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Notre Dame

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Associated Press
Muffet McGraw’s Notre Dame squad could face Iowa on its home court in the second round of the women’s tournament. The Irish have reached, and lost, the last two championship games.

No neutral site for Irish, who are heading to Iowa

– Notre Dame got the seed it expected in the NCAA women’s tournament, just not the location it wanted.

Notre Dame is the No. 1 seed in the Norfolk Region and will play 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 had hoped to play at Columbus, Ohio, the opening weekend’s only neutral site. The Columbus site games are No. 3 UCLA-No. 14 Stetson and No. 6 Oklahoma-No. 11 Central Michigan.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to play at a neutral site,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We put ourselves in this position (by not bidding to be a host site for the opening weekend).

“We got to play the hand we are dealt.”

The Irish appear to have avoided what could have been a damaging blow to their title hopes when Skylar Diggins became ill Monday. The senior guard was not available for interviews after the selection but isn’t expected to miss any tournament games.

“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 not had problems away from home.

The Irish went 12-0 in road games and are coming off winning their first Big East tournament title by defeating Connecticut – a No. 1 seed in the Bridgeport Region and potential Final Four opponent for Notre Dame – at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

“I don’t think it really bothers us,” guard Kayla McBride said of playing on the road. “We’ve played at UConn three times. It’s really not a big deal.”

Notre Dame is drawing confidence from having won its first Big East tournament title in its 18th and final season in the league. The Irish, who won the last two outright Big East regular-season title, will play in the Atlantic Coast Conference next year.

“The fact that we won the Big East gives us a taste of how great it feels to end on a note like that,” forward Natalie Achonwa said. “Our upperclassmen know how it feels to lose in a championship and that sour, bitterness. To have something where we ended on a high note, we are definitely going to carry that and are going to fight for that.”

Notre Dame has finished the last two NCAA tournaments with defeats in the championship game. The Irish fell 76-70 to Texas A&M in 2011 and 80-61 to Baylor – the No. 1 overall seed this year and playing in the Oklahoma City Region – last year.

“I think it is really important to have that experience in the Final Four, so that this team knows what to expect come the NCAA tournament,” McGraw said.

McGraw said Monday night that she didn’t know much about the Irish’s first-round opponent. Tennessee-Martin reached the NCAA tournament by winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament and has two players who average more than 20 points in Jasmine Newsome (22.9 per game) and Heather Butler (22).

“I know they are a good enough team to win their championship,” McGraw said. “We will get ready for them tonight.”

tkrausz@jg.net

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