target.

“It will be really difficult (guarding Bias), especially in transition,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “We’ve seen in the past, with teams trying to do the same thing to Skylar (Diggins), that it’s really difficult to defend a player like that in the open floor, so we’re really going to have to focus on matching up and finding her.”

Scoring balance

In Notre Dame’s last game, Natalie Achonwa, McBride and Jewell Loyd combined for 66 points in an 84-67 vic-tory against Arizona State.

In the NCAA first-round game against Robert Morris, the Irish bench accounted for 42 points in a 93-42 victory.

Notre Dame has had five different players lead the team in scoring this season – Achonwa, McBride, Loyd, Michaela Mabrey and Madison Cable.

Seven different Irish players have scored in double figures.

“The hardest thing about guarding our team is that we have so many options,” Achonwa said. “If (Loyd, McBride) and I don’t score 60, others will rise to the occasion.

Notre Dame averages 86.7 points a game (compared to Oklahoma State’s 70.7 points a game).

Notre Dame’s transition game has given the Irish a significant edge in putting points on the board this season. The transition game stalled at times against Arizona State. The Irish ran to the middle and into the Sun Devils’ de-fense, and threw the ball away numerous times (22 overall) trying to force the fastbreak.

“We do a really good job of getting the ball out to our guards,” Loyd said of why the Irish transition game is so ef-fective. “At times, when you play so fast, you’re going to have turnovers, but we have focused on not making those turnovers.”

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw talks to her players before the beginning of a practice on Friday, March 28, 2014, at the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. Notre Dame faces Oklahoma State in a regional semi-final game on Saturday. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw speaks during a news conference on Friday, March 28, 2014, at the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. Notre Dame faces Oklahoma State in a regional semi-final game on Saturday. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER
Notre Dame players huddle at mid court before a practice on Friday, March 28, 2014, at the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. Notre Dame faces Oklahoma State in a regional semi-final game on Saturday. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER

WHAT: NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame Regional semifinal

WHO: No. 1 seed Notre Dame (34-0) vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State (25-8)

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149)

WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: ESPN

RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9, 92.1)

ONLINE: www.und.com

TICKETS: Limited availability. Check with Notre Dame ticket office at www.und.com/tickets or 574-631-7356.