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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, March 08, 2018 1:00 am

Injury-tested Irish women ready to make a run

JOEDY McCREARY | Associated Press

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Notre Dame still has a shot at being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament after several knee injuries crippled the Fighting Irish this season.

They lost four pivotal players to injury – but only three games.

As a result, the fifth-ranked Irish have put themselves in position for another top seed in the women's tournament even after their loss to third-ranked Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship game.

“I think we certainly are in the conversation,” coach Muffet McGraw said after the 74-72 loss to Louisville .

No. 1 Connecticut has a top seed locked up, and the Cardinals would appear to have the head-to-head advantage over Notre Dame. That means it could come down to three teams – No. 2 Baylor, No. 4 Mississippi State and the Irish – for the remaining pair of No. 1 seeds.

The Fighting Irish (29-3) were one of the top four seeds in the NCAA's most recent bracket reveal, along with UConn, Louisville and Mississippi State. They've earned a No. 1 seed in each of the last six years.

But this injury-plagued season is a bit different.

Notre Dame went with just a six-player rotation in tight games. Each starter played at least 31 minutes in the ACC Tournament title game and only one reserve logged more than 4 minutes. Non-starters combined for just 26 of the 245 points scored by the Irish during three days in Greensboro.

All-American forward Brianna Turner never played this season after injuring a knee last March. Guard Mychal Johnson injured a knee before the season and freshman center Mikayla Vaughn played just six games before she was hurt. Point guard Lili Thompson, a transfer from Stanford, was injured Dec. 31 at Wake Forest, and Marina Mabrey shifted over to replace her.

“We definitely needed some time to figure out, get some chemistry with me being at the point and not being on the wing,” Mabrey said. “But I think everyone's help me out a lot, and we're coming together well.”

Ball State women lose in MAC

Western Michigan defeated the Ball State women's basketball team 65-54 in the 2018 Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals in Cleveland.

Western Michigan (18-14), advances to play Buffalo on Friday in the semifinals. Ball State (24-6), which entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed, will now have to wait to find out its postseason destination.

Ball State's Carmen Grande led all players with 16 points while going 3-for-3 from behind the arc. Freshman Oshlynn Brown, the MAC Sixth Player of the Year, added 10 points and a game-high 11 rebounds for her fifth double-double.

Four players reached double figures for Western Michigan led by Najee Smith's 14 tallies. Former Snider star Deja Wimby finished with her fourth straight double-double as the point guard notched 12 points and 10 assists.

The Cardinals scored a season-low 54 points and were held to their second worst shooting night of the year (36.4 percent).