• First Round/NCAA Tournament: No. 1-seeded Notre Dame (31-1, 16-0 ACC) vs. 16th-seeded North Carolina A&T (19-11, 12-4 MEAC)
• Date: March 19, 2016
• Place: Purcell Pavilion; Notre Dame, IN
• Time: Approx. 6:30pm ET
• TV: ESPN2/ESPN3/WatchESPN
• Opponent nickname: Aggies
• Head coach: Tarrell Robinson
• Location: Greensboro, N.C.
• How They Got Here: The Irish received the ACC’s automatic bid after winning its third consecutive league crown, and then were chosen as the No. 1-seed in the Lexington Region. The Aggies also received an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament after they won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
To put it precisely, the Irish are no stranger to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship.
For the 21st straight time (and 23rd time in school history) the Irish have earned a berth in the tournament, and it is the fifth consecutive year and sixth time in program history they have earned a top seed. Under head coach Muffet McGraw, a finalist for Naismith Coach of the Year honors, Notre Dame is 51-21 (.708) all-time in its previous NCAA tournament appearances, highlighted by the 2001 national title and seven Final Four berths.
By comparison, North Carolina A&T is making just its third NCAA Tournament appearance, and its first since 2009. That year, the 14th-seeded Aggies received the MEAC’s automatic bid and lost in the first round to Florida State. Prior to that, 1994 was the only other time North Carolina A&T danced, winning its league’s automatic bid. The 16th-seeded squad was then promptly knocked out of the first round by Tennessee, who advanced to the Sweet 16.
“We have a lot of respect for them,” stated Aggies’ guard Dana Brown. “We know what they are capable of doing, what they did do this season and what they have done before. (But) it doesn’t matter what happened before. It just matters what’s going to happen now.”
BUT THERE’S ALSO THIS
Post-season experience isn’t the only factor in Notre Dame’s favor…playing at home also is a huge advantage. Dating back to the 2012-13 campaign (when this year’s senior were freshmen), and including this season, the Irish own a sterling 63-2 record when playing at the Purcell Pavilion. And a large, green-clad contingent will no doubt be on hand to support Notre Dame.
“The best thing (about this year’s draw) is having our fans here at home,” McGraw said. “We have the comfort here. We know this arena. Our fans are going to make it special for us and for these seniors going out. They want it to be a really great first round.”
THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
Both Notre Dame and NC A&T have veterans at the center of their success this year. The Irish have graduate senior Madison Cable, described by McGraw as the team’s heart and soul, who is the team’s second-leading scorer with 13.7 ppg. The 5-10 guard has made big play after big play this season when the Irish have needed it most. And quarterbacking Notre Dame is junior Lindsay Allen. The 5-8 point guard, who chips in 8.9 ppg, is the team’s calm, steadying influence. The Aggies also have a graduate senior and a junior leading the way in April McRae and Brown, respectively. The inside-outside punch of 6-3 center McRae (13.3 ppg) and 5-7 guard Brown (11.5 ppg) pace NC A&T’s scoring, while McRae also is her squad’s leading rebounder with 6.4 per outing.
Notre Dame has a sophomore All-American in Brianna Turner and a pair of freshmen, Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey, coming in off the bench who are all notching double-digit scoring averages. The 6-3 Turner, despite missing six games in December due to a shoulder injury, is leading the Irish with 14.3 ppg. The 5-8 Ogunbowale is a hard-charging slasher who also has a mid-range jumper and an 11.7 ppg average. The 5-11 Mabrey averages 10.6 ppg and is connecting on 45 percent of her three-point shots.
“They have a great mix of experience and youth,” noted Aggies head coach Tarrell Robinson. “They have fantastic, dynamic freshmen coming off their bench. The younger Mabrey and Ogunbowale are unbelievable. They are confident, and they are just playing basketball. We just have to try to make them uncomfortable.”
The strategy’s worth a shot, but Notre Dame’s ability to sub frequently and still maintain its scoring prowess will wear down the Aggies…like it has done to so many other teams this year.
Prediction: Notre Dame 78, NC A&T 57
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