Notre Dame women's NCAA Tournament streak comes to an end at 24

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame’s run of 24 straight NCAA Tournament appearances in women’s basketball came to an end Monday night with the announcement of the 2021 field.

At least that’s the case for now.

That’s because the NCAA also released a list of “first four out” teams that will be considered as replacements if any of the selected teams cannot participate due to COVID-19 considerations.

The Irish are third on that list behind Houston and DePaul, and ahead of Oklahoma.

First-year Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey released a statement through the team’s Twitter account around 8:18 p.m. Monday, shortly after the selection show ended.

“First off, I would like to thank my team for their courage and strength in navigating through an extremely challenging year,” Ivey said in the statement. “Although we didn’t achieve our goal to participate and compete in the NCAA tournament, I am encouraged by what the future holds and blessed to have the opportunity to lead this amazing program! Go Irish!”

The Irish (10-10) were widely viewed as a bubble team after an up-and-down, 8-7 Atlantic Coast Conference regular season that was followed by a 68-63 opening-game ACC Tournament loss to 11th-place Clemson.

Monday’s selections and the “first four out” designation confirmed that Notre Dame came close.

The Irish went 5-4 against ACC teams that made the NCAA field, but also 3-4 against ones that did not.

They were 2-2 against non-ACC clubs as well, including a 76-66 home loss to currently 13th-ranked Michigan, a sixth seed, and an 86-85 season-opening road loss to Ohio, which proceeded to go 14-8.

ND’s most damaging losses against conference opponents were falling twice to Clemson and splitting with Boston College, the team that was the 2-11 cellar dweller among the 13 ACC teams that completed the season.

Overall, the committee loved the ACC, with a nation-leading eight teams selected to the field.

Three of those clubs — Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest — each finished behind the Irish in the ACC standings, although schools also played more unbalanced schedules than ever due to the pandemic.

The Irish went 2-0 against Virginia Tech in addition to beating Wake Forest and losing to North Carolina. ND also split a pair of games with Georgia Tech, the ACC’s third-place team and one that was installed as a No. 5 seed Monday.

ACC Tourney champion North Carolina State was named a No. 1 seed and regular-season champ Louisville garnered a 2 seed.

Notre Dame’s 24 straight NCAA Tourney appearances ranks as the fifth-longest in women’s history.

The Irish would not have made the field last season, either, when they went 10-18, but because there was no tournament due to the pandemic, all streaks remained intact.

The three longest streaks continued Monday. Tennessee has now qualified for the field all 39 years. Stanford has a 33-year streak going and Connecticut a 32-year streak.

Josh Bates, a Notre Dame associate athletics communications director, said earlier Monday that the Irish would not accept a bid to the postseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament, a 32-team event that would’ve eagerly welcomed them.

ND probably would’ve been assigned to the eight-team regional in Rockford, Illl., and would’ve been guaranteed at least two games given that the event has a consolation bracket.

Notre Dame did play in a similar postseason event four times from 1986 to 1995, one that was called the National Women’s Invitational Tournament and staged annually in Amarillo, Texas.

Including playback games, the Irish went 5-7 over their four NWIT appearances, which came in 1986 (when ND finished 23-8 overall), ’89 (21-11), ’91 (23-9) and ’95 (21-10).

Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey reacts in the against Louisville Feb. 28 at the Purcell Pavilion.