March 24, 2003
By CHUCK SCHOFFNER
AP Sports Writer
MANHATTAN, Kan. – The opponent will be better and the setting more hostile when Notre Dame seeks its second straight upset in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
And then there’s all that purple.
At No. 11, Notre Dame is the lowest-seeded team left in a tournament that went almost strictly to form in the first round. The Irish will try to take the next step Tuesday night in a second-round East Regional game at third-seeded Kansas State (29-4), which will have the home court and 10,000-plus purple-clad fans on its side.
“I like purple,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who quickly added, “Green would be number one.”
Blue would describe how Notre Dame (20-10) left sixth-seeded Arizona feeling in the first round Sunday night. The Irish overcame shooting just 19 percent in the first half with sticky defense and beat the Wildcats 59-47 on Kansas State’s court.
They’ll need a similar effort on the defensive end to contain a Kansas State team that has the Big 12’s player of the year, 6-foot-4 Nicole Ohlde at center, and surrounds her with outstanding 3-point shooters in Laurie Koehn, Kendra Wecker and Megan Mahoney.
“We have to get out on every shooter and we’re going to have to shut down all five players because they can all score,” Notre Dame guard Megan Duffy said. “Good defense is definitely going to be the key again.”
It also will be important for TCU, the No. 9 seed in the East.
TCU (20-13) was the only other lower-seeded team to win in the first round, beating No. 8 Michigan State 50-47. The Horned Frogs will be looking for a much bigger upset Tuesday night when they play top-seeded Connecticut (32-1), the defending national champion, in front of the Huskies’ usual sellout crowd in Storrs.
Connecticut overwhelmed Boston University 91-44 in the first round, showing no sign of a hangover from the loss to Villanova that broke the Huskies’ 70-game winning streak.
“We’ll have to play better, we know that,” TCU coach Jeff Mittie said. “They are the best passing team in the country that I have seen.”
Tuesday night’s games will conclude the second round of the tournament, which moves to the regional semifinal level next Saturday and Sunday.
One of the more entertaining matchups could be at State College, Pa., where fourth-seeded Penn State (25-8) hosts fifth-seeded South Carolina (23-7). Penn State’s Kelly Mazzante is fourth nationally in scoring with a 24.2 average and had 27 in a first-round win over Holy Cross. South Carolina’s Jocelyn Penn is right behind at 24.0.
“That’s what brings fans out,” South Carolina coach Susan Walvius said. “Fans want to identify with players and personalities and the people that are on basketball teams. They’re very, very different players, but they both are great at what they do for their teams.”
“We have to get out on every shooter and we’re going to have to shut down all five players because they can all score.”Guard Megan Duffy on Kansas St.
In the other Mideast game Tuesday, second-seeded Villanova (26-5) plays seventh-seeded George Washington (25-6) in Norman, Okla.
In the Midwest, top-seeded Duke (32-1) plays eighth-seeded Utah (24-6) in Raleigh, N.C., and second-seeded Texas Tech (27-5) hosts seventh-seeded UC Santa Barbara (27-4). And in the West, it’s second-seeded Texas (26-5) against seventh-seeded Arkansas (22-10) in Cincinnati and fourth-seeded Ohio State (22-9) at fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech (30-2).
The Texas-Arkansas game renews a rivalry that goes back to their days in the old Southwest Conference.
“Arkansas and Texas, that’s something very special,” Arkansas coach Gary Blair said. “You out-of-state writers might not understand.”
Kansas State’s challenge will include finding room for Ohlde to operate against Notre Dame’s zone defense, which frustrated Arizona’s freshman star, 6-5 Shawntinice Polk. Ohlde scored 20 points on 8-for-9 shooting in a 79-69 victory over Harvard on Sunday night but had only five points in the second half.
“I think they are very athletic,” Ohlde said of the Irish. “They have a really tall lineup. They bring in a lot of height from the bench. I think they are a blue-collar, hard-working team. They are going to be very tough.”
Notre Dame is just two years removed from winning the national championship and has a history of beating teams on the road in the NCAA tournament.
The Irish won at third-seeded Texas in the second round of the 1997 tournament en route to a Final Four berth. The next year, a Notre Dame team that was seeded ninth pulled off a second-round upset at top-seeded Texas Tech.
“We like being in the underdog role,” McGraw said. “I think it’s an easier role for them to be in than in the championship year when we were the No. 1 seed. This is much easier for this team. Hopefully it will make us a little more relaxed and maybe we’ll even make some of those layups tomorrow.”