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Notre Dame

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Big East tournament
When: Today-Tuesday
Where: XL Center, Hartford, Conn.
TV: Monday semifinals (ESPNU); Tuesday finals (ESPN)
Favorite: Connecticut (27-3) – As hard as it is not to consider Big East regular-season champion Notre Dame (28-1), the No. 3 Huskies did push the No. 2 Irish to overtime and triple overtime this season and have defeated Notre Dame in the last three tournament finals.
Dark horse: Louisville (23-7) – The No. 13 Cardinals have their highest seed at No. 4 since they were No. 2 in 2009, and despite losing its regular-season finale to No. 24 Syracuse (23-6), which is the No. 2 seed, could still challenge for the tournament title this year.
Résumé builder: St. John’s (17-11) – The Red Storm enter the conference tournament predicted to be one of the last four teams to make the NCAA tournament. St. John’s won seven of its last eight games and a win or two could solidify its spot in the NCAA.
tkrausz@jg.net

Irish seeking 1st tournament title

– The Notre Dame women’s basketball team has accomplished a lot in the last two seasons.

The No. 2 Irish (28-1, 16-0) have won the last two Big East regular-season titles outright, clinching their latest crown with a 96-87 triple-overtime home win over No. 3 Connecticut on Monday.

They have also advanced to the finals in the Big East and NCAA tournaments in each of the last two seasons, but they have not brought home a tournament championship.

The Irish have lost in the last two Big East finals to UConn and lost in the NCAA title game to Texas A&M in 2011 and Baylor last year.

Before Notre Dame can chase an NCAA championship, it will try to end its string of losses in the Big East tournament’s final game.

The Irish have reached the league finals six times and lost to Connecticut each time.

“We were in this exact same position last year with this No. 1 seed and everything like that, and especially the juniors and seniors, we haven’t forgotten about losing that Big East championship last year,” Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride said. “We’ve never had one in this program, and we want to be the first.”

The Big East tournament tips off today at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

The Irish earned a double-bye as the tournament’s top seed and will begin play at 2 p.m. Sunday in the quarterfinals.

Notre Dame has won a program record-tying 23 consecutive games entering the tournament, but the Irish understand they have to adjust to playing multiple games in a row in the tournament.

“Our closest game turnaround has been one day in between,” Notre Dame forward Natalie Achonwa said. “It’s a whole different ballgame when you are playing every day.”

Skylar Diggins leads the Irish with team highs in points (17.3 per game), assists (5.9) and steals (3). On Thursday, the 5-foot-9 senior guard was named to the All-Big East first team as a unanimous selection for the third straight season.

Diggins was joined on the first team by Achonwa, a 6-3 junior, and McBride, a 5-11 junior. Achonwa averages a team-high 9.2 rebounds and is third in scoring with 13.9 points per game, and McBride is the team’s second-leading scorer with 15.3 points per game.

Notre Dame’s other starters Jewell Loyd, a 5-10 guard who was a unanimous selection to the All-Big East freshman team and received an honorable mention to the all-league team, and Ariel Braker, a 6-1 junior forward, average 11.7 and 5.4 points.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said to win the tournament title, Notre Dame will need contributions past its starters.

“We’ve got to get our bench ready to be prepared for the three games,” McGraw said.

“No matter who we are playing, we are going to face somebody good. We got to be ready to sub a little bit more.”

tkrausz@jg.net

– Tony Krausz, The Journal Gazette

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