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The Journal Gazette

Monday, March 13, 2017 10:01 pm

Irish see losses as key to run in tourney

TOM COYNE | Associated Press

SOUTH BEND – Coach Muffet McGraw is hoping the three losses Notre Dame suffered during the regular season have will have the Irish better prepared for adversity they will face in the NCAA Tournament.

"We’ve been in some real battles, and I think it really helped. I think the losses that we had, especially the Tennessee game, really made us better," she said Monday evening moments after the second-ranked Irish (30-3) learned they were the top seed for the Lexington Regional.

The three losses are the most the Irish have had entering the NCAA Tournament since they started a run of six straight top seeds with three losses during the 2011-12 season. Sixth-ranked Stanford (28-5), which knocked Notre Dame out of the tournament last season, is seeded second in the regional, No. 14 Texas is third and No. 18 Kentucky (21-10) is seeded fourth.

The Irish, who started the season for the first time ever at No. 1 in the AP Top 25, were dominated at home by top-ranked Connecticut 72-61 in early December, were beaten at North Carolina State 70-62 in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener later that month and lost 71-69 at Tennessee in mid-January.

Senior point guard Lindsay Allen said she believes losing to Stanford in the regional semifinal last season will help the Irish avoid overlooking anyone this season.

"I think last year we looked ahead a little bit more than we should have. So I think for us we have to take it one game at a time, which is what we preach every year," Allen said.

The Irish will play host to Robert Morris (22-10), the Northeast Conference champion, in South Bend on Friday. The other game in South Bend pits eighth-seeded Green Bay (27-5), which is making its eighth tournament in nine seasons, against ninth-seeded Purdue (22-12), which was a bubble team for a second straight season.

Other notes of interest in the Lexington Regional:

Stanford’s streak

Pac-12 champion Stanford joins Tennessee as the only schools with 30-year NCAA tournament streaks. The Cardinal will face No. 15 seed New Mexico State (24-6) in Manhattan, Kansas. Stanford was unable to host because it is hosting the Pac-12 women’s gymnastics championship.

Texas at 30

Texas will be host to Central Arkansas on Friday, with the winner taking on the winner of Auburn-North Carolina. The Longhorns are the fourth team to earn 30 tournament berths, joining Tennessee (36), Georgia (32) and Stanford (31).

Run it back

The Lexington Regional could include three teams that were in Lexington Regional semifinals last year (Notre Dame, Stanford and Kentucky). Stanford advanced. It also marks the second straight season Kentucky could play its first four tournament games at home, starting Friday against Belmont (27-5), which will be making its third NCAA tournament appearance and features former Canterbury star Darby Maggard and coach Cameron Newbauer, a Fort Wayne native and IPFW graduate and former Leo coach.

Buckeyes back

Fifth-seeded Ohio State (26-6) faces No. 12 seed Western Kentucky (27-6) in Lexington. The Toppers are making their 19th tournament appearance and have won at least one game in half of their appearances.