Frosh in big roles for Notre Dame, Purdue in NCAA Tourney matchup

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Two in-state schools who used to compete regularly will square off Sunday at 9 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame and Purdue, both winners in first-round NCAA Tournament action on Friday will meet for the right to advance to next weekend’s NCAA regional in Lexington, Ky.

The two teams haven’t met since 2012 but have faced each other 26 times previously, the most famous of those meetings the title game of the 2001 tournament, when the Irish defeated Purdue in St. Louis to win the national championship.

There are many story lines adding to the significance of this matchup.

Coach Muffet McGraw’s Irish have won 16 straight games games and are looking to advance to their seventh straight Sweet Sixteen (15th overall). The Boilers of coach Sharon Versyp have won eight of their last nine games and are playing their best basketball of the season. They have been in 12 Sweet Sixteens, but the last was in 2009.

As the No. 1 seed in the Lexington Regional field, certainly the Irish are favored over the No. 8 seed Boilers, but March is a big month for upsets.

“They are playing with a lot of confidence,” McGraw said. “They are a dangerous team, because they have so many players who can hurt you. They play their roles extremely well. They know exactly what they are supposed to do, and they do it.”

The Irish are 31-3, ranked second in the nation, while Purdue is 23-12. But a late-season surge, helped by some solid play be three freshmen, has made the unranked Boilers a Big Ten force. They upset then-No. 9-ranked Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament recently.

Versyp knows what her team is up against.

“They have a very athletic post,” said Versyp of Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner, “and Lindsay Allen is one of the best point guards in the country.”

She has to devise a strategy to limit Notre Dame’s offensive explosiveness.

“We won’t be able to take away everything,” she said. “We will have to be extremely efficient.”

Senior guard Ashley Morrissette is the most productive weapon the Boilers have. She entered the tournament with a 16.4 scoring average and led the Boilers with 24 points in the first-round victory over Green Bay.

The three freshmen who have breathed a lot of life into the Boilers are Dominique Oden, Ae’Rianna Harris and Lamina Cooper. Those three accounted for 32 of Purdue’s 74 points Friday.

Harris is a 6-foot-1 leaper in the post. Her success against Turner will be vital to Purdue’s chances.

“She can jump out of the gym,” said Morrissette Saturday.

Versyp feels the play of senior Bridget Perry, a 6-3 senior, will be pivotal for the Boilers as well.

“Offensively we have to have key players step up,” she said. “Perry has to have a big game.”

Notre Dame can counter with a talented pair of freshmen of their own. Erin Boley has been starting in place of Kathryn Westbeld, still nursing an ankle bone bruise, and Jackie Young continues to play major minutes.

“Jackie is a phenomenal talent,” said McGraw. “She didn’t play particularly well (on offense Friday) but still had nine rebounds (in 23 minutes on the floor). She can do so many things. She is really coming along in her IQ of the game and how hard she is working.”

The Irish will be attacking with three of their double-digit scorers, coupled with the ball management and shooting skills of Allen when needed. Turner, Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale all average in double figures for Notre Dame.

McGraw wants to see how well her team can dismantle Purdue’s zone defense.

“Purdue’s matchup is difficult. They can give a lot of different looks to it,” McGraw said. “They can do a lot of different things out of it to keep you off balance.”

“We will have to be aggressive” said Turner. “We will have to take what they give us,” added Mabrey.

Ohio State is playing host Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Sunday. The Notre Dame-Purdue winner will face the winner of that game next Friday evening in Lexington.

There are various explanations why an annual meeting of the Irish and Boilers is not continuing, but McGraw said she would like to play the Boilers.

Sunday night, one of those two Hoosier teams can celebrate, albeit briefly.

NCAA TOURNAMENT

WHO: No. 2 Notre Dame (31-3) vs. Purdue (23-12).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149)

WHEN: Sunday at 9 p.m.

TICKETS: Available at Notre Dame. The ticket office can be reached at (574) 631-7356

TELEVISION: ESPN2

INTERNET: Game can be seen online at WatchESPN.com or through the WatchESPN app.tv

RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) in South Bend

GAME NOTES: Purdue leads the overall series with Notre Dame, 14-12, but Notre Dame has won the last seven meetings ... Purdue is 47-24 in NCAA tournament play, while the Irish are 54-22 ... Purdue last reached the Elite Eight in 2009 before falling to Oklahoma, 74-68. The Irish made it there two seasons ago, en-route to the Final Four that year ... Purdue coach Sharon Versyp of Mishawaka is in her 11th season with the Boilers, while McGraw is in her 30th year at Notre Dame. Versyp has 354 career victories. McGraw has 852 ... Both teams shot the ball well in their first-round games. Purdue shot 51.2 percent against Green Bay, and Notre Dame shot 52.5 percent in the victory over Robert Morris.

Notre Dame’s Jackie Young (5) tries to pass around Robert Morris’ Nadège Pluviose (32) during first-round NCAA Tournament action, Friday at Purcell Pavilion. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)