March 14, 2016
By Chris Masters
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — For the 21st consecutive season, and the 23rd time in school history, Notre Dame has earned a berth in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, having received the Atlantic Coast Conference’s automatic berth into this year’s field by winning its third consecutive ACC Championship title last week. The Fighting Irish are the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Championship’s Lexington Region — the fifth consecutive year and sixth time in program history they have earned a top seed — and will play host to 16th-seeded North Carolina A&T (the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion) at 6:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.
The game will be televised by ESPN2 as part of that network’s “whiparound coverage,” while viewers in the South Bend market, as well as those watching on ESPN3 and WatchESPN, will see the game in its entirety. However, the majority of ESPN2 viewers nationwide will be shuttled between all four games in that time slot, including the Notre Dame-North Carolina A&T contest. All Fighting Irish games also can be heard live on the radio in the South Bend area on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), as well as worldwide online through the official Notre Dame athletics multimedia platform, WatchND (watchnd.tv), with veteran broadcaster Bob Nagle on the call.
Eighth-seeded Georgia and No. 9 seed Indiana will square off in Saturday’s other first-round Lexington Region game at Purcell Pavilion (approximately 9 p.m. ET tipoff on ESPN2), with the two first-round winners advancing to a second-round contest on Monday, March 21 — the tipoff time and television coverage for that game is still to be determined.
All-session and single-session tickets for this weekend’s NCAA tournament games at Purcell Pavilion currently are on sale through the official Notre Dame athletics ticketing web site (UND.com/buytickets). All-session tickets are $32 for adults and $17 for youth (18 & under), while single-session tickets for Saturday’s first-round games are $15 for adults and $10 for youth (18 & under) and single-session tickets for the March 21 second-round game are $20 for adults and $12 for youth (18 & under). Tickets will be available by phone (574-631-7356) or in person at the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office (Gate 9 windows at Purcell Pavilion) beginning at 8:30 a.m. (ET) Tuesday. Fans who already have purchased NCAA tournament tickets can pick up their tickets beginning at 8:30 a.m. (ET) Tuesday at the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office.
In addition, Club Naimoli passes will be available for this weekend’s NCAA tournament games at Purcell Pavilion. All-session club passes are $60, while single-session club passes are $40 for Saturday and $30 for March 21. As a reminder, game tickets are required in order to purchase club passes, which will go on sale at 8:30 a.m. (ET) Wednesday through the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office.
“It’s a lot of hard work (to qualify for the NCAA tournament),” said Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame’s Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach. “It is so difficult to do what we’ve been doing. I know this team makes it look easy and they’re having a lot of fun doing it, but they put in an awful lot of work and so has my staff.
“The best thing (about this year’s draw) is having our fans here at home,” McGraw added. “We have the comfort here. We know this arena. Our fans are going to make it special for us (and) for these seniors going out, they want it to be a really great first round.”
“It will mean everything (to play the first two rounds at home),” said senior guard/captain Michaela Mabrey (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan). “Being able to be a No. 1 seed … we’re very grateful for that, to be able to play in front of our fans again. We’re just really excited and hopefully we can give them a good game.”
Notre Dame (31-1, 16-0 ACC) was ranked No. 2 in Monday’s final Associated Press poll of the season and No. 3 in the latest Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA)/USA Today poll (final poll to be released after the NCAA tournament). The Fighting Irish earned their school-record fifth consecutive outright regular-season conference title (and third in as many seasons as an ACC member) by one game over runner-up Louisville and three games over third-place finisher Syracuse, and posted a 10-1 record against ranked opponents, including three wins against top-10 teams (No. 10/12 Ohio State, No. 10/9 Oregon State and No. 12/9 Florida State).
What’s more, Notre Dame registered more than one-third of its wins (11) against teams that qualified for this year’s NCAA Championship — each of the aforementioned top-10 squads, plus a pair of victories (regular-season and ACC Tournament) over both Miami and Syracuse, and a regular-season win at Louisville (with the Cardinals ranked 13th at the time), along with non-conference foes DePaul, Tennessee and UCLA. Notre Dame also defeated four programs that won either their conference regular-season or tournament title — Bucknell (Patriot League co-regular-season champion), DePaul (BIG EAST regular-season champion), Oregon State (Pac-12 regular-season/tournament champion) and South Dakota State (Summit League tournament champion).
For the ninth consecutive season, Notre Dame had multiple players earned all-conference recognition — sophomore forward Brianna Turner (Pearland, Texas/Manvel) was named the ACC Player of the Year and ACC Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches and also was a first-team all-ACC pick. Meanwhile, graduate student guard Madison Cable (Mt. Lebanon, Pa./Mt. Lebanon) and junior guard/captain Lindsay Allen (Mitchellville, Md./St. John’s College) — who was named one of five finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation’s top point guard on Monday — both joined Turner on the All-ACC First Team. In addition, guards Marina Mabrey (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan) and Arike Ogunbowale (Milwaukee, Wis./Divine Savior Holy Angels) were tapped for the All-ACC Freshman Team.
Notre Dame is 51-21 (.708) all-time in 22 previous NCAA Championship appearances (all under McGraw), having won the 2001 national championship and advancing to the NCAA Women’s Final Four on seven occasions, including each of the past five seasons, highlighted by berths in the 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015 NCAA national championship games. The Fighting Irish also have won 18 of their last 20 NCAA first-round games, and have advanced to the Sweet 16 (regional semifinals) 13 times in the past 19 seasons. In addition, Notre Dame’s current streak of 21 consecutive NCAA tournament berths is the fourth-longest active run in the nation (and fifth all-time), while its .708 winning percentage is seventh-best in tournament history.
Notre Dame has garnered a No. 1 seed for the sixth time in its NCAA Championship history, with a combined 25-4 (.862) record as a top seed in the tournament. In 2001, the Fighting Irish won all six games as a No. 1 seed en route to the national title at St. Louis’ Scottrade Center. In 2012, Notre Dame reached the NCAA national championship game before falling to Baylor, 80-61, at the Pepsi Center in Denver. In 2013, the Fighting Irish won four games in a row to claim the Norfolk Regional title before bowing to Connecticut, 83-65 in the NCAA Women’s Final Four national semifinals at New Orleans Arena. In 2014, Notre Dame again advanced to the NCAA national championship game before losing to Connecticut, 79-58 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Last year, the Fighting Irish returned to the NCAA national championship game, but dropped a 63-53 decision to Connecticut at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Notre Dame senior guards Madison Cable (left), Hannah Huffman (second from left) and Michaela Mabrey (center) have led the Fighting Irish to a 139-7 (.952) record during their four-year careers, the second-most wins by any senior class in Notre Dame women’s basketball history.
A member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, North Carolina A&T (19-11, 12-4 MEAC) is making its third NCAA Championship appearance, returning to the tournament for the first time since 2009. The Aggies come into this weekend’s NCAA first-round contest at Notre Dame having won nine of their last 10 games, and 15 of their last 18, with only a road loss to conference foe Bethune-Cookman (65-41 on Feb. 29) marring their resume down the stretch.
North Carolina A&T won a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title with Bethune-Cookman, then claimed the conference tournament championship at the Scope in Norfolk, Virginia, defeating Florida A&M (67-50), Hampton (63-54) and Coppin State (65-46) to earn the MEAC’s automatic berth into the NCAA Championship.
The Aggies have posted at least 19 wins in all four seasons since head coach Tarrell Robinson arrived on the Greensboro, North Carolina, campus. North Carolina A&T is led by redshirt junior center Aprill McRae (13.3 ppg., 6.4 rpg.), a second-team all-MEAC selection, who poured in 25 points in the Aggies’ MEAC Tournament semifinal win over Hampton en route to earning MEAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors.
North Carolina A&T also gains support from a third-team all-MEAC choice in redshirt senior guard Dana Brown (11.5 ppg., team-high 64 three-pointers made), as well as sophomore guard Kala Green (9.7 ppg., 2.4 apg., 1.5 spg.) and redshirt senior guard Christina Carter (7.4 ppg., team-high 3.7 apg.).
Notre Dame not only will be facing North Carolina A&T for the first time, but also playing a MEAC school for the first time when the Fighting Irish and Aggies meet Saturday night.
Notre Dame and North Carolina A&T had one common opponent this season — Ohio State. The Fighting Irish defeated the Buckeyes, 75-72 on Dec. 2 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at Purcell Pavilion. Meanwhile, the Aggies dropped an 89-56 decision at Ohio State on Dec. 13.
Georgia (21-9, 9-7 SEC) finished in sixth place in the Southeastern Conference regular-season standings before falling to Vanderbilt, 54-49 in overtime in the second round of the SEC Championship. The Bulldogs, who come into the NCAA tournament having lost three of their last five following a five-game winning streak, will be making their 32nd NCAA Championship appearance (second all-time behind Tennessee’s 35 berths) and return to the tournament after a one-year absence (the first time Georgia had missed the NCAA Championship since 1994).
Notre Dame is 1-2 all-time against Georgia, most recently earning a 75-73 victory over the Bulldogs on Nov. 24, 2000, in the championship game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Challenge in Madison, Wisconsin. Georgia also won both ends of a home-and-home series with the Fighting Irish in the early 1990s, prevailing 90-86 in overtime on Dec. 8, 1991, in Athens, Georgia, as well as 81-75 on Dec. 21, 1992, at Purcell Pavilion.
The Fighting Irish and Bulldogs had two common opponents this season — Georgia Tech and Tennessee. Notre Dame went 3-0 against the pair, sweeping a home-and-home ACC series with Georgia Tech (85-76 on Dec. 30 at Purcell Pavilion; 54-42 on Jan. 28 in Atlanta) and toppling visiting Tennessee (79-66 on Jan. 18 at Purcell Pavilion).
Meanwhile, Georgia went 1-1 against those common opponents, defeating Georgia Tech (78-66 on Nov. 22 in Athens), but dropping an 80-60 decision at Tennessee on Feb. 28.
Indiana (20-11, 12-6 Big Ten) is back in the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2002 and the fifth time in school history after finishing fourth in the Big Ten regular-season race. However, the Hoosiers are coming off a 79-73 upset loss to Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, just their second loss in the last nine games.
Although in-state foes, Notre Dame and Indiana have met just 10 times before on the hardwood, with the Fighting Irish holding a 6-4 series edge against the Hoosiers. The teams have split their six prior matchups in South Bend, with IU winning the most recent game in the series, 54-51 on Dec. 3, 2006, at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame and Indiana had four common opponents this season — DePaul, Georgia Tech, Miami and Ohio State. Notre Dame went 6-0 against this group, including the aforementioned sweep of Georgia Tech and the noted victory over Ohio State, a pair of wins over Miami (90-69 in the regular season on Feb. 14 at Purcell Pavilion; 78-67 on March 5 in the ACC Tournament semifinals at Greensboro, North Carolina), and a victory over DePaul (95-90 on Dec. 9 at Purcell Pavilion).
Indiana went a combined 1-3 against those common opponents, defeating Georgia Tech, 69-60 on Dec. 2 in Bloomington, Indiana, in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Hoosiers also lost at DePaul (84-69 on Nov. 19) and Ohio State (97-70 on Jan. 7) and dropped a neutral-site decision to Miami (89-75 on Dec. 20 at the Florida Sunshine Classic in Winter Park, Florida).
For more information on the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, visit the main women’s basketball page on the University’s official athletics web site (UND.com/ndwbb), sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women’s basketball Twitter and Instagram pages (@ndwbb), like the program on Facebook or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the “Fan Center” pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
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Chris Masters, associate athletics communications director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2001 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women’s basketball and women’s golf programs. A native of San Francisco, California, Masters is a 1996 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, earned his master’s degree from Kansas State University in 1998, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).