SOUTH BEND— Notre Dame doesn’t like being known as the other undefeated team.
The Fighting Irish (32-0) just completed the best regular season in school history, setting a school record for consecutive wins, and are one of only 13 teams to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated. Yet once again, the Irish find themselves overshadowed by No. 1 Connecticut (34-0), a former conference rival, despite having a higher RPI rating.
“I think we’re always going to be the underdog when it comes to Connecticut. They’re such a great powerhouse and have such a great program over there,” guard Kayla McBride said. “But I think it’s just a bit of extra motivation.”
Connecticut dominated the series for 15 years, holding a 28-4 edge until a 72-63 upset by Notre Dame in an NCAA semifinal game in 2011 ended the Huskies’ hopes of winning a third straight title. That game turned the tide in the series. The Irish won six of the next seven, including an overtime victory in another NCAA semifinal game in 2012.
Coach Muffet McGraw made note of that while being interviewed on ESPN during the selection show Monday night.
“We’ve gotten pretty good at beating them the last couple of years,” she said as the Irish players cheered in the background.
But it was the Huskies who won the most recent meeting, ousting the Irish 83-65 in last year’s semifinal en route to winning their eighth national championship.
McGraw has been going head-to-head with Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma on the court and on the recruiting trail for years. She conceded being annoyed about the perception by some that the accomplishments of this year’s Irish were eclipsed by UConn, but said it could help.
“I like it because we can get a chip on our shoulder and head into the tournament with a bit of chip,” she said.