Dame coach Muffet McGraw listens during a news
conference after Notre Dame's 77-68 win over Baylor in
a regional final in the NCAA women's college
basketball tournament, Sunday, March 29, 2015, in
CITY — It would be easy to forgive Muffett McGraw if she
started taking Final Four appearances for granted.
the Notre Dame women's coach has become a regular of sorts
on college basketball's biggest stage — reaching her fifth
straight Final Four with a 77-68 win over No. 2 seed Baylor
on Sunday night.
top-seeded Fighting Irish's wild success, their longtime
coach has only grown more appreciative of the ride as the
wins have piled up.
McGraw — likely because this season's success was less
expected than some of the others — encouraged her youthful
group to enjoy every part of this week leading up to next
weekend's clash with fellow top-seed South Carolina (34-2)
in Tampa, Florida.
planning on celebrating it a little bit more because they
need that," McGraw said. "They need to understand
how special this is, and I will enjoy watching the freshmen
enjoy it because for them it's the first time, and it's
going to be a really special one."
win was Notre Dame's 21st in a row, a remarkable achievement
given an offseason roster turnover that resulted in the
Fighting Irish playing only one senior against a Lady Bears
(33-4) team set on atoning for an Elite Eight loss a year
Lindsay Allen continued her emergence as the perfect
backcourt complement to all-everything guard Jewell Loyd,
finishing with 23 points as Notre Dame rallied from nine
points down in the first half. The sophomore was 10 of 16
from the field and continually left the Baylor defense
without an answer — a game after she had a career-high 28
points in a win over Stanford.
finished a combined 19 of 33 from the field in the two games
in Oklahoma City, a two-game display she said was the best
of her career.
weekend was just a really great weekend," Allen said.
weekend was one McGraw wanted the Fighting Irish to remember
for Allen and the rest of her teammates, Notre Dame's recent
Final Four disappointments were impossible to ignore admist
fresh as last season's national championship game loss to
Connecticut, a 79-58 defeat that ended Notre Dame's hopes of
completing an undefeated season — and winning the school's
first national championship since 2001.
Fighting Irish have reached the Final Four seven times, all
since McGraw took over in 1987. They are now 7-0 in the
Elite Eight, though losing in three of the last four
national championship games led to a more big-picture
approach than normal for the only women's coach to lead
Notre Dame to the NCAA Tournament.
have been there a number of times and not been able to
finish," McGraw said. "Each year, we feel like
maybe this will be our year, but I think (we're) definitely
celebrating this whole week of what we accomplished all year
long because only one team is going to win."
Dame was left to celebrate its continued run of Final Four
appearances, the Lady Bears once again fell just short of
returning to college basketball's final weekend for the
first time since winning the national championship in 2012.
26-17 in the first half following an inside basket by Alexis
Prince, but it shot only 35.3 percent (12 of 34) in the
second half as the Fighting Irish ended the Lady Bears'
season for the second straight year in the Elite Eight.
the Big 12 player of the year, had 26 points and 13 rebounds
and returns next season along with point guard Niya Johnson
— who had 46 assists and two assists in the tournament.
loss overshadowed any immediate reflection for Baylor coach
know we're young, but guys, Notre Dame is young, too,"
Mulkey said. "So, they'll have a good team back as