Payback low on Notre Dame's priorities

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Revenge isn’t the top priority when Notre Dame takes the court on Monday night at Purcell Pavilion for the NCAA women’s basketball regional championship. But the Irish wouldn’t mind a healthy side dish of it.

Notre Dame is 0-4 all-time against Baylor, the team standing between the Irish and a fourth consecutive trip to the Final Four. The Bears, featuring 6-foot-8 national Player of the Year Brittney Griner, beat Notre Dame 80-61 in the 2012 national championship game. Then on Dec. 5, 2012, Baylor beat the Irish, 73-61, the last time Notre Dame has walked off its home court on the short side of the scoreboard.

Reaching the Final Four is the main task on Monday night, but the Irish are trying to channel the energy that a payback game provides into the right direction.

Irish senior Natalie Achonwa acknowledged, “it adds that much more motivation for us, and we’re that much more excited to play them on our home court.”

Notre Dame’s four games against Baylor have been in the previous three seasons. The Irish have lost by double-digits each time.

“We don’t want to get too caught up in thinking about them,” Achonwa said. “At the end of the day, it’s about what are we going to do to score, what are we going to do on defense, and making sure that we’re focusing on us?”

Kayla McBride, who has played in all four of the losses said a payback game makes it more fun.

“We’re playing for a chance to go to the Final Four, but the seniors are playing in their last home game, and we’re playing for revenge, because the last time we lost in this building, it was to Baylor,” McBride said. “We have to be focused on Baylor, and we can’t think about all of that other stuff, but you can use all of the other stuff for energy, for a focus, and for fuel to the fire.”

Baylor’s All-American point guard, Odyssey Sims, understands why the Bears have had the upperhand in their four games against the Irish.

“Well, we did have a 6-8 monster in the paint, which gave us a bit of an advantage,” Sims said in reference to Griner.

Still stinging

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey is still stinging from the one-game suspension she served in the first game of this season’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament. Mulkey was hit with the benching when she criticized the officials following then overall No. 1 seed and defending national champion Baylor’s stunning upset loss to Louisville in last season’s Sweet 16.

When Mulkey came in to Sunday’s press conference at Notre Dame and saw that the name for one of her players, Sune Agbuke, was misspelled on a name placard, she jumped on the opportunity to scold tournament officials.

“Somebody needs to fine and punish the NCAA. Suspend them. They got the name wrong.”

Mulkey also referenced her trouble with the NCAA when she was asked her opinion on playing a regional championship game against Notre Dame on the Irish home court.

“You want me suspended again?” Mulkey retorted. “I won’t answer it … Anything I say will be scrutinized by the (NCAA) committee, and you’ve got a committee member sitting back there.”

Mulkey eventually offered an insight into her opinion.

“Look, nobody wants to be in a regional tournament on somebody’s home floor,” Mulkey said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

Scouting report

Irish senior guard Kayla McBride got a phone call from her sister, Indiana University women’s basketball player Karlee McBride, asking her about the Hoosiers’ WNIT fourth-round opponent, South Dakota State.

Notre Dame beat the Jackrabbits, 94-51, on Jan. 2.

“That was a long time ago, and I really don’t remember South Dakota State that well,” Kayla McBride said. “I told my sister, I’m kind of busy, so you’re going to have to figure this out on your own.”

Kayla McBride, busy trying to get the Irish to a fourth consecutive Final Four, said the postseason experience will be beneficial for her sister.

“I always took a lot from the postseason experience, so I’m really happy for my sister and proud of her that she has this opportunity,” McBride said. “It’s really good to have that experience for a freshman, because it really helps with the future.”