Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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52 APRIL 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WOMEN'S BASKETBALL BY LOU SOMOGYI W hen the dust settled after another regular season in women's college basket- ball, a familiar sight in the final Associated Press poll prior to NCAA Tournament action remained. No. 1 Connecticut. No. 2 Notre Dame. The dynasty of reigning four-time national champ UConn added another layer with an NCAA record 107-game winning streak, while head coach Muf- fet McGraw's Fighting Irish, the pre- season No. 1, once again appear to be the top challenger to end the reign after reaching peak performance in the final weeks heading into the Big Dance. Notre Dame finished as the runner- up to the Huskies in 2014 and 2015, plus lost to them in the 2013 Final Four semifinals that in reality was the de facto national title game after beating them three times during the season. For the sixth year in a row, 30-3 Notre Dame earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, highlighted by sweeping the regular season and ACC Tournament crowns for the fourth consecutive season, tying Duke's league record from 2001-04. In the Lexington Region, the Fight- ing Irish will host a four-team pod and play Robert Morris (22-10) on St. Pat- rick's Day, with the winner then play- ing the survivor of No. 8 seed Green Bay and No. 9 seed Purdue March 19. The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight match- ups will be held March 24-26 in Lex- ington, Ky., where there is familiarity: • No. 2 seed Stanford, which won the Pac-12 Tournament, upset Notre Dame 90-84 in the Sweet 16 last sea- son, snapping a 26-game Irish winning streak. That game also was played in Lexington, Ky. The year prior, also in the Sweet 16, the Irish defeated the Cardinal 81-60 in Oklahoma City. • No. 4 seed Kentucky might have a chance to play Notre Dame at home should both advance to the Sweet 16. • The Wildcats might first have to get past No. 5 seed Ohio State, coached by Kevin McGuff, who was an assis- tant coach at Notre Dame for McGraw from 1996-2002, highlighted by a 1997 Final Four and the 2001 national title. COLLECTIVE CHEMISTRY There was a reason Notre Dame was the preseason No. 1. With eight former McDonald's All-Americans on the roster (the most in the coun- try), plus UConn graduating its top three players, the time was ripe. However, five of Notre Dame's eight McDonald's All-Americans were ei- ther first- or second-year players as- similating into new roles. Meanwhile, All-American junior forward Brianna Turner was coming off shoulder sur- gery that shelved her basketball work six months, while junior forward Kath- ryn Westbeld was hampered by an an- kle injury in mid-January that has still not allowed her to practice, although she has been productive in games. McGraw said the team began to jell after the 71-69 loss at Tennes- see Jan. 16, when the focus centered more on getting better collectively rather than chasing Connecticut. "I'm glad we've earned [our rank- ing] instead of when we started out the year not doing what we're sup- posed to do," she summarized. Entering the NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame sports a 14-game winning streak that has been spearheaded by Turner and senior point guard Lind- say Allen, both of whom were named as one of 15 finalists for the. Wooden National Player of the Year Award. Al- len also is one of five finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award that is pre- sented to the nation's top point guard. Turner led the team in scoring (15.6 points per game), rebounding (7.2) and blocked shots (81), while earn- ing ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight season. The consummate facilitator, Allen was fourth nationally in assists per game (7.64) and assist-to-turnover ra- tio, while also averaging 9.2 points and Peak Form Irish surge to a No. 1 seed for the sixth consecutive year with late-season push Junior forward Brianna Turner led Notre Dame to the ACC regular season and tournament titles for the fourth straight season, pacing the team in scoring (15.6 points per game), rebounding (7.2) and blocked shots (81). PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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