SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Moments after the Notre Dame women’s basketball team subdued Utah in their first-round NCAA basketball tourney game, the Fighting Irish cut loose with a roar louder than any reaction they had to a Skylar Diggins’ 3-pointer or a Devereaux Peters’ blocked shot.
Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey delivered the news that the postgame plans for the Irish on Saturday included the hottest ticket in Salt Lake City, the Lady Gaga concert.
"I was expecting laser tag," Notre Dame post Devereaux Peters said of the postgame activities. "That’s a big jump, laser tag to Gaga. We all just freaked out.
"I’m so excited," Peters continued. "I don’t even know how to explain it. That’s definitely the No. 1 concert I’ve always wanted to go to, and I’m not even a concert person. I almost just passed out."
When Notre Dame’s coordinator of basketball operations Stephanie Menio found out that the Irish would be playing in Salt Lake City, she looked into booking a tour for the team of Energy Solutions Arena, the home of the NBA’s Utah Jazz. When she was informed that the arena would be closed to prepare for the Lady Gaga concert, a new postgame plan was devised.
"When we found out Lady Gaga was coming to Salt Lake City the same time we were, we thought, ‘We’ll try to get tickets, but we won’t say anything until we can be sure,’ " McGraw said. "The Monogram Club came up with the money to pay for it, so we’re thrilled."
McGraw, who will be watching game film of Monday’s opponent, 10th-seeded Temple, rather than going to the concert, said that the Irish (27-7) would have been catching a flight home if they hadn’t put pesky Utah away in the second half for a 67-54 victory.
"We wouldn’t have been going, otherwise," McGraw said.
McGraw also joked that she was tempted to use the concert news to motivate her team as it struggled against Utah.
"I thought about telling them at the last timeout," McGraw laughed.
Notre Dame post Becca Bruszewski only hit 25 of 46 free throws in her first 22 games of the season (54 percent). In her past 12 games, Bruszewski is 26-of-32 for 81 percent.
"Free-throw shooting is something I’ve put a lot of focus into," Bruszewski said. "Free throws matter down the stretch. I spent a little extra time in the gym … all right, a lot of extra time in the gym.
"It was frustrating," Bruszewski said of her free-throw slump. "It was a mental thing I just had to get through. I didn’t change my mechanics. It was just reps and focus."
McGraw said that she is thrilled that Bruszewski, a 68 percent career free-throw shooter, has turned around that aspect of her game.
"Becca’s poise has come through," McGraw said. "She’s really doing a great job of being focused, being steady, and being a senior. She’s really stepping up. We really needed them tonight."
The No. 2 Irish looked rusty in playing the No. 15 seed Utes, who were on their home court and were only a week off of their Mountain West Conference Tournament championship game.
"We felt like we’ve been waiting forever to play," Irish senior guard Brittany Mallory said. "We finally got to play, and it showed. We weren’t playing together as much, and some shots weren’t falling. We picked it up and started playing our game, and shots started to fall for us, and we ended up with the win."
McGraw didn’t think that the layoff was the issue with Notre Dame’s first-half struggles.
"I’m not sure we did the right thing with our practice," McGraw said. "We maybe took one day too much off. I like having the rest. You play three days in a row in the Big East Tournament. You get banged up. Natalie Novosel needed the rest. Becca Bruszewski needed the rest. I think we probably could have done practice a little bit differently.
"But you’ve got first-game jitters, you’re the higher seed, so you’re supposed to win … there were a lot of close games, men’s and women’s. That’s just how it’s going to be."
Utah’s Iwalani Rodrigues, who scored 21 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range, said that playing at home was a big advantage for the Utes.
"It’s awesome to play at home," Rodrigues said. "The fan base was great. That’s the most people I think we’ve ever had at one of our games. It’s nice to be home. You don’t have to travel, you’re used to everything. It’s your home court."
Staff writer Curt Rallo: