FORT WAYNE –
Notre Dame reached the NCAA tournament championship game each of the past two seasons, falling 76-70 to Texas A&M in 2011 and 80-61 to Baylor last season.
Notre Dame only returns starters Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride from last seasons team and will have to replace Natalie Novosel, Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory.
The Irish were ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 and No. 6 in the ESPN/USA Today preseason coaches poll.
Diggins was a unanimous selection to the AP womens basketball preseason All-America team.
Notre Dame could play up to 19 games in the regular season against teams that advanced to the postseason last year, with 13 opponents that played in the NCAA tournament
4 games of interest
Friday vs. Ohio State: The Irish open the season in a unique setting as they play preseason No. 19 Ohio State on the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C.
Dec. 5 vs. Baylor: The Irish will seek to avenge their championship game loss to the Bears as they play host to the defending champs.
Dec. 29 vs. Purdue: The in-state rivals clash in Purcell Pavilion as the Irish try to win their seventh in a row over the preseason No. 21 Boilermakers.
March 4 vs. Connecticut: The Irish play the preseason No. 2 Huskies for a second time this season, Notre Dame plays at UConn on Jan. 5, in a game that could decide who wins the Big East regular-season title.
3 key players
Diggins, Sr., G: The 5-foot-9 Diggins averaged team highs in scoring (16.8 points per game) and assists (5.7) last season.
McBride, Jr., G: The 5-11 McBride, who averaged 11.6 points last season, will need to fill the lost scoring production of Novosel (15.2 points per game) and Peters (11.8), who were both selected in the WNBA draft after graduating.
Natalie Achonwa, Jr., F: The 6-3 Achonwa will be counted on to become a rebounding and defensive force. She averaged 4.4 rebounds and blocked 27 shots last season.
2 points of concern
Replacing two of the big three: Diggins, Novosel and Peters combined to average 43.8 points and 16.7 rebounds last season. With Novosel and Peters both in the WNBA, Notre Dame will need new stars to step up and compliment Diggins.
Staying patient: The Irish could suffer some early season losses as they work in three new starters, while trying to live up to expectations to return to the title game for a third straight year.
1 major issue
Defense and rebounding: Notre Dame lost its force in the middle and its top rebounder when Peters graduated and was taken by the Minnesota Lynx with the No. 3 selection in the WNBA draft. Peters averaged at team-high 9.3 rebounds and 2 blocks. The Irish have to find away to replace that production.