SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame got what it wanted when the NCAA women’s tournament field was revealed Monday night.
It was a given that the Irish would earn a No. 1 seed after going 32-0 and winning the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles.
Notre Dame also knows it will play regional-round games at home, if it advances.
But what wasn’t known was who the Irish would face or where when the tournament tipped off.
Notre Dame drew Robert Morris (21-11) for the first round at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Toledo.
The Irish were worried they would end up playing in Ames, Iowa, or Baton Rouge, La., and potentially having to face either Iowa State or LSU on its home floor in the second round.
The (selection) committee recognized that we earned it, said coach Muffet McGraw, whose team would face the winner between No. 8 seed Vanderbilt (18-12) and No. 9 seed Arizona State (22-9) in Monday’s second round if it wins Saturday.
We certainly had a great season. I don’t think there was a lot of consternation about where we were going to go for them.
Hopefully that’s the way it worked out, because it is a nice, close bus ride for us.
The tournament’s other top seeds are Connecticut (34-0) – which was the overall No. 1 seed – South Carolina (27-4) and Tennessee (27-5).
This is the second time two teams enter the tournament undefeated, and while it is a dream title matchup, the Irish are not focusing on the potential showdown with their old Big East rival.
Especially when the team has to navigate a Notre Dame Regional that has Baylor (29-4) as the No. 2 seed, Kentucky (24-8) as the No. 3 seed and in-state rival Purdue (21-8) as the No. 4 seed.
We have that edge on our shoulder, guard Jewel Loyd, who led the Irish in scoring with 18.5 points per game, said of being referred to as the other undefeated team behind UConn this season.
We have that confidence, not arrogance that some people get that confused, but we are taking it day by day. It is the tournament. It is win or go home right now.
But if the seeding holds, Notre Dame should be on a collision course with UConn in the championship game April 8 in Nashville, Tenn. The Final Four tips off April 6.
The Irish have won seven of the last nine games against the Huskies, and the teams have met in the last three Final Fours, with Notre Dame winning in 2011 and 2012 to reach the title game and UConn winning last year en route to the title.
My first three years we were used to playing UConn two or three times a year, forward Natalie Achonwa said. To not play them this year was a little bit of a disappointment, but at the end of the day, we want to win a national championship. Whoever it ends up being in the other slot that is fine with us.
But before Notre Dame can think about adding a second championship to its 2001 title, it will have to get past Robert Morris, which won the Northeast Conference tournament to earn an NCAA bid and is led by Artemis Spanou’s 19.8 points per game and Anna Niki Stamolamprou’s 12.5 points per game.
It is a six-game season right now, and everyone is undefeated, McGraw said.