March 18, 2011
SALT LAKE CITY - The Notre Dame women's basketball team has wrapped up its first full day of activity in Salt Lake City, as the No. 2 seed Fighting Irish prepare for Saturday's NCAA Championship opener against 15th-seeded Utah at the Huntsman Center on the scenic Utah campus in the Beehive State's capital city.
After arriving in Salt Lake City Thursday afternoon, the Notre Dame travel party quickly took notice of the nearby snow-capped Wasatch Mountains which have provided some of the more breathtaking views the Fighting Irish players, coaches and staff have seen in quite some time. The team would venture into the foothills of the Wasatch Range for its first dinner of the trip, a stop at a Utah institution known as "Ruth's Diner". The restaurant has been featured on The Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" and it certainly lived up to its reputation, with comfort food of all types, from meatloaf and pot roast, to delicious raspberry and strawberry cobbler for dessert.
On Friday, most of the Fighting Irish enjoyed a late wake-up call, while a few staffers made the 10-minute drive from the team hotel over to the Huntsman Center for NCAA-mandated meetings. The 15,000-seat multipurpose arena, which houses the Utah basketball and gymnastics teams, was built at approximately the same time as Note Dame's Joyce Center, debuting in 1969 and quickly becoming a favorite stop on the NCAA basketball tournament circuit, with 81 men's tourney games played there. The most famous of those games was the 1979 NCAA national championship game between Michigan State (led by Earvin "Magic" Johnson) and Indiana State (led by Larry Bird), in what remains the most-watched NCAA title game in history, as well as a driving force behind the Magic-Bird rivalry that would revitalize the NBA during the 1980s.
Following a short film session at the team hotel, the Notre Dame players and coaches boarded the team bus for the ride over to the Huntsman Center. The Fighting Irish held their media-mandated interview period from 2:00-2:30 p.m. (MT), with head coach Muffet McGraw, senior forward/co-captain Becca Bruszewski and sophomore guard Skylar Diggins representing Notre Dame at the press conference, while the rest of the team was available for one-on-one interviews at the locker room. (NOTE: See links at top of page for quotes and audio-only version of press conference.)
Shortly afterwards, the Fighting Irish took the floor and went through a spirited 90-minute workout that was closed to everyone, except visiting media members who were able to watch the first 15 minutes of the session. Following practice, McGraw and senior guard/co-captain Brittany Mallory took time to speak with the ESPN2 broadcast crew (play-by-play voice Holly Rowe and color analyst Sean Farnham), before Diggins, junior guard Natalie Novosel and senior forward Devereaux Peters taped some short video pieces with the ESPN2 crew for Saturday's broadcast.
The Fighting Irish had just enough time to come back to the hotel and get cleaned up before they set out on an enjoyable evening adventure, starting with a guided tour of the Zions Bank Basketball Center, the state-of-the-art training facility for the NBA's Utah Jazz. Graciously led by the team's director of basketball operations, Richard Smith, and with visits from general manager Kevin O'Connor and assistant coach Scott Layden (the son of former longtime Jazz head coach Frank Layden and great-great-cousin of legendary former Notre Dame football player, coach and athletic director Elmer Layden), Notre Dame had the chance to see the Jazz locker room, practice courts, sports medicine facility, player lounge and theater-style video room.
From there, it was off to a team dinner at one of the group's favorite road haunts, Buca di Beppo. With team chemistry and the tight-knit bonds being one of the important elements in this year's success, it only made sense for the Fighting Irish to enjoy a "family-style" Italian dinner, complete with such tasty dishes as spaghetti marinara, cheese ravioli, penne with broccoli and chicken parmesan.
However, the highlight of the day came on the final stop, as the Fighting Irish headed to the FastKart Indoor Speedway in the south side of Salt Lake City for some high-level competition (and requisite trash-talking) on the go-kart track. Judging by the smiles and laughter permeating the bus ride back to the hotel, it was obvious Day One in Salt Lake City was a huge success.
Now, it's down to business as Notre Dame begins NCAA Championship play at approximately 6:35 p.m. ET (4:35 p.m. MT) Saturday against Utah, live on ESPN2/ESPN3.com (NOTE: See linked coverage maps at top of this page). The live radio broadcast can be heard here at www.UND.com as well as throughout the Michiana area on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), with all your Notre Dame NCAA Championship coverage available through the official UND.com NCAA Championship page.