April 4, 2015
As far as Madison Cable was concerned, she had the worst seat in Purcell Pavilion when the University of Notre Dame women's basketball team took the court during her freshman season.
Cable's seat was on a stationary bike, in the tunnel behind the Fighting Irish bench.
Now, when the Irish are on the court with the game on the line, chances are Cable is on the floor with them.
Cable, a 5-foot-11 senior guard, suffered stress fractures her freshman season, and spent time on the stationary bike nearly every practice and game as part of her recovery plan.
Pain has been a constant for Cable, but she has helped lead Notre Dame to its fifth consecutive Final Four as the ultimate role player.
Need someone to step up and take a charge?
Cable answers the bell.
Need someone to step up and fight for a rebound?
Cable answers the bell.
Need someone to step up and hit a dagger three-pointer from the corner?
Cable answers the bell.
Notre Dame (35-2) takes on South Carolina (34-2) at 6:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday in Tampa's Amalie Arena in the opener of the 2015 NCAA Women's Final Four, and the Irish will be looking to Cable for instant impact off the bench.
Although her 6.4 points and 4.2 points don't lead the Irish this season, but what Cable does lead Notre Dame in is floor burns, fierce play, and putting the team first.
"Madison came into the season, we weren't even sure she would make it through the season," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "Her feet have been a problem. The training room has done such an amazing job with her. The Under Armour shoes have been great for her. Madison has really thriving throughout the whole season. I think she still has a little bit of pain, but she's a fighter. Nothing is going to stop her. She's one of the most competitive people on the team."
No other player in the country may have the ability to impact a game the way Cable can. In the regional championship victory against No. 5/6 Baylor, Cable helped the Irish keep the upper hand when she sprinted the length of the court and soared to swat away a Baylor attempt at a fast-break lay-up. At 25th-ranked DePaul in the regular season, Cable gutted out severe leg cramps to score 20 points and grab 11 rebounds in a 94-93 overtime victory.
"Madison is so versatile," Irish associate coach Beth Cunningham said. "It just seems like any little thing you need done, Maddie is there, ready to step up. She's been that way throughout her career. This year, just with her experience and versatility, on the offensive end of the floor, the defensive end of the floor, willing to sacrifice and take big charges when we need them, she's been incredibly valuable. Her versatility has been critical for us throughout the season, especially down the stretch. She's had some huge games for us."
Cable claims that her precious mettle comes from a Steel City upbringing.
"It's just a will to win and a desire to help my teammates," Cable said. "I don't know where the drive comes from ... I like to claim Pittsburgh. That's what made me tough, growing up there. I know my parents and the way I was raised had something to do with it.
"I just want to help the team in any way that I can, whether it's defense, or getting a rebound, or making a shot ... I've always been the player who just wants to win. Whatever it takes to do that, that's what I'll do. I've always been one to play my hardest. When you do that, things just happen."
For Cable, a three-time state champion at Mount Lebanon (Pa.) High School, not getting even one minute of playing time her freshman year was the greatest pain of that season.
"My freshman year was a rough one," Cable said. "I rode the bike every day in practice and at the games. It wasn't what I expected coming in. It was a challenge. I'm so happy that I'm able to play and help the team and come back to the Final Four."
Irish athletic trainer Anne Marquez said that Cable overcome great adversity to carve out a remarkable career.
"Maddie has had to deal with chronic pain, and as she's grown older and understood her body, she kind of knows when to let me know, do we need to back off on a practice, do I need to do something with her shoes," Marquez said. "She's worked through a lot of pain. I think are were some days where she bites her tongue and doesn't say much, and she wants to be out there, she wants to practice, she wants to play. She's really smart, and she knows that there are times when she needs to back down for life after basketball, so she can relieve that chronic pain in her life.
"Maddie is one of those people, where, you almost have to take her shoes away or take her jersey away to keep her off the court, she's so tough and resilient," Marquez added. "What I love about her and some of these girls, they will completely sacrifice their bodies to be able to do everything they can for this team."
Freshman guard Mychal Johnson said that Cable has been inspirational with not only her selfless play, but her drive.
"One thing that the younger players can learn from Maddie is that she never stops playing," Johnson said. "She gets after every loose ball, gets after every rebound, and usually makes every shot that she takes. You can tell she works hard at every part of her game, but the biggest thing is she plays hard every second she's on the court."
Although Cable may not start for Notre Dame, she finishes off Irish opponents.
"We felt that Maddie was somebody who could just as easily be in the starting role as come off the bench, but she gives you so much of a spark and a punch off the bench, and has really embraced that role," Cunningham said. "She doesn't care what she has to do to help this team win. Having that mentality has helped her come off the bench. She's always ready to come in and make that impact."
Notre Dame sophomore point guard Lindsay Allen averages 10.8 points and 5.3 assists a game this season for the Irish. In four NCAA Tournament games, Allen is averaging 17.8 points and 5.0 assists a game.
Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey said that Allen's tournament success has to do with Allen's maturity as a point guard. Allen is much better at reading defenses and recognizing when she needs to swith from distributing the ball to shooting the ball.
"Lindsay is just a coach's dream," Ivey said. "She's very smart. She works hard. This year, I feel like she's come into her own. She's so comfortable in her role. Last year, she was a freshman, doing what she was told to do, whether it was by Kayla McBride, coach McGraw, or myself."
Allen has also stepped up in terms of her leadership.
"We always talked about Lindsay being more vocal," Ivey said. "Right now, the confidence that she has on both ends of the floor has really emerged, and the leadership just pours out of her. The confidence is exuding, and it's contagious for the rest of the team."
In the NBA, a Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade match-up creates buzz.
In the NCAA Women's Final Four, a Jewell Loyd and Tiffany Mitchell match-up generates a similar electricity.
Loyd, a 5-10 junior guard who averages 19.9 points a game, and Mitchell, a 5-9 junior guard at South Carolina who averages 14.5 points a game, have had their paths cross as teammates for various all-star teams, including last summer's gold medal-winning USA Basketball 3x3 World Championship Team. On Sunday, they will be opponents, and Loyd is fine with comparisons or spotlight talk that involved Mitchell.
"I like it," Loyd said of the focus on her match-up with Mitchell in a clash of All-Americans. "I think it's really good for women's basketball. People want to see the two of the best people go at it all the time. That's what you pay for when you go to an NBA game or a WNBA game. You want to see that match-up. I think this will help the game a lot."
KEEPING IT LOOSE
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is taking the pressure off of her players as they battle for a national championship.
"We feel that they play their best basketball if they're playing loose," McGraw said of the Irish. "If we can just keep it loose and let them play their game and not feel like, 'We've got to win this game,' like we know we can, so if we believe in ourselves, have confidence in ourselves and play our game, we're certainly here to win."
McGraw said that a loose demeanor can lead to a national title.
"You look at all of the Final Fours, and you're proud of what you've accomplished, then you look at that one banner (the 2001 national championship), it looks pretty lonely up there," McGraw said. "We would love to add another one."
According to Loyd, Notre Dame's fifth consecutive trip to the Final Four should make a big impact with top high school players.
"Notre Dame getting to five straight Final Fours ought to catch the eye of the recruits," Loyd said. "You see that you have an opportunity to win a national championship, you see that you have an opportunity to be a part of history. As a recruit, you want to look at a team like that."
- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent