March 18, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) – Notre Dame doesn’t like being known as the other undefeated team.
The Fighting Irish (32-0) just completed the best regular season in school history, setting a school record for consecutive wins, and are one of only 13 teams ever to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated. Yet once again, the Irish find themselves overshadowed by No. 1 Connecticut (34-0), a former conference rival, despite having a higher RPI rating.
“I think we’re always going to be the underdog when it comes to Connecticut. They’re such a great powerhouse and have such a great program over there,” guard Kayla McBride said. “But I think it’s just a bit of extra motivation.”
Connecticut dominated the series for 15 years, holding a 28-4 edge until a 72-63 upset by Notre Dame in an NCAA semifinal game in 2011 ended the Huskies’ hopes of winning a third straight title. That game turned the tide in the series. The Irish won six of the next seven, including an overtime victory in another NCAA semifinal game in 2012.
Coach Muffet McGraw made note of that while being interviewed on ESPN during the selection show Monday night.
“We’ve gotten pretty good at beating them the last couple of years,” she said as the Irish players cheered in the background.
But it was the Huskies who won the most recent meeting, ousting the Irish 83-65 in last year’s semifinal en route to winning their eighth national championship.
McGraw has been going head-to-head with Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma on the court and on the recruiting trail for years. She conceded being annoyed about the perception by some that the accomplishments of this year’s Irish were eclipsed by UConn, but said it could help.
“I like it because we can get a chip on our shoulder and head into the tournament with a bit of chip,” she said.
Both McGraw and Auriemma last year both said they would have preferred meeting in the final. That’s the only place the two teams can meet this year.
This is only the second time two teams have entered the women’s NCAA tournament undefeated in the same season. The other time was in 1998, when Tennessee (33-0) and Liberty (28-0) accomplished the feat. Liberty was a 16-seed that year and lost to the Lady Vols in the first round.
Of the other 10 teams that have finished the regular season undefeated, Vermont lost in the first round in 1992 and ’93, UConn lost in the regional final to Tennessee in 1997, Louisiana Tech lost to Auburn in the 1990 semifinals and Texas, Tennessee and Connecticut have won national championships without a loss, with the Huskies accomplishing the feat four times.
Notre Dame would like to add its name to that list. The Irish open the tournament Saturday against Robert Morris (21-11) in Toledo, Ohio.
McBride said after three straight trips to the Final Four for the Irish, anything less than a national championship will be a disappointment.
“We’re so sick of selling ourselves short,” she said.
And playing second fiddle to the Huskies.