March 26, 2015
Muffet McGraw, Hall of Fame coach of the University of Notre Dame women’s basketball team, and Stanford’s Hall of Fame coach, Tara VanDerveer, have 1,737 victories between them.
McGraw led the Fighting Irish to the national championship in 2001. VanDerveer led Stanford to titles in 1990 and 1992.
Their paths have crossed frequently–on the recruiting trail and serving on NCAA committees, but only rarely court side.
That changes Friday night, when No. 1 seed Notre Dame (33-2) takes on No. 4 seed Stanford (26-9) at 10 p.m. EDT in Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Sweet 16.
Stanford has played Notre Dame only twice, in 1990 and 1991, and won both meetings.
“I was talking to Tara a couple weeks before the ACC Tournament, and I said it’s kind of funny we’ve never met in the NCAA Tournament–and I probably spoke too soon because it’s not a team that I really want to play,” McGraw said.
Sure enough, the Irish and Cardinal were set on a collision course with this season’s bracket.
“I really like Tara,” McGraw said. “It’s kind of a great experience where it’s nice to go to the NCAA Tournament and play teams you haven’t already played.”
McGraw said VanDerveer is highly regarded as a student of the game.
“She loves to talk Xs and Os,” McGraw said of VanDerveer. “I remember one time a couple of coaches and I were just kind of sitting around doing a little doodling on a note pad in the lobby of a hotel, and she just kind of dropped by and said, `Do you mind if I join you?’
“I know this summer she went out and talked to a lot of different coaches at all levels because she wanted to change her offense. So she is someone I have great respect for–what she’s done for the women’s game, how she’s represented the women’s game with USA Basketball and with what she’s done at Stanford. I think she’s a class person, does everything the right way. She is really good for our game.”
Notre Dame has been to the NCAA Final Four the past four seasons, and Stanford has been to the Final Four four times in the past six seasons, but the Irish and Cardinal haven’t played each other in 24 years.
“It’s amazing to me that in all the time we’ve been in the tournament and in all the time they’ve been in the tournament, we’ve never been in the same bracket together,” VanDerveer said of Stanford and Notre Dame.
VanDerveer said she would like to see a series between the Irish and Cardinal get set up.
“I know our football team does it, and I think it would be a really good thing,” VanDerveer said of taking on the Irish. “Muffet does a fabulous job. They have a great program, and I think it would be a good thing to get going. I’m saying that before we play them. I might change my mind after.”
Notre Dame junior Hannah Huffman of Diablo, California, would love to see a series between the Irish and the Cardinal.
“Notre Dame and Stanford both hold academics in great regard,” Huffman said. “I think it would be a great series. Coach McGraw and Coach VanDerveer are both very intelligent coaches. It’s more about not how athletic your team is, but how smart your team is. It would be a fantastic series. I would love to see a series like that. I would go watch them play.”
McGraw, though, doesn’t like to coach in games that involve friends.
“We talked about going west, but we’ve been going to Southern California basically for recruiting, for recruiting players in Southern California,” McGraw said. “I’m not looking to set up a series with Stanford. I don’t like to play people I know well. I try to stay away from that.”
Friday’s game will have a trip to the Elite Eight on the line, and it also will have an emotional edge for Huffman, who is a former high school teammate (Carondelet High School) of Stanford’s Erica Payne.
“It’s definitely mixed emotions,” Huffman said of playing against Payne. “She’s not only one of my former high school teammates, but one of my best friends, too. We’re still very close with her and our families are very close.
“For one of us the season is going to be ending, so it has a little bit of that competitive feel. I think it’s always just us being competitors, so I’m definitely looking forward to it and I know she is, too, so it definitely adds a fun spin to the game. We played AAU and high school together. I’ve known her since eighth grade. Our parents are going to come to the game together. We go on vacations with them, so it’s going to be fun. We’ve been having some trash talking through text messages, so it’s been fun.”
Oklahoma City’s fabled Skirvin Hilton may have some NBA players weary on game day because of a fright night, but the legendary haunted hotel isn’t putting any fear into the Fighting Irish, who are staying there for the NCAA Sweet 16.
According to NBA lore, the 103-year old hotel has a spirit named Effie, who was reportedly a housekeeper at the Skirvin.
An April 19, 2014, New York Times article stated that the Knicks blamed ghostly noise at the hotel for a lack of sleep that led to a loss. Chicago’s Taj Gibson said his bathroom door at the hotel slammed shut unexplainably, and Phoenix’s Wesley Johnson claims to have found that the bathtub in his room at the Skirvin somehow filled up with water during the night.
None of the Irish players had a ghost story after Wednesday night’s first stay, but Holloway had a dream about a ghost.
“I kept dozing in and out of sleep, and I heard or I saw or I felt something in the dream,” Holloway said. “I felt like a spirit was in the room. I woke up in the dream, and I was hollering for my roommate, Madison Cable, trying to wake her up. I was trying to scream at her so she could help me, but I guess the spirit had taken my voice, so she couldn’t hear me.”
Holloway said the Irish are enjoying staying at the elegant turn-of-the-century hotel.
“It is a pretty cool place,” Holloway said.
Wednesday’s tornado weather in Oklahoma forced the Notre Dame women’s basketball team flight to be diverted to Lawton, Oklahoma. The Irish then had to wait for buses to complete the trip to Oklahoma City. The Irish weren’t the only team dealing with some crazy experiences in the Sweet 16.
Stanford’s team got caught in the storm while the bus was taking the Cardinal from the airport in Oklahoma City to the team hotel.
“We fortunately landed before the storm broke, it was extremely dark and I said to our bus driver, `Could this be a tornado?'” VanDerveer said. “And he was like, oh, no, no, and yet it really was quite a storm with hail hitting the bus, and we were getting the tornado warnings on our phones. We were thankful to get to the hotel.”
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder had a different kind of turbulence to deal with Wednesday. The roof of the restaurant where she was eating at caught fire.
“We were there having dinner last night, and all of a sudden quite a few fire trucks pulled up in front,” Bluder said. “My daughter got up to go to the restroom, and she said, `Mom, I just saw a fireman run through with a ladder in his hand.’
“That’s when we figured out something was wrong,” said Bluder. “But they never got us out, and my steak was still medium rare, so it was all okay.”
HIGH SCHOOL REUNION
Notre Dame freshman Brianna Turner will be having a reunion of sorts with Stanford’s Amber Orrange. Both attended Westbury Christian School of Houston, Texas. Orrange was a senior when Turner was a freshman at Westbury Christian.
“Amber was definitely an influence on me,” Turner said. “She was a McDonald’s All-American. Seeing how hard she worked and how she never settled made an impact on me. She didn’t talk much. She let her game speak. Seeing her work ethic really did it for me.
“I’ve never played against a high school teammate before,” Turner said. “I guess I’ll find out if it’s emotional. We’re both super-competitive. I think during the game, we’re going to go at each other, but after the game, I’m sure it will be, ‘I miss you. How’s it going?'”
— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent