No. 1 seed Notre Dame will play close to home in women's NCAA tournament
NOTRE DAME — On St. Patrick's Day, the Irish had an extra dose of luck.
The 32-0 Notre Dame women's basketball team landed an expected No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but the Irish were met with more good news. They'd only be traveling 150 miles east to Toledo, Ohio, for the first two games of the tourney
As other parts of the bracket claimed the Baton Rouge, La., and Ames, Iowa, sites, head coach Muffet McGraw began mentally eliminating where Notre Dame would land.
"The committee recognized that we earned it, that we had a great season," she said. "I don't think there was a lot of conversation about where we were going to go for them."
If the Irish can move past 16-seed Robert Morris (20-11) March 22 and beat the winner of 8-seed Vanderbilt (18-12) and 9-seed Arizona State (22-9), they'll face the regional round on their home court.
"There's a little pressure knowing that we can play at home two times if we win, that makes us a little bit more ready to play," McGraw said. "I think we'll like that little bit of anxiety on us. We're certainly not taking anybody lightly."
Advancing to the Sweet 16 would be a welcome reward for seniors Kayla McBride, Natalie Achonwa and Ariel Braker, who helped lead the Irish to its first-ever undefeated regular season.
"I feel like I have two more home games left." said senior guard Kayla McBride, who averages 17.5 points per game. "To come back and play on our home court would mean so much to me."
Also lurking in the Notre Dame regional is No. 2 Baylor — which McGraw calls the top two-seed in the tournament — No. 3 Kentucky and No. 4 Purdue. A Sweet 16 matchup with the historic rival Boilermakers could be followed by an Elite Eight rematch with the Bears — and both games would be played at Notre Dame.
If the Irish can survive, overall No. 1 Connecticut will likely be waiting in the national championship game in Nashville.
They're compelling storylines, but McBride won't take the bait until the time comes.
"I think that would be great for women's basketball," she said. "But we're focused on Robert Morris."