McGraw honored as nation's top coach

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Before the plane carrying the Notre Dame women’s basketball team back from last season’s Final Four in New Orleans set its wheels on the tarmac of South Bend Regional Airport, Irish head coach Muffet McGraw was already focused on who would be playing what roles for the Irish in the 2013-14.

There would be no looking back at what the Irish had lost — the all-time Irish career scoring and steals leader in All-American Skylar Diggins. Other people could dwell on the losses, not McGraw.

McGraw’s focus on how to forge a contender for the national championship is a main reason her Irish are 36-0, and a main reason why she won the Associated Press national Coach of the Year Award for the second consecutive season. Only Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma has won the AP national Coach of the Year Award in back-to-back seasons in women’s basketball.

“Very, very few programs can lose somebody who wasn’t just a really great player, but someone who was the personality of the team for so long, and then be able to say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to skip a beat,’” said Mechelle Voepel of espnW.

Voepel said McGraw’s resolve empowered the Irish to believe that they could succeed this season.

“Externally, everybody was saying, ‘They’re probably not going to be as good this year,’” Voepel said. “That never crossed her mind.”

McGraw credited her staff and the players for the award, which she also won in 2001.

This season, McGraw and her staff were able to develop a freshman point guard to replace a four-time All-American. The result: An unbeaten regular season for the first time in program history, an Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and ACC Tournament title in their first season in the conference.

“Lindsay Allen was a big key to the season,” McGraw said. “You knew what Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa and Jewell Loyd and Ariel Braker were going to bring, so when you have four starters back, you figure you’re going to be OK, but when you have a freshman point guard, you have some questions.”

Allen finished the season averaging 6.2 points and 3.9 assists a game. She has an exceptional 4.5 assist-to-turnover ratio (18 assists, four turnovers).

“Lindsay answered all of questions, so well,” McGraw said. “She had a fantastic year, and we wouldn’t be here without her.”

McGraw, who is in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, led Notre Dame to the national championship in 2001. Notre Dame is making its sixth Final Four appearance under McGraw, including its fourth in a row. McGraw is 662-217 (.753) in 27 seasons at Notre Dame, and 750-258 (.744) in 32 seasons overall.

“She’s the most amazing person I know, and she’s so smart,” said Niele Ivey, an assistant coach for the Irish who played on the 2001 national championship team. “The thing that impresses me, she’s always trying to learn, even though she’s a Hall of Fame coach. She’s watching NBA games, she watches practices of other teams, she’s always asking questions, she’s always asking other coaches, what do you think of our team?”

“I don’t know of anyone who is more competitive than coach McGraw,” Ivey said. “Her teams reflect her competitiveness.”

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw earned Associated Press coach of the year honors Saturday for a second consecutive season. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)
Defense will be the name of the game Sunday for Jewell Loyd, left, and Kayla McBride during Sunday's national semifinal game against Maryland. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN).