• Regional Semifinal/NCAA Tournament: No. 1 seed Notre Dame (33-1, 16-0 ACC) vs. No. 4 seed Stanford (26-7, 14-4 Pac-12)
• Date: March 25, 2016
• Place: Rupp Arena; Lexington, Ky.
• Time: 9 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPN/WatchESPN
• Opponent nickname: Cardinal
• Head coach: Tara VanDerveer
• Location: Stanford, Calif.
• How They Got Here: Notre Dame eventually put away a pesky 9th-seeded Indiana squad, 87-70, at home in the second round. The Cardinal, also playing at home, survived on a three-point play with 8.2 seconds left to knock off 12th-seeded South Dakota State, 66-65.
ALWAYS THE BRIDESMAID…
Well, in the case of these two programs, that’s not completely true. Notre Dame took home the national title in 2001, while Stanford has a pair of championships (1990, 1992). But they share a recent history. This is the seventh consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 for the Irish, who are one of just five schools to have accomplished that feat from 2010-16. The Cardinal is also part of that elite group, although its streak is actually at nine straight seasons with a Sweet 16 berth.
Beyond the Sweet 16, both programs have had their share of success in the last decade. Stanford made five straight trips to the Final Four from 2008-12, and played in the national title game twice during that span. The Irish are shooting for their sixth consecutive Final Four, having played in the national championship game four out of the last five years. But neither team was able to take home the top prize.
GET TO THE POINT
For the first time in more than 23 years, Notre Dame and Stanford met a year ago in Oklahoma City for a Sweet 16 matchup. The Cardinal had won the only two previous meetings with the Irish, but this time Lindsay Allen made sure the outcome was different. The sophomore Irish point guard scored a career-high 28 points and ousted Stanford from the tournament, 81-60.
Now Allen is fresh off a season-high 22-point effort versus Indiana in the second round. Stanford is well aware.
“Lindsay Allen is … I don’t know that there’s really very many point guards that are better than her,” praised Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer. “She scores when they need her to score. She passes. She’s a floor leader. She defends.”
And VanDerveer is pleased her squad had the opportunity to play Notre Dame a year ago. It gave them the chance to see up close all the weapons Notre Dame has in its arsenal.
“At every position I think they have real quality skilled players,” VanDerveer said. “They play very well together. They come down and play with a purpose and they’re an excellent team just through and through. We knew that last year, but we saw it firsthand. You have to really defend (their players) well, and try to take away their favorite things. But you can’t take away everything because they have a lot of weapons inside and out.
“I’m really glad we did play them last year because that helps our team in terms of familiarity. And it might help them, too, so hope for a better game (than last year).”
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES
Since that showdown in Oklahoma City a year ago, Notre Dame and Stanford have both lost a pair of key players. The Cardinal lost guard Amber Orrange (13.3 ppg) and forward Bonnie Samuelson (9.6 ppg and the team’s best three-point shooter) to graduation. In their place, Stanford has turned to a pair of juniors, 5-7 guard Lili Thompson and 6-3 forward Erica McCall, the team’s only double-digit scorers at 14.6 and 14.5 ppg, respectively.
“I think they're a young team, very talented,” said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw. “Erica McCall I think probably really improved more than anyone on their team. She's really, really playing great basketball right now. (Lili Thompson) is the key to their team. I think she's the emotional leader. She's somebody that can really drive the ball well and is coming off a huge win over South Dakota State with the late-game drive. She can shoot the three, put it on the floor. She's a difficult matchup for us.”
The Irish lost Jewell Loyd (19.8 ppg) early to the WNBA, and Taya Reimer (10.2 ppg), who left the team in December for personal reasons. But replacing their points on the scoreboard has been an easy – almost seamless – transition. Allen is back (see above), but she is Notre Dame’s fifth-leading scorer at 9.0 ppg. She doesn’t have to do the heavy hitting because she is surrounded by a quartet of double-digit scorers: sophomore forward Brianna Turner (14.5 ppg), senior guard Madison Cable (13.8) and freshman guards Arike Ogunbowale (11.5) and Marina Mabrey (10.8). The latter two come off the bench.
Turner will have help on the block from fellow sophomore forward Kathryn Westbeld, who is more than capable of having a big scoring night. Add to that mix Mabrey’s older sister, senior guard Michaela, another three-point specialist, and the Irish have multiple scoring threats from anywhere on the floor. Because of that, there have been few teams who have been able to match Notre Dame’s offensive output this season.
Prediction: Notre Dame 74, Stanford 62