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Posted on Mon. Mar. 24, 2014 - 12:15 am EDT

Irish see physical contest with ASU

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Notre Dame

vs. Arizona State

What: Second round, women’s NCAA tournament

Where: Toledo

When: 6:30 p.m. today

TOLEDO — Her team is playing so well that Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw can’t wait for tonight’s game.

But the second-round matchup with No. 9 seed Arizona State strikes her as an interesting one.

“Arizona State is a very good and very physical team,” McGraw said.

That’s the typical Pac-12 style, which Notre Dame faced twice in the regular season. The Irish beat UCLA 90-48 and won 70-58 at Oregon State.

“That league plays very aggressive and very physical,” Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride said.

The top-seeded Irish (33-0) expect a game with plenty of contact in the paint and perhaps some hard fouls, but a victory would give Notre Dame a fifth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.

The Sun Devils (23-9) knocked off Vanderbilt 69-61 in the first round Saturday, with the Irish pounding Robert Morris 93-42.

Now the two schools meet for the first time since March 21, 2005, when they also faced off in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Arizona State ended the Irish’s season that year with a 70-61 victory.

A repeat result would shock the nation.

Sun Devils guard Promise Amukamara, their best defender, said it can happen.

“If we limit our errors we’ll have a great chance,” she said. “Notre Dame is a great team, but we’re a great defensive team.”

The Sun Devils allow 65.1 points per game, while Notre Dame’s high-powered offense averages 86.8. Something has to give.

Given Arizona State’s tendencies, however, officiating figures to be an important factor. Will referees let them play or call it tight?

“It doesn’t bother us at all either way,” McGraw said. “We do like freedom of movement on offense. We hope to be allowed to do that tomorrow.”

Over the last four seasons, no top seed has been upset prior to the Sweet 16, and the undefeated Irish seem an unlikely candidate to buck the trend.

They don’t dwell on the possibility of failure, even when preparing for a rough-and-tumble contest.

“I don’t think we feel pressure,” McGraw said. “We embrace it. We count on each other. We trust each other. When you do that, it’s easier to relax. I think we feel that we will find a way to win.”

Notre Dame has easily done so in this year’s postseason, winning four games – including its three in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament – by an average margin of 32 points.

“I’m really pleased with the way we are playing right now,” McGraw said.

For that to continue against Arizona State’s muscle, McBride wants to see the Irish get out in transition and match the defensive intensity.

“I think we can run on them,” she said. “We need to make them take tough shots. We can’t let up.”

cgoff@jg.net


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