Tennessee’s pre-game ceremony in the locker room on Monday before its NCAA women’s basketball Dayton Regional championship showdown with Notre Dame included photos of the Golden Dome, the leprechaun, Fighting Irish players in green uniforms, a horseshoe, a shamrock and a “Play Like A Champion” sign.
“They need all this to win,” a Tennessee assistant coach told the Volunteers’ players. “All we need is orange.”
Then, the Vols drank a toast of Orange Crush.
After the game, it was Orange Crush-ed, and the No. 2 seed Irish were the toast of Dayton with the 73-59 win to earn a berth to the Final Four.
“We really don’t need gimmicks,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I just let the team get themselves ready and they do it. They’re such competitors, they don’t need any extra help to get ready.”
Notre Dame (30-7) advanced to the Final Four for the third time under the Hall of Famer McGraw (1997, 2001, 2011), and will play two-time defending national champion Connecticut (36-1) on Sunday at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Game time is tentatively set for 9 p.m. EDT (ESPN). Connecticut has beaten Big East rival Notre Dame three times this season.
The win over Tennessee was Notre Dame’s first in 21 meetings.
“It makes it a little sweeter,” McGraw said of beating Tennessee. “When you beat the No. 1 seed, you feel like you really earned it. You had to beat the best team to get to the Final Four. We’re really excited about that, and also just to beat a program of Tennessee’s caliber. They’ve been to so many Final Fours (18) and have such a great tradition and have such an incredible coach. It was special.”
Notre Dame was not ranked in the top 10 until the last week of January.
“There were some questions early,” McGraw said. “When you lose four starters, you’re going to have to really figure out who is going to step up for you. We lost to UCLA at home, we lost to Kentucky on the road, and then after that, we really started to play well. I think the maturity and the growth of this team is probably the best of any I’ve coached.”
Tennessee fans packed the University of Dayton Arena, but the Irish, who have played on Connecticut’s court twice this season and played in front of large and hostile crowds at Baylor and Kentucky, weren’t fazed.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a great atmosphere,” Irish sophomore Skylar Diggins said. “We knew Tennessee fans were loyal, but thank the Lord we had fans that came. Our crew was mighty tonight. Our crowd never quit on us. That helps a lot.”
Tickets to the Final Four games April 3 and 5 in Indianapolis, are available at www.NCAA.com/finalfour.
Individual all-session tickets are priced at $175. All-session tickets will enable the ticket holder to watch the two national semifinal games on April 3 that will begin at 7 p.m. EST and the national championship game on April 5 that tips off at 8:30 p.m. EST.
- Call it a coincidence, or call it good karma, but Notre Dame used the same locker room at the University of Dayton Arena that Virginia Commonwealth used to start its run to the men’s NCAA Final Four.