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Irish women want to clear last hurdle

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame has one more mountain to climb before the Skylar Diggins era ends.

The Irish will try to win the NCAA tournament title after coming up a game short in the last two seasons with Diggins, a senior guard who was under the weather and didn't talk to the media after Monday's selection show.

"Our upperclassmen know what it is like to lose in a championship game, that sour, bitterness," forward Natalie Achonwa said.

Notre Dame (31-1) is in an odd position to return to the Final Four for a third straight year.

The Irish are the No. 1 seed in the Norfolk Regional and will open play against No. 16 Tennessee-Martin (19-14) at 5:05 p.m. Sunday in Iowa City, Iowa. If the Irish win their first-round game, they could play host school Iowa (20-12), a No. 9 seed that plays No. 8 Miami (21-10) in the first round Sunday, in the second round March 26.

Notre Dame could be playing a road game in the second round because it didn't submit a bid to be a host site for the NCAA tournament.

The Irish players were not worried about possibly playing Iowa on its home floor, especially after going 12-0 in road games this season.

"We've played in a lot of great facilities with a lot of great home crowds and fans, I think that has prepared us for what is coming up in the tournament," Achonwa said. "And our coaches do a great job (of preparing us to play on the road). Once in a while, we will bring the speakers out and bring the surround sound and all the screaming. I know we will be prepared."

Coach Muffet McGraw said Diggins, who leads the team with 17 points and 5.9 assists per game, will be prepared when Notre Dame opens play in the tournament.

"Skylar got sick (Monday) and wasn't able to practice," McGraw said. "Hopefully, she'll be able to get some fluids in and be back to being healthy before we leave."

Notre Dame has made the last 18 NCAA tournaments, but this one was slightly different because the Irish won the Big East tournament title for the first time in last season in the conference.

Notre Dame, which moves the Atlantic Coast Conference next season, had not had the Big East's automatic berth in the NCAA tourney since it joined the league in the 1995-96 season.

Winning a Big East tournament title has given the players a different kind of confidence heading into this year's NCAA tourney.

"It was nice, every time I read the paper and saw who was in, we got our ticket punched early," McGraw said. "It was the first time we've ever seen that, it was nice seeing that.

"I love where we are. I think there was subdued excitement when we knew we were going to be the No. 1 seed. I think for us, we've been there before. We know what we got to do. I think we are anxious and ready to get down to business."

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