March 25, 2017
By Leigh Torbin
LEXINGTON, Ky. - For the third year in a row, Notre Dame (33-3) and Stanford (31-5) meet in the regional stage of the NCAA women's basketball championship. This time it is an Elite Eight contest at noon on Sunday at Kentucky's Rupp Arena. Last year, it was a Sweet 16 game on the same floor, won by the Cardinal. In 2015, it was a Sweet 16 contest in Oklahoma City, claimed by the Irish.
Is this third annual meeting a natural byproduct of two highly-seeded tournament regulars inevitably colliding in the postseason? Is it a coincidence of bracketing? Questions abound. Are the Irish our for revenge after last year's upset just as the Cardinal may be been extra motivated to avenge its 2015 loss?
On the eve of her 149th consecutive start, believed to be an NCAA record, leave it to Lindsay Allen's wisdom to see this game for what it is.
" I don't see it as revenge, I don't think, because, we beat them two years ago, and they beat us last year," Allen said rejecting a popular storyline during Saturday's media session. "I guess this game could technically be a tiebreaker type of game. So I think the real motivation is to get to the Final Four and continue to play."
It might be the fourth game of the NCAA Championship, but it is a figurative Game 3 -- a tiebreaker. To the victor goes the spoils of a coveted trip to Dallas next weekend for the Final Four. It would be the sixth Final Four in seven years for the Irish.
This game is just the second in NCAA tournament history to pit two female head coaches with at least 850 wins as Stanford's Tara VanDerveer boasts 1,011 while 853 wins fill the ledger of Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame's Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women's Basketball Coach. A certain amount of wisdom comes with those 1,864 combined victories. The Irish mentor for one sees this as a game that could be motivated by revenge, but one with that larger prize at stake against a foe ranked No. 6 in the final Associate Press poll.
"I think whenever you lose a game during the year, you want to play that team again," McGraw said. "When it's the last game of the season, you don't get a chance to do that again. I think we know what we're up against, we know how good they are. I won't say we look forward to it because we know it's going to be a tough matchup."
About the Cardinal
Stanford is 31-5 overall and 15-3 this year, the tournament champion of a Pac-12 which sent five teams to the Sweet 16. The Cardinal have a trio of double-digit scorers in Erica McCall (14.6 points per game), Brittany McPhee (13.0) and Karlie Samuelson (12.7). McCall pairs her 14.6 points with 8.8 rebounds per game while she has also blocked 59 shots. Tara VanDerveer is in her 31st year as the Hall of Fame head coach of the Cardinal and her 38th overall, compiling a 1,011-231 record. That mark includes a 81-29 record in NCAA tournament play, highlighted by national championships in 1990 and 1992.
Stanford leads the all-time series, 3-1, sweeping a home-and-home series in 1990 and 1991, with the teams splitting NCAA Championship meetings in 2015 and 2016.
This marks the third straight year the sides have met in the NCAA tournament with the Irish beating the Cardinal in the 2015 Sweet 16 in Oklahoma City and the Cardinal downing the Irish in the 2016 Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena.
Last year, Stanford led from the first quarter and the Irish couldn't quite catch up in a 90-84 Cardinal win. Lindsay Allen led the Irish with 20 points while Brianna Turner had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. McCall topped Stanford with 27 points and Samuelson added 20 more as the Cardinal shot 55.9% and 55.0% from three. Allen had her career high with 28 points in the 2015 NCAA Sweet 16 win over Stanford and averages 24.0 points epr game in her Irish career against Stanford.
Stanford is one of four schools Notre Dame has faced in consecutive NCAA tournaments.
Notre Dame faced Connecticut five straight years from 2011-15, winning the first two meetings and losing the last three.
The Irish lost to Oklahoma in the 2010 Sweet 16 but then downed the Sooners in the 2011 Sweet 16.
Notre Dame beat Baylor in both the 2014 and 2015 Elite Eights.
Elite Elite Eight Performers
Notre Dame is a perfect 7-0 all-time in NCAA Regional Final competition, the best record in tournament history.
Only five teams have appeared in multiple Elite Eights without a loss: Notre Dame (7-0), Oklahoma (3-0), Western Kentucky (3-0), Cheyney (2-0) and Missouri State (2-0).
Notre Dame's performance against Ohio State on Friday night proved to be rather noteworthy.
The 99 points are the most ever scored by the Irish in 78 NCAA Championship games all-time, topping the 98-49 first round win over Alcorn State en route to the 2001 national championship. It is just the third time the Irish have broken the 90-point plateau after the event's opening weekend, joining a 90-75 win over UConn in the 2001 semifinals and a 93-63 win over Kansas in the 2013 Sweet 16.
The 12 3-point field goals were an Irish NCAA Championship record and stood just one shy of equaling the overall school record of 13, done three times before and most recently at UConn on Dec. 5, 2015.
By shooting .950 at the foul line (19-of-20), the Irish matched their NCAA tournament record set in the 2013 first round win over Tennessee-Martin. It tied for the second-best showing overall in Irish lore with a minimum of 20 attempts, eclipsed just by the squad's collective .960 (24-of-25) against Marquette on Dec. 1, 1993.
Arike Ogunbowale poured in 32 points against the Buckeyes, tying for the third-most in a Notre Dame NCAA game.
Notre Dame is currently riding a 42-game winning streak on Sundays.
The Irish are 11-0 on Sundays this year including some of its biggest victories of the season. The Irish downed Washington on Sunday, Nov. 20, to claim the Preseason WNIT title. Notre Dame beat Florida State on Sunday, Feb. 26, to claim the outright ACC regular season championship. The Irish beat Duke on Sunday, March 5, in the championship game of the ACC Tournament. The Irish also have ranked wins on Sundays this year over Miami (Jan. 8) and Syracuse (Feb. 19).
Last Sunday, Notre Dame claimed an 88-82 overtime win over Purdue in the NCAA second round in a contest that tipped off at 9:11 p.m.
The last time Notre Dame lost a game played on Sunday was April 7, 2013, when UConn beat the Irish in New Orleans in the NCAA Final Four.
Third-Winningest Senior Class
Notre Dame's 2016-17 four-year senior class of Lindsay Allen and Diamond Thompson became the third-winningest class in school history with Friday night's win over Ohio State - the 139th victory of their time with the Irish.
The 2014-15 class won 143 games for the Irish while the class of 2015-16 won 141. The 2013-14 entered last night tied with this year's crop for third place with 138 while the 2012-13 seniors stand fifth with 130.
How to Watch/Listen
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN with Beth Mowins, Debbie Antonelli and Allison Williams on the call.
Information on how to access WatchESPN is available here.
For those familiar with the WatchESPN, the direct link to the webcast of Sunday's game is available here.
Bob Nagle returns for his 12th season as the radio voice of the Irish. Notre Dame's local home on the radio is Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) while the audio is also available globally via WatchND.tv and the WatchND app.
Additionally, Westwood One will have a nationally-syndicated radio feed of the contest.
Leigh Torbin, athletics communications associate director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 and coordinates all media efforts for Notre Dame's women's basketball and men's golf teams. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.