March 25, 2016
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Notre Dame and Stanford aren’t looking at Friday’s game as a rematch, even though they’re meeting in an NCAA women’s regional semifinal for the second straight season.
Both teams say their rosters have changed since their last matchup, making it hard to read too much into Notre Dame’s 81-60 victory in the 2015 Oklahoma City Regional semifinal. They’ll meet again Friday in the Lexington Regional semifinal.
“I think we’re both kind of two different teams,” Notre Dame guard Lindsay Allen said.
The winner of Friday’s game faces either No. 3 seed Kentucky (25-7) or No. 7 seed Washington (24-10) on Sunday with a Final Four bid at stake. The top-seeded Fighting Irish (33-1) are seeking their sixth straight Final Four appearance, while No. 4 seed Stanford (26-7) is seeking its 13th overall Final Four berth.
The Cardinal insist they aren’t talking much about avenging last season’s loss.
“We really don’t think about revenge,” Stanford forward Erica McCall said. “We’re thinking it’s a completely different game with two different teams, two different game plans.”
Stanford’s plan should start with trying to contain Allen, who scored a career-high 28 points against the Cardinal last season.
Notre Dame’s first two tournament games have shown the many different ways Allen can help the Irish win. In a first-round blowout of North Carolina A&T, Allen didn’t take a shot but dished out 10 assists. She followed that up by contributing 22 points, seven assists and a career-high five steals against Indiana.
“I think the thing that makes her the best point guard in the country is she takes advantage of what the defense gives her, and she does whatever we need her to do on that particular day,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
Notre Dame’s status as the No. 1 seed puts the Cardinal (26-7) in an unfamiliar underdog role. Stanford’s players say they’re embracing that approach.
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer noted that her team feels as if it’s playing with “house money” after needing Lili Thompson’s 3-point play with 8.2 seconds left to escape with a 66-65 second-round victory over South Dakota State.
“Some (of us) call ourselves the ‘party crashers,’ the team that’s just going to come in there and crash the party and is going to get the upset,” McCall said. “It’s a lot of fun sometimes being the underdog because you don’t have as much pressure on you.”
Some things to watch when Notre Dame faces Stanford.
OFFENSE VS. DEFENSE: Notre Dame shoots 49.6 percent from the floor to rank third among all Division I teams in field-goal percentage, behind only UConn and Maryland. Stanford is allowing teams to shoot just 32.8 percent from the floor and ranks second nationally in field-goal percentage defense, behind only Oregon State.
HALL OF FAME COACHES: This game matches up two Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame coaches who have combined for nearly 1,800 career victories. VanDerveer leads all active Division I coaches and ranks second overall with 979 career wins. McGraw has 820 wins to rank seventh among active Division I coaches and 10th overall.
THOMPSON’S NEW FRIENDS: Thompson’s season-saving play against South Dakota State has earned her plenty of attention. Thompson said she received congratulations from former Stanford teammate Chiney Ogwumike and gained “100 to maybe 200 more followers” on Twitter.
UNFAMILIAR FOES: Although Notre Dame and Stanford are annual NCAA Tournament participants who just squared off in last season’s tournament, Friday’s game marks only the fourth overall meeting between these two powers. Stanford leads the series 2-1 thanks to victories in 1990 and 1991.
FRONTCOURT MATCHUP: Notre Dame boasts one of the nation’s top forwards in Brianna Turner, who was selected by ACC coaches as the league’s overall player of the year and defensive player of the year. Stanford counters with McCall, who had double-doubles in each of the Cardinal’s first two NCAA Tournament games. VanDerveer considers McCall one of the nation’s most improved players.
FRESHMEN IMPACTING NO. 1 SEEDS They are first-timers in the women’s NCAA Tournament, highly touted recruits who as freshmen are already having an impact for No. 1 seeds getting ready for the Sweet 16.
Notre Dame has a pair of guards who score in double figures, Baylor boasts two big posts who among the Big 12’s top shooters and Connecticut has a freshman starter whose two older sisters played for a Final Four team at Stanford.
“As far as freshmen, if you can play, you can play,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said Wednesday. “What freshmen have to do quickly is learn the system at their respective schools, learn how to play defense, learn how to practice hard every day and have management of their time.”
Ogunbowale averages 11.5 points while playing only about 19 minutes a game.
“I think she’s the best sixth man in the game,” coach Muffet McGraw said. “She’s doing so many things that are exciting to watch. We get better when she comes in the game.”
Mabrey scored 16 points in her first game for Notre Dame, and had a triple-double in her fourth. The younger sister of Irish senior team captain Michaela averages 10.8 points, and had 15 against Indiana on Monday.
“The thing I love about her is that she’s just not going to back down from anyone,” McGraw said. “That’s really going to bode well for us in the future.”