SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw wishes it weren’t this way.
It’s not fair, she believes, for teams to play on their own floor this deep into the NCAA tournament.
But here are McGraw’s top-seeded Irish, nestled away at Purcell Pavilion, two wins shy of a fourth consecutive Final Four appearance.
While the championship committee moved regionals back to neutral sites for next season, Notre Dame will try to fully capitalize on playing the third and fourth rounds on campus this year.
At 34-0 and working on a dream season, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
We are really, really happy to be at home, McGraw said. We’re thrilled that we have a sellout in advance.
I’m still opposed philosophically to the idea. When you get to the regionals, you really want a neutral court and neutral fans. You want to have the opportunity for any of the 16 teams to advance.
It’s difficult to beat someone at this time when you play them on their court.
Fifth-seeded Oklahoma State (25-8) can attest.
Oklahoma State needed to win at Purdue to reach its first Sweet 16 since 2008. Behind 20 points and 20 rebounds from Brittney Martin, Oklahoma State won 73-66 at Mackey Arena.
Now Martin and her teammates attempt to survive an even tougher road game two hours north of their last triumph.
That may be an understatement, Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said. Purdue doesn’t lose many games there, so we felt very good about the way we performed. But this is probably our biggest challenge.
Over the past five seasons, Notre Dame has lost only five times at home.
They’ve been very dominant on their home court if you go back and look up some scores, Littell said. It’s just a really finely tuned machine.
Dating to a loss to Baylor on Dec. 5, 2012, Notre Dame has won 26 consecutive home games, the second-longest streak in school history and tied for the second-longest active run in Division I.
I think that our fans know and understand those really important points in the game – when we need a score, when we need a stop, McGraw said. They really make us comfortable and give us support. It gives us a little extra when they’re standing and cheering us on.
Natalie Achonwa said being at home for the NCAA tournament adds extra motivation.
She and fellow seniors Kayla McBride and Ariel Braker want their last memory of Purcell Pavilion to be a great one, not a downer.
At the very beginning of the season, Achonwa said, one of our goals was to protect home court. When you look up and see that clover above you, it’s going to be great for our motivation.