The top seeded Irish continued their winning ways by knocking off #16 seed Montana and #9 seed DePaul in their opening weekend NCAA Tournament games. The two wins advanced the Irish to their 6th straight Sweet Sixteen. Both games were played in Purcell Pavilion as the top 16 teams in the tournament hosted first and second round games. In their first round game against the Grizzlies, the Irish played nearly flawless basketball picking up a 77-43 win. The Irish were led by All-Everything guard Jewell Lloyd who had 18 points on an efficient 9/14 shooting. Forward Brianna Turner added 12 points of her own, and was the only other Irish player in double figures. The team's scoring was balanced, however, as four other players had at least 8 points. Head coach Muffet McGraw was worried about the long break since the ACC Tournament, but the Irish showed no signs of rust. The lopsided win allowed McGraw to empty the bench early in the game, and save the legs of her starters. The only negative for the Irish was the poor shooting from deep (2/8) and the line (9-17). Inside the arc, however, the Irish got whatever shot they wanted, and finished at 62.3% from the field. The win over the Grizzlies set up a rematch from earlier in the season against Depaul.
The Blue Demons gave the Irish everything they could handle in a 94-93 overtime game in Chicago back in December. Jewell Lloyd had a career high 41 points that night, but ND was without Brianna Turner. DePaul also looked different in the first game as they didn't have guard Megan Rogowski in the tournament game. The rematch started to look like it might be just as tough as the first meeting. The Irish started cold from the field at had an uncharacteristically high number of turnovers in the game's early stages. The Blue Demons led by as many as eight before ND started heating up from deep. Michaela Mabrey led the Irish with 19 points and was 5/7 from three point range. Her hot shooting turned a six-point halftime lead into a comfortable win that saw ND lead by 20 at the last media timeout. Every ND starter finished in double figures, and Kathryn Westbeld added 8 off the bench.
The Irish will find out their Sweet Sixteen opponent tomorrow night when #4 Stanford hosts #5 Oklahoma in Palo Alto. Although Stanford is the higher seed, since the Regional games will be played in Oklahoma City, ND fans might prefer the favorite to go through. Game times for the Sweet 16 games have yet to be announced, but we do know the game will be Friday. The #2 and #3 seeded Baylor and Iowa both advanced at the bottom of the bracket, so everyone the Irish face the rest of the way will be a tough test. Despite the tough path to the Final Four, it's a great time to be an ND fan with both hoops squads are still alive in March.
Update: Stanford won 86-76 over Oklahoma, so they will advance to face ND in OKC.