When Notre Dame fell behind 20-10 in their second-round game against Vermont on Tuesday night, Muffet McGraw was anxious to see how her team would respond. She didn't have to wait long. Notre Dame ended the Vermont dancing, rocking the Catamounts with a 27-10 run to close the second half. The Irish went on to post an 84-66 victory. “It kind of helps you sometimes when you get down,” said McGraw, who is leading her team to the Sweet Sixteen for the eighth time since 1997. “When you're losing, it's a situation where you really have to know how to handle adversity. We handled the adversity. We played well coming from behind. In the tournament, you have to be prepared for anything that can happen. I think that really helped prepare us.” No. 2 seed Notre Dame (29-5) takes on No. 3 Oklahoma (25-10) at 7:34 p.m. EDT (ESPN2). Notre Dame beat Oklahoma, 81-71, on Nov. 28, to capture the Paradise Jam title.
Keeping it freshMcGraw and her coaching staff are working at keeping the Irish dynamic and improving as they continue their journey in a marathon season. “We try to change things up,” McGraw said. “When we came back from the Big East Tournament, we had two practices, and everything we did was new. We put in some different things defensively, we looked at some different offenses, and the players enjoyed it. It kind of challenged them a little bit. They came in, and it wasn't the same old practice. “This past week, we had one day where we did all special situations,” McGraw said. “It was one team against another. It was, ‘There's seven seconds left, and you're down one, and now there's 10 seconds left, and you're down two, now you're winning, now you're losing, now you're pressing.' It was all very fun.” McGraw also has shortened practice. “On Wednesday, I put 45 minutes on the clock,” McGraw said. “I said, ‘We've got two things to accomplish, and we've got 45 minutes to do it.' They liked that, too. They don't want to be there for two hours, so I'm not going to make them do that.”
Helping HandNotre Dame freshman Skylar Diggins averaged 2.8 assists a game entering the NCAA Tournament. After two rounds of March Madness, Diggins boasts an average of 7.0 assists a game, kicking out eight in Sunday's 86-58 victory against Cleveland State, and dishing out six more in the Irish romp over Vermont. “Skylar is an excellent passer,” McGraw said. “She's really a player, unlike any that we've had, probably since Niele Ivey, in that she really can make everybody on the floor better, because she gives them the ball in exactly the right spots. “She's really an exceptional passer, and that may be one of her great strengths,” McGraw said. “She can look ahead and see what's going to happen. She reads the defense, knows what they're going to do, and throw it to the other person. She has a remarkable basketball IQ.”
Hostile TerritoryKansas City is in the heart of Big XII country, and two of the teams in the Kansas City Regional, Oklahoma and Nebraska, hope to take advantage of the fact that the games are being held at the Sprint Center. “I think we're concerned about playing in Oklahoma's backyard a little bit,” McGraw said. “The Big XII tournament is there, and they'll probably draw pretty well, but we've played well in hostile environments. We went to Purdue. We went to Rutgers. We went to Syracuse. We played so many road games this year, that I don't think it's going to bother us at all.” Notre Dame has also played in what may be the two most hostile environments in college women's basketball. The Irish traveled to Connecticut twice this season against the No. 1 Connecticut Huskies, once on campus in Storrs, Conn., and again in the Big East Tournament Hartford, Conn.
K.C. ConnectionFormer Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis, now an assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs, has arranged for the Notre Dame women's basketball team to get a tour of Arrowhead Stadium, and eat dinner there. “We're excited,” McGraw said. “We wanted to do something fun and different. We're looking forward to it.”
Pep RallyA Notre Dame pep rally will be held in the Kansas City Power and Light District across from the Sprint Center at approximately 3:30 p.m. CDT. The Notre Dame band and cheerleaders are scheduled to lead the rally.
Staff writer Curt Rallo: firstname.lastname@example.org (574) 235-6152