Irish women boast talent and experience at Sweet 16
CHICAGO, Ill. - It could almost feel like deja vu this weekend for Notre Dame women's basketball, meeting Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.
Beyond that, walking into Chicago's Wintrust Arena is a familiar routine for the Irish, as is the stage.
“It definitely makes you more comfortable knowing you’ve played here before,” said junior Jackie Young.
This weekend marks the tenth-straight Sweet 16 appearance, now just two wins away from a return to the Final Four.
“I think this team understands where they are," said head coach Muffet McGraw before Friday's practice. "They know what’s expected of them, they’ve been there before, and they want to set the tone early.”
That's exactly what the Irish have done to get to this point, winning their last 11 games, including the first to NCAA Tournament matchups back at Purcell Pavilion.
But even away from home, the mindset has to remain the same.
“I think I feel the same," said Arike Ogunbowale, who scored 23 point in both wins in South Bend. "You lose, you go home. That’s what it was in South Bend too, so I think we definitely have the same focus, same mindset.”
“[It helps] knowing that 15 other teams have the same focus we do," forward Brianna Turner added. "We know we’re not guaranteed anything and have to take it one game at a time.”
One of those 15 is also familiar.
Saturday's opponent is Texas A&M, the team Notre Dame had to rally from a double-digit deficit to overcome in the same round last year.
Though many of the Aggies' veteran players moved on, the Irish are expecting another challenge.
“Just about everybody is the same for us, whereas they have a little bit of a new roster," said McGraw. "So I think it’ll be a little easier for them to scout. Two great teams back at it again.”
“They definitely have good players as well, so we’re just expecting a high-tempo game," said Ogunbowale. "They’re physical and skilled so we definitely have to be ready.”
Of course, the reason the Irish wanted to earn their way to Chicago in the first place was to face that challenge in a setting that feels a little more like home.
“We’re going to have a lot of friends and family here," Young said of the short trip to Wintrust Arena. "It’ll be cool to see all the fans in their Irish green out here supporting us.”
Tip-off between Notre Dame and Texas A&M is set for 4 pm Eastern Time. If the Irish prevail, they play in the Elite Eight round on Monday against the winner of Stanford and Missouri State.