Notre Dame women's basketball takes home game vs. Terps on road

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

It’s a home game, but the Notre Dame women’s basketball team will be hitting the road for the ACC/Big Ten women’s basketball Challenge next season.

Notre Dame will host Maryland in a rematch of the 2014 Final Four national semifinal dominated by the Irish. The game will be played on Wednesday, Dec. 3, at Fort Wayne’s Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. That’s the same night as the Notre Dame men’s basketball game against Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which is scheduled for Purcell Pavilion.

According to Irish women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw, the only dates available for Notre Dame to play in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge were Wednesday, Dec. 3, or Thursday, Dec. 4. McGraw shot down the idea of a game on Dec. 4, because the Irish play national champion Connecticut on Saturday, Dec. 6.

Notre Dame has a history of playing games in Fort Wayne. The Irish were the host school for the 2010 NCAA hockey Midwest Regional, and the Coliseum was the site of the 2004 men’s basketball NIT second-round game vs. Saint Louis.

McGraw said that if she can’t have a game at Purcell Pavilion, Fort Wayne is an outstanding option.

“I heard from Mike Brey that the Coliseum is a great venue, and that the men had great fan support when they played there in the NIT a few years ago,” McGraw said. “We’ve always kind of wanted to go over there and see if we didn’t get some interest in that part of the state.”

Coliseum executive vice president and general manager Randy Brown said that the iconic Indiana venue has a strong history of supporting Notre Dame sports. The Coliseum sold out in 24 hours for the Notre Dame NIT game in 2004.

“We’re as happy was we can be about the Notre Dame women’s basketball team coming here,’’ Brown said. “We have a very good Notre Dame Alumni Chapter in town that has great leadership and great people who will offer outstanding support to bring a crowd out.”

Brown cited Notre Dame’s success in women’s basketball as a key point in the marketing plan. He also said that the Coliseum staff will approach high school teams in the Fort Wayne area to market the matchup of potential Top 10 college women’s basketball teams.

Notre Dame and Maryland have met eight times, and the series stands at 4-4. Notre Dame has had the upper hand in the last three meetings. The Irish crushed Maryland, 80-49, in the Raleigh Regional Championship in 2012 to earn a berth to the Final Four.

Last season, the Irish and Terrapins met twice in what was Notre Dame’s first season in the ACC, and Maryland’s last before joining the Big Ten. Notre Dame eked out an 87-83 victory at College Park in an ACC regular-season matchup.

Notre Dame, playing without star post Natalie Achonwa, steamrolled Maryland, 87-61, in last season’s national semifinal game.

Each team will be missing a first-team All-American from last season, Alyssa Thomas (Maryland) and Kayla McBride (Notre Dame). Notre Dame finished the season 37-1, and Maryland finished 28-7.

“It will be interesting to see how they will be without (All-American) Alyssa Thomas, and for us, we lost three starters,” McGraw said. “Maryland is going to be really good.”

McGraw said the Irish will likely be playing two Top 5 teams — Maryland and Connecticut — in a matter of days.

“For a young team, we’re throwing them right into the fire,” McGraw said. “It will get us ready for the ACC.”

Last season, Notre Dame played Penn State in its first ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Irish won, 77-67, at Penn State. The game was a match between McGraw and a former player and assistant coach, Coquese Washington.

Notre Dame has no input in who it plays in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

McGraw thought the Irish might have played Purdue, or Indiana, thinking the ACC and Big Ten may have been thinking about setting up a natural rivalry. She was hoping the ACC/Big Ten Challenge would have set up an Irish game against Michigan or Michigan State, teams already on the Irish schedule. That would have given the Irish some scheduling flexibility.

“That would have been ideal this year, because we were having trouble with dates and the schedule,” McGraw said.

Interestingly, the Irish-Terrapins matchup follows a school year in which Notre Dame and Maryland met three times in Final Four competition in three different sports, with the Irish winning in all three sports — women’s basketball, men’s soccer and men’s lacrosse.

CRallo@SBTinfo.com

Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd and Maryland will meet again on Dec. 3 in Fort Wayne, Ind. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)