Montana-Notre Dame Preview
(AP) - Notre Dame's path in the NCAA Tournament as it attempts to make it to its fifth straight Final Four won't be easy.
The Oklahoma City Regional includes fifth-ranked Baylor, perennial power Stanford - which is ranked No. 14 - a Miami team that beat the Irish and DePaul, which lost to Notre Dame in overtime only because Jewell Loyd scored a career-best 41 points and the Blue Demons were 12 of 29 from the free-throw line.
Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw said like every other coach in the tournament, she believes the second-ranked Irish (31-2) are in the toughest bracket. But McGraw said she has no problem with the Irish being placed in Oklahoma City instead of the Greensboro Regional where some thought they would land.
''I think the women's game is at a point where we have to attract a lot of fans and I think South Carolina going to Greensboro just makes a lot of sense,'' she said.
But she also said playing Baylor in Big 12 territory would be a challenge.
''That would be a home-court advantage for them,'' she said.
The Irish will be opening the tournament with home-court advantage Friday night against Big Sky Conference champion Montana (24-8), which is making its 21st NCAA Tournament appearance.
Loyd said the Irish aren't concerned about whether it's a difficult bracket.
''It's the tournament. Everyone is playing with more passion, more desire. So you just have to take it one game at a time,'' she said. ''I was just excited to see our name up there and have the opportunity to do great things.''
Notre Dame heads into the NCAA Tournament on a 17-game winning streak and looking to break a familiar pattern.
The Irish are a No. 1 seed for the fourth straight season, ranked No. 2 for a third straight year and will be favored to join a select group of LSU, Stanford and Connecticut twice to advance to five straight Final Fours.
''We have a team that's really hungry,'' Loyd said. ''We're just trying to play our best basketball at the end of the season and enjoy the ride.''
McGraw said this Notre Dame team, which has no seniors making significant contributions, has overachieved compared to other recent squads.
''I think this team has had to battle more. I think we've had to overcome some things. I think we've been challenged a little more. I think we're probably overachieving a little bit more than some of the other teams because we didn't have quite the experience. But they certainly earned where they are.''
McGraw's counterpart Friday might be the coach with the most wins (845) that the fewest people have heard of, but Robin Selvig's Lady Grizzlies have lost their last 10 NCAA Tournament games, with the last win coming in 1995.
Montana has three players averaging at least 11.0 points, led by senior guard Kellie Rubel's 14.0 per game, but it relies more on stopping opponents.
The Lady Grizzlies allow 56.8 points per game, but facing Loyd (20.5) and a Notre Dame team that is fourth in the nation with an average of 81.2 points provides an entirely different challenge.
"(Loyd's) the real deal," Selvig said. "She's just a great player. The scary thing is that you can defend her well, and she can still score. Hopefully we can contain her to what's an average game for her, because she's pretty impressive.
"... We can play very well defensively, but we're not going to shut them down, so when we get good shots, we've got to make them. We're not going to be able to weather a poor shooting game and think we can hang with them."