“Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock. But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.”
George Gipp, first Notre Dame All-American, Football Hall of Famer
Maybe God really does like Notre Dame best. And should he have lived longer than 25 years, “The Gipper” would have probably meant “when the girls are up against it,” too.
On the eve of NCAA Women’s Selection next Monday, March 18 (St. Joseph’s Day,) the Lady Fighting Irish of Notre Dame are poised to take women’s basketball to the next level, eradicating memories of a school year that has featured a dream football season in the run up to the BCS Championship, a major letdown at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide, the embarrassment of Manti Te’o’s “girlfriend,“ and a brutal men’s basketball season.
The Lady Fighting Irish, in true “Win One for the Gipper” fashion, couldn’t have scripted an exit to the Atlantic Coast Conference any better than this:
- A 31-1 season record
- Consistently, a #2 ranking on the AP and USA Today polls
- Becoming Big East Champions by defeating three-time opponent UConn in epic fashion, tying the game at 59 after a 6-point run for UConn, on Natalie Achnowa’s basket with 1.8 seconds left
- Senior guards Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner helped Notre Dame win more than 120 games to date, the winningest by a Fighting Irish senior class.
- In her 26th year as Notre Dame’s Coach February 5th, Coach Muffet McGraw achieved her 700th career victory with a 59-52 win over the Villanova Wildcats in Philly, her hometown, on February 5.
- McGraw is just the 13th coach in history and the third Big East Conference skipper to hit that landmark, along with C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers) and Geno Auriemma (Connecticut), both of whom are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
- Dominated their ranked opponents, including Ohio State 57-51, UCLA 76-64, Texas A&M 83-74, Big Ten Champion Purdue 74-47, and sweeping UConn by defeating them during the regular season, 73-72, and in the last regular season game in 3 OTs.
- Swept the major Big East awards, including future WNBA star and rumored #2 draft pick–Player of the Year Skylar Diggins, Jewel Lloyd, Freshman of the Year, and Muffet McGraw, Coach of the Year.
- An automatic bid and probable #1 seed in the NCAA’s March Madness
“This team has been unbelievably easy to coach and I appreciate everything they’ve done to get us to where we are right now,” McGraw told the Associated Press.
Diggins led the way, averaging 17.3 points and 5.9 assists ppg.
She is the sixth woman to be picked player of the year more than once, joining Villavona’s Shelly Pennefather and Connecticut’s Kerry Bascom, Rebecca Lobo, Dianna Taurasi and Maya Moore.
As they head into Selection Monday, they await their seeding and placement at Purcell Pavilion around 6 pm CT.
And then, their nemesis and demon awaits.
Their only loss this season was a repeat of last season’s national championship game, as they dropped a 73-61 decision to Baylor, which they led 50-49 with less than eight minutes remaining. Baylor’s 6’8 senior and presumed #1 draft pick Brittney Griner had 24 points and 14 rebounds in the game.
And that is where Notre Dame finds itself as they await their selection. If ESPN’s Charlie Creme is correct, they will face Pat Summitt’s alma mater, UT-Martin in the first round of the NCAA Regional Tournament.
And that is where, as Gipp might have said, the team is “up against it.” Miracles can happen. Just ask Rudy, another Notre Dame grad. Or Joe Theismann. When the going got tough, the tough got “Gipped.” May the Gipp be with them.