Notre Dame gets 20th consecutive NCAA tournament bid

Published 9:45 pm Monday, March 16, 2015

Jewell Loyd and Notre Dame will host Montana Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (Leader photo/File)

Jewell Loyd and Notre Dame will host Montana Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (Leader photo/File)

NOTRE DAME — For the 20th consecutive season, and the 22nd time in school history, Notre Dame has earned a berth in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, having received the Atlantic Coast Conference’s automatic berth into this year’s field by winning its second consecutive ACC Championship title last week.

The Fighting Irish are the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Championship’s Oklahoma City Region — the fourth consecutive year and fifth time in program history they have earned a top seed — and will play host to 16th-seeded Montana (the Big Sky Conference champion) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Purcell Pavilion.

The game will be televised by ESPN2 as part of that network’s “whiparound coverage,” while viewers in the South Bend market, as well as those watching on the WatchESPN app, will see the game in its entirety. However, the majority of ESPN viewers nationwide will be shuttled between all four games in that time slot, including the Notre Dame-Montana contest. All Fighting Irish games also can be heard live on the radio in the Michiana area on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), as well as worldwide on the Internet through the official Notre Dame athletics multimedia platform, WatchND, with veteran broadcaster Bob Nagle on the call.

Eighth-seeded Minnesota and No. 9 seed DePaul will square off in Friday’s other first-round Oklahoma City Region game at Purcell Pavilion (5 p.m. tipoff on ESPN2), with the two first-round winners advancing to a second-round contest at 9 p.m. ET Sunday — the television coverage for that game is still to be determined.

All-session and single-session tickets for this weekend’s NCAA tournament games at Purcell Pavilion currently are on sale through the official Notre Dame athletics ticketing web site  ( All-session tickets are $32 for adults and $17 for youth (18 & under), while single-session tickets for Friday’s first-round games are $15 for adults and $10 for youth (18 & under) and single-session tickets for Sunday’s second-round game are $20 for adults and $12 for youth (18 & under). Tickets will be available by phone (574) 631-7356 or in person at the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office (Gate 9 windows at Purcell Pavilion) beginning at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Fans who already have purchased NCAA tournament tickets can pick up their tickets beginning at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office.

In addition, Club Naimoli passes will be available for this weekend’s NCAA tournament games at Purcell Pavilion. All-session club passes are $60, while single-session club passes are $40 for Friday/Saturday and $30 for Sunday/Monday. As a reminder, game tickets are required in order to purchase club passes, which will go on sale at 3 p.m. Tuesday through the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office.

“We expected to be in (the) Oklahoma City (Region),” said Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame’s Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach. “The tournament selection committee knew they needed South Carolina in Greensboro to have a great crowd there. We’re excited where we are, just to be able to play at home. We’ve got a really tough pod, probably the toughest 16-seed in the country with a team like Montana with 21 NCAA appearances, they’re no stranger to the tournament.

“I think it’s critical for us to be at home. It eases everybody’s mind. There’s that comfort feeling, you’re in your own locker room, you’re in your own bed at night, and you’ve got your fans. That’s the biggest thing for us — the fans.”

“I don’t think it mattered where we went,” junior guard/tri-captain Michaela Mabrey said. “We’re just really excited. We projected going there (the Oklahoma City Region) first, so that’s all the thoughts we had in our head. Our bracket looks tough and it doesn’t matter where you go, everybody is going to be tough.”

“We’re definitely excited,” junior guard Jewell Loyd said. “We have an opportunity to do some great things and we have a young team who’s excited to play and that makes it even more enjoyable, so we’re just looking forward to the opportunity.”

Notre Dame (31-2, 15-1 ACC) was ranked No. 2 in Monday’s final Associated Press poll of the season and No. 2 in the latest Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA)/USA Today poll (final poll to be released after the NCAA tournament). The Fighting Irish earned their fourth consecutive outright regular-season conference title (and second in as many seasons as an ACC member) by one game over runner-up Florida State and three games over third-place finisher Louisville, and posted a 10-1 record against ranked opponents, including six wins against top-10 teams (No. 5/6 Tennessee, No. 7/6 Florida State, No. 8/7 Louisville, No. 10/11 Duke, No. 12/10 North Carolina and No. 15/10 Maryland).

What’s more, Notre Dame registered nearly half of its wins (14) against teams that qualified for this year’s NCAA Championship — each of the aforementioned top-10 squads, plus a regular-season win over Florida State (before the Seminoles cracked the Top 25) and an ACC tournament semifinal win over Duke (with the Blue Devils ranked 16th at the time), along with fellow ACC members Miami, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, and non-conference foes Chattanooga, DePaul and Quinnipiac. Notre Dame also defeated five programs that won either their conference regular-season or tournament title — Chattanooga (Southern regular-season/tournament champion), DePaul (BIG EAST co-regular-season/tournament champion), Maryland (Big Ten regular-season/tournament champion), Quinnipiac (Metro Atlantic Athletic regular-season/tournament champion) and Tennessee (SEC regular-season co-champion).

For the eighth consecutive season, Notre Dame had multiple players earned all-conference recognition — Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) was named the ACC Player of the Year and was a first-team all-ACC pick, while freshman forward Brianna Turner (Pearland, Texas/Manvel) was chosen as the ACC Freshman of the Year and also joined Loyd on the All-ACC First Team. Both Loyd and Turner earned additional recognition on the All-ACC Defensive Team, while Turner was further tapped for the All-ACC Freshman Team.

Notre Dame is 46-20 (.697) all-time in 21 previous NCAA Championship appearances (all under McGraw), having won the 2001 national championship and advancing to the NCAA Women’s Final Four on six occasions, including each of the past four seasons, highlighted by berths in the 2011, 2012 and 2014 NCAA national championship games. The Fighting Irish also have won 17 of their last 19 NCAA first-round games, and have advanced to the Sweet 16 (regional semifinals) 12 times in the past 18 seasons. In addition, Notre Dame’s current streak of 20 consecutive NCAA tournament berths is the sixth-longest in the nation (and eighth all-time), while its .697 winning percentage is seventh-best in tournament history.

Notre Dame has garnered a No. 1 seed for the fifth time in its NCAA Championship history, with a combined 20-3 (.870) record as a top seed in the tournament. In 2001, the Fighting Irish won all six games as a No. 1 seed en route to the national title at St. Louis’ Scottrade Center. In 2012, Notre Dame reached the NCAA national championship game before falling to Baylor, 80-61, at the Pepsi Center in Denver. In 2013, the Fighting Irish won four games in a row to claim the Norfolk Regional title before bowing to Connecticut, 83-65 in the NCAA Women’s Final Four national semifinals at New Orleans Arena. Last season, Notre Dame again advanced to the NCAA national championship game before losing to Connecticut, 79-58 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

A perennial power out of the Big Sky Conference, Montana (24-8, 14-4 BSC) is making its 21st NCAA Championship appearance, returning to the tournament after a one-year absence. The Lady Griz come into this weekend’s NCAA first-round contest at Notre Dame having won seven of their last eight games, and 22 of their last 26, with only a road loss to conference foe and in-state rival Montana State (65-57 on March 7) in the regular-season finale marring their resume down the stretch.

Montana won the Big Sky Conference regular-season title by one game over Sacramento State, then claimed the conference tournament championship on their home floor at Dahlberg Arena, defeating Idaho State (69-67), Eastern Washington (55-51) and Northern Colorado (60-49) to earn the BSC’s automatic berth into the NCAA Championship.

The Lady Griz reached the 20-win mark for the 30th time in 37 seasons under Big Sky Coach of the Year Robin Selvig, who ranks eighth in NCAA Division I history (and fifth among active Division I coaches) with 845 career wins. Montana is led by redshirt senior point guard Kellie Rubel, the newly-crowned Co-Big Sky Most Valuable Player. A two-time first-team all-Big Sky selection, Rubel (14.0 ppg., 5.7 rpg., 4.3 apg.) collected two of her three double-doubles this season in UM’s run to the Big Sky Tournament title, including 14 points and 11 rebounds in the championship game against Northern Colorado, to earn tournament MVP honors.

Montana also gains support from a trio of honorable mention all-Big Sky choices in junior guard McCalle Feller (11.0 ppg., team-high 67 three-pointers), sophomore forward Kayleigh Valley (11.5 ppg., 4.8 rpg.) and senior forward Maggie Rickman (9.6 ppg., team-high 6.8 rpg.). Redshirt senior forward Carly Selvig, the reigning Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year (and niece of head coach Robin Selvig), patrols the paint for the Lady Griz, averaging 2.6 blocks per game while ranking second on the team at 6.1 rebounds per game.

Notre Dame will be facing Montana for the second time in series history on Friday night. The Lady Griz edged the Fighting Irish, 50-48, on Dec. 31, 1986, in the consolation game of the Seattle Times Classic in Seattle, Washington. That contest was played one season prior to McGraw assuming the head coaching reins at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame and Montana had one common opponent this season — Wake Forest. The Fighting Irish defeated their fellow ACC member Demon Deacons, 92-63 on Feb. 1 at Purcell Pavilion. Meanwhile, the Lady Griz dropped a 73-60 decision to Wake Forest back on Nov. 29 in the final round of the Cancun Challenge in Riviera Maya, Mexico.

Minnesota (23-9, 11-7 Big Ten) finished in sixth place in the Big Ten regular-season standings before falling to Ohio State, 83-71 in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Championship. The Golden Gophers, who come into the NCAA tournament having lost three of their last four following a five-game winning streak, will be making their ninth NCAA Championship appearance and first since 2009.

Notre Dame is 0-2 all-time against Minnesota, with both matchups coming in NCAA Championship first-round games at Purcell Pavilion. In 1994, the Golden Gophers posted an 81-76 victory over the Fighting Irish, and more recently in 2009, Minnesota earned a 79-71 win at Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish and Golden Gophers had five common opponents this season — Michigan State, Maryland, Michigan, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State. Notre Dame went 6-0 against the quintet, winning at MSU (71-63 on Nov. 19), at home against Maryland (92-72 on Dec. 3 in Fort Wayne) and Michigan (70-50 on Dec. 13 at Purcell Pavilion), sweeping a home-and-home ACC series with Georgia Tech (89-76 on Jan. 22 at Purcell Pavilion; 71-61 on Feb. 19 in Atlanta) and closing the regular season with a win at N.C. State (67-60 on March 1).

Meanwhile, Minnesota went 4-1 against those squads, defeating Georgia Tech (72-69 on Nov. 30 at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Fort Myers, Florida) and N.C. State (60-55 on the road) in non-conference play, while earning home wins over Michigan State (86-79 on Feb. 8) and Michigan (91-88 in double overtime on Feb. 21). At the same time, Minnesota dropped a narrow 77-73 decision at home to Maryland on Jan. 11.

Former conference mates in the Big East, Notre Dame and DePaul have kept up their series as non-league foes the past two seasons, including a matchup earlier this year, won by the Fighting Irish, 94-93 in overtime on Dec. 10 at McGrath-Phillips Arena in Chicago. Loyd scored a school record-tying 41 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, while senior guard Madison Cable (Mt. Lebanon, Pa./Mt. Lebanon) added 20 points and 11 rebounds for her first career double-double.

DePaul (26-7, 15-3 Big East) has been red-hot down the stretch, winning 13 of its last 14 games en route to a share of the Big East regular-season title and its second consecutive Big Easttournament championship. The Blue Demons are making their 20th NCAA Championship appearance, and 13th in a row, coming off a trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 last year.

Notre Dame and DePaul have met 40 times before on the hardwood, making it the second-most frequent series in program history behind only Connecticut (43 games). The Fighting Irish hold a 21-19 series lead over the Blue Demons (11-6 at Purcell Pavilion) and have won the past six games in the series.

In addition to their head-to-head matchup, the two sides had just one common opponent this season — Connecticut. Notre Dame dropped a 76-58 contest to the Huskies on Dec. 6 at Purcell Pavilion in the Jimmy V Classic, while DePaul fell to UConn, 98-64 on Dec. 19 in Bridgeport, Connecticut.